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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: January 23, 2022 3:52 pm PDT
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Baseball fans are you paying attention yet?

For more than two years here at BallNine, AMBS has been trying to tell you where the game is headed with Rob Manfred at the helm: right into the monstrous waves of the Perfect Storm.

This week, another bold example of Manfred’s inept leadership was center stage when longtime MLB Network reporter Ken Rosenthal was shown the door.

You can’t have people who are telling the truth about Manfred’s ineptitude on MLB’s network. Rosenthal’s departure mirrors what is going on with certain social media platforms and that is just the latest example on why even bother to watch MLB Network; especially the lockout version unless you want to see the 3000th rerun of Mr. 3000.

I’ve always been amazed by how much better the NFL Network is in showing and talking football and having interesting historical shows on football thanks to the legendary NFL Films. Twice, I visited NFL Films in Mount Laurel, NJ and spent the day with the late Steve Sabol.

What an NFL education that was – but that is a story for another day at BallNine.

It is here I must come forward and say I have been friends with Rosenthal for many years. We certainly don’t always agree on every subject, but there always has been a mutual respect for each other’s work.

In fact, back in the day, I helped launch Rosenthal’s television career when we would often appear together on Cold Pizza (which became First Take) on ESPN. Of course, I really had nothing to do with his success other than sit on a chair next to him and talk baseball, but it is fun to think back to those days when the two of us were together, shouting baseball truths to the ESPN world.

The man who was really responsible was then ESPN producer Barry Stanton, a longtime journalist. Barry and I covered the football Giants together back in the days of the bunker at Giants Stadium, with head coach Bill Parcells. And before Parcells would come into the bomb shelter of a press room at lunch time – wolf down a sandwich like Peyton Manning devouring food at halftime on his Manning Cast, and straight talk football with the writers.

This was when writers had real access to NFL head coaches and assistant coaches like Bill Belichick, and practices. In that room were beat writers such as Peter King, Vinny DiTrani, Bob Drury, Norm Miller and Mike Katz. It was an eclectic bunch to say the least.

Stanton has always known the good reporters from the not so good, so when BallNine reached out to him on Wednesday, this is why he said he hired Rosenthal, who has gone on to have a booming TV career with FOX as well as writing for The Athletic.

“Kenny had great information and he presented it very well,’’ Stanton said of those days.

Rosenthal did the same for MLB Network but once he criticized Manfred, it was time to go.

But really, is anyone surprised?

The world is starting to see why White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was pushing so hard for Manfred NOT to become the MLB Commissioner after Bud Selig. It’s pretty amazing how many things Manfred has touched that have gone bad.

If it ain’t broke, he’ll break it.

You can even argue that this game does not care about the fan at all, unless to use the fan as human Venmo.

Everything from getting rid of minor league teams and gutting long-standing relationships those minor league towns had with baseball, calling the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,’’ and now this Lockout fiasco.

Right there is the Triple Crown of Ineptitude. Well done, Commish.

News of Rosenthal not getting his contract renewed was first reported by the NY Post’s Andrew Marchand, who wrote: “MLB Network has cut ties with insider Ken Rosenthal in what is believed to be the end result of the acrimony that peaked in the summer of 2020 after Rosenthal criticized commissioner Rob Manfred.’’

I had known that Rosenthal was on Dean Wormer’s, I mean Manfred’s double-secret probation list as he was banished from the network for a period of time so none of this comes as a shock. That is the way Manfred operates when people he employs dare to tell the truth about him.

At some point, you can be sure you will hear about it from Manfred’s acolytes.

I’ve dealt with a lot of commissioners through the years and none of them like to be criticized, but going back to my days with David Stern and the NBA, he would seek out reporters and ask to be critiqued; and quite often that would happen in the hospitality suite during the NBA Finals.

Those were fun times.

Stern would argue with you over the criticism but had the wisdom to take those criticisms to heart and more importantly, how could the NBA improve. His was real leadership. Bud Selig would often argue as well and life would go on the next day, as Selig loved to talk about the game of baseball and the disputes of the previous day would be over the following day.

No matter his faults, you always had the sense that Selig loved the game of baseball.

Definitely not the case with Manfred. I don’t even think he likes baseball.

Ken Rosenthal (Photo via pressboxonline)

My read of Manfred is that he is much more thin-skinned than those two commissioners and that’s fine, that’s human nature. He also can hire and fire anyone on his network and now the other reporters there have been warned. They know they must toe the Manfred Line.

In the long run, moves like this shatter MLB Network’s credibility.

