World Series Champion and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analyst Alex Rodriguez held a media conference call Wednesday ahead of the 2021 MLB season. Rodriguez, entering his fourth season of ESPN MLB coverage, will call ESPN’s Opening Night exclusive telecast – New York Mets vs. Washington Nationals – at 7 p.m. ET this Thursday, April 1, with Matt Vasgersian and Senior MLB Insider Buster Olney. For the current 2021 Sunday Night Baseball schedule, visit ESPN Press Room.
Mark Gross, ESPN Senior vice president of production and remote events: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to dial in. We are excited about tomorrow, certainly, and for the entire season. We are joined today by the man who never sleeps, Alex Rodriguez. I think he’s a 24/7, pretty much 365 at this point. He sleeps, eats and breathes baseball, and is involved, obviously, in a lot of other things in the business world. But certainly, baseball is the priority to Alex.
I also think it’s important to note that, you know, evolving and getting better in the booth, it doesn’t happen overnight but I think with Alex, or I know with Alex, better and better and better has been the theme, and working with him, somebody who really enjoys feedback and kind of having it back and forth.
Super well connected to managers, players, coaches and ownership, that being Alex and continues obviously to follow the current game just as closely now as he was when he was playing the game. So, we’re really fortunate with the chemistry we have with Matt, Alex and Buster. Looking forward to a great start to the season with Scherzer versus deGrom tomorrow. We are going to start the season in Bristol with the Sunday Night talent and production crew.
The hope, obviously, is to move to the stadium here at some point. Safety and health come first. But I think the hope would be that at some point, you know, in the next few weeks, that we can get these guys out to the stadium.
Q: Obviously, you’re very familiar with the Yankees and you’ve gotten very familiar with the Mets, as well, over the last year. As you sit here now, which of those teams is better positioned for the future and what do you think it would mean to New York for both of those clubs to be competitive at the same time?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I think any time that the New York teams — not just in baseball, but all sports — when they are doing their thing, it’s something that is very good for sports, and New York needs a shot of great news, energy, and I think the Mets and the Yankees will provide that this year in a big way.
It’s exciting when you have Goliath versus Goliath, and it seems that’s the case now and for the future.
Q: You’ve been doing this for four years and you’ve evolved and improved in the broadcast booth. Curious how you think things have changed for you and how you’ve gotten better at the job in your four seasons.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I think — I think it comfort. You know, it’s just such a subjective opinion, right? I mean, some people may like your work, some people may love it, and some people may not like it. When you do the national game, the one thing you’re not is you’re not the common voice that they are used to listening.
One of the greatest guys that I’ve ever seen in my career over the last 25 years has been Joe Buck, and I think he’s the greatest, and he gets a hard time. So, it’s just a business that you’re never going to have, you know, everybody’s, you know, thumbs-up.
But for me I think it’s just cadence, it’s repetition. It’s just like playing baseball. I just felt better in my third and fourth year than I did my rookie year and I think the more I do it, the more comfortable I get. My chemistry with Matt is getting better and better. We spoke already this morning, and Buster Olney is just it’s as good as it gets. I’m surrounded by great talent.
Being at Bristol, it’s been pretty seamless; with the exception of a few different items that you may want to pick up when you’re at the stadium, it’s been pretty solid.
Q: You talked about buying the Mets. When you look at being a successful owner, what does that entail?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, we had what I think is the greatest, you know, boss of all time in George Steinbrenner. I think seeing the things that he did was, he never cut corners, he spent on his players, he was brilliant at marketing and in many ways he was my role model when it comes to that.
I think players first and customer service, really making sure that when people walk through those gates, they are getting entertained from the first inning to the ninth inning, and actually before that for batting practice. Yeah, that’s my role model.
Q: And so would you have been like George?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Well, it’s hard to say anybody could be like George. He’s one of a kind. 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.
Q: In terms of signing on another year to do this and FOX and everything else, why do you like doing this? Why do you like Sunday Night Baseball, repetitive, obviously not traveling to the games now but it is a major commitment. What is it about that you like?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I love baseball. We’ve been around for a long time and I’m a baseball nerd. 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. I miss playing. But this is the second-best thing is, you get to talk baseball to a national audience that loves the game, and the game has really never been richer. You talk about the young talent, you have the Yankees, who was it that mentioned the Yankees and Mets – Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, you have the Nationals, you have the National League, there’s so many great stories in baseball right now, and hopefully with more access we get to bring it to the masses.
