Media Power Rankings for November
Baseball lost a legend last week after the passing of announcer Dave Niehaus
ESPN made the right decision in firing Joe Morgan and bringing in Dan Shulman
Colin Cowherd calling out John Wall was senseless
1. Dave Niehaus, Mariners legend: They lingered in the stands for hours at Safeco Field last Saturday, thousands of Mariners fans paying tribute to Niehaus, the team's voice for 34 seasons and a beloved figure in the Pacific Northwest. The Hall of Fame broadcaster died last Wednesday of a heart attack at age 75. (The Seattle Times website set up a special tribute section for Niehaus, complete with his greatest calls and reflections from fans.)
"Not only was he the first voice Mariners fans heard, he was the best voice they heard," said Kevin Cremin, the executive producer and engineer for Mariners radio broadcasts who had been Niehaus's colleague since 1983. "You felt the love and the joy of the game with Dave. He had an avuncular style. Dave came into your home and was a part of your family."
Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims, who has called games for the team since 2007, might have put it best: "He's been the singular constant with the ballclub since the beginning. He basically raised 2-1/2 generations of Mariners fans."
2. Dan Shulman, ESPN: Last year, SI named Shulman the best-by-play announcer of the decade. In 2010, ESPN assigned Shulman to be the voice of its Sunday Night Baseball coverage. This space appreciates ESPN following our lead, even if it takes a decade.
3. Fire Joe Morgan.com: Five years ago a small band of sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans-cum-television writers started a website to rid the airwaves of someone they view as anathema to their way of thinking: ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan. That day has finally come. Last week, ESPN parted ways with the Hall of Fame grump who, despite his inflexibility and occasional lapses of fact, was brought back year after year to torture new generations of baseball fans. This column generally does not advocate removals, but ESPN was correct to cut bait. We give the final word to Ken Tremendous, the nom de plume of FJM co-founder Michael Schur: "Farewell, Joe. You were never my favorite announcer, but at least you were stubborn and unreasonable."
4. Keri Potts, ESPN public relations staffer: Courage is a word that's thrown around cheaply by sports announcers, but if you want an example of courage and empowerment, read this Marie Claire piece by Potts and this interview conducted with her by USA TODAY.
5. NFL Network, The Good: NFLN concluded its terrific "The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players" series on Nov. 4 by naming Jerry Rice as the top player of all time. (For the complete list, click here.) It was an ambitious series produced by NFL Films that featured 10 one-hour episodes counting down the top 100 of all time as determined by a 85-person panel of current and former NFL coaches, players, front office personnel, NFL media members, Hall of Fame voters and league historians.
One of the smart twists of the production was choosing eclectic presenters for the choices, such as Burt Reynolds for Jim Brown (No. 2) and Ray Lewis for Peyton Manning (No. 9). NFL Films president Steve Sabol said that approximately 100 people put in more than 10,000 production hours for the project, including researching over 100 million feet of film. Nicely done.
6. Scott Raab, Esquire Magazine: With a Buzz Bissingeresque flair for killing all things LeBron James, the longtime and well-regarded magazine writer has become one of the loudest (and most provocative) James bashers on Twitter, referring to the Heat star as "The Whore Of Akron." Raab is currently working on a book about the sorrow and the pity of Cleveland sports (a Cleveland native, he has a Chief Wahoo tattoo on his arm). "[The book] is a meditation on Cleveland and loyalty and fanhood," said Raab. "There are few things more important to me than Cleveland sports teams and that says far more about me than it does LeBron."
The book is scheduled for publication early in 2012 and Raab plans multiple trips to Miami for research. (He profiled Shaquille O'Neal for Esquire last year and interacted with James only in passing.) Raab said he hopes to get a one-on-one interview with LeBron, though he is realistic about his prospects. "I'm not looking for a showdown at the O.K. Corral," Raab said. "To the extent that Twitter is a persona, that's where the persona is. The only thing I really want to ask LeBron is what do you tell the kid who is growing up in Cleveland who loved you and felt he was part of something special because you were The Man? The whole idea of fanhood on the face of it is silly, but it is no less real. What he put the town through, I am very angry about."