Also, MLB.com is in blackout mode regarding today’s players and the lockout right now. So it goes in Manfred’s world.

As one longtime baseball person told Baseball or Bust on Wednesday about baseball leadership in general, “It’s a bleeping disgrace. This guy is ruining our industry. Everything (Manfred) touches turns to crap.’’

Like the current lockout. No one is talking to each other. Baseball is getting set to offer some new proposals, but the two sides remain in different worlds. This should be the season of growing for baseball, the time you get interested in the moves your team is making or not making in the case of so many, “we just care about the money, not the competition’’ teams.

Instead, the NFL has the spotlight. Like it or not the NFL actually gave its fans an extra week of competition this year, thus they can make an extra week of cash. That’s a smart move. Not only are games being played – there is one more game this year – one more weekend of, for the most part, meaningful football.

Then comes the playoffs, another lock on the fan and television viewer.

As I’ve been writing for a while, under Manfred, baseball is in danger of becoming a niche sport. Big thinking has been replaced by big mistakes and when rule changes are made in the game under Manfred you can be sure the crew at MLB Network will endorse those changes.

As for the lockout, one insider told me, “They are going to wait and wait and then have their 12-hour sessions and all their BS.’’

He then pointed to Rosenthal’s work ethic.

“Kenny is a hard-working guy, he did his homework, he was respectful. He never put out anything unless he could confirm it, unlike some others.’’

Is Rob Manfred blind or just oblivious to the fans' reaction to the MLB lockout?

The way I see it, too. Every day, baseball seems to lose a little more of its humanity. I remember talking to my good friend Nick Cafardo before he passed away, as he lamented that baseball, the game itself, was losing its romanticism.

Romanticism is a big part of the game. That’s why people love their baseball memories and their visits to old ballparks. I will address that this coming Sunday in The Story.

Nerdy numbers, launch angle, spin rate and the other over the top calculations have replaced the soul of the game. And this gambling road is long and unending and sure, it may bring some new fans to the sport ­– but replacing real baseball talk with gambling talk is just another dagger to the heart of the true baseball fan.

You can even argue that this game does not care about the fan at all, unless to use the fan as human Venmo. Ironically, with some of the telecasts of previous World Series on now as a way to fill the empty shelves at MLB Network, it’s actually fun to see the quick pace of those games. The all-around baseball skills and athleticism like hit and runs, stolen bases being used in a game and those announcers talking about the heartbeat of the game; not the stress test-like read outs of today’s announcers talking about percentages and other hard to comprehend numbers that pass as baseball insight.

Rosenthal will still be doing his bow-tie thing as a reporter for FOX and that is a good thing, when baseball games return… and with this lockout it is not looking good right now for anything close to an on-time start.

That’s why I said this is the Perfect Storm. Beware, baseball.

Manfred & Co. think this is just another financial fishing trip and the game is not facing multiple raging storms. At some point the fans will have had enough, it will be too costly, too time consuming, too boring (strikeout, walk, foul ball, and once in a while a home run) and pretty much nothing else.

Jim Kaat has seen it all in his time in baseball.

Baseball and Manfred cannot silence people who are critical of him. It is not good for the game. When the baseballs themselves are being altered at the commissioner’s whim to change the game, that is a major problem. When the two sides are trying their best to slit the throat of the golden goose, that is a problem. Regular folk just can’t relate to millionaires arguing with billionaires over billions of dollars.

When wonderful minor league towns are told to get lost, that is a problem. When the game becomes too expensive to go to as a family, even a small family, that is a problem. When your team is not even trying to win and yet is charging major league prices for minor league action, that is a problem. When the game is unrecognizable from previous generations of play, that is a problem. When starting pitchers can’t pitch deep into a game because they have been strangled by the pitch count all these years, that is a problem.

New Hall of Famer Jim Kaat worked closely with Rosenthal, who was at MLB Network for more than 12 years.

Jim, one of my favorite and most knowledgeable of baseball people, has met a lot of reporters through the decades. He first became a pro player in 1957, pitching for the Superior Senators in short season Class D in Superior, Nebraska.

He offered these words after learning of Rosenthal being called out at home on MLB Network. “So sad to hear that my friend Ken Rosenthal was not retained by the MLB Network,’’ Kaat said. “I worked several games with Ken and he was as honest and objective a reporter as a network would want. After all, that is our job. To be honest and objective about all things baseball. Don’t worry about Ken’s future. He will always be in demand … first class gentleman and proud to call him a friend.’’

Honest and objective.

That is a badge of honor right there for Ken Rosenthal.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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