Last week, we went behind the scenes with the MLB Network, talking to three of their presenters as they filmed episodes of Intentional Talk and 30 Clubs in 30 Days, down the road from SnakePit Towers in Goodyear. But as well as talking about the MLB Network, we also discussed a host of other topics, such as the additional wild-card, and their expectations for the upcoming season, and went in more depth over some of the topics, such as how the hosts prepare for their shows. There was a lot of interesting stuff which couldn't be fitted in to the original article, so after the jump you'll find the unfiltered transcripts
When did you think about being a broadcaster?
I had a fairly easy time dealing with the media. Probably towards the end of my career, I started thinking about the possibilities. I played for 18 seasons, and sometimes you get towards the end and, I don't want to say you've had enough baseball - but I'd had enough baseball! I took a year after I was done, and just spent time with my family, and got away from the traveling and the hectic lifestyle and the demands.
I was approached by the Cubs in 2005, about doing pre- and post-game shows for the Cubs on TV. I had little or no experience - I'd done numerous interviews through my career, but never as a job, going to interview people or working on set or in a studio. And John McDonough, who was the CEO of the Cubs at the time, convinced me to give it a shot, and I enjoyed it. It's a different perspective. When you're playing, it's a jaded world. You see only what you have to see - from this side, it's the other side of the fence, you have to learn to be more patient.
When you're playing, you control everything. If you just don't want to do an interview, you don't do an interview. You can come up with an excuse why not to do it - I've got a meeting, I'm running late. As a player, I don't think you realize how you don't accommodate requests from the media. You don't look at it like someone's waiting for you at 1pm to do an interview, and if you get there at 1:20, the hell with it, make them wait. But when you're on the other end if, and you're there at ten minutes to one, waiting to sit down and do an interview, and the guy's not there, it's irritating. So I had to learn patience really quick.
How did you get involved with the MLB Network?
I was doing the Cubs pre- and post-game for four years. and I had caught wind that there was a new network that was going to start up. I was probably no different than a boatload of players - you put in an resume, hope to maybe get an audition. It was interesting because I was very close to taking the White Sox radio job, and I flew out to New Jersey to Secaucus, did an audition. They replied back a couple of days later, made me a contract offer, and I then had to go, "Do I want to move? Do I want to go out to New Jersey?" because the White Sox were right in my back-yard. I grew up in Indiana, 45 minutes from home.
It was a life-changing thing for me, because I'm full-time. Doing Cubs pre and post-game three or four days a week, that's not even work compared to this network, which is 12 months a year, 365 days. There's pretty much always something going on, so the workload here is much more intensive than when you're covering one team. You don't just have to worry about the Diamondbacks and who they're playing that day:
if you have half a brain you should know your team by the time you leave spring training, so you really don't have to worry much about the Diamondbacks. You do your homework on the team you're playing, usually the first of the three games, by the second game, you know their team. Well, this is 30 teams, 25 players on each team, 12 months of the year. There's no way you can know every guy on every team, from head-to-toe, but you do the best you can. Some teams are easier: the major market teams that play on national TV, you're more familiar with. But it's a challenge.
So how much preparation do you find yourself doing?
During the season, I spend a minimum of two hours before I got to bed, looking at every box-score, even though I was on the 10-1 shift. It's so intense. You're bouncing around from game to game, you can't recall who started what game, which reliever pitched well. So I usually go home, and you have this adrenalin rush right when you get off the air, it's hard to go home and fall right asleep, so what I try to do is go over the box-scores. And something might jump out at me: hey, this guy pitched well, I'll do some research on this guy, J.J. Putz has strung together ten scoreless outings, then I'll maybe have an idea to do a breakdown or a demo, something on J.J. Putz. It's a very difficult job to be good at, if you don't put the work in.
How much is story-lines that you come up with, and how much is stories you're given.
