Media Circus: Pedro Martinez joins TBS; Tim McCarver's replacement
Aftermath of Michelle Beadle's 'The Crossover' getting canceled
Barry Larkin and Kevin Millar both implored Pedro Martinez over the years to try sports broadcasting. Why did they think the three-time Cy Young Award winner would be good on television?
"They thought I could undress a pitcher while watching him," Martinez said in an interview on Sunday. "I told Barry that one of these days I'm going to do this. And now I'm doing it."
With multilingual charisma, pedigree and smarts, Martinez, long one of the better interviews in baseball, has a chance to be terrific television for Turner Sports, who hired him as a studio analyst for its TBS postseason studio show. He debuted in his new role on Sunday alongside host Keith Olbermann and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. Dirk Hayhurst, an analyst for the Blue Jays, will also be part of TBS's studio coverage for the postseason.
Martinez said he auditioned on Aug. 17 at Turner's studios in Atlanta on a panel with Olbermann, Gary Sheffield and Bobby Valentine, with Turner production executives putting the three potential studio analysts through different game situations over a 120-minute tryout. Turner Sports executives liked what they heard from Martinez and let his agent know he had landed the job. What does he want baseball viewers to come away with after watching him?
"First the right facts, and then hopefully a lesson on some of the things that players go through during a season," said Martinez, 41. "Hopefully, this will be teaching moment for the fans and kids who are watching. I want to educate you on the different aspects of the game."
"He has the great knowledge how to pitch, but unlike me, he pitched at the highest, highest level anyone has ever pitched," said Turner Sports MLB analyst Ron Darling. "He also has such a great personality. He has such a love for the game. He's an interesting person and I think he will bring all of that to the booth."
TBS is airing the American League wild-card tiebreaker (Rays at Rangers) on Monday at 8 p.m. ET and also hosts both wild-card games this week -- the National League version will air on Tuesday, with the AL game on Wednesday. The network will also be the home of up to 18 Division Series games and the entire National League Championship Series. The studio show will air before and after each game, beginning Monday at 7:30 p.m.
"My first day on Sunday was great, but I am test-flying right now," Martinez said. "I want to continue to do it and see if it is something I want to do in the future. Analyzing pitching is not all that difficult if I get to see the guy pitching. I can explain what went right or wrong. Basically, the pitcher will let you know what went right or wrong."
Part of the reason a spot was open for Martinez was the shifting of Cal Ripken from the studio to the lead postseason announcing team. Ripken worked six games this season as an in-game commentator and will join Darling and play-by-play announcer Ernie Johnson for Division Series coverage as well as the National League Championship Series.
Ripken said Turner Sports executive producer of production Tim Kiely encouraged him last fall to try in-game analysis and the Hall of Famer found he really enjoyed the freedom to offer thoughts beyond the studio environment. ("All my good stuff was coming in the green room," Ripken joked.) He served as a game analyst last season for the AL wild card (Orioles-Rangers) and League Division Series (Yankees-Orioles) before returning to the studio for the ALCS. Now he'll be at a ballpark for the whole postseason.
"You get a chance to talk about something relevant in the now and not have to shorten it in sound bites," Ripken said. "I like being in the stadium, talking to managers and players. I felt like this gave me a purpose to go back into the stadium. ... In many ways, I still think I am dabbling as an analyst. I love the fact that I have a hitter's perspective and every-day-player perspective, and Ron Darling has a wonderful general knowledge of the game but also specifically about pitching. I think that can potentially play well."
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. The TBS MLB postseason announcer teams are as followed:
Team 1: Johnson (play-by-play), Darling (analyst), Ripken (analyst), Craig Sager (reporter for the NLCS) and Verducci (reporter for NLCS).
Team 2: Brian Anderson (play-by-play), Joe Simpson (analyst), John Smoltz (analyst).
Team 3: Dick Stockton (play-by-play), Bob Brenly (analyst).
