Ken Rosenthal discusses O's, Angelos and '09 season
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal is among the very best baseball writers around. A former Sun columnist, he still lives in the Baltimore area and is still quite familiar with the hometown team. In a recent column, he placed the Orioles in his "No Hope Division," saying: "Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson in the same rotation — shouldn't that be illegal? Catcher Matt Wieters is coming, followed by a slew of promising young arms in 2010." He was on hand for the Orioles' opener against the Yankees yesterday and recently agreed to answer a series of questions from the Toy Department.
Question: Before we talk Orioles, how do you see the AL East shaping up this season?
Rosenthal: A three-way race, obviously, and I really like Tampa Bay's chances of repeating. The Rays have fewer age/health questions than both the Yankees and Red Sox, and their offense should only get better; players such as B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford stand to improve significantly over last season, and now the team has added Pat Burrell, Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce. The Rays' pitching is deep - see David Price, Triple A - and their defense is the best in the league. The bullpen could be an issue, but the Rays are my pick not to just win the division, but also the World Series. Which means they will probably finish last.
Question: What has the most potential to be the biggest fiasco of 2009: Manny, A-Rod or the new Yankee Stadium?
Rosenthal: It's between Manny and A-Rod, and it depends upon your definition of fiasco. If it's, "Player who causes the biggest distractions," it's A-Rod -- though Manny certainly cannot be underestimated in such a competition. The release of Selena Roberts' book on A-Rod on April 15 could cause a fresh round of "A-Rod is a weirdo" stories. And his hip could be an issue even after he returns.
Question: Were you surprised at how free agency unfolded and some of the dollar figures that were tossed around? If attendance is really down all across baseball, how much different will next offseason be?
Rosenthal: I was surprised. Every year, it seems, you hear the clubs say, "This year will be different," with regard to rising salaries -- and it never is. So, I was skeptical when some people started writing that the economy would have a major impact on free agency. Obviously things just kept getting worse and worse, and the effect was noticeable -- and understandable.
If attendance and revenues are down, I would expect more of the same next offseason -- the big free agents will get their money, but others will get squeezed. Oh, and I do expect the union to file a collusion grievance. Yes, the economy was bad, but agents were screaming the entire offseason that the owners were acting "in concert" in specific cases.
Question: Since you still live in the area, do you and your family ever come to the ballpark, buy a few hot dogs and enjoy a game from the stands? I mean, it’s not American Idol, but it’s still not a bad way to waste an evening, is it?
Rosenthal: No, it's a great way to spend an evening -- if your family likes baseball. My youngest child does a little bit, but my wife and older two do not. The kids are all teenagers, they're really busy and my schedule is a problem; I'm away every Friday and Saturday for Fox. Last year, I took my youngest to one game. My oldest also attended one game -- he came with me to Chicago, and I dragged him to Wrigley.
Question: Is the man-crush the city of Baltimore has developed on Matt Wieters warranted? And how long until we see that guy at Camden Yards?
Rosenthal: I have yet to see Wieters play, but the fascination with his ability is not just a Baltimore thing -- people in the game are really excited about him, and as Orioles fans know, he is No. 1 on a number of prospect lists. He is about as close to a can't-miss as it gets, and fans are right to be excited. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis are excellent players. Wieters has a chance to be elite.
Question: I have to ask you about Peter Angelos. We had a post last week pointing out that the Orioles owner once said your writing represents “the caterwaulings of an insolent twit whose journalistic fulminations vilify and randomly splatter written bile upon those with whom, in his distorted state of mind, he disagrees.” Thirteen years have passed – have you ever apologized to him for your crimes against journalism?
Rosenthal: No. If anything, he owes me an apology. Heaven knows I am not always right with my opinions, but Angelos' record speaks for itself. There is simply no excuse for 11 straight losing seasons, not when a team plays in a park capable of producing as much revenue as Camden Yards.
Question: OK, so you probably don’t have a regular dinner date with Angelos in Little Italy. But when you left the Sun and became more of a national reporter, I presume you were exposed to a lot more owners and front-office officials. How did this change your perspective on Angelos and what he’d done to the franchise?
Rosenthal: Actually, I was talking to a lot of those people when I was at the Sun; they helped me form my perspective. There was a steady exodus of front-office types after Angelos took over, and I had gotten to know others around the game as well. In fact, when I applied to the Sporting News -- my first employer after leaving the Sun -- I submitted a list of all of the front-office people I knew who had come through Baltimore. I was trying to show that I had a lot of contacts. Some of those people predated Angelos, but the list was extensive. So, really, I owe Angelos for helping me get the job. Maybe I should send him a thank-you note in lieu of an apology!
Question: All of that said, you’ve got to like some of the moves Andy MacPhail has made. You once wrote -- about a different man in a different decade -- that “Angelos and his sons likely will treat their new director of baseball operations as a puppet.” So are you surprised MacPhail has been given a long leash? And what do you see happening with this team over the next 3-4 years?
