Given his history, Alex Rodriguez’s attempts at sincerity can, and should, be greeted with skepticism, even if in heart and mind he is indeed sincere.
For instance: When he unfailingly calls reporters by their first name every few sentences during a Zoom to discuss his role at ESPN and the new baseball season, is it genuine informality, or an old public relations trick to imply a connection that doesn’t actually exist?
His pal [checks the name identification on the Zoom window] Chad here is not sure. But there is one aspect of the A-Rod enigma that I believe to be fully authentic. His love of baseball is genuine, and so is his desire to discuss it and share his knowledge with viewers.
“I’m a baseball nerd,’’ said Rodriguez, who is entering his fourth season alongside play-by-play voice Matt Vasgersian in ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth (Jessica Mendoza joined them for the first two seasons), and will continue to pull off the unusual double of being a regular on Fox’s studio programing as well. “I can talk baseball all day long. It’s what I love to do. I love being at the game. I miss going to the games [ESPN crews will call games remotely at least to begin the season]. I miss playing.
“But this is the second-best thing. You get to talk baseball to a national audience that loves the game, and the game has really never been richer. There [are] so many great stories in baseball right now.”
Rodriguez does as complete a job of staying atop the news, trends and rumors as any national analyst I’ve come across. He doesn’t need to tell you how much he enjoys it, although he will, because it is plainly evident. He’s also a longtime advocate for making the game more accessible to younger viewers. For one thing, he believes as many players and personnel as possible should wear a microphone during a game.
“It’s a game changer,’’ he said. “I remember some of those games [wearing a microphone as a player],’’ he said. “If I was a viewer, I would be really psyched up and pumped up to hear what they’re saying on the field. People would always ask me, ‘Hey, what were you and Mariano [Rivera] talking about?’ or ‘You and [Andy] Petitte,’ ‘You and [Derek] Jeter, what were you talking about?’
“I think the more access we give, the better,’’ he added. “And that includes in the clubhouse, in the batting cages, I want to see [players] driving home and coming to the stadium.”
Rodriguez has occasionally had his what-did-he-just-say? moments as an analyst. During a Mets-Phillies game in 2019, he suggested the Philadelphia batter should bunt a runner over to third base, in part because the Phillies held a one-run lead and, as he put it, “you always want even leads versus odd leads.” A sabermatrician he is not.
“Evolving and getting better in the booth, it doesn’t happen overnight,’’ said Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice president of production and remote events. “I think with Alex, or I know with Alex, better and better and better has been the theme. [He’s] somebody who really enjoys feedback and kind of having it back and forth.”
The bewildering moments have been fewer, and there’s something admirable about the work he puts into getting better, given that he made $440 million as a player and has plenty of other business and personal interests. (No, we didn’t ask him about the State of Things With J-Lo.)
Speaking of his off-field interests, it’s probably a blessing for Mets fans that Rodriguez’s bid to buy the franchise fell through, though it might have been amusing for the rest of us given that he said his role model would have been … George Steinbrenner.
“Well, it’s hard to say anybody could be like George. He’s one of a kind,’’ said Rodriguez. “He’s a legend for a reason, but he certainly would have been a north star for me. Everything that came from Mr. Steinbrenner, he was always talking about from the point of view of, what’s best for the fans, and he started every sentence, ‘What’s best for Yankee fans?’ and I think that would have been my approach.”
Quick reminder: The Red Sox-Rays game Wednesday at 1 p.m. will not air on NESN, but is streaming exclusively on YouTube. YouTube has a deal to stream 21 total MLB games over the season, the third year it has had such a pact with the league. This is not to be confused with YouTube TV, the streaming service that dropped NESN in November. This game can be found on the MLB channel on YouTube.com or via the YouTube app on smart TVs, and it is free. You can also access it if you are a YouTube TV subscriber. A dedicated channel, titled “MLB Game of the Week Live on YouTube,’’ has been added to the YouTubeTV programming guide. The broadcast is produced by the MLB Network. Scott Braun will handle play by play, with John Smoltz and Carlos Pena as analysts … The Bruins are launching a podcast series, titled “Cue the Memories,” to honor the 10-year anniversary of the ’11 Cup winner. It will be hosted by former defenseman Andrew Ference and Eric Russo. It debuts Tuesday with Adam McQuaid as the first guest and can be found on iTunes. … Pretty much the only satisfying thing about watching the Celtics lately is listening to analyst Kendrick Perkins rip them with his usual unfiltered candor on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. He had a great line after their loss to the Mavericks Wednesday night. “Maybe the Celtics are trying to play in the play-in tournament,’’ said Perk. “Maybe that’s their goal.”
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