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BtBS Roundtable: A-Rod on TV

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Alex Rodriguez was a crazy good baseball player, and is a crazy good baseball analyst. We discuss his metamorphosis, including what he does well and what he could improve upon.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's note: Welcome to a Beyond the Box Score roundtable discussion, where several of our writers discuss Alex Rodriguez and the job he’s doing on FS1’s pre- and post-game shows during the playoffs.]

In 2015, Fox Sports asked Alex Rodriguez to join their pre- and postgame coverage during the MLB playoffs. Rodriguez had enjoyed a renaissance season on the field with New York Yankees after serving a season-long suspension for performance enhancing drugs, and this move was just another step in rehabilitation of his stormy career.

Before going on TV as an analyst, most baseball fans thought of Rodriguez as a robotic, fake, socially awkward guy, based on quick glimpses through the sometimes-distorting lens of the New York media. It was reasonable to assume that those qualities would follow him onto the TV screen, and that Rodriguez would embarrass himself. Instead, the superstar was prepared, showing off his vast knowledge of the game, rolling with the punches (e.g., dealing with Pete Rose and his frequent wild diversions), and earning new fans with his affable TV persona. Rodriguez also meshed well with studio host Kevin Burkhardt and co-analyst/Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas.

There were some minor, technical things Rodriguez needed to work on during his first year, but overall, his performance on Fox pleasantly surprised a great number of people.

We decided to have roundtable discussion amongst a few of the BtBS writers—some of whom were already Alex Rodriguez fans and others who have converted—to discuss his relatively smooth transition from an all-time great baseball player to an all-time great broadcaster.

1- What was your honest reaction to the news that Alex Rodriguez was hired by Fox Sports to work the 2015 postseason?

Nick Stellini: I was excited! A-Rod has always had a great baseball mind. He speaks brilliantly about the game in interviews, and I remember in particular an appearance he had on Mark Feinsand’s podcast that really impressed me. He’s been around the game as long as anybody this side of Jamie Moyer, and has been on the same teams as both Goose Gossage and Gary Sanchez. He knows his stuff, and I’m one of those evil soul-sucking Yankees fans (and, obviously, an A-Rod fan).

Jen Mac Ramos: I thought it would be interesting. I wasn't exactly sure how it would go, since a lot of athletes becoming broadcasters can be hit or miss. But A-Rod has been showing his personality a bit more in the last few seasons, so I was hoping that would continue on screen.

Evan Davis: I wasn’t sure what to expect. A player’s talent is often inversely proportional to his coaching ability, and I think a similar principle might apply to punditry: the better you were in the field, the worse you will be on camera. On the other hand, A-Rod is A-Rod. The guy was always a studious observer, and he clearly was seeking to rehabilitate his reputation and had something to prove.

Stacey Gotsulias: I was thrilled, because I had suggested it on Twitter before it was even announced as a possibility! I am a big fan of A-Rod, and I knew that he and his baseball knowledge would be a welcome addition to any pre- or post-game show. Anyone who watched his postgame interviews while he played with the Yankees knows that he is a student of the game, and a savant who remembers counts and pitch types on home runs he hit back in 1998, which I figured would translate well to TV.

2- What kind of performance did you expect to see from Rodriguez?

NS: I wasn’t sure if he would be a subdued mess or if he would ace the test. There weren’t really any expectations on my part, but I knew he had the raw stuff to get the job done.

JMR: Something a lot better than the low bar set by Harold Reynolds.

ED: All I could be sure of was that the suits would look good. A-Rod was never a Bonds-level time bomb with the media during his playing days, but that didn’t necessarily mean he would be polished sitting behind the big desk.

SG: I was slightly worried that he’d be very nervous and fumble a bit, but like I said above, he’s so knowledgable about all aspects of the game, so I was hopeful that it would work in his favor.

3- What has surprised you the most about his performance on TV so far?

NS: Out of everyone on the Fox panel, Rodriguez has been the best at keeping the half-senile stick of dynamite that is Pete Rose in check. They’re perfect foils.

JMR: That he's got the skills to be a broadcaster. I took broadcasting courses in grad school and it's a lot harder than it looks, obviously, but A-Rod seems to be learning on the fly, which is really impressive.

ED: He’s so funny! That humor didn’t quite come through in 2015, but now, with great lines “I don’t think Pete should bet on anything” and his brief stint as floor director/camera operator, A-Rod seems a lot more relaxed, and is landing some actual punchlines.

SG: I was surprised at how well he did right away. There are former MLB players on TV who have been doing it far longer than A-Rod has and they still don’t seem as comfortable on screen as he does.

4- Now that he’s in his second year of doing this, what do you think he’s improved upon?

NS: During his first year, his delivery was a little stiff and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his eyes in front of the camera after delivering an answer. Now that he’s got some experience under his belt, he’s a lot more loose and relaxed.

JMR: he seems more relaxed and is picking up on cues better. When you're unfamiliar with broadcasting, those cues could be tough to read, especially with someone talking in your ear – there’s a lot of multitasking. He's gotten better much at that aspect of the job.

