Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Final Four

I spend way too much time lamenting the fact that the downward spiral of virtually all the sports media outlets is eerily reminiscent of Debbie Gibson's music career: teenage pop sensation tops the charts, and fifteen years later she's doing Playboy spreads to pay the bills.

OK, maybe the analogy isn't a perfect one, but the point is this: from television to magazines to the internet, sports programming has devolved into appealing to the lowest common denominator (which often includes some of the on-air/writing talent). Anyway, pointing out the repeated shortcomings of this bunch is part cathartic and part my obligation as a person who actually enjoys watching sports on a alleged sports channel (instead of being force fed stuff like "Cold Pizza" or "ESPN Hollywood").

In what seems to be turning into a weekly rant, here's the latest:

... Michael David Smith of Football Outsiders, has an article in TNR Online (free registration or bugmenot) that looks at how Sports Illustrated (the magazine, not the website) has gotten progressively worse in the last 20 years. As an example, he points to the whole Mike Price - Alabama fiasco that appeared in the magazine a few years ago. After costing Price his job, we come to find out that the author, Don Yaeger, actually made up quotes that basically served to ruin Price's short-lived stint as head coach for the Crimson Tide.

I know I complain about Bayless, Screamin' and Booyah Scott, but this is much, much worse. Yaeger, by knowingly making stuff up, caused a guy to lose his job while assailing his character. Nice two-fer.

... The Road To Bristol is one of those websites that provides endless hours of entertainment, but much like porn, you feel a little dirty after you finish reading it (except, instead of nudie pics, there are endless comments about any TV sports personality you love to hate ... and sometimes things can get pretty brutal). I've mentioned the Bristol site before because they're running an NCAA-style tournament, but instead of college basketball teams, they're featuring asinine on-air sports commentators, anchors and reporters.

And now, they're down to the final four: Skip Bayless vs. Stephen A. Smith, and Tony Reali vs. Stuart Scott. Reali isn't as grating as, say, Max Kellerman, but the other three are definitely worthy of being among the four worst things associated with sports television programming.

I'm guessing Bayless wins the title hands down, and it's comments like this from a reader named Andy that describe Bayless' shtick in a nutshell:
Here's the thing about Bayless: he is, without a doubt, the most hateful person in all of national sports broadcasting. Unlike some, who just show blatant biases towards a team or person (I'm looking at you Dick Vitale), Bayless has never met an athlete or team whom he couldn't tear down. ESPN's newest special should be Skip in gladiator-style combat versus lions, only with Skip handcuffed and beaten first. This would beat the Super Bowl.
The first time I read this, I couldn't stop laughing. And yes I would watch.

... As usual, I'm always about 12 months behind on most news stories. Apparently, last summer Chicago radio guy (and sometimes PTI fill-in) Jay Mariotti got into a war of words with Ken Harrelson, the color guy for the White Sox, who I described last month as slightly more irritating to listen to than a car alarm. After reading this article however, I'm firmly supporting Harrelson on this one:
The Sun-Times sports columnist and regular on ESPN's "Around the Horn" went nose-to-nose Wednesday with White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson in the the press box at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

At one point, witnesses say, Mariotti told Harrelson: "I ought to clock you right now."

Harrelson's response: "Go ahead. Do what you've got to do, Jay."

The two have been feuding in print and on air since SoxFest, when Harrelson called Mariotti "the biggest sports fraud" and added: "Mariotti wouldn't know a good or bad team if he saw one . . . In six or seven years, I've never seen him in the clubhouse."


Since then, Mariotti has written about Harrelson four times, describing him as "[Chairman Jerry] Reinsdorf's shameless mouthpiece," "whiny . . . bitter" and sounding "like he's constipated."
When did Mariotti get so tough? I think it's kind of funny that he's willing to challenge a professional athlete who last played a game in 1971. My money's still on Harrelson. He gone!

... Finally, there is hope. Bob Costas, who's occasionally funny, and always a great interviewer is taking a stand:

While some cable TV hosts are making their living off the Natalee Holloway case this summer, Bob Costas is having none of it.

Costas, hired by CNN as an occasional fill-in on "Larry King Live," refused to anchor Thursday's show because it was primarily about the Alabama teenager who went missing in Aruba. Chris Pixley filled in at the last minute.

"I didn't think the subject matter of Thursday's show was the kind of broadcast I should be doing," Costas said in a statement. "I suggested some alternatives but the producers preferred the topics they had chosen. I was fine with that, and respectfully declined to participate."
It's a start.