The Toy Department recently talked with Rob Dibble, who's in his first season as MASN's color commentator on Washington Nationals telecasts. Dibble, who won the 1990 National League Championship Series MVP during the Cincinnati Reds' World Series-winning season, discusses his new broadcasting role, what needs to happen to ignite a true Orioles-Nationals rivalry, how he'd change baseball and more.
For viewers who have watched you for years on any number of sports shows, the Rob Dibble on MASN's Washington Nationals telecasts seems -- dare I say it -- more mature. At 45, is the Nasty Boy becoming a nice man?
Rob Dibble: It depends on what role I'm in. If I'm doing semi-comedy, sports-news show, then they want me to be looser and more open. One of the things they always used to say to me was, 'You really always have this serious look on your face.' I'm like, 'I'm really not that serious. It's just a look I have. That's maybe a deception on my part, but I can't change the way I look.' Anybody who knows me knows I'm nonstop, cracking jokes. I know how my bosses want me to be and how I'm supposed to be in this role and I act accordingly.
Some folks might say you clean up pretty good.
Rob Dibble: I give all the credit to my wife, Jonna, a former school teacher. She's got her master's degree and she's very smart. She says, 'Listen, you're not going out there on TV like that.' She gets a lot of my clothes, like Joseph Abboud and Hugo Boss, and she was just at Nordstrom getting more ties. She's like, 'I don't know, would you like a Burberry tie that's pink?' And I'm like, 'I don't even know who Burberry is.' She knows all that stuff and I leave it to her.
Would it serve any purpose in your present role on TV to be a more excitable boy?
Rob Dibble: In this role, for now until I know how far I can go and how edgy I can be I'm going to try and be more straightforward and kind of 'Just the facts, ma'am.' I work for both MASN and the Nationals and I want to be honest with the players on the field, too. It's their time. It's not about me.
I've already read some blogs and stuff that people are worried about what I'm saying. It has nothing to do with me. I'm not playing. I'm just sitting watching the game, too. I've been broadcasting for 12 years and I played for 7 ½. People say, 'Well, you were this and you were that.' Well, I'm not that guy anymore. I have to be factually correct. I try to be as informative as possible and be as fair and honest as possible. It's got me this far. People still try and make me part of the story and that's somewhat embarrassing because it's not about me. Some people can't separate me from the color analyst and me the former player and I'm trying to get some distance.On The Junkies radio show a few weeks back, I heard you say the Nationals are capable of winning 90 games. Would you care, as they say in Congress, to revise and extend your remarks?
Rob Dibble: I didn't say what year they would win 90 games (laughs), so I was politically correct. I've seen a lot of teams over the last 20 years, not only as a player but as an analyst, and this is an excellent team. They have some huge holes that they need to fill and one of them is defense. This team has all the makings of a 90-win team. They just don't know it.
They need to put it together on the field as a team. It's hard to bring in Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen and revamp the bullpen and expect immediate results. They've got to jell. You've got a new [pitcher], Jordan Zimmerman, who's as good as anyone I've seen in 20 years starting out. But you have to remember he's still a babe. He's just a few games into his career, let's not put a lot of pressure on him. Let's just let him have fun. The one thing I don't see the Nationals do is have fun. They don't realize how talented they are and what a blessing it is to have a job that's just going out and playing baseball. I had an advantage when I played with the Reds that I played with those guys for 5, 6, 7 years and they were family. I ended my career with Joe Oliver and we played together for a dozen years, from rookie ball to the end. You have to treat your teammates like family. I think the [Nationals] still aren't family, but they're getting closer every day.
We have the Orioles and Nationals playing each other six times this season. It's not much of a rivalry now. Will that ever change and we'll find ourselves with a honest-to-goodness regional rivalry?
Rob Dibble: Absolutely and very soon. I know my team and I've seen the Orioles an awful lot. Dave Trembley is trying to turn things around, but that's the toughest division in the league and kind of an uphill battle. I think that with some of the younger players coming up and some of the talent I'm seeing on the field, once they settle in and start thinking about getting the bragging rights of the area, that's when you're going to get your rivalry. They don't have to be right next door, like the Cubs and the White Sox. Having grown up in Connecticut between the Red Sox and the Yankees or the Bruins and Rangers and Islanders or the Celtics and the Knicks, you know they want to be the best in the area. When they rise and become competitive in their leagues, then you'll see a Nationals-Orioles rivalry.
Three batters, nine pitches, three outs. That half inning you pitched against the Padres in 1989 was the mark of a dominant reliever. Is it hard to watch the Nationals pitching staff struggle with their economy of pitches?
