Ken Rosenthal leaves MLB Network, to start. There is no doubt about it. But the discussion of why Rosenthal left seems poised to take potentially interesting turns. André Marchand from The New York Post wrote about this monday, and linked it to Rosenthal’s comments about MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in one of his other jobs (writing for The Athletic) in 2020:
MLB Network has severed ties with insider Ken Rosenthal, believed to be the end result of acrimony that peaked in the summer of 2020 after Rosenthal criticized Commissioner Rob Manfred, The Post has learned.
Rosenthal, one of the main journalists, was first kept off the air for about three months, sources say, after writing columns in 2020 – with the season under threat due to the pandemic – analyze Manfred’s handling of the situation for Athletics.
There was no reported suspension at the time, and it went publicly unnoticed by MLBN.
Rosenthal was still paid but was put in a penalty box for several months. He returned for the trade deadline, which has been pushed back to August 31 of this season due to COVID-19.
Since then, Rosenthal had been regularly on MLBN, including until Christmas on “MLB Tonight”, one of the network’s flagship shows. His contract ended at the end of last year.
Interestingly, it was only now that Rosenthal (seen above on Fox in 2017) didn’t appear on MLBN for three months in 2020, but his insider status which appeared in As a guest on many shows rather than the host of a regular show likely contributed to this going unnoticed at the time. And yes, that’s certainly a significant absence from the air, and it’s absolutely remarkable if it was because of what seemed like some pretty sweet comments about Manfred (especially considering what others were writing at the time). And it would be fascinating to learn what specifically led to this absence; Was there any sort of influence from the MLB proper on the network as a result of Rosenthal writing for The Athletic, and if so, was that influence from Manfred or any of his deputies, or other circles?
That said, however, there isn’t exactly a smoking gun in Marchand’s report to indicate Rosenthal was fired because of his 2020 comments on Manfred. And, according to Marchand, that at worst hit “As if the perception that Manfred is indebted to owners and disconnected from players wasn’t bad enough, he was in vogue on Twitter Monday after performing a massive about-face”; none of this specifically criticizes Manfred, rather it is a commentary on the perceptions of him from players and fans. If that’s really what Rosenthal was ultimately ditched for, it’s not a great look for MLB or MLB Network.
But it’s worth noting that these pieces have yet to be firmly linked beyond Marchand’s comment “seen as the end result of acrimony,” which does not come with a particular source quote. And yes, while limiting on-air appearances and letting a contract expire rather than outright firing someone is a known and successful PR strategy (especially at ESPN), an expiring contract poses at least a doubt about the direct link between the comments and a movement. As Marchand notes, MLB Network has a new president (Bill Morningstar, who took over in late 2021), and they recently split up with other longtime figures. And Marchand understand this statement from an MLB spokesperson.
“As MLB Network continues to look for new ways to bring baseball to our viewers, there is a natural renewal of our talent roster that takes place every year,” an MLB spokesperson told The Post. . “Ken has been an integral part of MLB Network for the past 13 years. From spring training to winter reunions, we thank him for his work in the studio, programming MLB Network games and events. , and wish him the best for the future.
Update: Here is Rosenthal’s comment on it:
I can confirm that MLB Network decided not to bring me back. I am grateful for the over 12 years I have spent there and my lasting friendships with on-air personalities, producers and staff. I have always strived to maintain my journalistic integrity, and my work reflects that. 1/2
– Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 4, 2022
Nothing else changes for me professionally. I am proud to be part of the great teams of The Athletic and Fox Sports. 2/2
– Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 4, 2022
It is of course at the very least plausible that someone in MLB (whether Manfred himself or someone else in power) objected to Rosenthal discussing the commissioner’s misperception by the Commissioners. players and fans in one of his other roles. And, if that has happened, it relates to three separate media issues at the moment; the challenges of working for a league network (league network reporters currently report a lot of news, including some unfavorable to their league, but some explained that particular stories are not suitable for these outlets), the challenges hold multiple jobs (Rosenthal also currently works for Fox Sports and The Athletic, and is expected to continue with those two companies; what works for Fox or for The Athletic doesn’t necessarily work for MLB-owned media), and issues with league leaders trying to dictate how they are covered.
Either way, it’s certainly remarkable that MLBN isn’t bringing Rosenthal back. Yes they have other advertisers and insiders but it was the most important in many ways. So his exit would be significant, accompanied by a potential controversy, but a report linking that to his (slight at most) criticism of Manfred adds another dimension to it. We’ll see if Rosenthal ever takes care of it, or if others end up being reported about it. But Marchand’s play is definitely an interesting story to have around Rosenthal’s release.