It's 50/50. If I feel really strongly about a pitcher. I try not to go where I'm not an expert. I'm not an expert in baserunning, I'm not an expert in outfield play, so I'm the last guy that's going to break down a hitter's swing and tell you why he's hitting good or not. You're not going to believe me if you're at home. I have one hit in 18 years of baseball. I don't expect you to believe me and I'm not going to sell that, because that's not my area of expertise.
But when it comes to pitching, I have strong opinions about things, and I voice them. They'll have ideas - some of them I don;t like and I don't do them. And if I feel really passionate about something, I'm going to do it, it'll get done. I'm not going to do something that I don't feel I can put my name behind. When I get off the air, what I said, I stand by what I say.
Do you get feedback from fans?
Oh, all the time. This network has given baseball fans a completely different way to look at baseball. If you love baseball, this is the channel to watch. We have the time where we can go in depth and break down games, break down pitchers, break down hitters, teams that are hot, teams that are not. We have the time to do it.
This must be a bit of an escape getting away from New Jersey to Arizona...
Yeah, the days are long here, we have to be here early in the morning. I'm not a very good morning person, so a 6 o'clock wake-up call for me is stretching it a little bit! We're usually out here till 2-2:30 in the afternoon, so it's a long day. I like to walk around and stand by the cage, watch guys hit, go watch pitchers throw on the side. That way, I can put a face to what they're doing and the way they do it.
I can watch Dan Duffy throw on the side in Surprise for the Royals, and watch him throw a 15-minute bullpen session, and have my ideas about what I liked. Then when the season comes around and he starts pitching well, you have something that you can recall, "Hey, I remember watching him throw that day on the side." Like, he was working on his change-up, and now, two months into the season, he's off to a good start, and one of the reasons why is, his change-up is good, and you go, "Wow, I remember him working on that in spring training."
If I'm being honest, I don't spend a whole lot of time on what I don't know. I don't know how to hit - if I did, I wouldn't have been a pitcher. So I'm not going to break down a swing. I could, but that's not what I do.
How does Florida compare to Arizona in terms of spring training?
I prefer Florida as a player. Because there's more humidity, you sweat more, it's more like what you're going to deal with. It's not like Phoenix where you have the light air. If you have an ERA under five in the Cactus League, you've done a pretty good job pitching, because all these ballparks, the playing surfaces are very fast, the ball flies because of the light air here in Arizona - it's tough conditions to pitch in. It's hard to evaluate pitchers in Arizona spring training. But to me, the perfect conditions are cold, with the wind blowing in!
What are you looking forward to in the 2012 season?
What intrigues me is the AL West. C.J. Wilson and Pujols with the Angels, the Rangers are solid, been to the World Series two years in a row. Also, for some reason, I think the Royals are really close to being a really good time. They're young, but I like the Royals. Of the camps I've been to so far - this is the fifth one - they've been the most impressive. They don't have a lot of household names. Hosmer's probably the biggest one; Moustakis is going to be a good player, their catcher, Perez is going to be a good player. They're a young team, with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. Does that translate into them having a good year? No. But they were a fun group to follow for a couple of days.
And the NL West?
If you're asking me personally, I still think the Giants pitching is so good. If Brian Wilson comes back healthy, and he can pitch his normal 3-4 days a week... There's Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner - Vogelsong was terrific last year. They added some offense, bringing in Pagan and Cabrera, with Posey back. I think it's a two-team race. The Dodgers are going to be better, but Monday I like the Diamondbacks, Tuesday I like the Giants.
The Diamondbacks are for real. They're a good team. I wasn't completely sold on their pitching going into August, I thought when they went on that long East-coast road-trip starting in Philadelphia, beat Roy Halladay that first game, I thought "Wow." But then they kinda fizzled on that trip, and I thought, "Ok, the end's coming soon," but they turned it around. They're legit. They're good. They're really good.
So I hear you're a bit of a Cleveland Indians fan yourself?
