Matt Vasgersian does it all when it comes to baseball. He is the host of “Hot Stove” on the MLB Network, and does play-by-play on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball as well as for MLB’s international broadcast of the World Series. Vasgersian answered a wide range of topics from his roles in baseball to his relationship with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo.
MLB.com: This past season was your first year on Sunday Night Baseball. Tell me what that experience was like?
Matt Vasgersian: For me, it was great to get back to doing a consistent game because the world that I come from before MLB Network was working for a team. I worked in the Minors for six years doing play-by-play in various leagues for various teams. And then I did five years with the Milwaukee Brewers and eight years with the San Diego Padres. As much as I love doing studio work, being at the ballpark — that immediacy is irreplaceable. So for me, getting back out there, doing a game every week, the consistency of being at the ballpark actually makes you better in the studio when you have accountability at the ballpark and vice versa. When you are doing games, it makes you a little better in the studio because you are bringing your own fresh information and perspective, which makes for a better product.
The whole experience was great with Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza. We get along on and off the air. They were fun to spend time with. The whole thing was really positive. I really enjoyed it.
MLB.com: I love the excitement that you have when you do play-by-play. During exciting plays, you say, “Santa Maria.” Where did you get that phrase?
Vasgersian: Man, I wish there was a better story to this. [Laughing]. My family — and my sister, in particular, has one of her oldest friends — [from an] Italian family. My sister’s friend’s mother is a wonderfully animated Italian woman, who says “Santa Maria” at a drop of a hat. For example, she goes to the grocery story and sees tomatoes are on sale. She will say, “Santa Maria, what a deal.” I spent enough time around this wonderful lady for her to rub off on me a little bit. And I started saying “Santa Maria” when there would be some kind of superlative moment on a baseball field. When I was in the Minors, you never want to sound gimmicky, but I try to keep it in my pocket for the right time. It’s kind of a sanctioned way of saying “Holy Blank.”
MLB.com: What do you like doing better, working for a local team or working nationally?
Vasgersian: That’s a great question. I don’t know if I can give you an answer because I like both for different reasons. When you work for a team, you are more invested in the product. You have relationships with people in the organization and the front office. You are all pulling on the same rope. You want the team to win. It’s tough to color it any other way.
I always contended that the guys I enjoy listening to on the regional level make it clear who they work for. That’s OK. I know there are fans and people in the media who are critical of announcers who are homers. There’s a difference between, say, Sunday Night Baseball and working for the Padres. You are going to play it differently and it’s OK for the home side when you work for a team. I enjoyed that.
My style [nationally] kind of lends itself to the everyday nature of the game. And when somebody watches you and they are kind of familiar with your style and personality, you hope that they like it enough and they feel like they are in the club.
You can’t be inside when you are doing the game nationally. You have to bear in mind more of a baseline viewership. Not everybody is aware of every story with every player and team. But that makes it more challenging, I think. … Nationally, you can never assume the audience, but you can’t go so far that you are that you are talking down to your audience and schooling them on things that so rudimentary that they become a little bored with you. It’s challenging. The network stuff is harder than what people think for that reason.
MLB.com: Not only did you do Sunday Night Baseball, you were a busy guy. You did the World Series internationally and you are the host of “Hot Stove.” How did you keep this busy schedule?
Vasgersian: Because it’s baseball, it’s something that I love. It doesn’t feel like it’s as hard as it may be. I enjoy it. All of it is based on working with people you enjoy and like. “Hot Stove,” in particular, we are lucky enough to have this little show and we like it that way. It’s in a little studio, which makes it warmer, I contend. We all like each other a lot. Lauren Shehadi, Ken Rosenthal, Keith Costas and Harold Reynolds and I — when we are all together in that room, we are kind of doing the show for each other. I don’t know if it’s the right way to go about it, but they haven’t canceled it yet. Maybe there is something to be learned. You have to enjoy it first and you hope that you are conveying that to an audience. I think this schedule is manageable because I like it and I like everybody that I work with.
MLB.com: I did some research on you and were once a child actor. Do you think about what might have been had you stayed in that field?
Vasgersian: Never. I was never really aware of what I was doing when I was “a child actor.” I was a kid who was kind of a ham. Somebody would say, “Walk over here and say this.” And you do it, unaware of the fact that you are doing it for a TV show when you are a little kid. You are just mugging it up for the camera. Once you become aware that you are acting for a TV show or a movie, that’s when the hacky actors like myself fall off the board and the real actors stay in the business.
