Thu. Jul 19th, 2018

A Conversation With Rob Dibble

An All-Star pitcher, World Series champion, national radio host for ESPN and SiriusXM, Fox Sports TV personality, MLB color analyst, it’s a resume you would expect to read from an on-air talent in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York.  While Rob Dibble has the credentials to work anywhere, for the last four years he’s been entertaining the city of Hartford, Connecticut.

Right in the middle of Boston and New York, the former member of the Cincinnati Reds’ Nasty Boys trio hosts a daily afternoon drive show on ESPN Hartford 97.9FM and AM1300 in New Haven.  Hartford is no stranger to popular radio hosts, having served as the home for one of Dibble’s industry idols, Howard Stern in 1979, notably being the city where the King of All Media paired up with Fred Norris.

Hartford also was the home of popular news radio host, Walt Dibble, Rob’s father.  Radio and Hartford are two things that are in Rob’s blood, having played a part in his upbringing, it’s no surprise to see Dibble with a passion for both.

Dibble has been controversial on the baseball diamond, known for his temper and being a headhunter, but he’ll tell you the persona was more rhetoric than reality.  He’s been controversial in his second career, which at times cost him a job. One of his most notable missteps (depending on who’s point of view you take) was criticizing Stephen Strasburg while working as the Nationals’ color analyst.  Rob’s opinions and brash style are also reasons why people tune in to hear him on a daily basis.

When Dibble moved back to Hartford four years ago, it wasn’t with plans of hosting a radio show, but Dibs took a chance on a mid-market station that was struggling and close to switching formats.  Four years later he’s built a following and became a staple within the community, both on and off the air.

BC: When you were playing did you view the media as something you wanted to dive into?

RD: Never…never…my dad was a news director, he was also one of the first teachers at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, he was amazing.  I was always Walt Dibble’s kid growing up around here because he was such a big name in the news.

When I got out of baseball, I was around 30 years old and I wanted to be a cop.  I wanted to either be in the military or a cop, one of my brothers was a fireman, my other brother was Navy, my dad was in the Naval Reserve, so public service is in my blood.

I was studying to take the state police exam and when I was thinking about retiring totally from baseball after my second shoulder surgery, Chris Berman and I had season tickets near each other to the Hartford Whalers and Chris and I would always talk in-between periods and he would tell me to just come on ESPN Radio.  This was when they were only 14 hours of programming on weekends.

I went on with Keith Olbermann and Chris Berman one weekend and I sat around for seven hours…watched what they were doing and they brought me on for about five minutes to talk baseball trades and free agency stuff, that was it.  Long story short, an agent heard me, asked if I was interested in going to FOX Sports News to do some TV and that’s what started me down this road.  I auditioned and got the job, they gave me a two-year deal, which by the way was my first long-term contract ever…because I had eight one-year deals in baseball.  I was on with James Worthy, Craig Simpson and Kevin Frazier doing three live one-hour shows back to back to back as Fox News was starting out and back then they were in 11 million homes, within three months we were in 60 million homes.

BC: This is a big difference from law enforcement!

RD: I started pro baseball at 19, 13 years professionally, but I never looked at myself as a baseball player.   Even now, if I look back or I look up at that picture of when we won the World Series, that was 28 years ago, I don’t even know who that guy is to be honest with you.

I’m more into music and a lot of my friends are cops or in the military and I respect the hell out of what they do and I wanted to do it too.  Like Bill Russell’s famous quote, “I was a basketball player, but I don’t let that define me.”  That’s the way baseball was for me, I loved playing it.  When I was good at it, it was great, when I was hurt, it sucked.  I get asked almost yearly to coach or be an instructor, but my wife would divorce me in a second, she hated when I took the National’s job, she said that’s not a job for you, the people aren’t going to love you there, you’re going to hate the travel and of course I should’ve listened to my wife.

