Calling a spade a spade is one of the cardinal virtues of journalism and is what all journalists are meant to do. The broader challenge, however, is when it comes to having the gall to speak up against those in the upper echelons of power and it is then when impartial journalism can congeal into a baptism of fire. When 59-year-old Ken Rosenthal, one of baseball’s highly regarded and acclaimed baseball journalists, dared to dip his toes in that fire, he had to pay a heavy price in the form of abrupt termination of his 12-year association with the MLB Network.
It may not have been the start Ken Rosenthal would have wanted for the new year. Way back in 2020, when all industries and organisations moiled to stay afloat amidst the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Ken Rosenthal penned dismissive columns in The Athletic in which he launched scathing attacks on Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred and brought his mishandling of the situation into focus.
“He (Manfred) and the owners, supposed stewards of the game, are turning the national pastime into a national punch line, effectively threatening to take their ball and go home while the country struggles with medical, economic and societal concerns,” Rosenthal wrote in his column.
Questioning Manfred’s abilities to do his job properly, Rosenthal further wrote: “Manfred and the owners keep sinking lower. Unless making dead-on-arrival proposals, tone-deaf public remarks and other assorted blunders is your idea of negotiating savvy.”
Unable to digest the vitriol hurled at him, Manfred flexed his muscles and Ken was taken off the air. On January 4, 2022, Andrew Marchand, senior sports writer for the New York Post, broke the unfortunate news that the MLB Network had let go of Ken Rosenthal. Manfred’s decision invited severe backlash from journalists and deservedly so. The Athletic’s senior MLB writer Britt Ghiroli tweeted that Ken cares about the truth and doing things the right way even if it’s uncomfortable.
Former American professional baseball player and television sports commentator Ken Singleton, an Orioles Hall of Famer, called the decision terribly shortsighted and stated that it reduces the credibility of the whole product. MLB has long grumbled about how it strives to offer quality journalism to its viewers.
However, if it thinks that a bit of criticism is a fireable offence, it would be foolish to hope that impartial journalism can thrive in the baseball industry. As a matter of fact, Major League Baseball has historically been dictatorial and authoritarian. Prior to firing Rosenthal, MLB surprisingly ended much-loved Intentional Talk’s co-host Chris Rose’s contract at the end of 2020. Rewind to September 1964, New York Yankees terminated Mel Allen’s contract before the start of the World Series for reasons unbeknownst to all save Yankees themselves.
Luckily for baseball fans, Ken Rosenthal, a seasoned journalist and author of “Best of the Best: 35 Major League Superstars” and “Dean Smith: A Tribute”, hasn’t been completely consigned to the scrapheaps and would still be plying his trade for multiple widely-followed platforms like Fox Sports and The Athletic. Still, whichever way you look at it, it cannot be disregarded that the dictatorial firing of Ken from the MLB Network epitomises thin-skinned MLB’s hubris syndrome and their attempts to divest the sport of impartial journalism, which sets an extremely wrong precedent for up-and-coming journalists that they should not dare to speak up against those in power.