Talking shop with MLB Network’s Mark DeRosa: “I want to be great at something else”

Ed Note: This piece appears courtesy Bloguin's MLB blog The Outside Corner

During his 16 seasons with eight different MLB teams, Mark DeRosa developed a reputation as a leader in the clubhouse and a sounding board for both veterans and younger players alike. After playing part-time for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013, DeRosa, 38 and a father of two, made the decision to retire and join MLB Network as its newest former-player-turned-talking-head.

Known for his versatility on the field — DeRosa played six different positions and batted .268 with 100 home runs and 494 RBI in his career, winning a World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2010 — the University of Pennsylvania alum will bring this utility player approach to the set where he will appear across MLB Network’s studio programming. DeRosa seemed to be a natural based on his experience serving as a guest analyst on MLB Network during the 2011 and 2013 postseasons and with TBS during its Division Series coverage this year.

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We caught up with DeRosa at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, shortly after his debut on MLB Tonight.

Amanda Rykoff: You had an opportunity to return to the Blue Jays for the 2014 season. Why make the decision to retire and move into broadcasting?

Mark DeRosa: There were a lot of reasons why. Number one was family. Number two was the fact that MLB Network is where I grew up [in New Jersey] so the chance for me to kind of reintegrate into my original family. My kids are getting to the age where I just felt like they didn’t know me as well as they should and it was starting to upset me. If I was playing every day and financially making the dollars that are being thrown around to some of these free agents, yeah you gotta play. Being a backup and sitting in Toronto I had a lot of time to think about it, it just really felt like it was the right time. A lot of guys say they want to make you rip the jersey off them. I never felt that way. I felt like when I didn’t truly enjoy getting my suitcase out to go on the road, when I didn’t truly enjoy putting the work in that had to be put in to be good, it was time to walk away. I want to try and be great at something else.

Amanda Rykoff: Who were your favorite broadcasters growing up?

Mark DeRosa: I grew up listening to Phil Rizzuto — “This Bud’s For You, Don Mattingly.” I never really got into that too much. The guys I enjoy now are Kruk and Kuip [Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper] out in San Francisco. I really enjoyed being around them. I felt like they knew the game inside and out, had a way of telling a story that could make you laugh and be informative at the same time. I blew my wrist out pretty bad when I was with San Francisco and actually was sent home to rehab for about a month and I watched every game. Normally I’ll mute the game and just watch the game, but with them I truly enjoyed listening to them so much that I made it a point to tell them when I got back. I had never done that.

Amanda Rykoff: How would you describe your approach to talking about the game on TV?

Mark DeRosa: You know I’ve been on eight different teams. I know a lot of players in the game and I think they know I’m honest. I know how good I was, I know where I stood on the totem pole. I was never a superstar, never batted third or fourth in the lineup, was never the ace pitcher. I know that. So no one has to tell me what my career was like. I’m a pretty honest guy with myself. And that’s what I’m going to try and be on the set. I’m going to be honest. Good, bad, indifferent, I’m going to try and be honest and I think the guys will appreciate that. You’re not always going to be able to execute a hit and run or get a bunt down in a big situation but you’d damn well better try. You fail, you succeed, but it’s the way you go about your business, the way you play the game that I will be harping on so to speak.

Amanda Rykoff: How does having played for eight different teams set you apart?

Mark DeRosa: Just different philosophies, the way different organizations go about things. From the Atlanta Braves, they were just so stoic to the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and it was like abandon. Absolute crazies. And we end up winning the World Series. I’ve seen the game from a lot of angles and seen a lot of teams be successful doing things different ways. Some harp on pitching, some harp on the offensive side, some really care about the defense. And just getting to know the guys. I’ve tried to always get to know every one of my teammates on a personal level and I think that’s served me well being able to speak my mind when I’ve had to. I got great feedback [on my first day] while on the set, while doing the show from about eight to ten current MLB stars telling me, “Your hair looks like garbage,” so it was funny.