BC: You mentioned you don’t know who that person is in the picture, but do you have a favorite memory from your playing days?

RD: Well a lot of the failures stick with me the most, but obviously the playoffs, World Series, All-Star appearances were great, but I think just doing my job, it’s what I was paid to do and I look at today’s athletes and I try to teach young kids in baseball to just do your job, what’s your job?  To help your team win, if you get paid to do that…great, if not, maybe you’ll get a scholarship to go to college and have someone basically paying you to go through school, but you need to play your sports correctly.  My dad always taught me to bust my ass and be the best I can be at whatever I’m doing, whether it’s a ditch digger, a baseball player, or on radio, be the best that you can be at whatever you do and my dad prepared me for that.

BC: Being one of the “Nasty Boys,” even the “Nastiest Boy” known for having a temper, are you toned down now?

RD: Temper?  Absolutely…I have a 7-year old, I have two fully grown kids…

BC: Was that something that got better just from getting older?  Or was it being away from baseball that helped?

RD: That was…when I was eight years old I was kind of a spaz, I was always high-strung and hyper, when you look back at old home movies I was strapped to a chair and my mom said it was because I was always jumping around and hyper, I was always very active.  The temper wasn’t really because I was angry, it was a fear of failure and failing my teammates that made me so drive. I don’t like to be embarrassed.

I also never liked anybody to try and injure my teammates which was my big thing when I was playing and different from the way they play today.  Being bigger and stronger than everyone I was always trying to be the peacemaker.

Norm Charlton was my roommate for seven years and we discussed a lot of this stuff. We knew it was going to fall on us to protect these guys and we were up for that.  Besides the fact it was fun, being respected by your peers and teammates and knowing that we didn’t want anyone to mess with us was probably the most fun I had, more so than just winning games.  They knew they could count on us no matter what.

For example, Orel Hershiser, when he was going through his 60-inning scoreless streak, he drilled Eric Davis like three times in one game.  He had impeccable command and we knew it was intentional, so we had to either stop it or it was going to continue.  I went out and drilled Mike Marshall. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Mike, it was that Orel could injure Eric and it was taking away from what he was trying to do.  I’m all about everyone deserving an opportunity to do their thing.

Listen, I faced over 2000 hitters and I hit 12!  Yet I still have a reputation of being nasty and a headhunter, but if you look up my numbers you’d realize I didn’t hit a lot of guys.  It’s about command, it seemed like madness, but it was a controlled madness.

BC: You were emotional when playing, so you probably enjoyed the pressure and feeding off the crowd, were there parallels with joining sports media?  When you’re on the mound everyone is relying on you to perform, when you’re on Fox Sports and ESPN radio people are tuning in to hear you, they might not be right in front of you, but you know people are relying on you to entertain and inform.  There’s a rush being on-air.

RD: Absolutely, we just did a full week at the Travelers Championship and we were right there when the fans walk in. We have a lot of women listeners and one woman came up to us with her husband standing kind of sheepishly behind her and she said, “I’m able to carry a sports conversation because I listen to your show,” and that’s the best compliment we can get because we’re entertaining and informative.

One thing my dad taught me was you’re trying to get people from point A to point B whether they’re coming or going to work and I enjoy that.  There’s times when we’ll have to break away from sports depending on what’s going on with the weather or in the news, if there’s a school shooting or something, those things supersede sports.  I was on the air with Dan Patrick when 9/11 happened, there are always parts where I revert back to what my dad taught me about news because what’s more important…?  Reality.

My biggest thing when I came home to Hartford was after 17 years of national radio, you can regurgitate national news, but we really try to hammer New York sports, Boston sports, UConn and make sure people realize we’re your station.  We won’t tell you what to listen to, but whatever you want us to talk about, that’s what we’re going to stay on top of.

BC: Do you rank it at all?  In terms of what you want to cover the most?  Boston, New York or local?

