Results tagged ‘ ESPN ’

You Can Rely On ESPN: They’ll Always Let You Down (UPDATED)

There is a reason ESPN has been gradually losing its status as the go-to television outfit for baseball.

It is not just the attempt to turn Baseball Tonight into some sort of summer-time version of the college football pregame show. It’s not the seeming pairing of every actual baseball expert like Buster Olney with an info-challenged sidekick like Wendi Nix. It’s not the ludicrous and already jab-pencils-into-your-eyes repetitiveness of John Kruk’s segments on the “best seats” in each stadium, each of which make the asinine features Steve Lyons used to do for our pre-game show at Fox look like doctoral theses. It’s not even the cancellation of the lumbering Sunday Night game telecast in favor of a new program that I think is called Bobby Valentine’s Three-Hour Autobiographical History Of The World.

I mean, seriously, another week of this and I’m sending Sherpas out to search for the bodies of my friends Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman. I only hope they are out there somewhere, doing the really good two-man-booth broadcast of which they’re capable, to an audience of St. Bernards and Yetis.

Those are just symptoms of the reason ESPN has turned itself into a distant No. 2 in the battle with MLB Network. The disease is: ESPN is no longer invested in baseball and no longer trusts it to carry its own weight. And this didn’t just start when MLB Network came on the scene with its necessary advantages of being the in-house outfit permitted to carry basically anything it wanted, almost any time it wanted. I can recall that in the middle of the “nuclear winter” of 1994-95, the Rangers traded Jose Canseco to the Red Sox. Canseco was no longer the incumbent MVP, but he had just been voted “Comeback Of The Year” and still had five 20+-homer seasons to go. The Canseco trade, instead of getting at least some of the attention it merited, was buried in a little tag-on feature at the end of SportsCenter called “News And Notes.”

We all know what the network, and that show, are about these days – promoting other ESPN products and reducing sports to merely another form of entertainment living somewhere in the neighborhood where Mariah Carey’s twins matter more than the Minnesota Twins. There’s nothing wrong with that neighborhood, just don’t impose it on actual sports fans.

But ESPN’s disconnect from baseball is now part of its DNA. It may in fact be the case that the last things that really tethers true baseball fans to the Worldwide Leader are its game broadcasts (especially for those deprived of access to MLB Net), and what had been an efficient and sometimes innovative baseball fantasy game. But even that latter slender thread is fraying. A few seasons back the computer program somehow “lost” more than a week’s worth of the daily roster juggling for literally tens of thousands of fantasy players, screwing up countless leagues and strategies. And now this weekend, the system by which ESPN manages the only “content” thing it is required to stay on top of – which real-life players are hurt, and which ones have been called up to the majors – collapsed.

Pablo Sandoval of the Giants broke a hamate bone and early Saturday was placed on the disabled list. As anybody who’s ever played fantasy baseball knows, an injury like that is mitigated only by the opportunity to place Sandoval on your disabled list and add another player to replace him in your line-up. In some leagues, you can do that instantaneously: as soon as a player gets hurt, you can rush to your computer, place Sandoval on your disabled list, and “pick up” his replacement. In others, the process occurs via scheduled “waivers,” which can be daily, or every few days, or weekly. But whatever the process, it’s possible to put Sandoval on your disabled list only after ESPN has put him on its disabled list, and as of Sunday evening, more than 24 hours after the Giants put The Panda on the shelf, the ESPN computer geeks had failed to do so.

For Sandoval’s thousands of “owners” – and by the company’s own stats he is “owned” in every single one of the leagues it operates – they are thus not only deprived of his services and the opportunity to replace him, but conceivably could have sat there in frozen and agonized horror while other owners in their league got to his potential replacements first. A call to ESPN’s fantasy “help” line revealed this disturbing fact: the phone operator said the game managers never updated disabled list eligibility over the weekend, so Sandoval would likely not be made DL-eligible before Monday. If it hadn’t happened by then, the operator helpfully suggested, they could write up a “ticket” and see if the problem could be corrected in the next few days.

When I was at ESPN, the then managing editor John Walsh used to forcefully remind us that all the research data on the constancy of the audience produced the same stark data: they were the most loyal in television, and planned to remain loyal for ever more  – unless somebody came along and offered them a better product. Leaving a few thousand fantasy players remembering the weekend “ESPN” became a four-letter word may not seem like a back-breaking straw, but combine it with the soliloquies of Bobby V and the knowledge that the network’s key games will soon enough get trundled off to the backwaters of ESPN2 to provide space for football exhibitions – to say nothing of the existence of a truly superb 24-hour product from MLB Network – and you can almost watch the loyalty dissolving before your eyes.

You know what? MLB Network doesn’t offer its own baseball fantasy league product. I wonder what would happen to ESPN’s baseball audience if it did.

