Alex Rodriguez impressive in broadcasting debut
Alex Rodriguez is 40, with a lifetime lived in the spotlight -- both the good kind and bad. But he said Oct. 19, 2015, reminded him a lot of July 18, 1994, when he was an 18-year-old making his major-league debut at Fenway Park.
"My first day, it was scary," the Yankees DH and newly minted Fox Sports studio analyst said Friday before Game 3 of the World Series at Citi Field.
That likely is news to most media critics and viewers, even many who were predisposed to dislike Rodriguez, given what widely has been hailed as a smooth, comfortable debut.
"I never said I was comfortable," Rodriguez said. "That's your words . . . But the team and the cast, they have made it a lot easier and a lot more fun."
John Entz, president of production for Fox Sports, said he is not surprised that Rodriguez is good at TV but added, "I think we're all surprised at how quickly he's become good at this. He gets all the credit, because he's not treating this as if it's a hobby. He's taking this very seriously. We've worked with current players who are done with their seasons in many sports over the years, and I would say that he by far has put in more time and more preparation than anyone else we've ever worked with."
Entz said he worked on talk shows in the 1990s and 2000s on which Rodriguez was a guest and that he had a notion that TV would come naturally to him. So Fox invited him to serve as an analyst after the Yankees lost the wild-card game to the Astros Oct. 6.
Things went so well that Fox started including him during the game telecast itself.
Rodriguez said he has leaned on advice from Fox play-by-play man Joe Buck, whom he called a mentor and "like my little batting coach," as well as others in the business such as YES' Yankees play-by-play man, Michael Kay. "But overall you have to just try it and see how you do," Rodriguez said.
This is the first time he ever has done anything of this sort. He never even had thought about doing it, during or after his playing career. (He has two more years left on his contract with the Yankees.)
"No, never," he said. "I've never thought about being a manager, I've never thought about being a coach, I've never even thought about being a broadcaster once in my life. So all of it is pretty new.
"I put my uniform back on here in a couple of months. But I'm enjoying it. I'm having a lot of fun . . . I do love the game. I try to articulate it in a way that the fans can understand it. What I try to do is bring the millions of fans that we have into the batter's box with me, and it's pretty fresh information."
Still, it is strictly a temporary gig for now. "It's like a European vacation," he said. "You try to do it once every two years, right? Vacations are short and sweet, and then you come home and you go back to your regular day job."
Asked if he would prefer being on the field to being behind a mic next October, he said, "Always."
Rodriguez said he was mostly unaware of the positive reviews he has been getting, from professional critics to social media. "I've only been doing it less than two weeks," he said. "It is challenging, it is hard, but also for me, the bar was set so low that that helped."
Kevin Burkhardt, Fox's studio host, said of Rodriguez, "Look, it's an adjustment. I've seen guys that are great in a one-on-one with one camera and one microphone. It's just so different [to be a studio analyst] and it's really different when you're out here [on site] and there are fans screaming at you.
"I tell you what he's done: He's been self-deprecating. He's laughed. I think you've seen the human side of him. I've personally seen the human side of him. I didn't know him. He's been awesome. He's been one of the guys.
"That's the thing to me that hopefully is coming across. Baseball-wise, I'm not surprised at his knowledge, but with our group, he's been one of the guys, and that's been kind of cool."
Baseball writers who have covered Rodriguez on a regular basis know him as a student -- and lover -- of the game and its history.
"There are a lot of guys who love to play the game but don't actually love to go home and watch the game," Entz said. "He loves baseball whether he's at the park or at home, wherever he is. And he loves to talk about baseball. That's really what we've encouraged him to do.
"We've tried to not make him a robot. We've wanted him to just act like he's sitting on the couch talking to the guys."
One of those guys is fellow analyst Pete Rose, who like A-Rod comes along with some heavy off-field baggage.
"Pete is a fascinating guy, loves baseball, has been around baseball for 50 years, and every time he speaks, he gives us all an opportunity to learn something about the game, and I respect that," Rodriguez said.
Did it give Fox pause to hire Rodriguez, who was suspended for all of 2014 for using banned substances, to join Rose, who is banned from baseball for betting on the sport?
"It really didn't," Entz said. "We feel like he paid his dues last year and he's in the game of baseball and we're trying to make an informative and entertaining television show. We thought he'd add to that."
Going into Game 3, Rodriguez said he believed the Mets still had a chance to win the World Series.
"Yes, they have a very good chance, I think, because they're the best team in the National League," he said. "The Mets are a great team. I think they're going to be energized by their fans. But I'll give you one thing: We went out to Kansas City and lost two out of three and we came to New York and we had three games and we swept them.
"The point of that story is, a, they're beatable, but b, you have to play great, you can't just play good, and I think the Mets have that in them."