Santangelo, 44, has narrated a memorable summer in Washington as the team’s ever-present voice, charged with providing texture and meaning to every twist and turn of the season, from Bryce Harper’s debut to Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown. For Santangelo, it has been a crash course in color commentary. Last year was his first in Washington, which he likened to a teenager who had just earned his driver’s license.
“You got both hands on the wheel, you keep checking the mirror, you’re careful with the blinker, always looking over your shoulder,” he said. “This year is like driving with your knee on the steering wheel, texting somebody, checking out the scenery. It’s all easier.”
Rob Dibble’s controversial exit from the MASN broadcasting booth late in the 2010 was loud and ugly, spurred by his questioning of Strasburg’s resolve. By contrast, Santangelo came to Washington with no introduction, no fanfare and no real expectations.
“Still today I run into people who have no idea I even played the game,” he said.
Santangelo played in the majors from 1995-2001, experiencing the highs (102 wins with Oakland in 2001) and lows, which included using banned substances late in his career. When the Mitchell Report was released five years ago, 86 players were singled out, but Santangelo was one of the few to publicly discuss and apologize for transgressions against a game he loves so much. “That’s all in the past,” he says today.
Even during those low periods, Santangelo couldn’t wait to be around the ballpark. Even now, he arrives a few hours before each game, heading straight to the clubhouse. “Those 15 minutes are my favorite part of the day,” he says.
“Yeah, he’s media, but we really don’t look at him as media,” Nats pitcher Ryan Mattheus said. “He does a great job of keeping that ballplayer credibility with us. He knows what we go through on a daily basis. He’s kept that ballplayer mentality in him.”
Game of his lifetime
Santangelo, whose given name is Frank-Paul, was a guy who always seemed to perform above his ability. In 1989, he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 20th round — as a favor to his college coach, Santangelo says — and started off in professional baseball with a $1,000 signing bonus. He played for four teams in seven seasons, plugging holes wherever needed. Over the course of his career, he played six positions.