Alex Rodriguez, the Fox pregame-show version of himself, was sitting on a black couch in a trailer outside Citi Field on Friday night talking about the World Series. This is a new role for Rodriguez, an unexpected diversion in a journey of athletic greatness tainted by performance-enhancing drugs, and one he is excelling at. So he looked happy to be talking about baseball as he peered into his interviewer’s eyes, answered some questions, avoided some others and posed a few of his own. He discussed his love of preparation, his note-taking, his working with Pete Rose (“When it comes to baseball, he has an Ivy League mind”) and his admiration of Keith Hernandez.
Rodriguez previewed what he would later say on the air about the physical strength of Mets starter Noah Syndergaard and the possibility that the Mets could beat the Kansas City Royals, who were up by 2-0. If the Yankees could sweep the Royals in the Bronx earlier this season after dropping two of three, he said, the Mets could win.
This has been a rather remarkable evolution: Rodriguez, a noted baseball transgressor, working for one of baseball’s network partners, talking to a national audience in the lingua franca of baseball before and after each postseason game. He’s probably been more observational than analytic — describing, with bat in hand, how the Mets’ hitting coach, Kevin Long, has rebuilt Daniel Murphy’s power stroke (before his home run skein ended); how making contact with Matt Harvey’s fastball “feels like a bowling ball”; and how Syndergaard’s bench-pressing power has helped him add torque to his slider.
Mike Weisman, a former top baseball producer at NBC and Fox, said that Rodriguez had been very effective in the “protected” studio setting, where comments can be rehearsed and there are “all sorts of expertise around him.”
Rodriguez was, after all, suspended for the 2014 season after an investigation by Major League Baseball of the Biogenesis scandal concluded that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. He denied those accusations. He fulminated. He sued. Then he backed down, ended the spectacle and returned to the Yankees. He made a sort-of admission of his sins and played at an unexpectedly high level (33 home runs, 86 runs batted in), given his time off and his age.
And over the last two weeks, he has performed so well for Fox that it is reasonable to assume that his TV work is an exercise in image rehabilitation.
Here, then, was someone who instinctively understood how to act in a studio; how to easily engage the people he worked with; and how to analyze baseball succinctly.
“At heart,” he said, “I’m a teacher.”
But this is, after all, A-Rod, who has a way of evoking suspicion about his actions. You want him to spill the strategy behind gauging Fox’s interest in him and his assessment that if he excelled at talking knowingly about pitching and hitting, he would be able to extend the era of good feelings he generated by having a surprisingly strong season, performing unusually well and saying nothing that could provoke or upset anyone. That won back some fans and a bit of the heart of Yankee management and, perhaps, offered hope that he might be a productive hitter in the final two years of his contract.
If that was the plan — if there was any television plan at all — he was not saying.
“I’m the wrong guy to talk about image,” he said. He willingly brought up the terrible image choice he made in 2009, when he was asked the other day by Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” what the 40-year-old A-Rod would say to his younger self.
“If you ever do a photo shoot, don’t kiss any mirrors,” he said, referring to the one he did for Details magazine that portrayed him as a narcissist.
Working for Fox was not Rodriguez’s idea. Fox approached him. It was willing to accept his past and move on — a decision like the one the network made when it hired the (still) permanently exiled, bow-tied, white-booted Pete Rose to the show. Rose arrived during the season and has played the cranky coot to A-Rod’s smooth straight man. Fox clearly saw the benefits in hiring stars who were making news this season: Rose’s reinstatement is being considered by Commissioner Rob Manfred, and Rodriguez had a very good season.
“We certainly considered the pros and cons of what Alex has gone through, but at the end of the day it really wasn’t going to be a part of the decision to make him part of the broadcast,” said John Entz, president for production for Fox Sports. “Whatever he did and went through is in the past. We feel we’re trying to make a show that’s informational and entertaining, and we feel that we’ve done that and Alex is a huge part of it.”
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Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Nick Wright: The Best Version of First Things First is What We’re Doing Now
“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day.”
Nick Wright has been a co-host on First Things First on FS1 for the last five-and-a-half years. The show has evolved over the years and according to Wright, he has evolved as a broadcaster from the time he got cut from doing play-by-play at WAER in Syracuse to now.
Wright was a guest on The Colin Cowherd Podcast this week and he said that when he first appeared on television, he wanted the audience to think he had all the answers, but the mindset has changed for him and he said the new version of the show that he does with Kevin Wildes and Chris Broussard every weekday is the most successful version of the show.