Update: two hours after I posted this, guess what happened? Somebody at ESPN’s Fantasy Games outfit…placed Kung Fu Panda Sandoval on the official computerized Disabled List.


							

So Good To See Buck Showalter Again (Not)

Update: Within an hour of posting this, I got an email from an old friend who used to be a national baseball writer for a major metropolitan newspaper. He reports that when Buck Showalter was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he pulled the same stunt on him as I outlined here. So we have a recidivist Manager-Who-Throws-His-Players-Under-The-Bus. 

From Yankee Stadium: On Sunday, August 22nd, 1993, the New York Yankees were tied for first place in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays. As I watched in horrified astonishment from the press box, they were 4-hit by Chris Haney, a soon-to-be journeyman pitcher who would end an eminently frustrating career with an ERA of 5.07. The Yanks, now in second place and flying out to Chicago hours later that afternoon for a critical series, were in big trouble and had a lot to worry about. Or so I would’ve thought as I ventured into the clubhouse to commiserate with my friend Danny Tartabull. 

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There to my shock I found the usual crowd of reporters but – 10 or 15 minutes after the game had ended – not a single player. Worse yet, though nothing was said, several of the reporters seemed to be staring at me. That’s when Yankee factotum Arthur Richman took me aside: “The manager would like to see you.” I asked Arthur if I had been sent to the Yankees’ farm club in Columbus. “Matter of fact, you have,” he deadpanned. Inside there was second-year boss Buck Showalter, affable and cordial and welcoming. After a few pleasantries he began his soliloquy: “I asked you in here, because when I saw you on the field before the game I was frankly worried for your safety. Some of them truly do not like your style on SportsCenter and I thought someone was going to take a swing at you. These guys claim to ignore the media but every day our newspaper recycling bin is full. Actually, the players refused to come into the clubhouse until you leave. Me, I don’t care, I have a tough skin, you’re a bright fella and you know your baseball and you make me laugh. But I thought Boggs or especially O’Neill might take a swing at you.” Having startled me with this announcement, Showalter asked a question. “Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but how much of that job is dependent on access to the players?” I told him that conveniently the answer was none. He was silent for awhile. I told him it was all academic because I would be leaving SportsCenter soon to join our new ESPN2 product. Showalter smiled. “Well, we have a flight to catch but it’s been a pleasure. Sorry I had to be the bearer of such bad tidings about how the players feel about you but I really thought you needed to know.” I left the Stadium quickly, wondering not just about the oversensitivity of the Yankees, but more importantly why they would be worried more about me than about getting shut out by Chris Flipping Haney. 
I’m not going to say the story haunted me, but I renumbered it. So at the ESPY Awards of, I guess, 1997, I was more than a little worried as I saw a door open and several Yankees step out. As I tried to look shorter, the outfielder extended a had: “Keith! Paul O’Neill. Big fan!” I rushed through my thanks to tell him the Showalter story. “What? That was you? Nobody was avoiding you. Buck ordered us into the trainers’ room. 25 guys in there like sar-blanking-dines! All he told us was there was a reporter he hated and he wanted to air out and we needed to stay put till he let us back in the clubhouse.” Several beverages and second-hand Showalter stories later O’Neill brought it back up again. “You ever heard of me hitting some BODY? All I do is hit water coolers. That Buck!” 
There were two former Yankee managers at the Stadium today, Showalter and Yogi Berra. It’s nice to see Yogi in such good health again.

The Pete And The President And The Hall of Famer Shortage

It wasn’t the first time, and it doesn’t mean they said anything more than ‘howdy,’ but Pete Rose met with MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy here in Cooperstown over the weekend.

Perhaps just importantly, when Rose said his former teammate (and Hall of Fame Vice Chairman) Joe Morgan was “here,” he was slightly underselling reality. Morgan’s visit to Rose, in the same venue as DuPuy’s, lasted closer to an hour.
While the rest of us were all distracted by the official big doings down Main Street, the action at the memorabilia shop where Rose hawked his autographs all weekend, must have felt heavy enough to merit a revolving door. Besides the emotional visit from (and fractional forgiveness by) Rose’s old manager Sparky Anderson, witnesses say DuPuy also stopped by the shop, and Morgan did not spend his hour there just reminiscing.
All of this continues to feed the extrapolation that MLB is seriously considering reinstating Rose – at least for eligibility for the Hall – and that Commissioner Bud Selig is being heavily lobbied by people he greatly respects, to pardon Rose, or give him clemency of some sort. As Bill Madden of The New York Daily News reported, Hank Aaron told a couple of reporters (ironically including one who works for the Hall of Fame) “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.”
Madden has since updated the story with a detail that really turns up the volume:

It was also learned by the Daily News that in a meeting of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors at the Otesaga later on Saturday, two of Rose’s former teammates on the board, vice chairman Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson, also expressed their hope that Selig would see fit to reinstate Rose.