Rosenthal: I'm not surprised that MacPhail has been given a seemingly long leash -- it's about time. There are two elements to this: Angelos appears to have learned from his mistakes, and he trusts MacPhail more than other executives who worked for him previously. I do like the direction in which they're going, and over the next 3-4 years they could return to contention assuming that a good percentage of their young pitchers succeed. Some will get hurt, others will regress -- that's how it is with pitching prospects.
This all should have happened sooner -- the Orioles wasted at least five years putting teams of mediocre veterans together when they needed to tear it down and start over, Billy Beane-style. I still think they should have traded Roberts as part of their retooling. But for the most part, they're on their way.
Question: You wrote extensively a couple of years ago about the Nationals and their development as an organization. MacPhail has also taken a ground-up approach in Baltimore (though this franchise has existed here for more than a half-century). Do you see any similarities or dissimilarities between how the Nats and Orioles are growing their respective franchises?
Rosenthal: Even the Yankees and Red Sox are taking this approach -- quality young players are gold in today's game, offering high-end production at low-end salaries. All teams recognize that player development is more critical than ever. The Orioles and Nationals are simply part of an industry trend.
Question: Any sense for whether or not Dave Trembley has the chops to be a big-league manager for a long time? And does Angelos have the patience to allow Trembley to grow and develop? (As a reminder, here’s what you wrote after Davey Johnson parted ways with the club: “Angelos has finally done it, embarrassing himself and his once-proud organization, antagonizing the fans he claims to care so deeply about, losing the American League Manager of Year. If Angelos owned Disney World, he'd fire Mickey Mouse. If Angelos owned the Rolling Stones, he'd fire Mick Jagger. If Angelos had owned the Sistine Chapel way back when, he would have fired Michelangelo.”)
Rosenthal: Well, that was true at the time -- Johnson had his faults, but the Orioles are the only team in major league history to have a manager resign on the day he was named Manager of the Year. Yes, it was that bad, that embarrassing. The atmosphere around the club is different now, in large part because of MacPhail, who is extremely patient and loyal.
I wasn't sure about Trembley the first few times I met him -- I thought he was something of a salesman, and that his act would wear thin on veterans. But my initial impression wasn't right. He is tougher than I thought, not simply a rah-rah guy. The question is whether he will be the right guy once the Orioles return to contention (presuming it happens within the next few years). I don't know the answer, but the early signs are good.
Question: You’re on TV, radio and all over the Internet. Do you miss anything about your days as a Sun writer when you’d come to the yard every day and have just one team to worry about? What was that period like?
Rosenthal: I have more responsibility now, that's for sure -- both with the number of teams and number of outlets. I don't know that I miss covering one team. Actually, one of the reasons I left the paper was because I felt sort of stifled just writing about the Orioles, Ravens and Terps. It was a tremendous honor to be a columnist for the Sun, and I took the responsibility very seriously. You have to respect your audience, and the audience, quite understandably, wanted to read about the local teams. Fans in every city are like that - that's why the sports section is so popular. But there are fewer teams here, so it limits the possibilities.
The pre-Internet era was saner, there's no question. I sort of miss having the deadline and knowing that was it, my work was done for the day. With the Internet, it never turns off, never shuts down. But who am I to complain? I have an incredible job, and I'm grateful for it every day. I never thought I would be in this position. When I started, I never aspired to be anything more than a beat writer for a major pro team.
Question: OK, enough with the Orioles. Do you think today’s NFL writers will be flogged the same way baseball beat writers of the 1990s have been? If you presume that at least some football players are using performance-enhancing substances, the lack of ‘gotcha’ reporting seems to shed light on how difficult and complex the issue is today ... and how thorny it was a decade ago.
Rosenthal: This is a pet peeve of mine. The NFL gets a free ride on steroids, in large part because the NFL media is docile. Baseball writers have gotten rightly flogged for missing the story initially. OK. But does anyone seriously believe that the problem is that much less significant in the NFL? That 275-pound men run 4.5 40s or whatever naturally? Give me a break. The NFL is a PR machine, and their media is programmed. Of course, NFL fans probably care even less than baseball fans that the players are juiced. So, that's part of it, too.
Question: I recall you saying you wouldn’t vote for Mark McGwire as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. You didn’t vote for him last year either. Do you see yourself changing your mind down the road? And what’s your current game plan for Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez?
Rosenthal: I honestly don't know. I take it year by year. My initial premise was that I would not vote for any players from this era on the first ballot, with very few exceptions. To me, that is a way of distinguishing the players of today from the greats of yesteryear. If I'm penalizing a few innocent players, so be it -- they were all part of a union that should have acted much sooner to address the issue.
I am still comfortable with that position. The problem is what to do after that. My guy tells me "No" on every cheater, but it's impossible to know who exactly did what, and what impact the drugs had. One possibility would be to vote for each player on his merits, and then for the Hall to note on their plaques, "Played in Steroid Era, 1993-2007" or whatever. But that would assume that the era is over -- it is not, and never will be. And I'm not sure it would penalize certain players enough.
Voting for the Hall of Fame was extremely difficult even before this issue became prominent. Now it's downright maddening.