RD: No, we don’t have the rights to the Red Sox, but we spend a lot of time covering them.  I would never cover the Mets, Yankees or Red Sox more than the other.  Right now we actually spend more time on the Mets because the Yankees and Red Sox have been doing what they’re supposed to, the Mets being such a disappointment has been more of a story.  But obviously the Jets, Giants and Patriots, we get a lot of people on to cover all of those teams.

BC: Do you consider yourself as competing with New York and Boston stations?  I know you really only get WFAN’s AM signal here, but do you look at those as competition?

RD: No.  No because they’re set, our signals we get Southern Massachusetts, the Hartford basin and then Fairfield County, New Haven and that area, so you’re getting a very different range of fan.  I can’t compete with New York or Boston, we have to do the in-between.  We’re a mix of Boston, New York, and Connecticut and then we’ll throw national in too.  That’s the beauty of being iHeart instead of national ESPN, I can put anyone on the show and we often do, ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, there’s no realm of guests I can’t go after.

BC: What about covering the local topics, you were at the Travelers every day, that’s not something that a lot of stations are covering, do you focus on the Hartford Yard Goats, UConn sports and other local sports?

RD: We have partnerships with UConn and the Yard Goats, but even when we didn’t, we covered them.  We do shows from Quinnipiac, we cover Central Connecticut State University.  It’s more or less whoever asks us.

We’ll go to Mohegan and go to the whiskey fest, tequila fest, we go to local bars and do fantasy football shows and go out for the NCAA tournament.  We’re very versatile, I’ve done shows from car dealerships, barbecues, a wedding, if my bosses and the engineers can set it up we’ll make it happen and this is why I wanted to come back here.

BC: I guess you don’t get tired of the local topics.  Do you think you would be into it as much in a small city or town in a different part of the country?  Or is it just because this is where you grew up?

RD: I’ve lived pretty much everywhere, from Florida to Nashville, Ohio and Oregon, I don’t think if I was local somewhere else that I wouldn’t love it as much.  I’m an American, I love this country, I love sports talk radio, people love listening. I don’t know the exact reason, but after doing this for 20 years people listen and sometimes maybe too closely!

Sometimes Ben or I might have a throwaway line that you don’t think anyone would even pick up on, but that winds up being the only thing they focus on and they’re pissed about.  Maybe you make a negative comment about Derek Jeter that they’re upset about.  People don’t understand why I’m down on A-Rod, but to me it’s never personal, it’s fun and entertainment.  But if I were in a different market, if I were in Florida I’d be hammering the Dolphins and Marlins.

I did seven years on MLB radio and four years with Kevin Kennedy on SiriusXM until they separated us because we liked each other too much.  We did four hours a day with no commercials and we never had a boring show because there was always something to talk about.  It amazes me how much sports and real life merge together and people love it. It’s never boring regardless of the market.

BC: How long has Ben been here? (Rob’s co-host and station PD Ben Darnell)

RD: Ben’s been here two years and it’s been fantastic.

BC: Did you have a co-host before that?

RD: Tim Spence was here

BC: He co-hosted?

RD: He did a little bit, not as much as Ben and before that I was on my own for a while and four hours on your own could be difficult.

BC: So you prefer having a co-host?

RD: Oh yea, Ben is fantastic, he’s 20 years younger than me and full of life.  He loves college and women’s sports, I’ve never met anyone more in tune with this stuff than him

BC: How much planning and developing topics do you do?  Even on SiriusXM doing four hours without commercials how would you plan out the show?

RD: Kevin and I would talk for 15 minutes before a show to find out what each of us were passionate about and pick the topics we needed to hit on, we would take calls and the callers would sometimes introduce a topic that we would focus on.  The beauty of that show was, especially with Kevin being a former manager, we could break into any game that was going on and then we could come back and talk about what just happened or a decision that was made.

