If you’re a baseball fan, and haven’t had access to MLB Network, well… it’s not a leap to say you are missing something. Launched on Jan. 1 of 2009, the network reached approx. 50 million households at the time, and as the 2009 season ends, will have reached approx. 3 million more.
The reason MLB Network works has as much to do with the game itself as it does with the distribution deals that MLB made. The game, steeped in history and stats, lends itself exceptionally well to year-round coverage.
But, MLB Network has done more than just been a pedestrian effort for a fledgling launch. Classic games, original programming, and non-stop coverage from the MLB Network studios have allowed given fans a solid platform to watch whether it’s in the middle of the regular season or during baseball’s off-season, if there is such a thing.
Just before MLB Network’s, launch it was announced at the Winter Meetings last year that former Texas Rangers announcer Victor Rojas would be joining the on-air talent as the host of several studio shows, including MLB Tonight. In a sign that his talents extend beyond the mic to in front of the camera, Rojas had never done television prior to being added to MLB Network's talent staff.
Victor, the son of legendary player/manager “Cookie” Rojas not only has been a play-by-play broadcaster, proving analysis, but also a player, both at the collegiate level and in the Angels development system as a catcher and pitcher.
During the 2003 season, Rojas did radio play-by-play and analysis for Arizona Diamondbacks broadcasts. Prior to joining the Diamondbacks, Rojas spent two seasons doing television analysis and radio play-by-play for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League, where he was also hired as the team's Assistant General Manager before becoming General Manager.
For the last two years Rojas served as the English television play-by-play broadcaster for the Caribbean World Series, shown on the YES network in 2006 from Venezuela and SNY network in 2007 from Puerto Rico. His father, Cookie, provided color analysis both occasions.
The following interview covers his earliest childhood memory of baseball; how being a player helps him connect with the former MLB players on the MLB Network staff; background into his being both an Assistant GM, and General Manager of the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League; doing play-by-play for the Caribbean World Series with his father; whether MLB’s postseason schedule is a “travesty”, as some writers have claimed do to the World Series going into November; thoughts on whether big market teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees all year long by national broadcasters is a good thing for fans; and much, much more. – Maury Brown
Select Read More to see the interview with Victor Rojas
Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: Your life must be forever tied to baseball, given your dad’s career in baseball, both as a player and manager. What’s your first baseball memory?
Victor Rojas: I guess the first memory was in the 5th grade and my teacher, Mrs, Sheets. She began reading to the class from this book called Unsung Heroes of the Major Leagues... Anyway, she started reading about my dad, as there was a chapter about him in the book. It was at that time I realized that my dad was something more than just a 'dad'...it's the first time I also realized that my dad playing baseball was a bigger deal than I realized and that word, 'famous', became synonymous with the Cookster. The other for me was when my dad was with the Royals and I was a kid being around the clubhouse and shagging balls during batting practice at Royal Stadium. “Cookie Rojas Day” in 1977 when dad retired is a day that also sticks out to me.
Bizball: Was it a certain thing where dad was taking you to the ballpark quite often to see all the players and the other things surrounding?
Rojas: Yeah. He had four boys. When he was home, most of us went with him to go to the ballpark and we had a routine: as soon as batting practice was over, shower up, get out of the clubhouse and go up to the family room and wait for mom and just hang out. That was kind of our routine as kids, even after he stopped playing he went straight into coaching the following year with the Cubs. That involved Spring Training and doing the Cubs stuff with all those wonderful players like Dave Kingman and Rick Reuschal, Larry Biitner and all those guys. My dad didn’t retire until I was up to the 5th grade. Baseball wise, my memory bank didn’t really kick in until that year he retired.
Bizball: You played college ball as a pitcher and catcher and pitched in the Angels minor league organization in the ‘90s. What were the biggest take aways from that experience?
Rojas: You mean in as in regards to my hosting duties?
Bizball: No, not so much that, but in terms of being a former player. You’re working with the likes of Larkin, Reynolds, Williams… guys that are former MLBers, and you as a former player… a lot of hosts don’t have that background.
Rojas: I think because of that (being a former player) I think I’m a lot closer to analysts than other folks because that’s what I relate to; it’s what I’ve known. Whether it’s lingo or knowing the game, there’s a point where individually you have conversations with these guys and it just clicks because you have a common bond. I would like to believe it goes further than me being the son of a former major leaguer, but that they understand that not only that, but that I did play and I do understand how difficult of a game it is especially to get to the upper levels and I have an appreciation for it and don’t dismiss it as such, as a lot of [analysts] do that. I don’t think they fully realize how hard this game is to play, and they can become dismissive of it.
