“Sugar, sugar and caffeine!” That’s how Dan Rothem explains how he stayed alert through the 7 hours and 20 minutes it took him to broadcast the longest post-season game in MLB history between the Dodgers and the Red Sox on October 16/17 on Israel cable TV’s Sport 5 channel.
For the past six years, Dan, a veteran of Israel baseball (player and coach) and former Vice President of the Israel Association of Baseball, has been on air, commentating in Hebrew to night owl baseball fans who are up for the live broadcasts. His brother, Asaf, also an Israel Baseball player and former coach, had been a reporter writing about American sports and business when he was approached to cover the games in 2012. “Once Asaf settled in,” Dan recalls, “he suggested they bring me on board as well, and we’ve been broadcasting ever since, many times with the help of former IAB president Haim Katz.” Recently, another Israel baseball alum, Alon Leichman, who has been part of the Seattle Mariners coaching staff, also joined in, providing “an unprecedented level of insight into the sport.”
During the regular season, every week or two (depending on when the channel decides to air a game), Dan and partner sit in the Sport 5 studios in Herzliyah Pituach, just outside Tel Aviv, to commentate. “Our broadcast is a full data-driven operation, he explains. “We have a TV monitor where we see the live feed directly from the field, as well as the audio of the American broadcasters, which our Israeli viewers hear when we don’t speak. We also have a desktop, a laptop open, and two smartphones available providing all the stats and info. During the playoffs, games start in the evening in Israel, and this year, viewers were able to see almost the full schedule - at least one game a day.
“I love doing all-star games because unlike basketball and other team sports, baseball is really an individual sport played in a team setting. So, the all-star game is really the best baseball in the world because the fact that the players don’t play with each other daily is insignificant. Having said that, the last two seasons each featured a tremendous World Series. In 2016 the Cubs beat the Indians in a mesmerizing Game 7. In 2017 the Astros also beat the Dodgers in seven games - a tremendous series that featured Game 5, which in my mind, is the best game I’d ever seen, and certainly broadcasted.”
“Our biggest challenge is the tension between, on the one hand, introducing the sport to a largely unfamiliar Israeli audience, and, on the other hand, providing insightful analysis. In the early days we really tried to introduce the sport and focus on its basic elements by explaining rules. But we soon realized that was unrealistic, and that broadcast MLB games aren’t a good platform for teaching baseball. So, instead we focused on providing insights into what is actually happening, assuming the viewers have a basic understanding of the sport.”
Dan eschews the view that baseball is a slow sport. “In our broadcasts we really try to focus on the duel between the pitcher and the batter, which, in a real sense, is 90% of this sport. A lot happens in an at a bat, and TV games are a great opportunity to appreciate this duel.”
A Brief History of Dan Rothem in Israel Baseball
In the late 1980s, Dan's brother Asaf’s friends dragged them to the Sportek field in Tel Aviv where Leon Klarfeld (currently the IAB’s Head Umpire) and other coaches oversaw 20 kids of all ages. “We had no uniforms, just one equipment bag with old gloves and bats, and a handful of balls,” Dan reminisces. “We were just a passionate group of kids. In 1989, I was invited to join Israel’s first youth national team that participated in the European Little League qualifiers, where we lost to Saudi Arabia 51-0 in our first ever game!”
Dan followed his early Little League pioneering experience with additional national team appearances, military service, and one memorable but unsuccessful tryout with the Cubs. He became the first Israeli player to play college ball, spending four years at GA Southern and Gardner-Webb University. After college he returned to Israel and played in the Premier League, the Senior National Team from 2004-present, the 2007 Israel Baseball League, and the 2012 WBC qualifiers.
He continues to be a driving force and a larger than life personality in Israel Baseball, and has notably led the Tel Aviv Comrades Premier League team to more championships than he can remember. His philosophy of winning is simple: “We win so much because we don’t care about winning. Every season I tell my players: ‘Don’t worry about winning and losing. Our job is to get better. You have no control over the final result. You have to focus only on what you can control. You have to slice the sport to small, manageable pieces: have a quality at bat, throw a critical mass of quality pitches from the mound, and make athletic plays defensively. That’s it. Don’t worry about the score. If we do these things, the score will take care of itself most of the time (sometimes it won’t!).’”
He has a day job too
When he’s not on the baseball field, Dan is an independent analyst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the peace process, and US-Israeli relations. “My day job changes based on the projects I’m working on, but all of them allow me some flexibility and control over my schedule so I can dedicate a lot of time to my baseball responsibilities, of course!”
His success as a baseball broadcaster relies in part on a wealth of baseball sources that he shares below:
For in-game stats and pitch-by-pitch analysis, he uses two sources: the first is MLB’s live gameday platform, available for each game at www.mlb.com. The second source is Baseball Savant, which goes even more in depth, provides access to statcast data, the system that measures everything on the field, including pitch velocity, the hit ball’s exist velocity and launch angle, and many other cool things.
For a comprehensive statistical analysis of teams and players, he uses www.fangraphs.com.
He also rely on other analysts and commentators to help figure out the most relevant information for the specific game they’re watching. To this end, they curated a Twitter list called Assaf’s Notebook, named after IAB superstar Assaf Lowengart, the IDF sportsman, who is currently playing at Delta College in California - https://twitter.com/drothem/lists/list.