Ron Darling said playoff baseball will be the best prescription he can get right about now as he continues treatment for thyroid cancer.
TBS’ top MLB analyst since 2008 learned of the diagnosis in early May, three weeks after he took a leave of absence from the New York Mets’ SNY regional sports network booth to have a softball-sized tumor removed from his upper chest. He returned to calling games in July after losing his voice for a time.
The 58-year-old former Mets All-Star pitcher, sporting surgical scars across his back, acknowledges that while “I’ve had a tough year, I’m feeling the best I’ve felt all summer. When I take care of two or three things I’ll do after the postseason, they tell me by Thanksgiving I should be 100% -- knock on wood.
“Listen, everyone has their health challenges and this was just mine,” Darling added before calling TBS’ Cleveland-Washington regular-season finale Sunday. “I still have a ways to go with what I have to do. I’ll get through it. As they say about athletes, if you have things off the field that aren’t going great, once you get between the lines, it’s a nice respite. I feel that way about the postseason. I’m blessed to have this job. I’m raring to go.”
TBS reclaims exclusive coverage of the National League playoffs in the network rotation with Fox, starting with the Milwaukee-Washington wild-card game Tuesday. While Darling pairs with Brian Anderson to call the St. Louis-Atlanta NL Division Series, the Dodgers’ NLDS best-of-five starts Thursday with Ernie Johnson -- who took a leave of absence from last season’s playoffs to tend to his own health issues with blood clots in his legs -- paired with new analyst Jeff Francoeur, who replaced Joe Simpson as the Braves’ lead TV colorman this season on Fox Sports South. Note: ESPN 710-AM affiliate can also carry the Dodgers throughout the playoffs head-to-head with the team’s flagship KLAC 570-AM.
The American League schedule starts with Wednesday’s Tampa Bay-Oakland wild-card game –- ESPN uses its “Sunday Night Baseball” crew on one feed with ESPN2 offering a very cool Statcast AI-heavy presentation. FS1/Fox brings back the Dodgers’ Joe Davis with John Smoltz, Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci on one ALDS team, with Kenny Albert, Joe Girardi (replacing David Cone), A.J. Pierzynski and Jon Paul Morosi on the other. The MLB Network will also snag two AL games along the way.
Darling fully expects to catch up with the Dodgers when TBS’ NL Championship Series coverage starts Oct. 11. “I’d be shocked if they didn’t get (a title) during this run –- although it’s easier said that done,” he said.
“I get the fan base’s reaction and the references to 1988 (their last title), but they need to just try to understand how difficult it is to get all the way through,” said Darling, who believes he could have been part of one of the game’s most dominant Mets franchise runs between 1984 and 1990, but the team could take only one title in ‘86 and lost to the Dodgers in a maxed-out ‘88 NLCS. Darling took a Game 7 loss against Orel Hershiser.
“The last two years, the Dodgers have faced historically two of the best assembled teams, like themselves, with the Astros and Red Sox. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. From top to bottom, from (president of baseball operations) Andrew Friedman to (manager) Dave Roberts to the last player on the roster, they are such a buttoned-up, tight unit.”
Darling goes back to the contents of his latest book last April, “108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game,” in trying to keep things into perspective.
“This reminds me of when I was pitching and I’d struggle during two or three starts. I’d be throwing on the side and ask (pitching coach) Mel Stottlemyre what I was doing wrong,” said Darling. “He would say: ‘Nothing. You do know the other team is trying to win, too, right?’ I always thought that was a great way to look at it.
“The Dodgers can turn this narrative on its ear by just winning one title, and they will then go from one of the great ballclubs of their time to a championship team. In my estimation, they deserve it.”
—Book recommendation: “Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin,” a collection of more than 250 photographs by Jean Fruth that includes a chapter about youth baseball in Mexico with an essay by Fernando Valenzuela.
—Another befuddling decision from KSPN-AM (710) to cut loose Dr. Robert Klapper’s creatively informative “Weekend Warriors” medical advice show Saturday mornings after an 8½-year run and then offer him to buy the time himself. “I told them I have another job; this isn’t a hobby,” Klapper said. “It’s a shame this has happened. The love I’ve received has been huge. I feel it.” A podcast version might be a viable replacement, but it won’t be the same without the live interaction with listeners.