I am. I grew up on the East side of Cleveland, It's still my team, even though this is now what I do for a living. You don't lose who you root for - at least I don't. I live in LA and I've raised my two kids as Cleveland fans. The great thing about Direct TV is that we watch everything: we watch Indians, Browns, Cavs, so it's a ton of fun. I've been going to Indians games since I was five years old, in the old, crappy Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I've been out to this facility a couple of times, it's so much better to train in Arizona. You can get your work done a lot easier, you don't have to dodge the thunderstorms.
That's interesting, because I was talking to Dan earlier, and he said he prefers Florida...
That's because he's a pitcher! You can't throw your curveball here, and the ball travels here, like a rocketship. You lose your confidence as a pitcher. I'm talking about it from a fan perspective. It's great. Who's going to beat this? There's no humidity, let's go. This is also the wave of the future. It's smart for teams to make it a multi-team complex. That way this stadium's filled for 30 days, not 15. It's just so much smarter.
How did you get involved with the MLB Network?
I've been working with Fox for, at the time, ten years, and been their pre-game host for baseball and wanted to do a little bit more outside of Fox, and it just worked. I only did about 30 days my first season in 2010 with them, helping out on MLB Tonight, so I'd fly out and do that. Then they came to myself and Kevin Millar and had an idea to bring Intentional Talk to the air. It's been good for the network, in the sense that when you're a 24-hour singular sports network, you need some programming diversity.
And I guess that's what you'd call us: diverse. Or maybe just stupid, I don't know. But we're fun: we have a lot of good times and it's a relaxed show. MLB Tonight's great: it's an Emmy-award winning show, it's our flagship show - everyone's really proud and it's an honor to work on that. But at 5 o'clock Eastern, right before the next night's games are about to start, this is a little breather. I'd almost call it "the cocktail hour," get yourself nice and relaxed for that night's games.
Do you find it more difficult - or different - to be working 12 months of the year?
No, because I've done daily shows for years. I did one for Fox, and I love the daily grind. I love to get my hands dirty, I consider myself to be a producer that just happens to be on television. I like to come up with ideas and suggest segments. I think when you take ownership in a show, it invests you a little bit more, you're not just showing up five minutes beforehand and saying "Hey guys, what are we doing?" Personally, that's not the way I like to do business.
You've known Kevin for quite some time...
Yeah, we've been friends for eight years, he used to come on an old show I did on Fox. We're the same age, we both have young families, his Mom lives ten minutes from me in Los Angeles, so he'd come out and visit a lot and we'd do stuff in the off-season. We always talked about wanting to do a show together, and here we are. I don't know if the executives regret it, or if they like it.
There are some shows where guys start working together and then they become friends. There aren't a lot of shows where guys are really good friends, and then they have a show together - it doesn't happen that often in the sports world, and I think we're really lucky that what you see on Intentional Talk, that's the way we are. He's the nutty,crazy guy and I'm the guy that's got his hand on his forehead half the time, based on what he's saying. When we're hanging out, I look at him like "Are you kidding me?" His oldest kids are six, and I'm like "You have the mentality of a four-year-old!" some days, but that's the thing that makes it fun.
Do you do a lot of preparation?
Oh, yeah - I do a lot of reading, a lot of watching of games and shows, and listening to other people's perspectives, and trying to spin stories and just think of them from a different angle. What if we take this obvious story, and throw this little branch on it. That's what makes it fun. We had an ideas meeting this morning at 7am West Coast time,
When you're on the road, you're a lot more limited in terms of what you can do,. just because you're going to fill up the show with other elements we've got a guest on site here, and we're doing some other pieces while we're out in Arizona. So the topics that you actually discuss, baseball-wise, are more limited this week than they would be on a normal show, but you've still got to come up with ideas.
How do you find having to keep up with 30 teams?
I wouldn't say it's difficult, but we're not living in the MLB Fancave! We're not watching all zillion games that happen. But I watch a lot of baseball. I like it. I'm not going "Oh, boy - I have to watch another one of these games?" That's not it. I enjoy watching, I enjoy trying to find some of the young players that you don't know about. It's a challenge. But it's really fun.
What teans do you think will do well in 2012?