Team 4: Don Orsillo (play-by-play), Dennis Eckersley (analyst) Buck Martinez (analyst).
1a. The reporters for the League Division Series include Sager and David Aldridge. Matt Winer will be a dugout reporter during the Division Series and Rachel Nichols will contribute to the network's postseason coverage.
1b. On the production end, TBS will debut a new camera in select ballparks during the playoffs called "Truss Cam," which is a camera mounted on a trolley that sits just beyond the outfield wall. The camera provides 360-degree views of play.
1c. TBS said each MLB telecast will include Total Motion, a high-speed camera that can capture more than 3,000 frames per second. The network will also triple the amount of super slo-mo cameras it normally uses.
"Total Motion is a great analyst tool to see the release of the ball from a pitcher, the spin of the contact on the bat," said Craig Barry, a senior vice president of production and an executive creative director for Turner Sports. "We plan to be seeing a lot of this both at the remotes and in the studio as well."
1d. Can the Cinderella Pirates make a long run? "I like their chances," Darling said. "If they go deep into the playoffs, their ballpark might be the 10th man, and I think that's an amazing thing. There are a lot of ballparks that have great fans, but Pittsburgh has been so starved for so long that they have excitement there that might really lift their team up.
"Was I surprised that we would be talking about them now? I knew they had a lot of talent. They had done it for two years in a row for half of the season and they could not finish it off. This year they were able to finish it off. I'm excited for Pittsburgh and I hope they get a home game for the playoffs. They've had a magical season. I like new teams in the playoffs."
1e. Newsday's Neil Best reported that Valentine lost an opportunity to work on TBS' MLB studio show in part due to his comments about 9/11.
1f. Martinez said he had an option to return to Turner Sports for the playoffs next year as well.
1g. Chad Finn, the terrific sports media writer for The Boston Globe, praised Martinez in this piece for his work on selected Red Sox games this season.
1h. Martinez ended the TBS studio show on Sunday by praising Mariano Rivera in Spanish. What did Martinez say? "What I said was all about respect and best wishes and about how much I want him to be at peace with his family," Martinez said. "I have all the respect in the world with him."
2. This year marks Tim McCarver's 24th year as a World Series analyst. It will also be his last. McCarver announced last March that he was stepping away from his job as a Fox MLB analyst. Fox Sports management has publicly focused much of its attention on honoring McCarver's tenure and not on the search for his replacement. That's genuine: McCarver is immensely liked by a ton of longtime Fox Sports staffers.
But the network has also quietly gone about figuring out its plans for next year. SI.com has learned that Harold Reynolds, Smoltz and Verducci have emerged as the leading candidates to replace McCarver. There are also other candidates being considered, including current major leaguers A.J. Pierzynski (Rangers) and Torii Hunter (Tigers), though it's unlikely both would retire after excellent seasons.
On Sunday, after an inquiry from SI.com on the topic, a Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment.
3. Suzanne Smith of CBS Sports is the only woman currently directing games for any of the five networks televising the NFL, a position she has held at CBS Sports for three decades. I profiled her for The MMQB.
4. The 2013-14 NHL regular season television schedule debuts Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN with the defending champion Blackhawks hosting the Capitals. The following night, NBCSN airs the Sabres at Red Wings.
4a. NBCSN will debut a pair of hockey programs on Tuesday -- NHL Rivals and NHL Top 10. NHL Rivals will focus on the current and historical rivalry between teams playing on NBCSN every Wednesday. NHL Top 10 will premiere each week following NHL Rivals and be focused around hockey debates.
5. Eight months ago, I took part in a conference call hosted by NBC Sports to promote a new NBC Sports Network show being built around Michelle Beadle. I've been part of thousands of such calls over the years, but this one particularly stood out for the multiple NBC Sports executives going over the top (even more so than the usual management flackery) in their praise for Beadle, her co-host (Dave Briggs), and the new show, The Crossover, which was a clear attempt to create the NBC Sports Network version of ESPN's SportsNation. It was all sunshine and lollipops on the call and the only thing it lacked was a Barry White soundtrack.
