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Ken Rosenthal–MLB Network Situation Highlights Problem With League-Owned Media

In Tuesday’s Hot Clicks: the credibility issue with league-owned networks, Ja Morant’s nasty dunk and more.

It does fans a disservice

One of baseball’s top newsbreakers has parted ways with MLB Network, reportedly over his criticism of commissioner Rob Manfred.

Ken Rosenthal, a writer for The Athletic and game reporter for Fox Sports, did not have his contract with MLB Network renewed after more than a decade as an on-air contributor. The divorce stems from Rosenthal’s 2020 criticism of Manfred, the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reports.

In the summer of 2020, as MLB and the Players Association battled over how—or, stunningly, whether—to return to play, Rosenthal wrote several columns for The Athletic criticizing the league for failing to reach a timely and satisfactory agreement with the union. There was a June 6 article headlined “​​A July 4 return is all but gone, with baseball as far from a deal as ever” in which Rosenthal recognizes that the union shares some of the blame for the stalemate but calls the league’s stance on economic issues “ridiculous.” He followed that up with a June 12 article (co-written with Evan Drellich) headlined “MLB’s latest proposal to players comes with sharply worded letter marking ill will” that describes deputy commissioner Dan Halem’s “biting tone” in a letter to the union’s top negotiator.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Rosenthal’s June 16 column headlined “Manfred must strike a deal with the players or ruin his legacy” in which he admonished Manfred’s “stunning flip-flop.”

“The mere suggestion of a canceled season—seemingly over financial concerns—is offensive,” Rosenthal wrote.

“Manfred and the owners, supposed stewards of the game, are turning the national pastime into a national punch line, effectively threatening to take their ball and go home while the country struggles with medical, economic and societal concerns,” he added.

After those stories, Marchand reports, Rosenthal was sidelined by MLB Network for about three months. He was still paid but didn’t appear on air until the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Rosenthal appeared regularly on the network after his de facto suspension but when his contract expired at the end of 2021, it wasn’t renewed.

Rosenthal confirmed that he wouldn’t be working for MLB Network in the future in a tweet defending his “journalistic integrity.”

The timing of this news could not be worse for MLB. The league’s status as a villain and a bully has been cemented during the ongoing lockout, and so even if Rosenthal’s departure was due to, as an MLB spokesperson told the Post, “natural turnover in our talent roster that takes place each year” and not his 18-month-old criticism of Manfred, just the perception that the league has punished a well-liked and well-respected reporter for a fair critique of a widely despised authority figure is damaging to the network’s credibility.

League-owned media outlets are a valuable resource for fans. If you’re someone who lives and breathes baseball 365 days a year, you know you can turn on MLB Network in June and get your baseball fix when other networks are talking about the NBA playoffs or in September when early-season NFL results overshadow pennant races. But silencing critical voices calls into question the integrity of the network. Fans should be able to feel like the information they’re consuming is different from North Korean state media reporting on Kim Jong Il’s 11 holes-in-one.

No one is expecting Rosenthal to be allowed to bash Manfred on MLB Network but it’s refreshing when league-owned media outlets publish less-than-flattering stories. The fact that last month’s explosive report about Urban Meyer’s tenure with the Jaguars came from Tom Pelissero of made it all the more shocking. Pelissero’s colleague Ian Rapoport is one of the best in the business at reporting information that is going to get out eventually, like injuries, trades and contract updates, but the Meyer story was the rare instance of a league-owned outlet publishing information that powerful people in the league wanted to keep under wraps.

MLB Network still has plenty of talented, credible reporters on its payroll, like Jon Heyman, Joel Sherman and Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci (who definitely doesn’t shy away from criticizing MLB) but the network is worse off with Rosenthal gone.

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