Q: ESPN had some great moments last year, mic’ing up players during live play. The great game with Bryce Harper willing to wear the microphone while he’s literally out on the field. How do you feel about that as something that could help the game and particularly TV viewers?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: It’s a game changer. I remember some of those games. First of all, as a broadcaster, and a viewer at home. If I was a viewer, I would be really psyched up and pumped up because of the things people would always ask me is, ‘hey, what were you and Mariano talking about,’ or ‘you and Petit,’ ‘you and Jeter, what were you talking about?’
People want more access and the short-period trial has been really outstanding, and people are wanting more and more, and I think the more access we give, the better. And that includes in the clubhouse, in the batting cages, I want to see them driving home and coming to the stadium. The more, the better.
The young people, they don’t just want the generic content. They want the things behind the scenes that they can’t get anywhere else and I think Major League Baseball has an immense opportunity to open up the floodgates. Because, what they think is our lack of competitive advantage, we could flip that to our competitive advantage, because so many games, so much content. You could just keep feeding the youngsters, and that’s an asset.
Q: The fact that the first game you’re doing this season happens to be the Mets after you made a bid to buy them, will that be awkward? How do you plan to deal with this strange situation?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: It’s not strange at all. We gave it a great run, and the Mets are a fantastic franchise with a great fan base, and I think the ownership is going to do a fantastic job. I also think they have very much a competitive advantage — when you have 29 teams that have been bleeding, and you have one owner that’s coming in hot and ready to win a World Championship, I think there’s an immense competitive advantage for the Mets and I know certainly that’s how we were looking at it, coming in with dry powder and being able to make an impact. I think that in today’s environment, 100 million dollars will play like 200 or 300. So, for the first year or two, I think the Mets have an advantage to really take some market share of what’s out there.
Q: Do you think you will talk about your bid as part of the conversation tomorrow night?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I mean, I wouldn’t avoid it, but I don’t think that’s the story. The story is, you have two very good teams. We have an opener that’s a dandy. You may see tomorrow the Cy Young winner, with both starters potentially, and an MVP from both teams, maybe a Lindor, maybe a Soto. It’s a dandy full of great storylines, and the last thing people want to talk about is my boring bid to buy the Mets.
Q: You have the White Sox on Sunday night, and I was curious with the loss of Eloy Jiménez for most of the season now if you thought they still had enough offense and firepower overall to remain the contender people thought they were with Jiménez. Do they still have enough depth in that lineup to overcome that loss and might they need to have contributions from other parts of the team to make up for that?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I do think they have enough depth. They have an incredible amount of talent. They have a guy at first base that can, again, contend to win the MVP every year. They have Abreu. They have Anderson at shortstop that’s very underrated. His hands at the plate remind me of a young Paul Molitor, really underrated. They have great depth and they are scary.
I think La Russa, I know there’s been a lot of noise around Tony. I think Tony is going to be fantastic for that team. He’s energized. And don’t forget, there’s been six or seven attorneys in the history of the game that have been managers, and I think all of them have gone to the Hall of Fame. And he speaks español very well. It reminds me of Lou Piniella, they are both from Tampa, by the way, and a player hearing his native language, it just gives you a little more confidence. I like the Tony move but I’m a contrarian that way.
Q: You’ve been so busy but when it comes to baseball analysis, do you get joy doing the work that never makes it to air, but doing the work and coming up with those talking points that may never reach the viewer?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Even as a player I’ve always been process-driven. I actually enjoyed practice more than the game. I think that’s probably an anomaly.
But I’ve always been a baseball nerd. I love watching games, I love talking about it. I love challenging the system. And in many ways thinking as a contrarian, but I do like the setup. I like revealing stories, as we say, kind of taking off the helmet, off the player, and talking about who that person is and why he’s here. I think storytelling is something that is really, really important.
And the more you get to know our young players, the more you’re gonna fall in love with them, because we truly have some phenomenal young people, young men, that are out there. And then all the other stories, the women that are now getting involved, I love it.
