The latest sports media post picked up by the Southern California News Group takes an extended Q-and-A with ESPN’s new “Sunday Night Baseball” play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian and attempts to explain better his role with the franchise that now includes Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza.
In addition to what’s in the version online, we have a few interesting outtakes to put out here:
Q: You have no Twitter account. Do you stay away from social media? Is it like having a loaded gun that can only cause you harm?
A: No, my reluctance to being on there is that I am keenly aware of what I would post if I were to be on there. I guess it’s a reaction to what I see by a lot of peers in the business who are more concerned with the number of followers and responses and likes than they are the actual job they were hired for. The unfortunate part for me is we’re all being judged now by Twitter followers. I’ve been in the office even of some old-school executives who upon talking about adding new talent, the first thing they do is go to Twitter to see what the account looks like and how many followers there are. Really? Even you?
Q: And read the kinds of things they tweet about, and determine if they’re too toxic to have around?
A: I think they do that, but anybody can clean themselves up on Twitter. It’s far from a perfect way to judge an applicant. I like to be a little counter cultural, so that’s my way of staying away, not to mention the access is a little creepy. I can see how it can overwhelm someone who does what I do and I don’t want to be the guy who, every time we go to commercial, looks at my phone to see ‘How did I do?’ I’ve seen a lot of that and I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.
Q: But you’re in a booth with ARod who is very social media savvy, active, accessible.
A: He’s used it well, though. I’ll give him a lot of credit. A huge part of his post-baseball redemption has been how shrewd he has been on social media. He never puts anything controversial or agitating out there. He asks a lot of questions. He posts a lot of pictures. My wife followed Alex on social media before he and I started working together because she was interested in what he was doing with his kids and with Jennifer. I think my wife is a perfect example of someone would never be interested in any baseball player under different circumstances, but he’s reached a lot of people that way. She watches him on ‘Shark Tank.’
The thing that I don’t think his detractors don’t get about him is that he has a really pure curiosity about things. He wants to learn things he doesn’t know. He wants to be finely tuned to things outside of sports. So he’s interested in finance, and photography. He’s a very interesting guy.
Q: When you first started you first full play-by-play job, you were 29, in Milwaukee. That’s the same age as when Joe Davis started with the Dodgers fulltime, following Vin Scully. As a 50 year old, based on your experiences and travels, is there some kind of unforeseen advice you might be able to give to a younger broadcaster, how to deal with other people, with the media, with the business, that they might not think about as they’re climbing the ladder?
A: At first, I was super reluctant to do anything outside of baseball. But when I realized it was the same sort of skill set, I took it too far the other way and was going too much ‘cartoon-like’ stuff. The XFL (in 2001). I did the Rock-Paper-Scissors Championship with Tom Arnold (2004, Fox Sports Net).
Not exactly going to get me a Peabody Award.
“Sports Geniuses” (a short-lived game show at Fox Sports Net in 2000) I thought would stick around, but it was the causality of a change in administration. I made some tactical errors in some projects.
We all have. Bob Costas has his “BASEketball,” right?
I’d probably advise someone to take a more medium route. Take some jobs outside of baseball but don’t go nuts.
I would also advise, especially after that XFL experience, that you just have to sign off on your own instincts and no one else’s. If you’re uncomfortable about something, let it be known or don’t do it. Right after the XFL – here’s an example of doing too many weird things – there was a time in TV when the hour-long reality game show was really hot after “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” so everyone wanted their own twist of that. There was a producer in Australia who was shopping a show here, kind of like that, but it was also including a lot of physical duress for the contestant. So there was this ‘Voice of God’ person asking questions, and as the questions got more difficult, so did the environment. It was shopped at ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. ABC bought it and they called it “The Chair,” and John McEnroe was cast as the host. Fox also took the pitch and they had their own development guy and decided to do their own version of it called “The Chamber.” It was literally a torture-type chamber with a seat in it and the same idea. More difficult questions, more physical obstacles. And I’m cast to be the host of this. And there’s a race to get on the air first, “The Chamber” versus “The Chair.”
