photo credit: CTV
Good morning sports media watchers. We are almost through the dog days of summer and sports media stories are still very quiet. Here is a quick sampler platter of food for thought, but as always you should feel free to talk about whatever is on your mind in the world of sports.
The Jays had a very successful series against the Royals but the main storyline focused more on the scores between the players than the numbers on the scoreboard. Royals starter Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson in the 1st inning, after which umpire Jim Wolf issued a warning. The warning rule was implemented a few years ago to stop bean-brawls. Once issued, the warning means that the next player to throw intentionally at the opposition is ejected along with his manager. In almost all cases, a hit batter or “message pitch” after a warning means an automatic ejection. But Wolf allowed Donaldson to be buzzed in his next two at-bats and Troy Tulowitzki to be hit in the 7th inning without ejecting any Royals. Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez then hit a Royal in the leg and was tossed by Wolf, but not before the benches cleared and there was much pushing, shoving, and gesticulating.
The media reaction to this series of events was interesting and provides a study in contrasts. First, on the radio side Jerry Howarth and Joe Siddall went out of their way to praise umpire Wolf for his handling of the game. This seemed odd since the Jays were on the receiving end of a very non-standard way of treating the warning rule. Many other umpires would have tossed Volquez in the 3rd inning for throwing under the chin of the same player you were warned after hitting. They went even further in their adulation after Tulo was hit, saying that this was clearly not intentional and that pitchers have to be able to pitch inside. Finally, when the Royals threw at Donaldson for the 3rd time in the game, Gibbons was tossed but not Donaldson for arguing about the non-ejection. Both broadcasters talked at length about how restrained the ump had been and what a favour he had done to Donaldson by keeping him in the game even though he should have been tossed for arguing.
This effusive praise stands in stark contrast with most of the player and media reaction to Wolf’s handling of the game. Here’s Jose Bautista talking to TSN’s Scott MacArthur: “After a warning’s put on, I mean you’ve got to respect it, right? I have a big problem when an umpire can say that they know 100-per cent in their mind the intent of a particular pitch after a warning is put on. For a fastball to hit Tulowitzki after a warning’s put on you’re supposed to respect the warning; I don’t care how many strikes there are in the count. I think the whole mishandling of the situation is what kind of took things to a different level.“
I respect announcers who go out of their way not be homers. With guys like Hawk Harrelson and Buck Martinez and Mike Wilner floating out there, most professionals want to make sure they are being somewhat objective. But if that is what Jerry and Joe were aiming for then they did not execute it well. What fans needed in those moments was an analysis of the rule, how the rule has been traditionally understood, and how Wolf was deviating from that and why. I can’t help but wonder how someone like Alan Ashby would have handled Jerry’s analysis of the great job Wolf was doing. Siddall — as has become his trademark — agreed with everything Jerry said. The audience was not very well served in this case. More balance was needed to explain to Jays fans (this was on 590 after all) why their players were being thrown at without repercussion.
Moving to the TV side of things (and to the other side of the analysis spectrum), Gregg Zaun went after Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura for the latter’s Tweets (since deleted) calling Jose Bautista a “nobody”. Ventura later apologized to Jose. Most of the substance of Zaun’s criticisms was reasonable: show some respect to Bautista, you haven’t proven what he has, don’t Tweet on your way out of town after you’ve been beat. But he also undermines his own case by saying that Ventura is only in the league because someone else was injured (irrelevant) and that Ventura should be man enough to pick up a bat and stand in the box if he wants to take on the Jays. This last point is exceedingly dumb since both teams play in the AL and pitchers don’t hit. Why even bring it up? Zaun concluded the speech by challenging Ventura to come on down Zaun’s section of the Skydome to find him.
We have seen this sort of thing before when Jays broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst (and to a lesser extent Jack Morris) got in to it with the Red Sox and their media over Clay Buchholz’s use of sunscreen on the ball. The common thread between the Hayhurst case and the Zaun case is that you have media members taking on the opposition, but it’s more about the media member’s bravado than the substance of the issue. For example, can you imagine Shi Davidi or Richard Griffin writing an open letter like Zaun’s? Of course not. Zaun brings a WWE-style to his analysis where it’s as much about him as it is about anything else.
This is not my cup of tea, but perhaps others like this sort of thing. Over to you: what did you think of Zaun’s missive? Should local media be fighting on behalf of players?
