Santangelo came to love the team and embrace the city. Now, as the Nationals and MASN look for Santangelo’s replacement — he announced Wednesday that the network wasn’t bringing him back for a 12th year — times have changed. The 2022 season will be the team’s 18th in town. There are former players who identify as Nationals first. They won a World Series, which automatically deepens those players’ ties with a town.
Given all that, this is a chance to further link the television broadcasts to the team and the city. Bob Carpenter, who has served as MASN’s play-by-play man since 2006, will remain in the booth for at least two more years, but the veteran is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning. (Quick quiz: Who made up MASN’s tandem in the inaugural season of 2005? Answer below.) The hope would be that Santangelo’s replacement could grow with Carpenter’s successor — a team to carry the broadcasts forward while maintaining ties to an increasingly rich past.
Below, a list of potential candidates pulled out of thin air (and the crevices of a Nats-addled brain), with the following disclaimer: This is a hard job. Almost all of the candidates here have zero broadcasting experience. It’s impossible to say with any certainty who would excel and who would struggle.
Another caveat: The choice doesn’t have to be one person. Several teams have color analysts who rotate in, and an especially fun setup would be to have a three-person booth with a guest analyst for, say, Sunday broadcasts — something the Philadelphia Phillies do.
In alphabetical order, here is a stab at a list, with one final caveat: I have no idea if most of these people want to be, or would be, considered.
Jerry Blevins — The lefty reliever played only the 2014 season with the Nats, but somehow it felt like longer. A veteran of 13 major league seasons, Blevins is actually more tied to the Mets, and he participates in a podcast about that team. But his bona fides are strong: Always analytical, his Twitter account shows how closely he continues to follow the game since retiring after the 2019 season. Plus, he’s funny — a huge bonus in this job.
Ian Desmond — The Nats’ starting shortstop from 2010 to 2015 — and a draft pick by the Expos in 2004 — Desmond has a deep connection to the organization, not to mention a history of working closely with and supporting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. But above all, he’s smart and thoughtful. He is 36 and could still play, but he opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then again declined to play the last year of his contract with the Colorado Rockies. Hard to imagine a fan who would oppose this option.
Sean Doolittle — Disclaimer: Doolittle is not retired. Though he was released by Cincinnati midway through this past season, he was picked up by Seattle. His average fastball velocity was back up near his levels from 2019, when he was a key member of the Nats’ World Series team. So, to be clear: I’m not trying to kick his career to the curb. However, who would be better in this role? Doolittle endeared himself to the fan base not only with his pitching — a 3.03 ERA and 75 saves with an all-star appearance over 3½ seasons in Washington — but with his quirky, sharp, self-deprecating personality.
Brian Dozier — The second baseman played only one season here and hit just .238. When he retired, he did so as a Minnesota Twin, because that’s the organization that brought him to the big leagues and made him an all-star. But Dozier’s D.C. tenure came at the right time — 2019 — and by that postseason, even as he was replaced by Howie Kendrick as the second baseman (thank goodness!), he was an emotional engine. He’s hysterical and sneaky smart, and we would have to assume he would occasionally broadcast shirtless.
Justin Maxwell — The Olney native and University of Maryland grad was thrown into the role when Santangelo was held off the air following sexual misconduct allegations this summer, and he’s a living, breathing example of how difficult it is. With no time to prepare, Maxwell understandably struggled to start. But he improved over time and by his final broadcasts was much more confident and insightful. A Nats outfielder for parts of the 2007, 2009 and 2010 seasons, Maxwell is a dental student at Maryland, so he would have to put down the tartar scraper to pick up the microphone.
Jessica Mendoza — The most qualified and experienced broadcaster mentioned here, the former Stanford softball star who won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics is extremely well respected in the game. She’s particularly good at assessing and explaining hitters and hitting, and she has served as a primary analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” Would she want to give up a national gig to focus on one team? Who knows? But she’s the one person on this list who we know could do the job — and do it well.
Brian Schneider — Since covering him as a beat writer on the early Nats teams, I have thought Schneider would be a good fit for this role. As a catcher — 2005-07 in Washington, 13 years in the big leagues — he knows both hitting and pitching. He played for the Phillies and Mets and coached from 2015 to 2019 with the Marlins and in 2020 and 2021 with the Mets, so he knows the division. His ties with the organization are deep, and he caught two of the more memorable (if only ceremonial) pitches thrown here — the first from President George W. Bush to bring baseball back to D.C. in 2005, the second from Chad Cordero to open Game 3 of the World Series in 2019.
Denard Span — The Nats’ center fielder from 2013 to 2015, Span was always popular with fans for his speedy, aggressive style and defensive flair. But in interviews, he also had the ability to explain the game in a straightforward way. Plus, he’s sharp to the point that the Tampa Bay Rays — one of the brainiest outfits in baseball — hired him to be a special assistant in the front office this past season.
Jayson Werth — Whoo, boy. The wild card. It would be worth tuning in just to hear what he might say. Werth’s credentials — 15 years in the big leagues, the last seven in Washington — need no introduction. But beyond his experience is his keen intellect for the game. During his time here, there was no one better at explaining how the sport worked, how a clubhouse functioned, how players endure and excel over the entirety of a season. I bet that would translate beautifully to the broadcast booth.
Ryan Zimmerman — Another one I’m not trying to push to retirement. But by this point, Zimmerman could basically call the Nats and ask to do any job he wanted — part-time first baseman who can still hit, liaison between the front office and the players, color analyst, whatever. The Nats’ first draft pick has played all of his 16 years here and leads the franchise in basically every offensive category. More than that, though: He’s the only candidate on this list who lives here, raises his family here, has his hand in restaurants here — is part of the day-to-day fabric here. He would bring instant credibility, no explanation needed.
Now, because I have seen a couple of names pop up, it’s worth pointing out potential candidates who I think would be less than ideal fits.
Michael Morse was a popular outfielder on the Nats’ first division champion back in 2012, and his signature “Take On Me” walk-up song was the precursor to “Baby Shark.” But Morse struggled as an occasional fill-in for Santangelo over the years and didn’t improve much with more reps.
Gio Gonzalez has history here; the lefty was a key building block on division champs in 2012, ’14, ’16 and ’17. But I never found Gonzalez particularly adept at analyzing his own outings, which leads me to believe he wouldn’t be insightful as an outside observer of the game.
Oh, finally, your quiz answer: Mel Proctor and Ron Darling. (They gave way to Carpenter and Tom Paciorek in 2006. Paciorek was replaced by late Hall of Famer Don Sutton in 2007 and 2008. Sutton was replaced by Rob Dibble from 2008 to 2010, and Santangelo took over when Dibble was fired.)