Who Would Ever Have Expected a Ken Rosenthal–Michael Wilbon Feud?

Rosenthal takes issue with Wilbon’s assertion that analytics are ruining sports coverage.

1. Out of all the people in sports media, I’m not sure I could think of someone less likely to go after another journalist than baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal.

That’s why it was shocking to see Rosenthal take direct aim at ESPN’s Michael Wilbon over recent comments he made about analytics talk ruining baseball.

Rosenthal couched his criticism of Wilbon with compliments, but it was still heavy on snark.

This all started last Tuesday when Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz went 3-for-6 with two doubles and an RBI in a 7–6 win against the San Francisco Giants. Apparently, Cruz's three hits had impressive exit velocity, and this became a big theme of the game.

The next day on Pardon the Interruption, Wilbon expressed his disappointment that exit velocity has become such a big talking point during MLB games.

“Not only is it no deal, it angers me,” said Wilbon. “In talking about it and thinking about it, I’m glad we’re doing this topic, Tony. Let me ask you something. The velo, the exit velo, does it mean [Cruz] is a better hitter than Tony Gwynn, who might have dripped a few through the infield in his day and hit about .330 in his career and flirted with .400 once? So what? He’s a .260 hitter. So why do I give a damn about the exit velo? I don’t. And so, I guess people need this, Tony, to become interested and more fascinated. They go, ‘Oh, wow.’ Not only do I not go, ‘Oh, wow,’ it has started the ruination of watching sports for me. Numbers like this repeatedly put up on the screen day in, day out, it has ruined it. Because people aren’t concentrating on the fact that he’s. 260 instead of .330. They’re concentrating on exit velo.”

I actually covered this in Traina Thoughts last week and wrote that I agreed with every word Wilbon said.

Rosenthal, who covers baseball for Fox, MLB Network and the Athletic, took great offense to Wilbon’s take and fired back late last week.

“We’ve seen now twice, ESPN commentators, both of whom are basically basketball-centric, Michael Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith, venture into baseball without a lot of knowledge of baseball,” said Rosenthal. “Trout gets hurt too much, according to Stephen A. Smith, and now Michael is saying exit velo is ruining the sport for him or ruining sports in general for him!

“This is why in this day and age it’s probably better to focus on one specific sport the way I do than talk about things you don’t have any knowledge of. The exit velo debate is a legitimate one and I understand the frustration of some fans who say it’s not that important.

“My point on his was that that performance on Tuesday night was a great performance and it was measurable, it was quantifiable. I wish Michael hadn’t said that because he got crushed for it. Michael Wilbon is one of the most accomplished people in our business and one of the best people in our business, but we all say things we don’t entirely think through, and I would think he would like this one back.”

Wow. Talk about presumptuous.

I like Rosenthal a lot. Always have. He does an outstanding job covering the sport. But for him to say that Wilbon would like to backtrack on his take because people on Twitter ripped him is absurd. The last people on earth who should make anyone backtrack on a take are people on Twitter.

I also found it highly disappointing that Rosenthal would try to diminish Wilbon’s opinion because Wilbon doesn’t cover baseball. Wilbon is giving his perspective as a sports fan. His take is just as valid as anyone else’s because all he’s doing is relaying his viewing experience. The abundance of analytics is ruining telecasts for Wilbon. I feel the same way. We may not cover the sport, but we watch the games. That means we’re allowed to feel however we feel.

In addition, everyone in media has different roles. Rosenthal covers baseball. Wilbon appears on an opinion show and talks about all sports. For Rosenthal to tell Wilbon to stick to one sport is a tad arrogant, no?

Obviously, baseball coverage has changed over the years. There is an entirely new language and a barrage of new stats surrounding the game.

This means some people will think a 3-for-6 game with two doubles and one RBI is a “great performance” because balls were hit hard and others will think 3-for-6 with two doubles and one RBI is just a nice game no matter how hard the balls were hit.

Which take you think is correct depends on your own perspective of the sport, whether you cover it or not.

2. The coverage of Bill Walton’s death over the past 24 hours has been completely overwhelming. The amount of stories, remembrances and tributes have been nothing short of extraordinary–and it’s all been deserved.

It’s been impossible to be on top of it all, but if there’s one thing you should make sure you check out, it’s the Twitter feed of Walton’s most recent broadcast partner, ESPN’s Dave Pasch.

In addition, Scott Van Pelt’s tribute on Monday’s SportsCenter was excellent.

Here’s a look at Walton’s 13 Sports Illustrated covers.

Lastly, I had Walton on the SI Media Podcast in 2019. It was an memorable 42-minute interview during which I spoke for about three to five minutes, tops.

3. Amazingly, the “retirement” of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez might have gotten as much coverage as Walton’s passing over the past 24 hours. I put retirement in quotes because if you think Hernandez woke up Monday morning and decided to retire in the middle of the season and give up his salary, you’re nuts. Clearly, MLB either pushed him out or worked with him to call it a career.

What was remarkable about Hernandez was that it wasn’t just baseball fans, media folks and people on Twitter who thought he was very bad at his job. Players and managers had no problem openly calling him out.

"It's Angel in the middle of something again," Harper famously said last season. "It's just, every year, it's the same story. ... It's the same thing over and over and over and over again. It's just not right."

Harper’s teammate, Kyle Schwarber, probably had the most memorable reaction to Hernandez’s incompetence.

It wasn’t just players who were frustrated by Hernandez, as you’ll hear in this clip from former White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.

4. The NBA doesn’t appear to be the only company disappointed in Warner Bros. Discovery. A new report states that AEW isn’t happy with how its contract negotiations are going with TNT/TBS.

5. I’m not gonna lie. I was hoping this story was true because of the content bonanza it would’ve provided, but this is a good lesson in being careful who you trust out there in the Twitter streets.

Meanwhile, Pat McAfee clearly didn’t see the update to the story before he went on the air to call Monday Night Raw this week.

6.  The latest SI Media With Jimmy Traina podcast features an interview with TNT's lead NBA play-by-play voice, Kevin Harlan.

Harlan shares his thoughts on the possibility of Turner Sports losing the NBA and what that means for his future.

He also talks about calling the Mavericks-Timberwolves Western Conference finals, the transition from being in a two-person booth to a three-person booth for the postseason and why a three-person one is more difficult for the NBA than college basketball.

Other topics covered with Harlan include his viral playoff moment with Denver's Jamal Murray, how he evaluates his radio call of Mecole Hardman's Super Bowl–winning touchdown against the Niners, whether any executives have ever tried to change his style, the notes his gets about his NFL broadcasts from CBS and much more.

Following Harlan, Sal Licata from WFAN and SNY joins me for our weekly "Traina Thoughts" segment. This week's topics include my betting disaster regarding Caitlin Clark, Peacock's new series on the 1990 New York Yankees, the scam that is the secondary-ticket market, the use of the word "legend" and another ridiculous restaurant experience I had last week.

You can also listen to the SI Media With Jimmy Traina below or on Apple and Spotify.

You can also watch SI Media With Jimmy Traina on Sports Illustrated‘s YouTube channel.

7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: Today is National Burger Day. This seems like a good time to remember the time Jason Alexander starred in a McDonald’s commercial.

Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on AppleSpotify or Google. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.


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Jimmy Traina

JIMMY TRAINA

Jimmy Traina is a media writer and podcast host for Sports Illustrated. A 20-year veteran, he’s been covering the media industry for seven years and writes a weekly column at SI, Traina Thoughts. Jimmy has hosted the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast since 2018, a show known for interviews with some of the most important and powerful people in sports media. He also was the creator and writer for SI’s Hot Clicks feature from 2007 to 2013.