If I'm going dark-horse, I might go with the Nationals. I like them, I like Davey Johnson's attitude in spring training, where he's basically saying, "If we don't make the playoffs, you can fire me." Maybe it was a little tongue-in-cheek, but I think his point is, let's stop being the young team that's kinda close, let's start putting some winning teams in the field.
Especially with a fifth playoff team in each league now. I think there's a lot of managers that went, maybe we're not good enough to win our division, but boy we can get that fifth spot. And once you get in the play-offs, who knows? I'll also be curious to see if the Rangers can make a third straight run. We haven't had a team since the 1923 Yankees that has lost consecutive World Series and made it back to a third in a row. They have the talent and they're a fun team to watch.
You're in favor of an additional wild-card?
Absolutely. There are baseball pundits who say that's not the way the game is meant to be played, it's not a one-game playoff, it's a marathon. Ok: so you're telling me you don't want the excitement of a do-or-die situation? I mean, what's the thing we love most about the sport? Game 7 in a series: that's what we all crave. We want that. I want to see what kind of moves a manager will make when there is no tomorrow if we don't win. We get that now. We get that twice in one day. Last year's last day of the regular season was epic, it was unlike anything we've ever seen. And people say, "Well, you won't get that again." I waited four decades to get just that one day. Now I might have it every year, on that one day with the play-in game.
What do you think of the Diamondbacks in 2012?
Love them. I think Kevin Towers has done such a good job there in a couple of years. He looked at a 90+ win team, and said, "Where are we weak?" And he said, I've got Ian Kennedy, I've got Daniel Hudson, I feel good about those two. Do I want to wait on Jarrod Parker? I don't know if I do. I'm going to go get Trevor Cahill, the perfect guy for their organization. A guy who has been an All-Star in a tougher league, a guy who's in his mid-20s, and is still very affordable. Maybe he gave up some guys who'll end up being All Stars. Well, guess what: Trevor Cahill has already been an All Star.
Why not? They felt, "We lost in extra innings to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were a damn good team last year," so what's going to make the difference? Maybe it's your #2 or #3 pitcher. I think he strengthened his bullpen. He added Jason Kubel, which is a great bat. He's got a Gold Glove left-fielder he doesn't know what to do with - what a great problem to have!
Heard you were over at Salt River Fields this morning - what did you think of the complex?
That new facility will bring you to your knees, it's amazing to see what they;ve built there. It's truly amazing, all the way from the minor-league side to the big-league side, flip-flopping two wonderful organizations in the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. It's a great, great organization, you see the organization on the right track. From 2010 to last year to new, to see the team coming in with that kind of swagger, it's pretty neat.
Did you see the players arriving like that, with more confidence?
I asked Chris Young and Justin Upton and Joe Saunders, all the guys that had a taste of that last year, is there a different feel coming to spring training, because there's obviously a different confidence. And they all said yes, but people know they're good, they're not sneaking up on anyone any more. So it's going to be a tough year to grind that same feeling as they had last year. I think they have a great chance to repeat.
I love the Jason Kubel signing. I love the Cahill signing - Trevor has been a mainstay in that Oakland A's team. I think J.J. Putz, him being healthy and working on a cutter this year is going to add to the repertoire that he has. But they have a great little closer, they have a great little staff, The thing now is, who is Ian Kennedy? Is he a guy that will go back and be 9-13? Is he a guy that can win 17? If he has really established how to pitch in this league and is now a guy that's a frontline pitcher, then this team can go as far as that staff takes them.
But in this game, everybody's had a career high and everybody's had a career low. Ian had an unbelievable season for the Diamondbacks last year, and I think he's a big key going into it again, to see if he can stay at the top of that rotation and compete with the other guys.
When did you think you'd become a broadcaster?
Y'know, it's funny. When I play, people were "Yeah, you're going to be great on TV," but you don't go to school to learn how to broadcast. Every day, you're still learning something. You're learning how to hold a microphone, how to give interviews, how to handle situations. It's like playing. I think once you stop learning, you don't get any better, so I still want to learn. I enjoy it, I love it. Once you get released, what do you do? This is a way to stay in the game. I enjoy being around the players, I enjoy talking the game of baseball and I enjoy learning and try to pick people's brains.