I don’t know what that age was for me. It’s like the Jerry Mathers route. When Jerry Mathers was on “Leave it to Beaver,” he was this young, charming little kid. You never got the sense he was acting. The older he got — teen and adult years — then he was acting and you could kind of see it a little bit. I don’t want to be critical of Jerry Mathers. I’m a big “Leave it to Beaver” fan. There is an age you get to where it’s no longer natural and I got there pretty quickly. There was never a serious intent to be an actor.
MLB.com: What was your best moment as a child actor? Was it acting alongside Robert Redford or being on “The Streets of San Francisco”?
Vasgersian: I have limited memories appearing in “The Candidate” [with Redford]. I was really young. I was 6 or 7. I remember being handed into a scene, delivered my line. I was cast because I had a squeaky voice and they handed me out of the scene.
“The Streets of San Francisco” was a pretty big show. I was the son of a white-collar criminal. That episode came with my TV sister. I delivered a line to our dad and kind of walked out of the scene. The dad went on to plan the demise of the free world after I exited the scene. Again, I was little. I don’t have a vivid memory of these things. All of this happened in the early 1970s. It’s not like all of this is digital platforms these days, which I’m grateful for.
MLB.com: I know you have a love for the Oakland A’s. I know you grew up around the area.
Vasgersian: I grew up in Northern California in the Oakland Bay Area in the early ’70s at a time when the Oakland A’s were the dominant brand in baseball. My very first memories of the game are the teams that is referred to as “Finley’s Heroes.” They won three straight World Series championship from 1972 to 1974. … Those teams kind of enter your subconscious as the A’s did mine in the early ’70s. It never really goes away. In the case of A’s, fans like myself, we went from rooting for basically the most bullet-proof friend in the game in terms of wins to a team that were dregs only a few short years later, when all those great players were either dealt, sold or exited on their own. From the pinnacle to the pit — back and forth — for the next number of decades, it tests your mettle as a fan. But I’m pretty loyal to my partisanship to the A’s, never to the point where it distorts what you are doing [in the booth].
MLB.com: May I ask, who is your all-time favorite member of the A’s?
Vasgersian: I tend to change my answer on this one a lot. I’m looking at a series of Oakland A’s bobbleheads in my office right now. Campy Campaneris is probably my guy. He was like my first guy I loved on that team. I loved how he chocked up on the bat. I loved how important he was defensively. He stole bases, slapped the ball around. By the way, he was the kind of player that wouldn’t get a job today. He didn’t hit for average and he wasn’t a launch-angle guy.
Rickey Henderson is one of my favorites. Dave Stewart is on the short list. I can go on and on.
MLB.com: Were you surprised they were as good as they were this past season.
Vasgersian: For sure. I was surprised and thrilled. … They don’t benefit from the payrolls like the Yankees and Dodgers. It’s not how they can operate. So when they are on to something, which they were this year, they add. A lot of that starts with [manager] Bob Melvin. I think he is tremendous. Maybe it is still underreported that he is one of the game’s great managers.
MLB.com: What do you think about next year?
Vasgersian: I think they are going to be as good next year. I think that’s how the industry feels about them because they competed this year with a rotation that they had to get creative with. Hopefully, those missing pieces are back next year. I thought losing Jharel Cotton was potentially a devastating blow. I love that kid. If he can make a full recovery [from Tommy John surgery] next year and participate, [the A’s will be better]. I think the corner guys — Matt Chapman and Matt Olson — are going to be around for a long time. Khris Davis — hopefully, they can figure out a way to keep him there for a while. That’s been there biggest challenge. A guy gets good and he reaches those arbitration years or free agency and he’s gone. Hopefully, they can stop that trend with the guys they have now.
MLB.com: Final question: Is everything OK with between you and Chris Russo?
Vasgersian: Oh, yeah. I love the guy. That is all in fun. I love poking at him and he loves poking back. If you poke “Mad Dog” too firmly, he is going to go right to your jugular. It might appear there are bad feelings, but no, no, no. We have a lot of fun going back and fourth. … He is so easily imitated. He is such a cartoon character, he is just too much fun to not mess with.