Alex Rodriguez had a sound reason for taking Fox Sports up on its offer to serve as studio analyst for the American League Championship Series and World Series.
“I figured I’d be watching every game at home anyways, talking back to the TV,” Rodriguez said on Monday. “Look, if they asked you, what would you have done? I was obviously flattered. I love the game. I love to watch. I live for baseball. And it’s been fun so far.”
The Yankees designated hitter is currently a member of one of the oddest sports pregame shows in history, joining another of baseball’s famous rogues, Pete Rose, to create what has been compelling, interesting and at times trainwreck (thanks to Rose) sports television. Fox’s game coverage of the World Series begins on Tuesday at 8 p.m ET from Kansas City. Joe Buck calls the game along with analysts Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci. Rodriguez and Rose are part of Fox’s pregame and postgame coverage along with host Kevin Burkhardt and fellow analysts Frank Thomas and Raúl Ibañez. Pregame shows for all weeknight World Series games begin at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.
“Talking in front of the camera has never been my strength so it's been fun talking the game I love and conveying the message how I see it through my lens to the audience,” Rodriguez said. “I’m one of you [media] guys now.”
So far Rodriguez has justified Fox executives hiring him. He offers his thoughts in a succinct manner, he’s quickly adapted to his colleagues and viewers have learned something from his analysis. (That he and Rose are on the same set analyzing the World Series is something out of a True Detective screenplay.) If you were wondering whether any transgressions that Rose or Rodriguez committed prior to joining Fox were of concern to the network, the answer is they were not. John Entz, Fox Sports’s president of production, said that what Rodriguez had done in baseball (as far as being suspended for PED use) did not enter his hiring process.
Said Entz: “We’re looking at this with all the positive aspects we thought and hoped Alex would bring. After spending the week with him, I have to say Alex has been more impressive than we even hoped. He truly cares about doing this the right way. He actually tells me he is enjoying it, which is the most surprising part.... He wants to improve. He wants to get feedback. He wants to watch tape back. I’m not just saying this: I think across the board he has been incredibly impressive.”
Network executives and PR people are paid to hype their talent but I think Entz isn’t just selling the soap here. Rodriguez has been good. MLB beat reporters will tell you that Rodriguez’s baseball knowledge is excellent, and he’s particularly good at diagnosing pitching issues, which is counter to what you might think given he’s a hitter. He also has currency as an active player, which is something all sports networks want.
Entz said Fox’s producers and staff had gotten to know Rodriguez over the last few years, and once the Yankees concluded their season, they reached out to his representative, Ron Berkowitz, to make him the official offer. Rodriguez said he heard about the Fox opportunity from his group after the Yankees were eliminated. He said he was not aware of any broadcast outlet contacting him during his career, but he imagined it might have happened at some point. “I’m sure I might have over the years but none specifically I can share with you,” he said.
Had Rodriguez considered broadcasting during his year away from baseball in 2014? “When I was serving my suspension, all my focus was on baseball, rehabbing and just getting myself ready to play,” Rodriguez said. “It was all baseball. Never thought about anything else. “
Asked to evaluate the upcoming Mets-Royals series, Rodriguez said, “I grew up learning and watching baseball by watching the 1986 Mets on [New York’s] WOR-TV. I came up watching Kiner’s Korner [the postgame show hosted by Mets broadcaster and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner]. I would watch every (Mets) game religiously. It was fun until my Mom said at 11:30 p.m., you have to go to bed. Kiner’s Korner is important but we have to get you up for school.
The 1986 Mets team reminds me of the 2015 team. When you think about the corner infielders with Keith Hernandez and David Wright, both being captains. You think about star power and buzz. You have Yoenis Céspedes and [Darryl] Strawberry. But the one thing that resembles those Mets most for me is the once in a century, lifetime power pitchers that the Mets have both in 1986 and 2015. If you ask people who watched the 1986 Mets, they would say these guys will probably win three or four championships in the next five years. I think the same thing can be said of the Mets now.”
“Now Kansas City reminds me a little of the 1985 world champion Royals,” Rodriguez said. “When Joe [Buck] called the game the other night and Eric Hosmer gets the hit to rightfield and you have Lorenzo Cain flying around third base, if you blink for a second you can see George Brett getting that base hit and Willie Wilson running around the bases.… Kansas City has the unique characteristic of being aggressive but they don’t chase bad pitches and they will take their walks. Everyone thinks they will be better this year because of the World Series experience, and yes, that’s true. But they will be better because they are a better team. This team is a year older and they have been together like frat boys, 10 years from college. And the other thing is when you bring in [Ben] Zobrist and [Kendrys] Morales, who are switch hitters and can annihilate great pitching, that’s a hell of an addition.”
Rodriguez said Fox has made him feel at home, offering guidance and patience. I was interested in how Rodriguez prepared for the assignment, so he called me back via Fox after a conference call to explain.
“As far as prepping, I read the papers, I try to organize my thoughts, I try to remember facing each of these guys I faced,” Rodriguez said. “That’s kind of what I bring to the table. I have faced most of these guys over the last six months. I organize my thoughts and convey it to the audience…. I have always respected guys like Bob Costas, Michael Kay, Joe Buck, you name it, but they have gone to a higher pedestal. This is challenging and difficult. Everyone is being patient. But I’d much rather being playing than analyzing.”
On the subject of working with the 74-year-old Rose, Rodriguez said it’s been “fascinating” and “entertaining” to be around him.
