10/12/2003 3:33 PM ET
Leiter already a pro in TV booth
MIAMI -- In his rookie week as a game analyst, Mets left-hander Al Leiter has drawn rave reviews from television critics.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
"Why is he still pitching?" and "I learned so much about pitching after listening to him for only one game, I felt like I needed Tommy John surgery" have been typical comments.
Leiter, in turn, accords rave reviews to all the analysts whose work he previously had considered cushy.
"To all who think this is easy, well, I'm here to say it is not," Leiter said before settling into the FOX booth for Sunday afternoon's Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. "It's a lot more difficult than I ever imagined.
"I didn't realize how hard it is. Just the nuances of having to pay attention to every pitch. You have to watch, in case something happens and Thom [announcer Brennaman] asks my opinion. I didn't realize how grueling it can be."
Along with that realization, Leiter thinks he may have hit upon the ideal second career to ease his eventual transition to civilian life.
The 38-year-old has one year remaining on his contract with the Mets and does not rule out pitching even beyond that. But when he finally hangs up the cleats, he may be interested in donning the headset.
"I've really enjoyed it," said Leiter, whose prior broadcasting experience was limited to ESPN studio work during MLB's 1998 and 2001 postseasons. "I hope to have a couple more years of pitching left, and then I'll see.
"I do think, now I see why ex-athletes get in the business. It is a nice segue. You get to be in the sport you love so much, but not day-to-day, as being a coach or in the front office would require."
Leiter did not balk when FOX, which always seeks matchless insight for its game broadcasts by including an active player in the three-game crew, contacted him in midseason about this gig.
It was an opportunity to feel out a job for which Leiter felt optimally qualified.
"As a starting pitcher who charted hundreds and hundreds of games for the last 15 years," said Leiter, whose 15-9 record in 2003 raised his career victory total to 145, "I figured, 'How hard can it really be?'
"At first, I think it was a matter of me being out of my element. I hadn't done it before. It's like everything else in life; you have to experience it before you can know it. Never having been in the booth before, I had to learn quickly."
Six years removed from starting the Marlins' triumphant Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, objectivity has been no problem for Leiter.
Nor has feeling relevant to this NLCS. Not with pitching being such a clear-cut difference between the Marlins and Cubs, who enter Sunday's game needing one more victory to take the series, 4-1.
"Starting pitching is the obvious given of how we've gotten to this point," Leiter said. "Good pitching -- and more specifically, good starting pitching -- will keep any team in a game. With good defense behind it, and sometimes hitting, you win the game.
"Look at all the runs the Marlins have given up in the first innings. That's an awful big hole to ask your hitters to dig out of, especially when they're facing the likes of Mark Prior, Matt Clement, Kerry Wood. But that's what postseason baseball is all about."
Is it about all over for Florida?
"If any of those Marlins are in that clubhouse," Leiter said, motioning to the entrance into the Fish tank, "are thinking of the daunting task of having to win three in a row, they're not going to win the series.
"But," he added, "if they break it down to the first pitch of the game and executing each pitch thereafter, it becomes much more manageable."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.