Matt Vasgersian has done well for himself in the 17 years since he endured a broadcasting experience he was not sure his career would survive, with his debut as ESPN’s lead baseball play-by-play man set for Thursday’s Yankees-Twins game.
But some always will associate him with his one, wild season calling XFL games in 2001, in part because he was a memorable eyewitness in the 2017 ESPN documentary, “This Was the XFL.”
So, what did Vasgersian think when XFL creator and pro wrestling impresario Vince McMahon announced in January that the XFL would return in 2020?
“I thought the guy is so wonderfully defiant, he just refuses to accept that that thing was going to go away forever,” Vasgersian said with a laugh, and recalled a 2001 season in which the hype got way ahead of the quality of the product.
“He’s probably had this kicking around in his brain for a while. And I’m positive that if Vince had to do it all over again, he would have played for a year with no TV. There’s a bunch of things he would have done differently, of course.
“I guess I was surprised at first, but considering who Vince is, his character, he’s a fighter. He likes to be an underdog. He likes people to tell him that it’s not going to work, and he works harder . . . I wish him well. I hope it finds its place.”
Vasgersian, who was 33 at the time, quickly got on McMahon’s bad side and was demoted from the No. 1 team after one game. Then and now, McMahon can be an intimidating figure.
“That’s why I don’t think I ever felt comfortable speaking up during that whole process,” Vasgersian said. “I was a young guy who in my soul thought none of that was making any sense. My instincts were, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this instead?’ But I never felt that comfortable, especially with Vince.
“On Opening Day we’re half an hour before kickoff and I’m sitting there in the stands because he thought that was going to be good for the announcers to be in the stands. I’m sitting there with Jesse [Ventura, his analyst], and he’s got his back to me because he just was never really on board with me, and he’s telling Jesse that he has to be big, he’s got to hype it, because that’s the only chance this thing has.
“Never once did the guy contact me, and I knew I was sunk at that moment. But he’s a bigger-than-life guy, still even in his senior years, and with all of his success and failures, he’s an imposing dude.”
“This Was the XFL” was directed by Charlie Ebersol, whose father, then NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol, helped McMahon get the XFL off the ground.
“He had access to everybody,” Vasgersian said of the younger Ebersol. “I don’t think another filmmaker would have been able to tell the story like that. Given who his dad is, he was painfully honest about what a disaster it was. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. I thought it was really well done.”
On Tuesday, Ebersol announced the founding of the new Alliance of American Football, which is to begin play in 2019, a year ahead of McMahon’s rebooted XFL.