TTFB interview: Call to the pen with NBC’s Eytan Shander


Allen Craig connects for a hit.
Eytan Shander has Allen Craig on his short list for National League MVP.

Sometimes when you deal with big issues, you want a big personality. That’s exactly what we’re getting in this interview with NBC Sports Radio host, Eytan Shander. Paired with former New York Giants great Amani Toomer, Monday-Friday from 10 pm to 1 am, Shander blends an informed opinion with an unapologetic delivery. You may think football is the sole purpose of life for these two pigskin aficionados, but their blend of today’s hot topics and fervent love of all sports make them one of the most intriguing duos in years.

So, with the trade deadline looming, superstars getting “hurt” and suspended, and a jumble of teams fighting for a playoff spot, I can’t think of who else I would want to chat with to get an authentic opinion than Eytan Shander.

Mike Viso: Did Ryan Braun get off easy in your eyes?
Eytan Shander: I definitely think Ryan Braun got off easy, mainly because the games he misses are meaningless, and the salary he gives up is less than $4 million. Negligible amounts on both ends for a guy who rubbed it in our faces. He should have been given a triple-digit game suspension, starting at the beginning of the year. I think the MLBPA and MLB are in step here, so both are trying to equally clean up [baseball’s] image.

Mike Viso: How does Alex Rodriguez stack up in all this?
Eytan Shander: Alex Rodriguez is the big fish, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Braun’s light sentence had something to do with info on A-Rod. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a lifetime ban either; it’s something that MLB will try and pin on him, what they can’t on other big names. Some things that may play into account: A-Rod admitted to PED use and he allegedly tried to destroy documents and impede MLB’s investigation. I’d retire due to injury right now, avoid a ban and collect that guaranteed money.

Mike Viso: Let’s get to action on the field. Who has been the biggest disappointment in the first half?
Eytan Shander: I honestly thought the pitching — and really everything else — would have been better in Toronto. I thought a change of scenery would do wonders for a couple of guys coming from Miami. As surprising as the Red Sox are, I’d still thought the Jays would be able to complete; far from the case.

I’d love to say the Angels again, mainly because last year was such a disappointment. Although I still have to throw the Angels in there … a third year in a row and maybe it will be our expectations that need to change.

Mike Viso: Who was the biggest surprise?
Eytan Shander: I don’t think it’s lost, but it’s not a surprise that’s talked about enough, and that’s simply the sustainability of both the A’s and O’s. I’m not blown back Oakland is atop the West again, but it’s not an easy task to hold on. We knew Texas would compete, and Seattle would put a stretch together in the second half no matter how long (or more importantly short) it will be. The Angels are just such an enigma it’s difficult to know when they will show up, but when they do, they have the talent to beat anyone. It’s exciting to see both Oakland and Baltimore out east, continuing to build on such a whirlwind of public support last year. Baltimore doesn’t need to be beating Boston right now, but just hanging around in the hunt for the AL East. Right there atop the wild card. These two teams hitting the postseason is only a good thing.

Mike Viso: Who are your first half MVPs and Cy Young winners?
Eytan Shander: I have to go Miguel Cabrera for the AL MVP. I really like Max Scherzer, and it’s not because of the sexy win-loss record; I’m trying to look comparatively at everything else involved, as well. In the NL, flip a coin between Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harvey. I’d take Kershaw in a pinch only because he’s done it longer, but that’s not totally fair to Harvey. As for the MVP, Paul Goldschmidt is having a hell of a year. He may strikeout more than Allen Craig, but he’ll walk and get on base more, as well. The trio that hit for average in St. Louis make it tough for me to separate Craig, but he’s knocking guys in with a lot of opportunities, and somehow this team in St. Louis keeps rolling teams over.

Mike Viso: Let’s talk about Harvey for a minute. Did you have a problem with his recent comments about Derek Jeter? Should he have felt embarrassed?
Eytan Shander: I think Matt Harvey looking up to Derek Jeter can only be a good thing. The guy (Jeter) is Teflon for a reason; he performs under pressure in the biggest sports city on the planet. If Matt Harvey needs that type of motivation to hopefully perform in that spot, good for him. Jeter isn’t going around setting a negative example from a criminal standpoint; in fact, Harvey can learn how to be a superstar and keep his business as best under wraps as possible. A-Rod sneezes and it’s everywhere. Jeter gets a pass, literally, to go home from the All-Star Game and it’s a passing conversation that lasted a day.

Mike Viso: Speaking of nauseating media coverage, is/was Puig-mania overhyped?
Eytan Shander: Puig-mania was definitely overhyped, overblown and, I believe, manufactured more than anything else. Fans around America had their chance to back up all the media coverage by voting him in the All-Star Game. Nothing. He wasn’t even selected to compete in the Home Run Derby. Major League Baseball didn’t even push to get him in. He’s different, a great story of a come-up guy, as well. I have nothing to knock on him despite his fellow player’s concerns. But you can’t tell me he was anywhere near as popular as he was made out to be on TV. He should have walked away with that popular vote.

Mike Viso: What team in the playoff hunt needs to buy at the trade deadline?
Eytan Shander: The easy answer is Atlanta needing to buy after losing Tim Hudson for the rest of the year. The Yankees can’t get healthy, but don’t really have much nor seem to want to offer much. I think Texas is in this conversation before they make that deal for Matt Garza, he’s a perfect complement to this staff. They aren’t going to ask him to do more than he’s capable of doing; they’re not going to need him to be a superstar by any means. In reality, a guy like Garza helps now and into the playoffs, but they will live and die on his ERA. If he keeps it somewhat manageable, then he’ll be a solid addition.

Mike Viso: Is Jason Grilli’s injury foreshadowing things to come for the Pirates and their second-half woes?
Eytan Shander: The Pirates are a tough one. It’s nothing specific like an injury I will point to, but with so much history working against you … man. It’s just tough to think something won’t happen, until they prove us all wrong. I’ll say this: I’m not comfortable with this team making the playoffs until they have a lead in the division. Just holding on to a wild-card lead is going to be tough for me to be convinced.

Mike Viso: Give us your World Series predication.
Eytan Shander: I love, love the Tigers to get back there. Detroit is clicking, they have a lot of things working for them, even when a guy is struggling on the mound or at the plate the others are picking it up. The Tigers versus the Cardinals is most likely because I don’t trust Atlanta or Los Angeles to sustain their play that deep.

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