At roughly the same hour, as I first reported late Saturday night, Sparky Anderson marched into the “Safe At Home” shop as if he were going to the mound at Riverfront to pull Jack Billingham, and, tears welling in his eyes, told Rose, “You made some mistakes 20 years ago, Pete, but that shouldn’t detract from your contributions to the game.”


There was a rather petulant piece at ESPN pooh-poohing the story, and another less dyspeptic one from the solid reporter Phil Rogers of The Chicago Tribune claiming Selig was angry enough about the Daily News report that he nearly issued a rare formal denial.

But the Commissioner did not do that, and the reasons are not hard to gather. Aaron is not only his close friend but someone whom Bud has always held on a pedestal. Morgan’s power within baseball, and particularly the Hall, has been steadily growing. Frank Robinson is perhaps the game’s elder statesman. Rogers’ conclusion that “there has been no movement by Rose’s peers to have him take a seat among the greats in Cooperstown” might be numerically correct, but it does not take into account the relative influence of these three larger-than-life figures.

Perhaps just as importantly is the upcoming trauma of the 20th anniversary of Rose’s banishment, and, a week later, the 20th anniversary of Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s stunning, and to so many of us, heartbreaking, death. Selig and baseball can completely co-opt the story and turn it into one of redemption (whether or not it really is). The Veterans’ Committee vote on Rose can finish with only Aaron, Morgan, and Robinson voting “aye” and everybody else shouting obscenities, and Selig will have still redirected the coverage at the end of next month. It’s the scene from “Catch-22″ where the General, Orson Welles, wants to court-martial the Captain, Alan Arkin, for dropping his bombs in the Mediterranean. “We thought of that,” says the Major, played by Martin Balsam, “but then we considered the inevitable publicity.” Welles sighs. “You don’t have to say another word, Major.”

And lastly there is the drum beat growing louder and louder about the Hall of Fame and steroids – and Rose. It’s not just the issue of relative immorality. There is a looming Hall of Famer shortage. Exactly who are we to think are the lead-pipe, no-controversy, no-rumor, no-speculation first-ballot cinches among the recently-retired? Fred McGriff next winter? Larry Walker for the ceremonies of July, 2011? Bernie Williams of the class of 2012? Craig Biggio the year after that? There are, to me, literally two certainties out there and only one of them is certainly retired – Greg Maddux will be here five summers hence, and, if he doesn’t try to pitch again, so will Tom Glavine.

And in the interim? Robby Alomar? 

I mean – and I intend to go into this in depth in a future blog – I think this is great news for Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, and maybe even Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, and Ron Santo. But the next few years are not going to be remembered for serene and joyous election revelations and inductions. It ain’t gonna be Jim-Ed fans buying out the postcards of their Red Sox hero by late on the day of the ceremony, as they just did this weekend.

Good grief, the Hall might – gasp – need Pete Rose for his star power.

MEANWHILE, IN THE BASEMENT:

I am spending two extra days here researching the obscure stuff I can’t find out about anywhere other than the Hall’s incredible library. The entire staff (particularly librarian Jim Gates and Collections Senior Director Erik Strohl) has already passed several camels through the eyes of needles and before you say they’re just sucking up to a guy with a tv show, their long-ago predecessors Cliff Kachline and the late Jack Redding treated me with the exact same level of respect the last time I darkened the library’s doors – when I was fourteen years old.

Anyway, the research later. For now, here is one of the things we stumbled over, buried in a box in the Scorebooks and Scorecards Collections, while – of course – looking for something else:

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This is a nondescript, hand-drawn scorebook – in an otherwise ordinary composition notebook – with no markings or identification. Maybe the same name will jump out at you, that jumped out at me.

Batting second and playing centerfield for Shelbyville, Kentucky, of the Blue Grass States League, is Stengel. Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. It’s July, 1910, and he’s just been saved from having to go back to dental school in Kansas City after his first professional season as a player came to an abrupt halt when the Kankakee team went out of business! Stengel latched on with Shelbyville (the franchise moved in mid-season so some records show him with Maysville), opened up with a 1-for-3 day in a 3-2 win, and would remain in baseball until his death in 1975.

And this is a scorebook, apparently belonging to a fan, who saw him play 20 or so times, in the lowest of the minors, 99 years ago. And the Hall of Fame has so much stuff that this not only isn’t on display, but nobody had yet had the time to look long enough at the book to figure out that that’s what it was.

And finally I have some ideas of what I want my house to look like!

