Alex Rodriguez is in serious talks to join ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, but there are potential hangups to the deal, two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Big Lead. Unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, the people requested anonymity. Spokespeople for ESPN and FOX Sports declined to comment.
Earlier today, ESPN oral history co-author Jim Miller tweeted:
Michael McCarthy of Sporting News also reported ESPN’s interest in A-Rod, but cited a source who said, “FOX, in general, is not good about sharing talent.”
It’s unclear whether whether FOX would permit A-Rod to work Sunday Night Baseball during the regular season and continue his role on its popular studio show with Kevin Burkhardt, Frank Thomas, Keith Hernandez, and David Ortiz in the playoffs. A spokesperson for A-Rod told The Big Lead by email that “Alex is exclusive to FOX for baseball.”
FOX and Disney recently announced a deal, pending regulatory approval, in which the latter is purchasing over $60 billion in assets from the former. While this deal includes the lucrative FOX Sports RSNs, it does not include the broadcast network assets that the FOX Sports national MLB package is in. If the deal goes through, FOX shareholders, including the Murdoch family, will own a substantial stake in Disney, which is ESPN’s parent company. Right now, it is unclear whether or to what extent these two companies will cooperate with each other in aspects like this potential A-Rod deal going forward.
Nevertheless, one additional potential hangup exists: A-Rod is demanding input as to who does play-by-play on the ESPN broadcasts, according to our sources. Over the weekend, McCarthy reported that Jon “Boog” Sciambi was the “lead candidate” to replace Dan Shulman on play-by-play. However, A-Rod’s preferred broadcaster in this spot is Matt Vasgersian, whom he called a game with at FOX last year. In addition to calling games for FOX, Vasgersian has also been a host for MLB Network since 2009.
Other than Jessica Mendoza and Buster Olney returning to the broadcast, which ESPN has already announced, the roster is in flux. Maybe A-Rod gets his way and is paired with Vasgersian, maybe a compromise is reached where he works with Sciambi, or maybe A-Rod winds up walking away from the opportunity.
There are a few ways you could look at this. It might be unprecedented, at least at ESPN, that a color commentator would wield this kind of leverage. Some might say yielding this kind of power to talent would set a dangerous precedent. If it’s done for A-Rod, any other big name might make a similar demand.
But, not many people, especially in baseball, can be the type of difference-maker that A-Rod would be as a broadcaster. Despite the warts from repeated untruths about steroid use as a player, A-Rod has reinvented himself as a profoundly engaging commentator.
Sciambi has been with ESPN since 2009, and called MLB for the Marlins and Braves for over a decade before that. ESPN typically promotes its play-by-play announcers from within the company, so another risky precedent could be set if the network’s premier baseball-calling job does not go to someone internally who management believes has earned it.
It goes without saying that it will be interesting to see how this story winds up.
Disclosure: The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality for FS1.