Media Power Rankings: December
Doug Glanville's thoughtful work in "The New York Times" deserves notice
Twitter users hammered Joe Theismann during his NBC appearance
Bill Cowher wasn't forthcoming at all about coaching prospects on "The NFL Today"
1. Doug Glanville, New York Times op-ed columnist: The most illuminating piece of writing on Tiger Woods last month came from a man once traded for Mickey Morandini:
"As you climb the baseball ladder, your social confidence explodes. You receive the sort of attention you never did as an acne-ridden honors student. Quite frankly, it is addictive, and when you are in it, there seems to be no end in sight."
So wrote Glanville, the former major leaguer whose insightful and thought-provoking prose has been featured in The New York Times since January 2008. It's part of the evolution of a writing career that debuted with a handful of columns for ESPN.com in 2003 as he closed his nine-year career for the Cubs, Phillies, and Rangers. Glanville later connected with Alan Schwarz, a sportswriter at the Times and a friend from their undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania. Schwartz suggested that Glanville pitch his newspaper as a freelance writer, and soon he was writing his first piece, on fear in baseball. Glanville eventually ended up with his own op-ed column, "Heading Home," which covered the game, its controversies and what it taught him about every-day life.
"The Times gave me a lot of latitude to see where I could go with it and I got more and more comfortable each time I wrote a piece," Glanville said. "It was wonderfully rewarding. I never expected such a dynamic and interactive experience. My father wrote a lot of poetry when I was growing up and all of a sudden out of nowhere he would just sit and say, 'I have to write something.' I feel that, too, that feeling if being compelled to wrote something."
Glanville writes roughly three pieces a month for the newspaper and comes up with the majority of the topics on his own. He said his pieces on Woods and Alex Rodriguez drew the most reader feedback.
"Writing about the icons and translating their behavior or choices has seemed to do really well from a response standpoint," Glanville said. "Obviously, they have a little controversial edge to it. I suppose because people might be like, 'How can you defend this guy?' But my wife described it perfectly. She said, 'You are an advocate for empathy.' In a way, that's true."
Next up for Glanville will be the May release of The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayers Inside View, a book he began in September 2008 that Glanville says will reveal the human side of the game.
"I am very hopeful this will be my next career," Glanville said. "I love writing, and there is nothing more rewarding when people receive your work well. I feel very comfortable and I feel like I have an instinct for it. It's almost like playing center field. It just feel comfortable for me."
2. Mike Kosowski, Fox Sports PokerStars.net winner: An NYPD first responder who was forced to retire after 20 years because of injuries sustained while saving people on Sept. 11, 2001, Kosowski overcame long odds to win $1 million last month by beating professional poker player Daniel Negreanu in a one-on-one showdown. Here's a look at Dec. 27 episode where Kosowski took down the pro.
3. John Barr, Reporter; ESPN Enterprise Unit: Those who watched Outside the Lines on Sunday saw an intelligent and thoughtful look at the life and death of Chris Henry, highlighted by Barr's interview with Henry's fiancée, Loleini Tonga. It was another example of Barr's solid reporting involving stories that are far from neat.
What aired on Sunday was an uncomfortable yet powerful interview by Tonga, who was initially reticent to answer questions.
"It was roughly 45 minutes into the interview when I finally arrived at the point where I asked questions about the domestic dispute and what followed," Barr said. "Leini's initial reaction was that she didn't want to talk about what happened on that day, which made for a few anxious moments. We sort of talked about it, without really talking about it. I mentioned that she'd spoken to police and wondered aloud if it was just the one time, the day of the accident, and then, suddenly, she just launched into a very detailed account of what happened that day. I knew my job at that point was to keep my mouth shut and just let her tell her story. Once she had gotten through it once, we went back and asked more detailed questions about various aspects of what happened in the moments leading up to Henry's death."
Why did she agree to be interviewed by Barr and ESPN?
"I'm not sure," Barr said. "I know she almost didn't. When we were in her parents house in Charlotte last Monday for the interview, we had the lights set up and cameras ready to roll and she almost backed out. My producer overheard Leini's sister giving her words of encouragement in another room. Leini, as one might expect, was very emotional. I know we treated her and Henry's family with respect. We did not come on too strong. We made a decision not to approach Leini or Henry's immediate family members at all the week of the funeral and thought it best to allow them time to get through the Christmas holiday.
"In the end, I think she came to realize that the story was going to happen with or without her and that if she wanted to speak for Henry and get her side of the story out there, she would be able to do so in a setting that would be both fair and non-threatening."
4. Brad Biggs and Rick Morrissey, Chicago sportswriters: In a series of transactions far more interesting than the Chicago Bears' season, Biggs, who has covered the team since 2001, jumped from the Sun-Times to the Tribune with four games remaining in the regular season. The move came the same month Morrissey left the Tribune to become co-lead sports columnist for the Sun-Times. Also worth noting: The Sun-Times made an excellent move hiring former St. Paul Pioneer Press Vikings beat writer Sean Jensen to take over Biggs' duties on the Bears. At some point, I'm praying one of the sports editors at either paper pulls the staff together to recite the "That's the Chicago way!" speech Sean Connery gave Kevin Costner in The Untouchables.