A lot of it is reactionary and then the beauty of local is you have a Kevin Ollie topic today, or the Connecticut Sun played last night and we can hit on those stories and we can jump over to a national topic and make fun of the where’s LeBron going conversation.

But the biggest thing is always, what do we think the listeners want to be talking about and what do you think they’re the most passionate about?

BC: You develop and create topics similarly now for your local show?

RD: Yea, I developed a ton of stuff from Dan Patrick, working five and a half years with him, he’s one of the best in the business.  Every day, honestly we had too many meetings, when I started working for him in 1999 we would have a meeting before the show and everyone would have to bring topics, we’d break it down to big topics and smaller topics, when the show was over we would have a post-show meeting to talk about what worked and didn’t.

Dan was the master teacher to me of trying to build a show each day.  I have 16 segments each day and you need to have 16 great segments every day, you can’t take a day off and you can’t take a segment off because people know when you’re trying to fake it.

BC: Do you have other hosts you model yourself after?  Even from growing up, obviously you had your dad to learn from.

RD: My dad was news, so from him I got a lot of stressing about pronouncing names right and making sure my information is correct. I try to never throw out an opinion if I don’t have the facts to back it up.  I’ve worked with so many great people even when I was a color analyst I worked with Charley Steiner or Brent Musburger, guys like that, their professionalism has always rubbed off on me.  I could go back to Mike and the Mad Dog, Howard Stern is amazing, a lot of our bits and sound effects, I don’t like to say steal, but you borrow it from a lot of people along the way to create something.

Imus and even Rush Limbaugh, it’s not about whether or not you agree with their politics, it’s about how do they do this, how do they get so many people to listen to them. That’s the beauty of radio.  There’s been so many people that I’ve came across in my life that do this so well.

BC: You mentioned people focusing on one throwaway line. Does that make you have to think about what you’re going to say more?  Can you do a show if you’re worried you might offend someone?

RD: Ben and I are big believers of two things in sports radio, don’t talk religion and don’t talk politics.  I’m very religious, both my parents were deacons and that keeps me grounded, but I try to keep that off the air, that’s my thing.  But it does concern me, when I started here I had a couple people taking shots at me saying I was racist.  I know it’s not true, but it’s hard to justify something that someone perceives you said that they don’t like.

When we were on SiriusXM I had a really good boss for seven years and even though we had the freedom to drop f-bombs, he said this is a family show, I don’t want you swearing.

I’m very self-deprecating, I’ve had my wife on here to trash me (laughs), I don’t take myself too seriously, I’ve had my daughter and in-laws on, I get a lot of that from Howard Stern, if people know you’re a family man and you’re in the community, they know when you’re serious and when you’re just playing.

BC: Even the Strasburg thing, it was one comment, it wasn’t offensive, but it still ended up costing you a job.

RD: It did, it cost me a job, but it wasn’t the first job I lost because of my mouth.  I’ll be honest with you, there were people within the organization that didn’t like this.  They didn’t like the tattoos the rings, anybody that knows me knows I’m really cheesy and tacky.  I love jewelry, fast cars and motorcycles, I’ve got my deer head here because my wife won’t let me bring it home (laughs).

The Strasburg thing was more, I knew too much about him and everything going on in the organization and that was my own fault that I brought it out on the air.

BC: I would’ve expected you to be more sensitive to arm injuries since it ended your career early.

RD: It did, but I made my statement on a Monday, he was diagnosed on a Thursday so the sucking it up remark had nothing to do with the injury, people will try to push that together, but I would say it again today.  He’s still soft and the type of guy that doesn’t realize how valuable he is.

It goes back to when I talk to 12 year olds about what is your job?  Help your team win.  I grew up in an era where guys played with broken limbs to play in a playoff game. Was it last year or the year before in the playoffs where Strasburg said he couldn’t pitch because he had the flu?!  That was unheard of in my day, I had guys play with pneumonia, I think it was Jack Youngblood when I was growing up played with a blood clot in his leg, Willis Reed and his ankle…so to me it was never about Strasburg, it’s about an analogy for so many athletes.