Since you’ve read so long, just to say thanks, I give you something you never see – what the non-baseball part of Cooperstown looks like – here’s Lake Otsego, which is about a four-minute walk from the Hall’s front door:

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Rolen Down Memory Lane

The Blue Jays’ visit here allowed me to visit with an old, old acquaintance. “Still the highlight of that season,” Scott Rolen insisted again, for at least the third time since it happened, just the other day – in 1996.

The late Bill Robinson was managing the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. I had known him since I was a kid and he was the next great Yankee superstar who fizzled out, only to reclaim a terrific career as a clutch 4th Outfielder for the Phillies and Pirates. Robby sent me a note one day, saying he wanted to give his team a tour of ESPN the next time they came to play in nearby New Britain, Connecticut, and he dangled considerable bait. If I arranged it, he’d let me be his bench coach for one of the games against the newly-christened “Rock Cats,” who played only about twelve minutes from my house.
I did not let Bill know I would’ve given his guys the tour, no charge.
They got the guided visit (far less interesting than it would seem, then or now), and Robby and I agreed on a date. And soon I was there with him on the bench, in full uniform, and wearing the spare shoes of the only guy with feet approaching mine, the one and only Wayne Gomes. Robinson even made me work for my living: I had to chart hits and defense. But mostly I was there to talk to the kids on the team, no fewer than fourteen of whom eventually made the majors (though they weren’t all there at that juncture). The highlights were Marlon Anderson, as great a guy then as now, Bobby Estalella, Matt Beech, and Rolen, who spent half his time practicing an imaginary golf swing. 
I also took some ribbing from the pitching coach, Larry Andersen, most of it along the lines of “I’m getting paid to do this. What’s your excuse?” That’s when I reminded him he was in New Britain, where the guy he had been traded for in 1990 had insufficiently impressed the parent Red Sox. “What was his name, Larry? Bagwell? Whatever happened to him?”
It was, of course, a tremendous education. As I’ve alluded to before, it would obviously be the dream of any fan to watch a game from such a venue, with such entree to the process. But how much you learn and how many presuppositions you are disabused of. And the game moves twice as fast as it does from the stands or the press box, which is why players stare blankly at you when you talk about enforcing speed-up rules.
And then there’s the practical joking. In the 7th, as I was explaining the ESPN experience to two players, one of whom was an infielder named Matt Guiliano, the other guy barked out at umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, “Hey, Blue, where was that one?” Wendelstedt ripped off his mask and barked “who said that?” The complaining player and Guiliano both pointed at me, and Wendelstedt promptly ejected me from the game.
He ran me.

I thought it was quite funny and I continued to sit in my spot on the bench and started to resume my story to Guiliano when Bill Robinson came over. “You know, he really did throw you out. You’ll have to go. But you should give him hell before you do.” I ran out onto the field and as Wendelstedt barely contained his laughter, I started screaming at him. As I recall, it went like this: “My one lousy game in uniform and you run me? I can see you’re going to make the big leagues and not just because your Daddy’s an umpire. And let me promise you, one day I will be avenged. I will get a highlight of you and I will run you into the ground with it. Your father will change his name to Runge. I swear!” Then I kicked dirt on the plate and on him and I said “Okay, have I put on enough of a show?” and he sputtered out yes, and I left, throwing my shoes and cap as I did (I retrieved the cap).
Six years later, Rolen had already gone from the Phils to the Cards and they appeared at Yankee Stadium and I saw him near the cage and went over to ask him if he remembered it, when I suddenly realized he was running over to me. “Where was that when they threw you out of our game?” I told him, New Britain, in 1996. “The highlight of my season,” he said. We both laughed and I reminded him that a few weeks later he was called up to Philly to make his big league debut. “Like I said,” he said dryly. “Highlight of my season.”
Sunday afternoon we visited briefly and we repeated the exchange. “I know, I know, the year I broke in. Still the highlight of that season.”
BRIEFLY…

You could expand the All-Star Rosters to 75 guys and somebody would still have a complaint, but Mark Reynolds isn’t going? The only thing besides Justin Upton keeping the Diamondbacks from sinking into the PCL?… Chad Gaudin looked like a BP pitcher in the first inning Friday against the Dodgers, then recovered fairly well thereafter, but still has a little ways to go. On the other hand, Rule V shortstop draftee Everth Cabrera may be there already… the Pirates may be serious about dealing Matt Capps. If they can get a juicy package for him, and something that will make them all go dreamy like they have over Charlie Morton, they’ll do it… and lastly, if this hasn’t shown up anywhere, old Yankee Stadium is now enmeshed in protective netting like a widow at a funeral, and the bit-by-bit demolition of the superstructure isn’t far off. I was literally offered a full piece of the outfield frieze and the price was not a blood-letting for unique stuff like that. But then they said it weighed a ton and I said “I bet it does,” and they said “no, literally, it weighs 2,000 pounds” and I envisioned apartment walls collapsing and I said no, thank you kindly.
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