Rob Dibble: Yes and no. I try not to put myself out there. I try to realize that maybe they're not getting the coaching or tutelage at the lower levels like they should. I had a great conversation with Keith Hernandez about how the strike zone has shrunk. That's the umpires and that's Major League Baseball's supervision thing they have going at every stadium. Years ago, you used to get that inside part of the plate. Now they look at it like, 'In my opinion, you intentionally threw at the guy.' Well, that's absurd. A pitcher's job is to pitch the inside and outside of the plate or else he's not going to be able to make a living. Now you have umpires making a judgment call on you. When I was on the mound, it was business, it was never personal. Now, if you made it personal, well, you know where I am. I had 24 other guys depending on what I did. When I look at these guys (Nationals) and they're not throwing strikes and they're not challenging guys, there're a number of reasons. So no, it's not frustrating because I know why.
You're a two-time All Star and a member of a the 1990 world champion Reds. But injury cut your career short. Any regrets?
Rob Dibble: I regret that my kids weren't old enough to see me in my prime. My daughter was just 1 when we won the World Series and my son wasn't even born yet. My daughter's 19 and my son is 16. Being a divorced father now remarried, that might be my one and only regret. I don't have any regrets on the field. I may not have had the quantity, but I had more quality than a lot of guys get in their career. The one thing I miss is being down there with the guys.
A couple of years ago on Fox, you advocated shortening the season and adding two wild card teams and another level to the playoffs to add some excitement to the game. Do you still feel that way?
Rob Dibble: Absolutely. I think stretching a season out nowadays, why do you need to go to 162 games when it used to be 154 games years ago. The first round is five games, which I don't think is fair. Look at the Angels. You win 100 games, 50 on the road and all of the sudden, boom, you're out in three games? Or the Cubs — you're out in three games? I'm not a fan of that ….Why not make it a seven-game wild-card series, add more teams to it and make it more fun. Other sports have said, 'The more teams in the playoffs, the more fun,' because at the end of the day, you know what, it gives your fans hope. The players live for the postseason, they want to have something to play for. If you're out of it by September and you have no shot at the playoffs, it really takes the fun out of the game.
While you still have your commissioner's hat on, what else do you see that needs attention?
Rob Dibble: What I don't like about the umpires is they merged. They became like a united front of umpires. There used to be a competitiveness between the two leagues. The National League was a lower strike-zone league. American League was a little bit higher. There was a give and take — 'We're the better umpires.' 'No we're the better umpires.' Now they're all on the same page and now I'm shocked at how tight the strike zone is. As the game goes on it tightens up even more. That's why you're seeing games that are 14-12 and 10-8. Is that where the game is going, that it's all offense, no defense and no pitching? We've lowered the mound, shrunk the strike zone and shrunk the ballparks. Is that all we want—offense?
It sounds like you're mounting a campaign on behalf of the brothers of the mound.
Rob Dibble: Pitchers don't want to put people on. My ego? I faced almost 2,000 hitters in my career, I hit 12. I'm not going to put you on for free. You've got to earn that right to get on base. I may scare you along the way, but that's the inside part of the plate. People still consider me a headhunter yet I never threw at anybody's head and never even came close. I had some good command my first five years until I got injured. To me, there is an art form to pitching inside. It's no longer taught in junior high, high school and college so that by the time they get to the pros, that's almost a fear thing that if I hit the guy, he's going to charge the mound or I'm going to be ejected. If we alleviate a little bit of that fear in a pitcher's mind, the games will be a little bit tighter. At the end of the game, there's nothing more exciting than Mariano Rivera coming into Fenway Park with a two-run lead and then you come back on him. That's better than some game … that ends up being a football score.
If you were putting together a team and you could have one starting pitcher, one everyday player and one reliever to build around, who would you choose?
Rob Dibble: Wow, that's a tough one. Roy Halladay would be my starter. Albert Pujols would be my everyday player. Brad Lidge would be my closer.
Which two teams do you see in this year's World Series?
Rob Dibble: I'm picking the Cubs and the Red Sox because I'm all about history and I'd like to see the Cubs put this 100-year deal behind them. I love Lou (Piniella) and I love some of the guys on that team. Cubs-Red Sox, I think that would be great for baseball.
And who would you be rooting for?
Rob Dibble: I root for a great story (laughs). I'm the son of a newsman. My dad was a newsman in Connecticut for 50 years.
One last question, Rob. Who was the nastiest Nasty Boy?
Rob Dibble: By far, me (laughs). Being mean and nasty was just part of my nature … I was never well liked on a baseball field. My thing was, you're going to get a battle. That's what my dad taught me, to be the best at whatever I do or try to be the best. In a battle out there, you're going to get the best of me and I'm going to get the best of you. That's the thing I loved about my career. We could be getting blown out and because of my reputation, benches would stand up and they'd start heckling, but they would still give me their best at-bats.
Top photo: MASN Sports
Bottom photo: Handout