Bizball: You’re background is steeped in baseball at all levels, one of which being Assistant General Manager before becoming General Manager of the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League. The title “General Manager” has different applications at the minor league and major league levels. What were some of the responsibilities you had during your time there?
Rojas: Being a general manager in independent ball is 10 times different than being a GM in organized ball. In organized baseball – I was with Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in front office with Hank Stickney doing Marketing, merchandising and promotions. As general manager in organized baseball, you’re running a business. You have employees, staffing issues, ticket sales and you are not concerned about on the field part of things, you are worried about the periphery . That’s your business. That’s how the model is built. From an Independent ball standpoint , Rick Cerrone was our owner. When I was brought in, it was as the Assistant GM in charge of putting team together. And, when I was elevated to General Manager, my responsibilities -- early on, and throughout my tenure there – was keeping the team together and keeping it staffed. That remained with me throughout. We had a 24 man roster, budget, players with x amount of years make x amount of dollars, housing, hiring and firing managers and coaches, purchasing uniforms. You know all that stuff. That consumed my time, especially my first year.
As I got into my second year, I landed a gig with with MLB. com – MLB radio –from 9-12 in the morning and then would hope back on train to Newark to do my GM duties if you will for whatever was going on. I still oversaw ticket sales and marketing and all that stuff but Rick was really a hands on owner. And even though it ran through me, he was really the guy that oversaw all of that. My focus was on the playing field and players as well as when the game started the broadcast.
Bizball: I think a lot of people get lost on how difficult it is to keep up with all that. Is it wrong to say you were a many of many hats?
Rojas: Well, yes I was. I went to Newark and I think that gets kind of lost in all of this because I didn’t go to Newark to get a player ops job, I went to Newark to learn how to be a broadcaster. That is what I wanted to do. At that stage of my life I wanted to do something new. I was tired of working front office. I had worked with the Florida Panthers, Arena Football, as well as minor league baseball. I was ready to do something new. My focus when i was hired by Rick was as Assistant GM and also work on the game broadcasts. Well, the GM gets fired and I then assume the GM duties as well. As much as Rick put the emphasis on me to really retain my general manager hat, it was something I had to relinquish in year two, halfway through hte season. It was time for me to move on and I wanted to just focus on broadcasting. It was important to me and things were going really well with it. I finally decided to step away from the GM thing while still maintaining my connection to broadcasting with the Bears. I still helped put the team together while not being the GM in year #2.
Bizball: You’ve done play-by-play for the Caribbean World Series the past couple of years, having your father as color analyst. How has that experience been?
Rojas: It was great! We got a chance to do the games to together for 3 years, with out first being down in Venezuela My biggest concern early on, for him was mastering the English language...and I mean that from a broadcast standpoint. He obviously speaks English– he has been in the country many years. When it comes to broadcasting, there are guys that come over and English is their 2nd language, there is a limit. When you are doing the Caribbean Series and doing 3.5-4 hours games on a nightly basis for a week straight, you can become stagnant with a limited vocabulary, that became my biggest concern. And that was coupled with what to call him on the air, “Dad” or “Cookie” on the air? So I went with Cookie and we had fun with it. It worked out great because the guy obviously has an unbelievable amount of knowledge of the game of baseball, history having played and managed in Caribbean Series. Having played and managed in winter ball. It was fantastic to hear the stories in-game and to break things down. It was fun, it was a blast.
Bizball: So during the Caribbean World Series, were there any players that impressed you?
