Among the many lessons F.P. Santangelo learned during his climb up the baseball broadcasting ranks, one stood out: broadcasters are paid to describe and explain the story, but they aren’t the story themselves.
In many towns, during many baseball seasons, this might not have been worth mentioning. But for a D.C. audience fresh off the Rob Dibble Era, when I would turn into MASN’s broadcasts not to watch a baseball game but to make sure the color guy wasn’t making headlines, it was a revelation.
Which helps explain why, after the Nats finished the most promising season in franchise history, I realized I never once began a blog post with the premise, You’ll never believe what F.P. Santangelo just said. There were no blog posts about him ripping Nats stars or insulting Nats fans. This was a good thing.
“It’s not my job to be in the news. My job is to analyze a baseball game,” Santangelo told me this week from his California home, after wrapping up his first season with MASN. “I should draw attention to guys still in the uniform, and that’s all that’s important. I had my glory days, I had my moment. Any broadcaster who still thinks it’s about them has probably got the wrong mindset as a broadcaster. To me, that’s sports-talk radio, that’s not broadcasting a baseball game.”
Which is why the biggest compliment Santangelo received from fans was not about being entertaining or outrageous, but rather educational. The son of a high school teacher and football coach, Santangelo’s post-playing dream was to become a big league manager, to help teach the game. He started down that path in Class A ball before transitioning to broadcasting, but he still sees his role as more teacher than critic, “not talking down to [fans], but bringing them in and saying this is why that happened, this is why he didn’t make the play.”
And while Santangelo had strong words of praise for the men in the Nats clubhouse, who he said helped make his job easy, he also stressed the separation between players and analysts. He never referred to the Nats as “we” — another lesson he learned from his mentors in California — and he doesn’t see his role as counseling players or offering tips.
“Guys ask for advice, just tell them their swing looks really good,” Santangelo joked. “It’s an insult to the coaches who get there at noon every day and leave at midnight for a broadcaster to come in at 4 with a tie and makeup on and start handing out advice. That, to me, is crossing the line. If you want to coach, coach.”
This is sensible stuff, from a guy who very much wants to become a part of the Washington sports landscape. He came to MASN with a multi-year deal, and when his youngest child graduates from high school (she’s a freshman), he’d love to have the security to live in Washington year-round. The franchise doesn’t have a beloved legend in the booth, a Craig Laughlin or Phil Chenier, and Santangelo -- a former Montreal Expo with no other ties to the D.C. area -- thinks he could increase his connection with the fan base by putting down roots here.
“My joke all year was this is my 11th year with this franchise; I have more seniority here than anybody,” he told me. “I would love to move to D.C. I love it there. I had a blast there.”
Santangelo admitted that he needed a few months to settle into this job. He had never broadcast more than a few dozen games as a back-up in San Francisco, and now he was doing about 150, with a new team, 3,000 miles from his home market. Initially, he said, he was too worried about what people might think in living rooms and the owners box, in the clubhouse and in players’ homes.
“And then all of the sudden, probably in June, i just said screw it, I’m gonna be myself,” he said. “If you like me you like me, and if you don’t, you don’t. Maybe I focused a little bit too much on what everybody thought early on.”
And, of course, his increasing comfort came as the Nationals played some of the most compelling baseball since they’ve been in Washington. This, too — combined with the loose clubhouse and a town he loves — has Santangelo excited about what happens next.
“I feel like I’ve gotten into this organization at the perfect time,” he said. “They’ve gone from 59 wins to 69 to 80, and it could have been 81. Win 10 more games next year, and with 90 wins, you’re starting to talk about being in the playoff mix. And I don’t think anybody should be shy about saying that.”
The 44-year old said he plans on being “super dad” during his offseason, while also processing the lessons of his first full season as a broadcaster. Over the past six months, he said, he learned more than he ever had in a single season as a player: about the challenges of broadcasting a full season, about finding his own style, and about settling into a rhythm without getting boring. He also had a heck of a time.
“It was awesome; I loved every minute of it,” he told me. “My biggest pet peeve is people who constantly talk about the time of the game, how long this game was today. I’m like, ‘Where else would you rather be?’ We’re in the big leagues. You could be covering an A ball game. You could be doing Double A on the radio. You could be the PR guy for a minor league affiliate. Where else would you rather be? And if you’d rather be somewhere else, then go there. It’s the big leagues, man. It’s the greatest job in the world.”