ED: A-Rod’s performance was pretty smooth in 2015, but he could be stiff at times, delivering precisely timed soundbites that he probably edited between commercials using a stopwatch. He’s much looser now, but somehow more analytical; his breakdown of Rich Hill’s game plan before Game 3 of the NLCS comes to mind. Everyone knew that Rich Hill was going to throw a lot of curveballs, but A-Rod correctly predicted that Hill’s ratio would actually go up against the Cubs. He’s just so comfortable now, and that’s showing in his analysis.

He is also turning into a leader among the rest of the pundits. Kevin Burkhardt is the quarterback, but A-Rod is perhaps the center [ed. note: football metaphors are not our strong suit], marshaling the offensive line and the agent of chaos that is Pete Rose. When Rose was giving his hitting master class to A-Rod and Frank Thomas, A-Rod asked a question, Rose pivoted, and A-Rod immediately responded, “That didn’t answer my question.” I love the confidence that shows.

SG: Echoing what everyone else has said so far, he’s a lot less stiff than he was a year ago, and he’s also a lot more comfortable ad-libbing with the guys at the desk. That’s especially important with Pete Rose, who tends to steer the conversations during the show into completely new directions. And like Evan, I absolutely loved how A-Rod handled that hitting segment with Rose and Frank Thomas; he asked questions, he answered questions, and when he didn’t feel he wasn’t getting an answer from Rose, he told him so.

5- What do you think he still needs to work on?

NS: He could probably stand to throw a couple jokes in, but I’m not sure if that’s his game. Shooters shoot, as they say in basketball.

JMR: Just getting better at always being comfortable, with small things like knowing where to look when someone else is talking. It's a bit of a weird, awkward silence where you're trying to figure out if you look at the camera or you look at the person who’s talking, but A-Rod is getting the hang of that.

ED: He’s a lot more relaxed this year, but there is still a mechanical, clocklike precision to his performance at times. On the pregame show before Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, he was turning his entire body to address Burkhardt, then Rose, then Thomas. It looks intentional: make eye contact with everyone on the panel, and you connect with them. I would guess that A-Rod, who always felt like a guy who tried really hard to be likable but never seemed fully human, still carries a bit of that inside him. I’d also love it if he didn’t accent the beats of his sentences by tapping the desk with his massive hands.

SG: As everyone said, he just needs to get a little more comfortable. That goes hand in hand with the stiffness, and while he does seem a lot more relaxed this year, there’s still room for improvement.

6- Do you think Rodriguez should consider a full-time broadcasting career now that he’s retired?

NS: For selfish reasons, I want him to double down on his role as a roving instructor in the Yankees system. As good as A-Rod is on TV, I think he could be even better as a coach, and maybe even as a manager one day.

JMR: Absolutely yes. To use the cliched phrase, he's a breath of fresh air from your typical commentators, and he's also not Harold Reynolds. A-Rod knows what he's talking about, which is shockingly rare.

ED: Without question. For all of his issues, there really isn’t anybody quite like A-Rod among the baseball pundit class. Gary Sheffield doesn’t have A-Rod’s analytical sharpness. Mark DeRosa has all the smarm and none of the charm. Dallas Braden has no idea how to make subtle his sense of humor. Pedro Martínez can’t run a panel. A-Rod is a unique and special presence.

SG: There are so many former players who work as broadcasters and a large chunk of them are not great. I feel like Alex could be an all-time great baseball broadcaster. He’s prepared, he’s analytical, but doesn’t talk over your head, and he’s charming. And he’s actually made Red Sox fans like him. Talk about a turnaround.

I also like how when Rodriguez asks players questions during the post game show, they’ll actually say, “Ooh that’s a good question.” It happened twice during Saturday night’s show, with both Javy Baez and with Kris Bryant. He knows what he’s doing.

7- Do you think Rodriguez could handle the responsibility of being in the booth during a broadcast?

NS: Absolutely. I dream of a booth that incorporates both A-Rod and Chris Archer, who wowed us all last year.

JMR: I think he can. I'd like to see him be a color commentator, analyzing swings and footwork of a batter.

ED: Perhaps, but I’m not sure if that’s where his skill set is best attuned. I enjoy the hell out of just watching A-Rod – how he uses his body, how he expresses his points – which you can’t do with a color commentator is afforded. With that said, a three-man booth of Matt Vasgersian, John Smoltz, and A-Rod is certainly tantalizing.

SG: I’d love to see what A-Rod could do in the booth. Like I said above, he would be very prepared, with a copious amount of notes – resembling ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza in that way – and it would be so much fun listening to him break down at bats as they happen during a game.

8- What would you say to people who still aren’t aboard the Alex Rodriguez as an analyst love train?

NS: Why do you hate me when I show you nothing but love?

JMR: “I mean, we’ve seen worse. It can't be worse than that.”

ED: “Have you seen Dan Plesac and Kevin Millar work? Stop acting so spoiled.”

SG: “Two words: Harold Reynolds.”

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Stacey Gotsulias is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.

Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.

Jen Mac Ramos is a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score. Their work can also be found at MLB Daily Dish. You can find them on Twitter at @jenmacramos.

Evan Davis is the host of In Play, Pod(cast), the official podcast of Beyond the Box Score.