Booth bound: Former players turn to TV
After retirement, players aim for broadcasting career
NEW YORK -- The truth about television production became clear to Jerry Hairston Jr. several years ago, moments after baseball's latest media hopeful stepped into an ESPN studio for the first time. Jitters? Nope. Claustrophobia? Perhaps.
"I didn't realize how small it was," Hairston said, recently recalling that initiation. "It's just you by yourself with a camera. There's nobody there."
Well, one nobody, hoping to become a media somebody. On a tip from then-ESPN analyst Harold Reynolds, Hairston parlayed that first experience into an analyst gig for MLB.com at the 2007 World Series, and a regular guest spot on an Arizona radio station. He aims to enter the field of broadcasting after he retires.
"I'm really hoping," Hairston said. "To continue being around the game of baseball, I think that's something that definitely interests me."
They pop up constantly on television, players like Hairston, breaking down games, analyzing pitch sequences and providing the type of insight that men in suits never could. It's a more stable post-retirement career than coaching, but not necessarily an easier one. And it's becoming a popular way for former players to remain in baseball when their days between the white lines are through.
It's also not for everyone. There is no proper formula for players to become successful analysts, no required DNA. Unlike in other sports, there's not even a standard path for aspiring broadcasters to follow.
It's about who you know, and how much you're willing to learn. In other words, it's humbling.
"Some people get it right away," said John Entz, vice president of production at the MLB Network. "Some people don't get it quite as quickly, and some people -- maybe it's not the right avenue for them."
Aside from beaming a finished product to television screens around the country, the Network's job is to find those former players interested in broadcasting and polish them for the camera. Hairston picked it up rather quickly in his ESPN unveiling, but that's more the exception than the rule.
One of the tricks is simply to find the right people.
Since the Network's debut, broadcasting rookies such as Barry Larkin and Sean Casey have joined a group of more experienced former players -- Reynolds, Joe Magrane, Jim Kaat and the like. They have spent hours learning when to look at the camera, when to look at each other, how fast to talk and how best to listen. They have done their homework, too, keeping up with a game that changes nightly and then changes again.
It is because of that learning curve that the Network and other media outlets are constantly in search of the next great analyst. And everyone has an opinion.
|Among the many ballplayers who became broadcasters after Major League career, only four have received the top honor a baseball voice can receive: the Ford C. Frick Award.|
Entz, whose years in the business have given him an eye for such things, picked Kevin Millar and Tony Clark as the current or recent ballplayers best equipped to succeed in the broadcast world. Reynolds chose Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson and John Smoltz, the latter of the two having spent time as guest analysts for various operations.
"For players who are thinking of getting into broadcasting, they need to be extroverted," Reynolds said. "If you've got public speaking experience and you're a people person, it will translate well on TV."
A quick survey of those around baseball yielded some similar results. Twins color commentator Bert Blyleven chose Michael Cuddyer, due to the ease with which he conducts postgame interviews. Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper selected Rich Aurilia. Mark Sweeney, a broadcasting aspirant who joined the Dodgers as an assistant coach after retiring as a player last winter, named Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta.
"You've got to have the personality to do it and have fun and understand the dynamics of the game," Sweeney said. "A lot of people -- they're comfortable in front of 50,000 people, but it's sometimes a little difficult when you realize you've got to do one-on-one interviews and things like that."
That's why some have started early. In Kansas City, outfielder Mark Teahen has taken up grilling teammates for a segment called the "Mark Teahen Show," which plays on the scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium.
"Mark Teahen has all the personality in the world," Royals broadcaster Paul Splittorff said. "Is that going to be a big enough name to draw on ESPN? Probably not."
But maybe so. It doesn't necessarily take a superstar to become a successful broadcaster, as Reynolds can attest. Just a .258 hitter over a dozen big league seasons, Reynolds was known far more for his glove and his speed than for the types of skills that translate into superstardom. Kuiper, in a career split between the Indians and Giants, enjoyed noticeably less success than that.
Nonetheless, he's been a successful broadcaster for the past 25 years.
Granderson, meanwhile, is one of the game's brightest young stars, which is why TBS jumped at the chance to hire him as a guest analyst last October. And Granderson jumped, as well.
"A lot of guys come up to me and ask, 'How is it?'" he said. "It is definitely different talking to the camera versus just sitting and talking. If you can get past that aspect of it, which took me about a day or so, everything is kind of normal. I'm not sure how many people can do that consistently."
Not many, according to those who have done it. But there are plenty of people who are willing to try.
"I think it's a combination of first of all, being likable, second of all, being knowledgeable, and third of all, following the game," Entz said. "It's hard to go out there and fake your passion for the game. People will see through that."
It's also difficult to fake a passion for broadcasting, which is why so many fine candidates don't pursue it. After a lifetime of hectic travel schedules and day games after night games, many former players simply don't want to continue living that life after they retire from the game.
"Because they've made enough money, they don't need to continue a job," Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton said. "They want to spend time at home. It's hard for them."
Such is the dilemma for Smoltz, who has been a guest analyst on TBS in the past and who has shown all the attributes of a savvy broadcaster -- but who has also said that he would prefer to spend his post-baseball days at home with his family.
"There are certainly times where you think someone might be good, and they just want to retire," Entz said. "They want to go fishing or they want to play golf, and they don't want to take on an actual job -- because this is a job. Hopefully it's fun, but it's still work."
Rather desirable work, that is. Consider the NFL, which has set up a "boot camp" for current players to attend each summer and learn about broadcasting -- regardless of whether or not they consider it a future career. Twenty-four football players attended this June's third-annual camp, and more than half of those who attended in 2007 and 2008 have already landed broadcasting gigs.
MLB Network has no immediate plans for something similar, though the internships of Granderson, Smoltz and Hairston certainly indicate baseball television's commitment to its future.
"I enjoy just talking about baseball and being around the game, and broadcasting allows you to continue that," Hairston said. "Obviously, I like to think I know a little about the game of baseball. To be able to share that -- it's fun."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.