Column: A-Rod, commentator extraordinaire

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FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2017, file photo, New York Yankees special advisor Alex Rodriguez speaks with CC Sabathia, who reflected in his sunglasses, ahead of a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Tampa, Fla. Rodriguez thinks the Yankees’ “breathtaking” offense could break records this season. He arrived at spring training Monday, March 19, 2018 and had high praise for a lineup led by Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Alex Rodriguez is one of the most hated figures in sports in the past decade. So it’s unsurprising that when A-Rod appeared as an analyst in the 2015 World Series, we prepared to hate him as a commentator too. And yet, try as we might, we couldn’t.

“Y’know,” as was commonly admitted with reluctance, “he’s actually pretty good.”

I don’t hate A-Rod. But to say that Yankees fans like myself have a complicated relationship with the guy is an understatement, and I’m no exception. However, if there is a way for Rodriguez to remove his name from the hate-lists of sports fans everywhere, he should keep doing what he’s doing. He’s changed a lot of minds already, and he’ll have an even better chance to do that this season.

In January, ESPN rolled out its new crew for Sunday Night Baseball after the resignation of Dan Shulman and of Aaron Boone, who is now managing the Yankees. Jessica Mendoza is the lone returning voice to the broadcasting booth (along with the great sideline reporting from Buster Olney).

In their place are Matt Vasgersian and, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, who has served as a full-time analyst for FOX for the past year, is now thrown into one of the most valued—and mostly highly scrutinized—broadcasting seats in the business.

And yet, despite his lack of experience, it’s a great move by ESPN. Rodriguez is, simply put, really good at this whole commentating thing. He’s insightful and provides interesting story-telling, both certainly helped by being so recently removed from the sport. He’s extremely well-spoken, composed, and even quite funny at times.

It’s easy to hate his baseball career, but it’s difficult to hate his commentary—he’s simply an intelligent baseball analyst.

It won’t be easy. Not only will Rodriguez face inevitable criticism no matter how well he does, but last year’s crew is a tough act to follow. Shulman is a talented play-by-play man, and Boone offered unique, stimulating analysis without being overpowering.

Mendoza will certainly help the transition. In some ways, she has already climbed a similar obstacle as Rodriguez. With perhaps the exception of the greatly-respected Doris Burke in the NBA, female commentators often undeservedly face far more criticism than their male counterparts. Beth Mowins was shredded this past season in her role as play-by-play on Monday Night Football. Yes, her voice may not be as pleasant on the ears as Jim Nantz, but to say that the criticism has nothing to do with her gender is wrong.

And likewise, according to a concerningly-large demographic, a female voice, no matter how talented she may be, doesn’t belong in a baseball broadcasting booth. Mendoza has already pushed past the criticism, and that’s fortunate for us, because she’s a fantastic analyst.

The harsh scrutiny of A-Rod comes from a very different place, but it’s not that different in practice. Like Mendoza, many viewers have already made up their mind about Rodriguez before Sunday Night Baseball even begins. He can’t change everyone’s minds, but he can, and will, change many.

Just look at Tony Romo, America’s newly-named most beloved commentator. I didn’t think there was a chance, especially given all the bidding between networks, that he could live up to expectations. And as a Giants fan, I hated him already. But he has been fantastic. If I can admit that Romo is good what he does, A-Rod has a real chance at redemption.

Not all athletes-turned-commentators work out. Randy Moss may be one of greatest wide receivers of all time, but I’m not entirely sure why he still has a job at ESPN. We’ll have to see if the football expertise of Peyton Manning, who has reportedly been offered $10 million a year to be an analyst for FOX or ESPN, translates to commentary.

Hate the guy or not, Rodriguez is a home run in the broadcast booth. Although it remains to be seen if his role as ‘special adviser’ to the Yankees will create a conflict of interest, I don’t think he’ll have difficulty separating the two. I may never make up my mind about how I feel about A-Rod as a player and as a person. But he’s a superb analyst, and I look forward to hearing his voice on Sunday nights.

Now if only ESPN could do away with the strikeout zone graphic on every pitch…


Andrew Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets at @asmor24

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