I can’t wait to have a woman manager, a woman general manager. I came up with Jean Afterman and she’s one of my role models. You talk about a powerhouse. She’s just done a fantastic job for the Steinbrenners and working alongside Brian Cashman. A lot of great stories, and really excited to get fans back on, there’s so many things to talk about. And hopefully by the end of the year, we get the October that we are all used to and have a full house.
Q: I’m wondering if you think the deck is stacked for the Yankees to finally get back to the World Series, they are healthier, the Rays dropped some pitchers, the Blue Jays closer is hurt, you mentioned the White Sox injury, and do you think they made a mistake keeping Gary Sánchez?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I think the Yankees are in a very strong position and poised to make a lot of noise this year. Last year, they were a game short to advancing. I think keeping Gary Sánchez was brilliant and I think he’s going to have a monster year.
Q: Why are you confident in Sánchez?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I told you, I’m a contrarian. I just love — the same reason I think the Nationals are going to have a big year; the same reason I think Pete Alonso is going to have a big year. If I look at my career, I had a big year my freshman year, a so-so sophomore year and junior year I came out again smoking.
I like players with a chip on their shoulder. I like he’s in better shape. I don’t really care about numbers in spring training. I thought he looked good. He hit some home runs. I thought his bat speed was better and he’s hungry. When you have a player that’s hungry and something to prove and a contract to play for, look out.
Q: What do you think of the way Tampa plays the game with the platooning, the openers, all those types of things, and how they addressed the off-season getting rid of their two best starting pitchers, trading Snell and letting Morton go?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I think that Tampa knows how to play their game, and that is the most important part. I don’t think anybody else can try to play their game. I think they have mastered it. They understand what the value of a victory is and what they are willing to spend for it. I think the way they built it has been unique. In many ways I think, what two decades ago, Billy Beane started in Oakland, I think they have taken it even to another level.
I think for other teams, you have to be very careful because it’s easy to want to follow what they are doing, but they are doing it, that’s their game. You have to play your game.
And what they did with their pitchers, what they have done the last decade, right, they have moved pitchers at the height and gotten prospects and seems like they never miss.
Q: What are expectations with the Red Sox this year after the miserable year last year?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think they have the captain back on the ship, and I think that it starts with leadership. I think one of the things about baseball today that is most underrated is who is the manager, and I think having a guy like Alex back resets everything. It gives them some time to get back, and it gives them hope, because you have a guy that’s actually finished the mission. And it may not be this year, but I think with Alex, they are in good shape.
Q: Some news dropped this morning about this likely being Ken Singleton’s final season broadcasting Yankees games. Given you have such long ties with the organization, do you have any thoughts about his long career both on and off the field?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, you know what, you want to talk about the epitome of class, Kenny Singleton is as good as it gets. Fantastic player. Really, really, really, really sound broadcaster. A guy that was always measured, was well prepared and incredibly articulate and a great family guy.
And I’ll never forget, I asked him to go to lunch with me I think in 2015, I was still playing, and I said, you know, it’s the first time I started thinking about broadcasting and I said, “Kenny, do you mind if I take you to lunch one day this trip?” And he said, sure.
I think we went in the middle day in Minnesota. We were playing the Twins. We went to lunch. We went to Capital Grille in Minnesota and then walked to the Metrodome — Actually by that time it was a new stadium. He kind of sat me down and gave me some great lessons about broadcasting and why he got involved, and kind of some tips and nuggets that were really helpful. Again, I think it just kind of rounds out the kind of person he is.
Q: How much are you watching broadcasts of games to critique yourself and who is someone in the business you’re turning to, to help with constructive criticism?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: There’s some things as a player, I always went back and watched. And sometimes when I – not all the time, but I’ll come back and watch some of the games. Sometimes I may have felt like I missed something; I want to go back and see it. Sometimes in the studio, you don’t get the whole feel you get at the stadium, so you maybe want to re-watch that.
The guys that I talk to a little bit are — I think Joe Buck has been helpful. Obviously Matty is a great mentor. He’s been in the business a long time. Guys like Kevin Burkhardt, and my all-time favorite broadcaster and friend is Tim McCarver. I just thought that he had a great way about him. He was always very honest, objective and tough.
And growing up I was a Mets fan and he was the guy, the broadcaster I grew up as a 9-, 10-year-old listening to with Ralph Kiner and it was a delight to listen to them, and obviously becoming friends with them as I became an adult.