“Look, he’s been around the game nearly 60 years, and every time I come to the studio or green room, I am looking forward to seeing his perspective and how he sees it through his lens,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been an education and lot of fun. One thing though, I don’t talk fashion or bow ties with Pete.”
Asked by SI.com if his positive experience at Fox would lead him to consider broadcasting after his career was over, Rodriguez said it wasn’t something he was entertaining. “I’m a novice at this,” Rodriguez said. I’m having fun at it and I was flattered to be asked. But look, this is not my strength. My strength is to play baseball and I have done that for 21 years in the major leagues. My focus is 100% baseball.”
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the notable sports media stories of the week
1. The NFL’s and Yahoo!’s extensive PR machines were humming early Monday morning, which meant they had a good story to tell. Yahoo! said it had more than 15.2 million unique viewers and 33.6 million streams delivered across all devices for Sunday’s Bills-Jaguars game, a number that will likely go down as the most streamed sporting event in U.S. history. That was well above the 3.5 million streams that Yahoo! promised advertisers it would deliver. Without the Yahoo! component, the game would have little traction. So the NFL created an event where there was none.
The league said roughly 33% of the audience was international, or more than five million viewers outside the United States. It said there were 460 million total minutes of video consumed worldwide, around 320 million of which occurred in the U.S. How did it compare to a television game? Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported that the U.S. average minute audience of 1.64 million marked an all-time low viewership figure for a national NFL game. (Internationally, the average minute audience was 2.36 million viewers.) Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s senior vice president of media strategy and business development and sales, said an individual stream was counted if viewers stayed and watched for more than three seconds. In order to increase the number of streams, the game was on autoplay to anyone visiting the Yahoo.com homepage.
Alex Riethmiller, an NFL spokesperson, said the league expects viewer numbers to increase by about one million when it adds in over-the-air TV numbers in Buffalo, Jacksonville and London (Sky and BBC), plus digital numbers from China.
1a. Here’s Peter King’s piece on the Yahoo! game.
2. This will be the 16th consecutive year Fox has aired the World Series. The network said the technical coverage will include: 39 cameras; 20 standard HD cameras; eight robotic cameras; up to three HD Diamond Cams, one in front of home plate, one behind first base and one in front of second base; two X-Mo cameras, which shoot at 400 frames per second at mid-first base and tight centerfield; one 1,000 frames-per-second 4K camera, and one Phantom Cam, delivering up to 3,000 frames-per-second film-like replays at low first and low third. There will also be a blimp in Kansas City and a fixed plane in New York. The audio will include 80 microphones around the stadiums. Pete Macheska serves as lead game telecast producer—it’s his 12th World Series—with John Moore directing. Jonathan Kaplan and Bardia Shah-Rais produce pregame and postgame coverage.
3. ESPN Radio will serve as the exclusive national radio home of the World Series. The broadcast crew: Dan Shulman, analyst Aaron Boone, field reporter Chris Singleton and studio host Marc Kestecher. Peter Pascarelli will contribute to the broadcasts as researcher. ESPN’s MLB studio show will be on-site for pregame airing at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET on game days throughout the World Series. Baseball Tonight will also return for postgame coverage, generally at midnight ET. The analysts include Jessica Mendoza, Curt Schilling and John Kruk, host Karl Ravech and reporters Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian.
4. Ourand reported on Monday that ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic have lost more subscribers since October 2011 than any other sports network, according to Nielsen household estimates.
ESPN and ESPN2 have seen 7% declines from October 2011 to October 2015, and ESPN Classic is down almost 24%.
4a. The Sunday Night Football matchup on Nov. 1 features the 6–0 Green Bay Packers at the 6–0 Denver Broncos, the first-ever primetime game featuring opponents with records of 6–0 or better. NBC said Packers-Broncos is only the fourth game in league history between teams with at least 6 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties.
4b. Here’s Ourand on the ESPN layoffs.
5. On a recent conference call with ABC/ESPN, NBA broadcasters Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, I asked the pair if there was one statistic that they considered more important than any other.
Jackson: I think what you have to do is when you look at those numbers, look at which team you’re taking a look at. I think with different teams, it’s different bullet points that tell the story: how they’re defending, how they’re protecting the paint, how they’re scoring, what type of tempo do they play with?
I think analytics play a tremendous role, but you have to take a look at them with wisdom and allow them to tell part of the story. Then the advantage of also watching these games. I don’t look at any one thing, any one statistic or number to tell a story on a specific team, but I certainly think that it does. The first thing, if you had to twist my arm, I would look at the defensive numbers of a particular team, and I think that tells the real story on how much of a legitimate threat, how much of a legitimate chance they have at winning it all or being a great team.
Van Gundy: I agree with, Mark. I find it individually, you have to consider all the numbers, but shooting percentage is a good place to start. I think individually, the true shooting percentage, which incorporates the three-point shot, is a good place to start. But I think team-wise, this goes all the way back to Dean Smith. So some of the stuff that’s getting credit toward analytics now, Dean Smith was doing back in the 70s, which is points per possession. That takes into account pace of play, whether you play fast, mid or slow, and how many points are you scoring per possession. Team-wise, I think those are the two most important ones, because they are the ones that directly tie into winning. I think, you know, we’ve given it a term, “analytics,” but to analyze statistics, I think all good coaches use statistics. They may use them differently, but they use them to make points to their team, to try to correct things that are preventing them from winning, or to recreate to try to continue to win, and I think it’s been going on in every sport for a long, long time.
5a. SI’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney offer 70 reasons why you should watch the NBA in 2015-16.