Rojas: Nobody really stood out. I mean, the guys that stand out are the big leaguers. For me it was really about… like when we were in Venezuela, you're looking forward to the key matchup, Venezuela and Dominican Republic. Those are usually the “stacked” teams, if you well. In Puerto Rico, the following season, it was Puerto Rico vs the Dominican Republic and so on because of how heated, showmanship wise, those games can become. You enjoy those type of games and the camaraderie that comes with it. I don’t know what it is about the World Baseball Classic, but I think it becomes a little watered down. And I say that cautiously because I think I like the WBC but I think it needs to be tweaked. But it’s tough to replicate the Caribbean World Series. Number 1, because of the atmosphere and location the nature of which fans are emotionally attached to every single pitch down there. It’s tough to generate that here hosting all those games in the States. You saw it a little bit when games were played in Mexico or Japan. Here is the States its more like fans just sit on their hands, kind of just chill, it’s just a baseball game. Where in other parts of the world it’s raucous from first pitch to last pitch. I know I'm getting off the point a bit but you have to take it in context. That being said is there is any one particular player that stood out to me? No, not really. The best game I ever saw in my life was in Venezuela – it was the Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela – like the play-in game (AL Central tiebreaker) between the Twin and Tigers, it was a similar type of atmosphere, a see-saw battle but with the long ball. Jose Offerman would hit a HR in top of inning and Alex Gonzalez would come in the bottom of inning to tie it again. It was that way until Gonzalez hit a walk-off winner in bottom of 9th inning to win the game. It was phenomenal. Those were the things you take away, as opposed to individual performances. Alex Cabrera, not sure if you remember him –big dude; a first baseman. He went to Japan. I barely remember much of him here but seeing guys like that was cool being able to play for the host country and contribute the way they did, and thinking, “God, why isn’t he playing here in the states?” And wondering those type of things.
Bizball: There was a column done out of the Chicago Sun-Times (see Maury Brown's column on the topic) talking about how it’s a travesty that games are being played in November, that it’s about greed. But, ratings are up for the postseason, we have broken a record for 1-run games, speaking to the competitiveness of the postseason matchups, and yet there’s been this talk about how the schedule running into November is ruining the game. Is the scheduling wrong, and are fans in some senses soft about it?
Rojas: I haven’t really thought about it, the way you laid it out. The problem I have is the way the schedules are laid out; if the two LCS series get completed almost a week early why are we waiting until Wednesday to start the World Series? Those are the things I wonder about.
Bizball: I often wonder if it’s due to competing against the NFL.
Rojas: But, you’re competing against the NFL, regardless. It is a 24-hour machine all week long especially with fantasy football and betting standpoint. You are constantly getting football information all week. You are competing against the Thursday night game and you’re obviously going to compete with them on Sunday (during the regular season and occasionally in post-season) . If you are a football fan of a team playing on Sunday, you are going be keyed into that game. If you’re talking about one day of the week, the odds are you are going to run into a Sunday. I suppose you could try to paint around it with scheduling and such. Looking at the schedule, you’re going to wind up bumping into Sunday and Mondays and those are football days. That’s why Commissioner Selig is at the level he is at (chuckles), because he makes those decisions. I’m sure FOX and TBS has a huge impact on decision making process with scheduling.
But as far as fans being “soft” I think it’s a different fan base. I think our country has become football first then baseball. When you are talking about Japan, a proud country that loves baseball or the Islands, the Caribbean it’s their national sport. It’s what they love and can’t get enough of it. Here in the States we are distracted by other things. We are losing kids to football and basketball. Our youth programs aren’t what they used to be, when I was growing up. They are playing football and basketball year round. They do it in baseball, too but its lost quite a few fans, or future fans, who have become passive...the fence-sitters or the casual fan. The "hard core" fan loves the game and will always follow the game. But, the ones that have gotten a taste of it; they think they like it, but they’re not fully enamored yet… Those are the ones saying, “Uh, it’s a 3 hour game. Do I want to commit to it.” That is the biggest difference between baseball here vs the islands because if you are down there, all those people love the game and they’re getting after it.
Bizball: So, we touched on this; the ratings being up. I don’t blame FOX, TBS, or ESPN for this, but we have a steady diet of Yankees and Red Sox games each year, and whether you think it’s bad for the fans to see only those teams so often, they’re going to go with what brings in ratings. So, here we are with several big market, storied franchises in the postseason, and they are doing well on television… Do you think it’s because of marquee matchups or because the games have been competitive?