What was the hardest thing to learn?
100% how to give interviews. It's still my weakness, my Achilles heel. Giving interviews, asking questions. Because I've always answered questions. So learning how to make it a conversation and ask questions of other players, that's the toughest part.
You knew Chris before becoming part of the show. Did that make it easier?
Yeah, we've known each other for a long time. Chris is a very bright guy. He's a producer in a host's body. He's very smart, very knowledgeable, been doing this a lot, and he's a very hard worker and I think he has helped us out bigtime, building the brand of Intentional Talk, because of the experience he has had with The Best Damn Sports Show. He has helped me a lot and basically showed me the ropes that I need to know.
What are the strengths of your show?
I think the strength of our show is that there's nothing like it in sports. There's nothing like it in baseball. It allows players to show their personality, be who they are. It's my job to create an environment where they trust you, and if you can't laugh at yourself, it's probably not for you. It's about having fun and humanizing them, because athletes these days, you see name and then you see salary and it's like they're not human - but they are.
There are some great personalities. They've got kids at home crying, they've got dogs that are taking poops in their yard, and they've got other things, just like everyday life. So my job is to humanize them. Let's see the dogs, let's see the family, what car you're driving, We're so inclined to statistics, we have so many shows that have that, so I want to talk about the normal life stuff. What position you played in high-school, what sports you played, and if you played tennis and wore some godawful outfit, we'll try to find it. I think that's our strength.
What have been the highlights?
I think it's definitely the segments we've created, like the "Got Heem!" segments - the guy falling in the pond at the winter meetings. A guy walked in and fell directly into a lake. Our Got Heem! segments, people have really taken a liking to them. And it started of as such a simple thing as "What is that?" "I dunno" "Got Heem!" It has created its own life. I think they love the Kevin's Highlights - fans spilling beer on themselves, a guy catching a ball in the outfield, and trying to throw it back, knocking a beer out of another fan's hands. All those kind of segments are catchy, and I think fans have had fun with that.
What do you think of social media?
It's pretty neat. I don't have a Facebook, I had to start a Twitter account with the show, I'm still learning it. It's wonderful because you have an immediate reaction, so you can have a fan really involved in the show and answer a question immediately. So it's like an email. I enjoy that aspect of it. But sometimes you don't know who you're talking to, I'm learning to pick and choose my spots, and you get a feel of who they are, when they keep Tweeting you.
Do you do a lot of preparation or prefer to fly on instinct?
A lot of stuff is in my head, but we prepare a lot. We have conference calls, and go over research packets and stuff like that. A lot of my stuff is done late night. I've got four young kids, so it's hard for me to stay on my cellphone all day long, or in front of a computer, it's not the way I am. So I'm Dad, then I have my show time, then I go back to being Dad, and then it's my research time, and then I'm in my chair an hour and a half before the show, basically locking down our bullet points.
What are you looking forward to in the 2012 season?
I think it's going to be an exciting year to add an extra wild-card team, so more teams in July will have a chance - there's another spot on each side, so I think that's going to be fun. I'm excited to see teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks. I wasn't a believer last year. People kept saying, "The Giants, just you wait" and I was that guy! But this team's good. So I'm excited to see Kirk Gibson and this make-up he's brought to the organization. How good are the Marlins going to be, with Ozzie Guillen? Where are the White Sox? It's going to be a neat year. You have your Detroit Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees, but where are the Rays? The Rockies are a team that could be better than people think.
Care to give a prediction for the World Series?
I think the Detroit Tigers make it to the World Series. They're a strong, strong ballclub. And my National League ballclub will be... [pause] It's easy to say the Phillies... [pause] Cincinnati Reds.
[Thanks once again to Dan, Chris and Kevin for their time, and Lou Barricelli of the MLB Network for his help in organizing these chats]