“When I got on TV, I think the first year maybe, I thought the job was to always have all the answers. To have the facts exactly right, to never be wrong. I’ve now done the show for five-and-a-half years. By a country mile, the most successful version of the show is the one I’m doing right now — this moment — with Wildes and Broussard. It’s the funniest and that’s why.
“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day. Now I approach it as our entire goal is to put on a show that people smile while they are watching and have a good time and that has enough meat to it where it is not all empty calories. There’s got to be the information, there’s got to be the analysis, but there’s also got to be a lot of bells and whistles and funny stuff and guys messing with each other and that’s what works. That took me a while to figure out.”
The only time when Wright didn’t think he had to prove how smart he was when he first appeared on TV was when he would appear on The Herd as Cowherd’s guest and he had a goal in mind whenever he would appear on the show.
“Early in our relationship, I was really, really trying to impress you and I wanted to make you laugh. Every time I came on, I was like ‘It’s successful if I made Colin laugh’. I was too stupid to realize I should just be trying to make the audience laugh, too… That was the best version of me at the time. I felt like you knew I was smart, so I wasn’t trying to prove it to you. I could be the best version of myself.”
While Wright knows he is not a traditional broadcaster, he mentioned to Cowherd that there is one skill set he definitely knows he has.
“The point is I’m not a great broadcaster, like a traditional broadcaster. I can’t read off a teleprompter, but there is a specific thing I can do, which is confidently argue, whether it’s 1-on-1 with my wife or in front of a million people.”
Even though Wright got cut from doing play-by-play at Syracuse, he told Cowherd he was doing talk shows at the station still and it led him to where he is today.
“I was fortunate that I was already working on the talk-show staff. Growing up, I thought I wanted to do play-by-play, but what I wanted to do was color commentary. I would watch the NBA on NBC with Bob Costas, Bill Walton, and Steve ‘Snapper’ Jones and what I wanted to do was the color, but I didn’t realize you can’t do that unless you are a former player or a former coach. They aren’t hiring me to do commentary
“I was crushed, but it made me fully pivot to talk shows. Now at WAER, the talk show studio is named after me and my picture is on the wall. I am a Hall of Famer there. Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Nick Wright, those are the three studios there.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at RickJKeeler@gmail.com.
Outside the Lines Won’t Return to ESPN Weekend Schedule
The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017.
ESPN has decided to not return Outside the Lines to its weekend lineup, ending the show’s linear television run.
A report from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal claims ESPN told OTL staffers that the show wouldn’t return to the network after the Super Bowl.
The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017. Outside the Lines was often regarded as the “moral compass” of ESPN, and was often the source of some of the more investigative reporting employed by the network.
Outside the Lines — which was airing at 9:00 AM on Saturday mornings — averaged 303,000 viewers in the timeslot. Meanwhile, SportsCenter: AM has seen an average audience of 572,000 in the same window.
The Outside the Lines brand will continue being utilized during the Noon ET SportsCenter, as well as ESPN digital platforms, including the network’s YouTube page.
Jeremy Schaap will continue to host the Outside the Lines segments during SportsCenter, but will also be the host of a new iteration of The Sports Reporters that will air on ESPN’s YouTube channel. Schaap’s father, Dick, was the host of the ESPN Sunday morning program from 1988 until his death in 2001. The show aired on ESPN from 1988 to 2017.
CBS: Calling Meeting With Tony Romo ‘Intervention’ is ‘Complete Mischaracterization’
“We meet regularly with our on-air talent.”
An opening question in broadcasting circles is ‘What happened to Tony Romo?’, with even CBS reportedly pondering the issue.
During The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast earlier this week, The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand claimed CBS attempted “an intervention” with its lead NFL analyst.
The intended mission of several alleged meetings with CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus and CBS NFL producer Jim Rikhoff was to return Romo to his previous heights, which were widely regarded as the best NFL analyst in the business.
CBS Sports has responded to the insinuation that the meetings would be classified as an “intervention” with a strong denial.
“To call this an intervention is a complete mischaracterization, we meet regularly with our on-air talent,” CBS Sports spokeswoman Jen Sabatelle told Marchand.
Marchand added that CBS Sports officials plan to attempt to rectify the issues it sees with Romo again this offseason. Romo — who signed a 10-year, $180 million contract with CBS Sports in 2020 — is slated to call Super Bowl LVIII in 2024 with Jim Nantz.