7. The Empire Strikes Back: Not that we'd call it a trend yet, but over the last couple of weeks some ESPN staffers have been firing media shots at competitors, including here, here, here, and here. As readers of this column know, we're big fans of such tweaking. (Rick Reilly's was more of a tweak, and a well-thought-out column at that.) As fans of Star Wars know, the best movie of the series by far is Empire. Thus, we hope for more shots from the Galactic Empire in the future. May the tweets be with you, Bristol.
8. NFL Network, The Not So Good: On the eve of the network's debut game broadcast this season, I asked NFL Network senior vice president of programming and production Mark Quenzel the following question: Why should viewers invest in the NFL Network crew of Bob Papa, Joe Theismann and Matt Millen?
"There is a lot of talk -- and there has been going back to my days at ESPN -- in the value of a three-man booth," Quenzel said. "I think it depends on who you put in the booth. Joe, everyone knows very, very well. What he brings obviously is an offensive expertise, and he is very, very opinionated. He's not afraid to put it out there and call it as he sees it. I think Matt is the same way, but he has a defensive orientation. They both are very smart and opinionated, which means there are times when they will agree, and there are going to be times that they disagree. I'm extraordinarily encouraged by how well they meshed [in a rehearsal game] when they agreed on things and disagreed."
Before the season started, I offered here what I thought of the network's hiring of Theismann. As I said then, and believe now, it's a canard for anyone at NFLN to assert that Theismann-bashing originates with critics. Viewers have consistently and clearly, through blogs, social media and other means, asserted that they do not enjoy listening to him on game coverage. What surprised me, though, was how vociferous those voices were last week during the network's coverage of the Ravens-Falcons game. Typing either "Millen" or Theismann into Twitter search produced negative tweets by the thousands. My colleague Jimmy Traina chronicled a dozen viewershere. Some of the Millen commentary, of course, is generated by the belief of fans that he is not a credible voice after his Lions tenure. That is a decision each viewer must make on his or her own.
Perhaps in time the trio will forge terrific chemistry, and I've long been an admirer of Papa's work as a game-caller and credible voice. But the NFL Network should pay attention to the voices of the fans who were loud last Thursday night, and in Theismann's case, merely restating their longstanding opinion. Worth noting is that the game drew five million viewers -- the most-watched opener in NFLN history -- and that is usually how network execs determine success.
9. Anderson Public Relations: Last week, the above L.A-based agency bombarded the offices of SI -- as well as sports media organizations across the country -- while pitching an interview with Ines Sainz, the Mexico TV Azteca sports anchor who worked the pay-per-view broadcast of Manny Pacquiao's win over Antonio Margarito. Rare has a PR pitch been so overtly objectifying, not to mention tone-deaf with its audience.
The e-mail began, "We represent Ines Sainz, Mexico's sexiest sports journalist, who will be covering Top Rank Boxing's WBC Super Welterweight title fight this Saturday.... Although known for her looks and curvaceous body, Sainz is a legitimate journalist and takes pride in her thorough research on every sport she covers (she even hopped in the ring with Pacquiao to have a firsthand experience)." It concluded with a photo gallery of Sainz, complete with shots of her wearing a bikini on the cover of Mexico's Esquire magazine and posing in a backless outfit on the Mexican version of Gente.
There is no argument that Sainz has used her sex appeal to propel her career, and it's one thing if the reporter is directing such nonsense. But Sainz said she had no idea she was being pitched this way. If she is being honest here, and we tend to believe her, she's been played.
In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, writer Michael Rand asked Sainz about the PR release: "The 'sexiest sports journalist' line -- is that how you think of yourself?"