Amanda Rykoff: What did you learn from your broadcasting test runs with MLB Network and TBS during the postseason?

Mark DeRosa: I like to pick the brains of everyone. I want constructive criticism. I know I’m not great at this. I went up to the producer and said, “Give me something” and he kind of took it like you’re okay you did a good job. I said, “No, I’ll do a good job, I want to be great.” That’s how I was as a player, that’s the mindset, so I’ll pick the brains. I’ve picked the brains of guys like Harold [Reynolds] and Tom Verducci, guys who have been around and done it.

As far as the game’s concerned, my relevance with the players will last for a couple of years but then that’s gonna go away so if you’re going to do a good job, you’d better be in there on the street and listening and following people and going into clubhouses and showing your face. That was my biggest pet peeve with the media and why you like or dislike certain people. If you’re going to say something, you’d better have the stones to come in the locker room and give me a chance to defend myself. It’s the guys who hide that the players don’t respect.

Amanda Rykoff: What are your thoughts on the use of advanced metrics in baseball analysis?

Mark DeRosa: I like it. I’m interested in it. I’m a mathematical guy. I guessed every time I ever hit. I studied a ton of video. I really think the game is math — certain counts, what’s he going to throw? Percentages, what plays out. I’m a big believer in it, I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all. You gotta go hand in hand. There’s something to be said for chemistry in a clubhouse and guys truly enjoying each other and personality.

Amanda Rykoff: You played for the Nationals in 2012. What are your thoughts on where that team stands heading into 2014?

Mark DeRosa: It’s their time. It’s not easy. I was fortunate enough to go to the playoffs like eight or 10 times with all these different teams and I would have never thought that the 2010 Giants team was the one that I’d get the ring with. You do your best to get there and hopefully you can outlast the marathon and then it becomes a sprint and whoever doesn’t make the most mistakes. We were one pitch away from the NLCS on multiple occasions and didn’t get it done. They definitely have all the resources, all the talent, everything, they’re as good as it gets.  

Amanda Rykoff: You mentioned some of the big dollars being thrown around this off-season. What deals have stood out to you?

Mark DeRosa: The Ellsbury deal is the one deal that stands out. Not so much the dollar figures because it’s all relative to today, but I thought [the Yankees] had a quality center fielder already. When you’re getting Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the better players in the game and you’re paying him at such a high number, I just didn’t feel like that was a need that they had. That one kind of shocked me. Not him getting that contract — him getting it from the Yankees. Love the Tim Hudson signing in San Francisco — loved it. Perfect signing for them. He’s a gamer, he’s class, he’ll do great out there. Obviously the Fister trade. I’m close with Steve Lombardozzi — maybe he’ll get more of a chance to play in Detroit, who knows? But for them to add Fister into that rotation and especially the fact that he’s been in the American League. I know there’s a lot of interleague but a lot of these guys haven’t seen him on a consistent basis and he’s a lot better than people realize. They’re stacked.

Amanda Rykoff: What was it like working with Pedro on the TBS set?

Mark DeRosa: Awesome. Not so much working with him as a broadcaster, I had more fun watching the games with him. He’s one of the smartest baseball minds I’ve been around. He had the St. Louis Cardinals lineup how he’d pitch them, broken down within three innings. It was amazing. I said, “Pedro, the only difference is you can execute those pitches and other guys can’t.” It was an awesome experience to be around him.

Amanda Rykoff: How are you adjusting to working on the set?

Mark DeRosa: A little nerves, no doubt. For me I’ve got to feel out. I’m kind of an aggressive personality in the clubhouse, I have been, I say what’s on my mind. I can’t say it on live TV always so there’s a lot of things it’s just going to take time of how far I can ask certain questions and still have people want to come on with you. The players know my heart’s in the right place.

Photo courtesy of MLB Network

 

Amanda Rykoff is a veteran baseball writer who has written for espnW and Sports on Earth. You can read more from her at Bloguin's The Outside Corner. Follow her on Twitter at@amandarykoff.

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