MLB Threw a Beanball at No. 1 Insider Ken Rosenthal, and It Will Probably Backfire
Technically speaking, Major League Baseball simply opted not to renew Ken Rosenthal’s contract as an analyst and reporter on the MLB Network. Realistically, the commissioner’s office fired Rosenthal, which reduces his workload by 33.3%.
MLB can’t do much about the veteran journalist’s other baseball jobs, and that’s where Rob Manfred has screwed up. Rosenthal, maybe the best-sourced media insider in baseball and someone who consistently breaks important news while attired in his trademark bow tie, is going to continue to report on the good and the bad.
And if you haven’t been paying much attention, the bad in MLB has been outweighing the good for a couple of decades or so as baseball has fallen behind football and basketball in popularity.
MLB Network has dropped Ken Rosenthal
MLB Network let Ken Rosenthal go when his contract expired at the end of December. Rosenthal began with the network in 2009 and was appearing on MLB Tonight right up to the end.
Rosenthal rose through the ranks in the same fashion as many other media insiders in the major sports. He worked his way up from small newspapers to the Baltimore Sun, where his columns became a must-read for players, fans, and front-office executives.
He leveraged that into a gig at Sports Illustrated from 1990-2000 and The Sporting News for five years after that while magazines were still a thing. From there, Rosenthal moved into television work with Fox Sports. He added the MLB Network job in 2009 and has won a pair of Sports Emmys.
Rosenthal has remained at Fox Sports on its weekly MLB telecasts and moved his online reporting to The Athletic in 2017. Other major media outlets also employ report/columnists who break news, but Rosenthal is arguably still the best-known of the bunch.
MLB threw a beanball at No. 1 baseball insider Ken Rosenthal
Ken Rosenthal, 59, tweeted a confirmation on Monday that he no longer works for MLB Network. “I always strove to maintain my journalistic integrity, and my work reflects that,” he noted, and that was no throw-away line.
New York Post media reporter Andrew Marchand wrote that Rosenthal’s departure can be traced to his criticism in print of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, particularly in 2020 while the season was in jeopardy because of the pandemic. Manfred has no influence over The Athletic, but the commissioner’s office operates MLB Network, and Rosenthal suddenly disappeared from the air for approximately three months, Marchand reported.
Rosenthal returned to MLB Network shortly before Labor Day, and all appeared normal until his just-announced departure, accompanied by a statement from the network lauding his work and offering the obligatory best wishes.
It’s entirely plausible to think Rosenthal’s career at MLB Network had simply run its course or he was too expensive to keep when the organization has a deep bench of other respected reporters that includes Tom Verducci, Jon Heyman, and Jon Morosi. But Rosenthal speaking of his journalistic integrity in his confirmation suggests otherwise.
Rob Manfred can’t silence the multi-media reporter
Assuming that MLB Network did let Ken Rosenthal go over his criticism of Rob Manfred, then the commissioner can look forward to comparably tough reporting going forward. That’s because Rosenthal continues to write for The Athletic and contribute to coverage of Major League Baseball for Fox Sports. MLB’s only formal relationship with either is its longstanding TV contract with Fox.
The current MLB-Fox deal averages a little better than $500 million per year. Though MLB has cable deals with ESPN and Turner Sports plus a streaming arrangement with DAZN, replacing Fox would be difficult if Manfred wanted to play hardball over Rosenthal’s presence. That’s because the network deal runs through 2028, and other over-the-air networks have been lukewarm toward baseball.
Manfred can forget about pressuring Fox to take Rosenthal off its telecasts. The network has stared down more valuable broadcast partners. Mike Pereira retired from the NFL after the 2009 season and slid into a role with Fox as its in-game rules analyst.
The NFL was unhappy about its former vice president of officiating potentially calling out blown calls, but Fox executives never flinched and never lost their TV deal. Now, all the major networks employ specialists like Pereira to explain rules in a variety of sports.
In that context, it’s doubtful Rosenthal will ever feel he needs to hold back if he has something unflattering to report about MLB.