Look at Rodney Hood with the Cavaliers in the playoffs when he said he didn’t want to play at the end of a playoff game.  That’s insane.  Insane.

I always remembered how hard it was to get to where I was, making all-star teams, but knowing I didn’t have all-star talent.  There are hall-of-famers, but then there are guys who need to bust their ass to stay in the big leagues.

There’s a big difference in talent level, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so hard on A-Rod.  He didn’t need to cheat, guys like Bonds and McGwire…what the hell did these guys need to take steroids for?  For guys like me that needed to do extra running and throwing just to get my arm strong enough to throw 15 pitches, it’s offensive to me when you see very talented people not want to play or perform.

There’s the famous Joe DiMaggio quote when he was asked why he always plays hard and he said, because “there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time,” and that’s the way I am.  I can’t change my perception, maybe I was too hard on Strasburg, but it wasn’t about him, it’s about so many guys that don’t realize their value.

BC: You mentioned avoiding politics, is that difficult at times especially when sports cross into political conversations?

RD: Not really, it bothers me when some athletes try to get into politics and don’t understand we’re not going to be taken seriously.  LeBron can get into politics because he has the platform to do it.  But other athletes will be talking about stuff that you need to spend a lot more time around it to understand.  This is the most divided this country has been…I think, in my lifetime.  It’s really difficult to take a side, it’s probably better to be independent right now.

Athletes should probably just worry about your charities, your kids and influencing the inner-cities.  I’ve tried to a lot of stuff with the Boys and Girls Clubs, Special Olympics, MDA and if you go out there and start talking politics, you can ruin all of that.  If that’s going to be who you are, if you’re going to be an activist like Colin Kaepernick, I remember Muhammad Ali, you need to be willing to give up everything if you want to be an activist.

We don’t all have the same platform, if Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods start talking, people will listen.  If Rob Dibble starts popping off about something political, the other side will always point to something I did as a player that was negative.

BC: What if you were never an athlete, and only a radio host, do you think you would avoid politics?

RD: That’s a good question.  I don’t think I would avoid it, I’ll hit things when they need to be hit, but for the most part you still need to justify your point more.  If you’re LeBron you don’t need to justify it as much because people already respect you, they know where you’re coming from and they already have a big enough platform.  For me, you’re trying to get up to that platform and there aren’t many people there.

BC: Is it ever frustrating that you feel as though you can’t give opinions outside of sports?

RD: No, not for a second.  Everybody has their place.  The biggest problem watching the news today or watching ESPN where people can get into trouble talking politics, but it’s the same thing whether it’s sports news or regular news: you’re there to cover the news.  I was always taught don’t become a part of the story.  I became a part of the Strasburg story, it got me canned.  That’s not what I was intending to do.  I was just being Rob Dibble, talking smack like I always do, not realizing there was someone with an agenda ready to say I was personally attacking Strasburg even though that’s not what I was doing.

You have to be focused on there always being someone ready for you to take a misstep, it’s unfortunate, but I’ll go back to what my Dad said, you’re there to cover the news, not be a part of the news.  And this is why I think CNN’s ratings have gone down so much, you might not like the president, but what is your role?  Cover the news…ESPN, what made ESPN so great?  Covering sports.  They started to deviate a little bit and now people start asking are you this or are you that and then you get into trouble.  I’m not a judgmental person, but I know I’m being judged. When you know you’re being judged on everything that comes out of your mouth, it’s a lot easier to stay away from that stuff.

BC: How about the Obama interview when you were with the Nationals?

RD: (Laughs) You did your homework…they fed us the questions.

 

BC: They were basic questions…who was your favorite player growing up?