Alas, The Crossover was not a hit. It failed with the chemistry of the initial anchors (there was none) as well as the ratings (there was none). It did perk up a tick when Beadle hosted the show solo, but last week management pulled the plug. Could The Crossover have succeeded from the jump with Beadle as a solo entity? Unlikely. I'm not sure anything is going to rate on NBCSN at 5 p.m. ET against established ESPN programming and local sports talk all over the country.
Now here's where things gets interesting: Before The Crossover's official cancellation, Beadle expressed dismay over the lack of promotion for the show during a Sept. 19 Sports Media Weekly podcast with Ken Fang and Keith Thibault. The reaction was not exactly cotton candy and sprinkles from NBC Sports management.
Against this backdrop, I emailed NBC Sports last Thursday to ask what was next for Beadle in the wake of her show's cancellation. Here was the nice, neat response from your friendly neighborhood NBC Sports spokesperson: "We expect her to remain a part of the shows she's done for us in the past such as Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown horse racing, and potentially adding some other assignments within our sports and entertainment properties. Michelle also continues as a correspondent for Access Hollywood."
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the word "expect." On Friday, Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead reported via sources that Beadle was looking to opt out of the network and that her relationship with some in NBC Sports management had become "untenable." He further surmised a possible return to ESPN.
Reached on Sunday, Beadle declined comment to SI.com. Beadle's agent, Becky Sendrow, also declined comment. An NBC Sports spokesperson said on Sunday that the network would let the email sent to SI.com on Thursday stand on its own, though the spokesperson wanted to note that The Crossover was not canceled due to any external comments by Beadle. An ESPN spokesperson told SportsBusiness Daily writer John Ourand on Friday that "while we appreciate her work, we have not discussed or explored a return." ESPN reiterated that same stance to SI.com in an email on Sunday.
(That last paragraph was fun, no?)
Those close to Beadle will tell you that she was unhappy with the show's inability to find an audience on NBCSN, and she wants to find an outlet where she can be seen by a wide audience on a daily basis. She's also clearly ticked at some of her bosses -- and I'd bet big that this tweet means a lot more than just a bottom's up to her Twitter followers.
As for Beadle heading to ESPN, she left the network on exceptionally good terms. ESPN president John Skipper is a huge fan of her work, and she's championed both in-house and externally by Jamie Horowitz (who co-created SportsNation and helms Olbermann's ESPN2 show), Kevin Wildes (the co-creator of SportsNation) and former SportsNation partner Colin Cowherd, who has golden boy status at ESPN these days.
Over the weekend, ESPN staffers I trust told me Beadle would be welcome back with open arms. Given how SportsNation's ratings have tanked, could Beadle come back to reignite that franchise or something similar? She's under contract, but much of that contract was likely predicated on her hosting a daily show. So much depends on whether both Beadle and her representatives and NBC Sports would agree to sever her deal. NBC Sports might want her out, but does it want a high-profile talent to go back to ESPN?
If nothing else, this should end without the body count of Breaking Bad. Maybe.
5a. With the cancellation of The Crossover, NBCSN has shifted a number of late-afternoon/early evening programs. Here's a summary of the changes.
6. Despite the purchase by Shaquille O'Neal of a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings, he will continue to serve as an analyst on TNT's Inside the NBA.
7. This week's notable sports pieces:
• Terrific piece by ESPN.com's Paul Kix on a high school coach with a dark past -- he was a meth dealer and user.
• Fascinating look by The New York Times at the world of professional competitive video gaming.
• Golf Digest's Ron Sirak on how Fox stunned NBC to take over the U.S. Open.
• Great Boston Globe piece on Bobby Orr at 65.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• The New York Times photographed people around the U.S. who spent the night in a vehicle in a Walmart parking lot.
