The Fenway crowd was going nuts in the top of the ninth. The Red Sox were about to finish off the hated Yankees in the wild card. And, on ESPN, analyst Alex Rodriguez, out of the blue, felt like it was time to look ahead.
“Matt, I’m going to make a prediction here,” Rodriguez said to his partner, Matt Vasgersian on the broadcast. “Gerrit Cole is going to be your American League Cy Young winner [next year.] The sophomore season here in New York is so much easier than the first one.”
It was a triple play of poor broadcasting, as it was bad timing, not truly based in anything of substance and it was wrong. Next year will be Cole’s third season with the Yankees.
It didn’t exactly fit, which has often been Rodriguez’s problem on game broadcasts. With his contract up, Rodriguez’s future as ESPN’s lead analyst on “Sunday Night Baseball” is uncertain.
While Rodriguez does not have uniform support among the ESPN hierarchy, he has enough that ESPN’s goal is to have him return, according to sources.
ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” ratings were up 18 percent from last year, but down nine percent from two years ago.
Rodriugez already does studio for Fox, which is more his forte. He just became an owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves. And he takes a lot of photos for Instagram and gossip pages. He has a full plate.
His partner, Vasgersian, also has a contract that is up. Vasgersian and Rodriguez came into together at the same time, four years ago. Vasgersian was the rare ESPN outsider to receive a top play-by-play position.
The fact that he has survived four years is a testament to his ability. He can call a game. He’s not perfect, like when he said no one thought Cole wouldn’t pitch well as he exited after two-plus innings, apparently not remembering how poorly Cole performed in September and the fact that every third WFAN caller predicted Cole’s demise.
Next year, ESPN’s regular-season load will be considerably lighter, making the jockeying to be the voice of SNB more intense. ESPN will not have weekly Monday or Wednesday games anymore, as the focus will shift to “Sunday Night Baseball” and select marquee games plus potentially expanded playoffs.
There will be less chairs in the booth. So the music has begun — and it may be the “Jaws” theme.
While Rodriguez is clowned on social media, he could be a kingmaker. If ESPN achieves its goal of bringing back Rodriguez, it could give him a say on his partner if it truly wants to make sure he succeeds.
A-Rod wanted David Cone to join Vasgersian and him for this season, but it fell through. He did one game with Cone and Michael Kay with YES a few years ago, and it was good.
Cone is the best MLB analyst we listen to, combining old school and new school thoughts and a sense of television.
Rodriguez would be aided by a Cone, or someone of his ilk, because, to use a pitching phrase, A-Rod doesn’t have enough stuff to call a complete game. This has left Vasgersian to have to do more heavy lifting in his play-by-play, though, he remains more uncertain to return.
If Vasgersian leaves, ESPN would likely look within the family with Boog Sciambi, Karl Ravech, Jason Benetti, Ryan Ruocco and Michael Kay among the potential candidates.
Whomever it is, Rodriguez needs to be led.
During the wild card, in the first, Rodriguez was on Cole’s struggles early. Cole had walked Rafael Devers after being ahead. This brought up Xander Boegarts.
“Something to watch, Matt, here early, when you have a guy like Gerrit Cole, who is so dominant and you get a guy like Devers 1-2, usually a guy like that doesn’t let you climb out of that hole,” A-Rod said. “The fact that, (A) he walked him is a sign to watch. Maybe he doesn’t have his good stuff. And when he shows that, you want to get him early.”
Boom, the next pitch, Boegarts went deep for a two-run homer. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very good.
ESPN thinks there is more of that in there. It is a “Wait ‘Til Next Year” sport and, if A-Rod wants it, he is expected to be back in the booth.