5. Tommy Craggs, Deadspin.com writer: With savage prose and a blood thirst for taking down some of the most famous people in the sports media game, Craggs has established himself as Deadspin's Omar Little, loyal to his own code of sportswriting (and his site, of course). He has methodically and frequently targeted boldface notables since he joined the staff as a senior writer last May.
While many sportswriters have felt the brunt of his key strokes, no one has captured Craggs' attention more than Rick Reilly, the former Sports Illustrated writer-turned-ESPN-multiplatform staffer. Craggs, a staffer at The New York Times' defunct Play Magazine and a well-regarded freelance writer before patrolling the Web at Deadspin, has written 12 posts about Reilly since Oct. 1, including here, here, and here in December. (I imagine this makes Reilly either Avon Barksdale or Stringer Bell in my Wire analogy.) Though his Reilly bashing has reached the overkill stage -- hopefully, I didn't just sign my own death warrant here -- he's been a valuable addition to the site, and the kind of reporters Deadspin will need as it gets ready for a turf war against TMZ Sports.
6. Michael Hiestand, USA Today sports media critic: In an interview with a Toronto-based radio station on Nov. 25, Hiestand channeled his inner Marsellus Wallace and went off on NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, including this shot: "I have to take my hat off to Dick for self-promotion over the years. If you look at NBC in this decade, what exactly have they done?" Showing he can be charitable -- much like Wallace -- Hiestand did give NBC's studio show some love in his picks and pans end-of-the-year column in December.
7. Fox Sports, former college football broadcaster: "I'm going to miss the BCS on Fox. The shameless promotions. The hilarious on-screen graphics. The gigantic Reese's logos. ESPN, you've got big shoes to step into." So wrote the SportingNews.com's Chris Littmann in one of the nicer entries about Fox's Fiesta Bowl coverage.
The network's production and talent got crushed by critics, from Thom Brennaman's gushing over Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to the endless shots of the crowd ("Fox has cut way back on crowd shots during the baseball playoffs in recent years; apparently, it was saving them up to use throughout the Fiesta Bowl," wrote Newsday's Neil Best) and marching band (tweeted New York Times college football writer Pete Thamel: "Allright, Twitterland. Are the Fox band shots really that bad? It keeps popping up on my feed. Can Sandomir call Rupert? Or Homer?").
8. The NFL Today: If you want information about the possible coaching destinations for Bill Cowher, my advice is to watch ESPN, Fox, NBC or even C-Span, because CBS appears to be the last place you'll find it. Last month, Cowher reiterated on the show that pays him in front of the viewers that watch him that he's "not going to talk about any jobs during the regular season."
While you can respect Cowher for not wanting to provide specifics about his involvement with prospective future employers, it's hard to stomach not even confirming whether he is or is not interested in coaching, or whether he did or did not meet with an NFL team. Such a mild admission would be honest and much better than joking off coaching-search questions with this lame segue: "I'm trying to catch [fellow CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe] in the picks segment," Cowher said when asked by host James Brown about his coaching prospects. "It's taking all my attention to do that."
9. Joe Theismann, NBC: While watching Theismann gobble up the oxygen in NBC's booth during Saturday's Jets-Bengals playoff game (an assignment that was announced last month), I was reminded of a laugh-out-loud statement last year from ESPN's Mike Tirico, generally a wise and thoughtful fellow. In a take-one-for-team statement on a conference call to promote Monday Night Football, Tirico said he would put the MNF telecasts with him, Theismann and Tony Kornheiser up against any NFL broadast. (Thankfully, the paramedics revived me after I passed out from laughing.)
Theismann was announced in December as the analyst on NBC's wild-card game and The New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir had an artful recap of his chatty performance Saturday, including counting the amount of times he spoke on the air (149). Sandomir is right: I don't believe Theismann is malicious with his propensity to dominate a booth, but the simple fact is viewers don't seem to enjoy his broadcasts.
One of the great things about Twitter is that it provides a real-time analysis from fans, and typing "Joe Theismann" into Twitter Search provides revealing (and often amusing) data.
10. Craig James, ESPN analyst and potential Senate candidate: In a fascinating (some might call it surreal) turn to the Mike Leach story, the Dallas-based James has interest in running for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson's seat when she leaves the Senate next year.
"I'm a Texan. I'm concerned for our country," James told WFAA-TV. "I disagree with the approach that we're having, things that are taking place, and so whatever door opens up, I'll look at it, if and when it opens up."
We're still waiting for the ESPN ombudsman to weigh on James' decisions involving his current job. If James stays as an ESPN analyst, it's highly unlikely ESPN would assign him to call or comment on games involving the Big 12. He's also going to have to rehab his image in the minds of some viewers as evidenced by this stunning set of figures from an Albany Times Union poll asking readers, "Should ESPN continue to employ Craig James as a college football analyst?"