Said Sainz: "No, actually no. I don't even know why they would say that. I must speak with them. I didn't know that. The people know me as the girl inside the Jets' locker room, but I want everyone to start to look for my work. I think I'm very different than the sexiest reporter in Mexico. That's not a good adjective for me."
10. Colin Cowherd, ESPN Radio: Last month, I profiled John Wall for SI.com. Since I don't do a lot of NBA profiles, I attempted to speak with as many sources as possible so I could get the best feel for my subject. Among those I contacted: Wizards head coach Flip Saunders, Wall's teammates, an Eastern Conference scout, the Wizards beat reporter for The Washington Post, reporters who covered Wall at Kentucky, and Knicks center Rony Turiaf, who played against Wall during the exhibition season. I also spoke with Wall himself.
The one word that consistently came up to describe the rookie was "unselfish." Saunders, Turiaf, the scout and Wall's teammates also cited Wall's high basketball IQ. Washington Post reporter Michael Lee, who has dealt with Wall on a daily basis, made it a point to praise how mature and professional he found Wall to be, especially at the age of 20. I can't claim to know Wall well, but when people with different agendas all use the same words, I feel confident that I'm getting close to the truth.
I take no issue with Cowherd floating his opinion, even when I disagree with him. In the past, I've been crushed by bloggers because I'm one of the few mainstreamers who has praised Cowherd. Five years ago, I wrote what might have been the first national piece on him. I appreciate his focus on college football, his effort to give local radio people a national platform, and his ability to run a daily show. I also like how he's allowed Michelle Beadle the freedom to show her personality on SportsNation. There are plenty of on-air talents who would not be able to handle the PR onslaught that Beadle has received both in-house and from outside PR people who are working on her behalf. Cowherd has.
But there is opinion, and then there is getting your facts wrong, a thesis highlighted by Ted Koppel on Sunday in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post where he cited an environment in which everyone "flaunts opinions as though they were facts."
Saying Wall won't be Magic Johnson or Rajon Rondo is an opinion. But Cowherd's attack on Wall's supposed unselfishness ("J-Wow's 37-second 'Yo dawg look at me I'm the man' [dance], and his wild, out-of-control style, everybody else is buying his stock, and it told me all I need to know") was not factual. Nor was calling Wall "an idiot" and saying "he was not a sharp guy." Those are reckless and unfair assertions. After talking to people who actually know Wall, as well as interviewing him myself, I believe that he's a bright kid who plays the game like a professional. But I'm biased, having actually reported on him.
I don't expect ESPN to call Cowherd out in any meaningful fashion. (Perhaps the current ombudsman will weigh in after his Thanksgiving turkey.) The radio host is liked by ESPN brass and he's delivered for his employer. He's also entertaining. But unfair is unfair, so even though this is ultimately providing Cowherd with publicity, bravo to Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post and others such asMike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller of AOL Sports, and Sirius Hardcore radio host Bomani Jones (who said he did not understand why such "racially-loaded language" was used in Cowherd's riff) for calling him out.
Do not expect Cowherd to apologize. As someone who once co-hosted a daily sports-talk show on a 50,000-watt station, I know that's not how this game is played. He's already retrenched, and last week during another take on Wall, he asserted that there's a correlation between leadership at point guard and coming from a strong family and father. (Bill Clinton, Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama all succeeded as leaders without fathers in their lives, but none of the four played point guard in the NBA as far as I know.)
No doubt Cowherd may be right that Wall will never win an NBA title. (It certainly won't happen anytime soon with the Wizards.) He pointed out that he's been right about other NBA players, including Greg Oden, though when you are a talk show host on the air five days a week (or a long-winded media columnist, for that matter), you probably say a lot of things.
Cowherd is charged with getting people to listen to him, and he's always been honest that his job is to be entertaining and get ratings. But I expect more from someone who has reached the highest level of his profession and has the imprimatur of a powerful brand such as ESPN Radio. Perhaps that makes me an idiot, too. Last night, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Cowherd had sold his life story to CBS for a sitcom deal.