RD: So what happened with that was, Bob Carpenter and I each had 10 questions the Secret Service gave us, President Obama wanted to stay an extra inning. We’re not going to say no to the President wanting to hangout longer. So there was a secondary list of softball questions that if he was on my show today, I would ask the same thing.  Who’s your favorite White Sox guy?  Not thinking it was a loaded question, but he couldn’t answer it.

BC: You didn’t ask him to break down Mark Buehrle’s changeup.

RD: Right, exactly!  But it was hard when people were trying to make fun of him, there are a lot of times when people ask me a question and I’ll know the answer, but my head isn’t there and I don’t have an answer…but listen I voted for him. I love him, but some people have an agenda, they thought it was some sort of misdeed that he didn’t know guys on the White Sox. I mean he’s the freakin President of the United States! Give the guy a break!

I was honored to just be a part of the whole thing.  I had friends in the Secret Service. I got tours of the White House when I was working in Washington.  We had snipers above us, snipers below us and snipers looking back at us.  When I came in that day they had bomb sniffing dogs going through my car, I felt like something was going on, but it was just protocol!

BC: Did you go to the White House after winning the World Series?

RD: I did not. I went to Japan, but I actually got lucky because I had a flag flown in my honor over Congress for a day and they later presented me with the flag.

I went to Japan on an all-star tour.  I looked at it as I was on the all-star team. I won the World Series. I had the chance to do this all-star tour, I don’t think I could ever top that year.  So no, I didn’t go, but I got that flag and that’s really cool.  I’ll look back at it and I’m like…they got to go to the White House, but I got a flag flown in my honor!  And that’s pretty cool.

BC: You’ve done national television, national radio and local radio, do you have a preference?

RD: Very different, the paygrades are a lot different, but the last four years have been amazing.  When we started they had no ratings here and we’ve been steadily in the top 10 the last couple of years.

BC: So they didn’t have a local show?

RD: They did, they were on Fox 1410, then it switched to ESPN, but still had Fox and I was filling in and doing my Fox Sports national show from here, my friend Dave Zaslowsky from ESPN said they were probably going to flip the station back to country because they were struggling to sell anything, and we came in and took a chance.

BC: When you moved back to Hartford you were not planning to do this show?

RD: No, I didn’t want to go back into radio, I was going to do other things.  My wife is doing real estate. I was going to do some real estate and do some coaching and maybe open up a baseball instructional type school, which I could still do, but this has been fantastic and way more than I ever expected because it started so small.

BC: Earlier when you were showing me the studio you mentioned possibly being simulcast, would that be a national thing or just local?  Would it alter the content at all?

RD: If we were simulcast it would be on a local level and that would be plenty for Ben and me.  It would be cool to be syndicated, but a simulcast wouldn’t change anything, we don’t have the aspirations to compete with anything nationally right now.

BC: I don’t want to ask the where do you see yourself in five years

RD: You can ask that

BC It’s a little too generic.

RD: (Laughs)

BC: You’ve done national things, you mentioned the paygrade is very different from what you’re doing now, are you open to other opportunities?  Are you set on staying here in Hartford?  Or if a national show comes calling, whether it be TV or radio, could you envision yourself moving for a bigger opportunity, higher paygrade?

RD: I could. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I’d want to take Ben and everyone with me, so I would rather continue to grow this from the bottom up than go join something else.

Right now I’m here long term, I have a long term contract. I’m very happy. We have a seven year old daughter and we’d like to have her go to school here.  I’m relatively young at 54 years old. My wife is eight years younger, she keeps me young.  Sure I’d love to do the show from Miami or Hawaii, but honestly I love Connecticut. I think we’re in a sports bubble between New York and Boston, where there’s always something going on.

BC: But you’re not going to get into law enforcement now? (Laughs)

RD: (Laughs) I actually do some things with SWAT, but I’m too old now, I don’t think I could pass the physical.

The Rob Dibble Show airs each weekday from 3pm – 7pm ET on 97.9 ESPN Hartford and 1300 ESPN New Haven.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.