• Indiana University is looking to rename Ernie Pyle Hall on the Bloomington campus as it merges the IU School of Journalism into a larger college -- another blow to what has been a great journalism school.
8. NBC Sports said its first 27 English-language Premier League games on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC have drawn a total of 9.1 million viewers -- up 92 percent from the 4.8 million total for the first five weeks of live action on ESPN and Fox Soccer last year. The network also said NBCSN's Premier League telecasts alone are averaging 391,000 viewers -- a 70 percent over the average of ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Soccer after five weeks last year.
8a. The Manchester derby on Sept. 22 between Manchester City and Manchester United averaged 852,000 viewers, the second most-watched Premier League match on cable in the U.S. It was also NBCSN's most-watched telecast since the Stanley Cup Final last June.
8b. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times examined why the NBC Sports Network has found success (so far) with its coverage of the Premier League.
9. Like most networks televising football, Fox's NFL ratings have been strong at the start of the season. The network is off to its highest-rated and most-watched start ever, averaging a 12.8 rating with 21.6 million viewers, up 10 percent over last year.
9a. Fox Sports said its Fox NFL Sunday pregame show had averaged five million viewers through last Sunday, up six percent over last year, and well ahead of The NFL Today on CBS (3.2 million viewers through Sept. 22).
9b. Good work by Fox NFL Sunday insider Jay Glazer with this reporting Sunday on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman: "I spoke to him this morning and he's already asked for a trade and if they don't want to do that, he wants his release," Glazer reported Sunday. "He knows that he and the head coach are not going to be able to come back and have a happy marriage. He thinks it's just better for everybody and time that he move on and stop being a distraction. The relationship between Freeman and the team is irreparable."
9c. Through its first three broadcasts, the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football has averaged 8.6 million viewers, which is on pace to be the most-watched TNF season ever.
10. Miscellaneous: NBC and NBCSN will up its coverage of the Paralympics in 2014 and 2016 after NBC showed just 5.5 hours of tape-delayed coverage from the London Paralympics. The networks will combine to air 50 hours of coverage of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, and in Sept. 2016, NBC and NBCSN will show 66 hours of coverage from the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In addition, the USOC said it will provide live online coverage of both the Sochi and Rio Paralympic Games at TeamUSA.org.
10a. NBA Inside Stuff, which last aired in 2005 after a 15-year run, will return to NBA TV with new episodes featuring co-hosts Grant Hill and Kristen Ledlow. The 30-minute show will be televised weekly throughout the NBA season (26 episodes), along with several special editions airing at select times during the year.
10b. Hill will also be joining Turner Sports as an analyst for NBA TV and TNT. He was a seven-time NBA All-Star and, five-time All-NBA selection.
10c. SiriusXM NFL Radio has added James Lofton as an analyst. Lofton will co-host The SiriusXM Blitz alongside Bruce Murray every Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET.
10d. ESPN's E:60 will examine sexual assault in the military through the prism of the case involving three former U.S. Naval Academy football players accused of sexually assaulting a fellow midshipman at an off-campus toga party. The show airs Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. ET.
10e. The NFL Network's A Football Life documentary on Oct. 1 at 9 p.m. ET will feature Steve Sabol, the late president of NFL Films. The one-hour documentary features footage from classic NFL Films movies and interviews, family photos and old films. Actor Josh Charles narrates the film.
10f. The Dan LeBatard Show makes its national debut on ESPN Radio (in selected markets) at 4 p.m. ET on Monday. The three-hour weekday program will be broadcast from Miami.
10g. As the studio host of TBS's postseason coverage, Olbermann will leave his ESPN2 show on Sept. 30 and return on Oct. 21. But the show goes on as Larry King guest hosts for Olbermann from Oct 1-3 followed by Jeremy Schaap (Oct. 8-10) and Cowherd (Oct. 15-17).