For baseball bugs, to use the 1900’s word for fans, October is the sweetest month – play in, play off, and eventually World Series games. Now, if only Alex Rodriguez went away, everything would be crackerjack.
Rodriguez, baseball’s most reviled player since Ty Cobb more than a century ago, has landed two primo broadcasting gigs, one announcing and one in-studio, at ESPN Sunday Night Baseball (SNCopyright and Fox Sports, respectively.
ESPN’s decision to hire Rodriguez is curious, to put it mildly. A bit of history: in 2015, ESPN summarily put the skids to former Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks pitching ace Curt Schilling. The reason: Schilling’s tweets which ESPN found offensive.
To replace Schilling, ESPN selected Jessica Mendoza, a stand-out Stanford University and Olympian softball hurler. But, since softball isn’t Major League Baseball, and Mendoza never racked up anything comparable to Schilling’s 216 big league wins, with an 11-2 post-season record that included the American League Division Championship’s most heroic efforts – the bloody foot game – many viewers rightly felt shortchanged.
Then, in 2018, ESPN reshuffled the SN–announcers’ roster again, kept Mendoza, and added Matt Vasgersian and Rodriguez. ESPN, having endured a long period of losing viewers, hemorrhaging money and slashing staff, committed a huge judgment error. Rewarding a cheater is unpopular among the majority of baseball fans, and their displeasure is reflected in SNB’s dramatic ratings decline. Sports Illustrated defined the viewer drop-off as “downright ugly.”
The qualified announcers’ pool is vast; choosing a dirty player makes no sense. Thirty ML–franchises have about 100 full- and part-time announcers who have outstanding ML–qualifications, earned on the up and up. Among them are the Oakland A’s Ray Fosse, the Atlanta Braves Don Sutton and the Pittsburgh Pirates Bob Walk, to name only a few. Despite what ESPN would like viewers to believe, Fosse, Sutton and Walk know as much about baseball as Rodriguez, and are less pompous.
Rodriguez’s baseball career was built in large part on PED cheating, then lying about it. Because of his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez was suspended for 211 games, later reduced to 162 games.
As Rodriquez’s broadcast career evolves, another reason ESPN should torpedo him is abundantly clear -he’s a self-absorbed gas bag who struggles to get even the smallest detail correct. Mendoza can’t get a word in edgewise; she might as well return to Stanford. Media sources reported that Rodriquez unsuccessfully tried to put the skids to Mendoza who was in her contract’s last year.
Here are a few of the embarrassing blunders Rodriquez made during the National League wild card game between the Colorado Rockies and the Chicago Cubs. Rodriguez called Ian Desmond “Desmond Howard,” identified Rockies manager Bud Black as “Buddy Bell,” and branded Albert Almora Jr. by the last name of “Almonte.”
Let’s cut to the chase. The ML–Commissioner’s Office and individual teams’ front offices make the rote observation on exposed PED abusers that they have violated MLB’s drug policy. First-time offenders will receive an unpaid 80-game suspension – really 68 games since the players have 12 days to get in condition at a minor league.
But suspensions are less than a wrist slap compared to what the punishment should be. Pursuant to the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990, PED’s illegal possession, distribution, sale and use are federal felonies that carry fines and jail sentences.
SNB’s audience want to enjoy late Sunday evening baseball before heading back to Monday drudgery. The last thing fans want is a three-hour, in-your-face reminder of Rodriguez, baseball’s most ignominious villain.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at [email protected]