I go to the rehearsal, first day of run-through, I was signing the contract and we would shoot the next day at the Hollywood Center Studios. The producer is a friend of mine, so I’m feeling comfortable. I get there for the first rehearsal, and they had a college-age girl in the chamber who probably responded to an ad for extra work, they have her strapped down, blasts of water shooting onto her, while this Hal 2010 voice is asking questions like, “In the hit TV sit-com The Simpsons, what’s the name of the youngest child?” And she’s like, “What? I can’t hear the question. I’m cold.” And then I hear a guy next to me who is having a conversation with a producer saying, “What are the ramifications if we had a bunch of mosquitoes in there? Would she really get sick if say she got bit by 100 mosquitoes?” I’m watching all this go down and I’m thinking: “What a nightmare … It’s a Japanese torture show that’s gone way bad.”
So I panicked, and I left. I didn’t tell anyone. I just bolted. I called my agent in New York and freaked out. “I can’t do this!” I just got through the XFL where I got slaughtered. My career is already heading the wrong way. My agent freaked out and called Mike Darnell (the producer) and they called me at 2 a.m. that night and offered me a lot more money and I was like, ‘You don’t get it. The only reason that I would do this show is because I feel bad for this friend of mine who was also producing, but I can’t do it. I quit the night before they were going to tape it. They hire a sports radio talk show host from L.A. (Rick Schwartz), he tells ‘Access Hollywood’ or ‘Extra’ about what I mistake I was making, just trashed me, has since apologized for it, but …
Those are the lessons I’d impart on a young broadcaster. Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to quit something at the last minute.
One other thing for a young baseball guy – and this is something Joe does really well – he wants to service the Dodgers and baseball, not pushing himself into it. He knows his role, stepping into the shoes of the most self-less broadcaster in the game. Also the best. Vin Scully would always say the reason you don’t make a big deal about a guy who has a no-hitter, or conform to the clubhouse code and fail to mention it, because when you don’t say it, you’re making yourself a part of the story. Vinny never wanted the limelight on him and Joe is the same, not making the game about him. He’s been perfect in that regard. He’s talented.
Q: Anything you learned as a kid actor you can still use today as a broadcaster?
A: I think most of this is acting (laughing). Especially when you’re acting like you’re interested in an 11-1 game. Or acting like you’re interested in hearing the soundbite from the player who says, “If we just do our work, we’ll be there in September.” And you give it that fake look of interest, with the Arsenio Hall kind of “hmmm.” Quite a bit of it.
Q: Did you seriously consider acting?
A: I thought I wanted to be a producer in the entertainment business. Not that the University Studios Tour guide job I once had was going to be foray into wining an Oscar. There is a story from the tour I’ll break out Sunday (on the ESPN Dodgers-Giants broadcast). It’s my propitiatory information right out the tour guide manual. I’m fairly certain I’m the only play by play guy who was once a Universal Studio Tour guide. So the story is: When they were excavating Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium, there was a Universal Studios executive driving past on his way to work noticed the flatbeds with the shell houses loaded on. So he ordered a bunch of them, has them sent to Universal Studios, drops them in the back lot and creates Industrial Street where ‘The Munsters,’ ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ .. a bunch of TV and movies shot at Universal. Boo Radley’s house was excavated from Chavez Ravine. I’ll drop that on Alex and Jessica on Sunday and watch their synapses misfire.
DID YOU KNOW:
*These YouTube clips exist of Vasgersian calls, which make it sound like “Santa Maria” is something he has leaned on as a catch phrase, but really hasn’t:
* Stories from the Sports Business Journal on how ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for MLB Phil Orlins discusses changes ahead for “Sunday Night Baseball,” and how Fox measures its baseball audience now with regional broadcasts.