Rojas: I think it’s a combination, to be honest with you. I don’t blame television, now that I’m part of that medium, for watching for its interest. The bottom line is, they’re making an investment in the game. I mean, there are dollars being spent in order to have the rights to broadcast these games, and in order to recoup those dollars, you’re going to have to base that on advertising. And so, where’s your biggest bang for your buck? Well, it’s going to be Red Sox and Yankees, maybe the Angels or the Cubs are involved; it’s logic. It makes sense. So, I can understand where they like those type of match-ups. I think the rest of the country becomes disinterested in it, but if you’re FOX and Rupert Murdoch, all you care about is recouping your rights fees, if not making a couple of bucks. But, all in all, I think if there are good match-ups and compelling storylines, I think people tend to tune in. Sometimes it takes a bit longer for them to tune in, but I keep coming back to that Twins/Tigers game, and I said it that night via Twitter, that if this game doesn’t get you excited for the postseason, you have no heart beat. You really don’t. If you weren’t excited, then you really couldn’t care a less about baseball. And that was just for the right to get into the postseason. And, I think that kind of sets the table. The Cardinals had two CY Young candidates and cruised along in the regular season and the Dodgers who stumbled to the finish, end up sweeping the Cardinals. The interest in LA will perked up. Angels are a story line with the sentimental story of the Nick Adenhart, the job that Mike Scioscia has done; Yankees are always a story line; there is always something with them. And I think that’s the beauty of our game and our industry, and that is where our Network is at an advantage, when you compare it to the NFL Network or the NHL and NBA’s efforts because baseball is a year-round sport. Let’s say that the World Series didn’t go into November, we would still have free agent filings, non-tender deadline, 6 year minor league free agents, you’ve got the baseball Winter Meetings, free agent signings, arbitration cases and 15 days to pitchers and catchers report and all the sudden, you’re into Spring Training, and it starts all over again. That’s why I don’t think you have to expand baseball on the field, for as long as possible on the calendar so that we keep it in the social consciousness...I think with the Network we do that really well. Granted, there’s only so many things you can talk about on Hot Stove. There’s only so many rumors you can talk about. There’s only so many things you can dissect, that’s just the nature of the business. But, if we don’t dissect it, Rotoworld is dissecting it. The fantasy people are dissecting it; the sabermatericans are dissecting it… and that’s just one part of the beauty of our game. There are so many numbers, so many rumors, so many things going on, that it really takes 12 months out of the year to get through it all.
Bizball: How do you view the 2009 postseason?
Rojas: I think it's been a great postseason. Each of the teams that got to the big dance, all deserved to be there. I think at the end of the day, fans want to watch the best baseball available and I think it has come through...and I mean that in the sense of the teams "earning" the right to be there and not necessarily all the poor fundamental play that showed it's ugly head in the early rounds. but at the end of the day, the two best teams got to the world series and that, to me, is a win for baseball and it's fans. One thing I haven't cared for is the fact that there have been so many off-days in the post-season. I think in the future, they should try to tighten that issue up a bit as well as add a day game or two in the World Series... I know it may be a pipe-dream but it would be pretty cool.
Bizball: There have been several bad calls by the umpires this postseason. What are your thoughts on the use of instant replay?
Rojas: I’m still torn on the instant replay issue. i like the fact the game has been played this way for several generations and there's something to be said about that. But the flip-side to that argument is the fact that technology has advanced to the point where maybe Major League Baseball should look at trying to "assist" the men in blue in order to get the right call. At the end of the day, that's all we want...the right call made, especially in crucial situations. but how do you go about it? the only thing i can think of is limiting the amount of times a manager can use the replay in a game and instead of the umpires vacating the field, that there's some sort of live communication system whereas an auxiliary umpire can immediately make the call in order to keep the game moving forward. Logistically, that umpire could be situated in park for each game being played or they have the system where things are handled all from "master control". Whatever they decide to do, it will be scrutinized. In today's day and age, everyone has an opinion and that particular opinion always seems to be the right answer.
Bizball: Twitter is an amazing thing. Are we seeing a point where media goes directly to the fan or vice versus? Has there been any edict from MLB Network, such as we’ve seen with ESPN?
Rojas: I think it is unbelievable. I’ve only been on it since end of May. And as we sit here now, I think I may have jumped on it at the right time. Either that or I’m just more cognoscente Twitter and of the social media aspect of things. Reading about it, and seeing it covered on CNN, Fox News… all those things, it’s become a huge phenomenon. Not that it wasn’t before, it just seems like it keeps getting bigger and bigger. For me, it was a tool for me. The information I got from beat writers instantaneously was just phenomenal. Something like a key homerun being hit in the World Series, and 30 seconds later there is a note from one of the beat writers about that home run. That being said, you brought up that wild, wild, west mentality. There was the Zack Grenkie rumors with the Milwaukie Brewers. That being said, we are cognoscente of what is true versus what isn’t true. Fans are able to weed that out very quickly. And I think that’s the amazing thing. That people care so much… I think everyone wants to reach market mass as quickly as possible but they want it accurate. They want it to be true. I think Balloon Boy would have been found out to not be true a lot faster than CNN.
- Interview conducted by Maury Brown on 10/29/09, and 11/01/09
- Special thanks goes to Jon Neff, James Olson, and Jana Kimmel for assistance in the transcription process
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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