Finally, Dan Shulman appeared on TSN Drive (August 4th. Hour 2) to discuss the suspension and had this to say: “It’s not a healthy part of the game, but it IS part of the game. […] Ventura is a nice kid but he obviously has some temper issues, and he’s acknowledge [that].” Dan is simply the best and I hope he returns to Toronto radio some day. He would instantly become the most credible voice in the market. He may already be.
Question for you: With all the focus on the Jays these days, whose opinion matters most to you when thinking about trades, player evaluation, suspensions, etc.? Whose opinions do you tune out?
If you read this space often you know that TV sports content is at the top of the list of things that don’t get talked about. I’m not denigrating the medium; I simply don’t have time. I’m sure some of the fine folks who read the scores and narrate the highlight packages do great work, though I’m sure we’d also find things to criticize if we spent as much time on them as we do on print and radio. Consequently, the category of TV talk show also gets little attention around here — I’m thinking of shows like Landsberg’s or Hodge’s. That is the space Tim&Sid moved in to when they left the radio airwaves back in the spring. I have not seen the TV show so I can’t comment on its visual aspect, but I did listen to about a week’s worth of their podcasts over the last while and have some thoughts.
The good: it’s shorter. The reason this is good is that they have to more selective about their topics and points and this makes for a tighter show with less time for mock outrage and self-aggrandizing schlock. The pair’s zenith was their one hour Score podcast and the new show moves closer to that direction. Another major improvement is that they can be way more selective about guests. The FAN show was a morass of interviews with Sportsnet “insiders” pumping their latest post on the website. In what I have heard, they are doing only major interviews with the biggest names on the biggest topics. Big upgrade.
The bad: the show is still very focused on Sid’s whacky antics and Tim’s adoring laughter. I’m not sure how this plays on TV but it continues to be terrible audio. In addition, due to the the fact that it’s now 100% a TV show there are even more visual gags and segments that need to be skipped when podcasting.
Constructive advice: Since this is now Sportsnet’s signature prime time interview show I’d like to see them work on that aspect of the show. Just getting the big names doesn’t mean you’ll be delivering good interviews. For all his faults, Bob was at a time one of the best interviewers in the market. As T&S take on more and more of that role, people will be tuning in expecting a comparable level of quality. They are not bad interviewers — except for when they are asking guests about their favourite hamburger toppings — but there is room to grow in terms of depth and insight.
Over to you: What have you enjoyed of the new T&S show? What’s missing? Have you continued podcasting now that it is on TV?
I have been looking for reasons to highlight the kind of work that gets published in Sportsnet’s apparently successful (so I’m told) magazine. Arden Zwelling, co-host of the very pleasant At the Letters Jays podcast, has a good story detailing the behind the scenes moments that led to the Jays’ big trades. [p.s. – if Rogers wants more in depth coverage of the magazine, be in touch about a review subscription.]
Popular American sports radio host Colin Cowherd is leaving ESPN for FOX, and delivered some racist comments about Dominican baseball players on his way out the door. Sean Newell over at Vice has the story as well as the reaction from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. Jose Bautista also commented on Cowherd on Twitter.
Glendale has a 2 year deal with the Coyotes. If this story wasn’t entertaining enough already, it has also created a secondary comedic market whereby Coyotes fans get angry at TSN’s Rick Westhead on Twitter. Here’s a taste:
— Tom Knecht (@tripower66) July 24, 2015
Phenomenal news for consumers of the NHL’s digital products as MLBAM is taking over. MLB’s app and content delivery are peerless.
There was another, much less publicized, FHRITP incident involving the CBC’s very convivial Charlsie Agro during the PanAms. She handled the situation well and stood up for herself. Go read how the CBC reported on it. This article has everything but a reference to a fainting couch. I imagine this issue is very annoying for reporters but clutching at pearls is not a solution. Here’s an idea: hire some security to protect your on-air talent if you insist on putting them out in the street with crowds of (drunk) people. Not many such incidents at the Santa Claus parade. [note – see comments section for some more thoughts on this issue]
Instead of what usually appears in this section I’ll try something else. Fresh off the great discussion about radio line-ups last week I’ll give you another chance to be Program Director for a day. Summer coincides with call-in season on radio. With so many fill-in hosts and so few sports stories, most of the time is spent taking calls. Let’s just agree that bad call-in shows are bad, and most call-in shows are bad call-in shows. That said, here’s the QOTD: what makes for a good call-in show? Is it a well-crafted topic? Is it a host who can keep people on point? Is it the callers themselves? Here’s a second question: who currently does the best job taking calls?
It seems this dreaded format will be with us for as long as sports radio is around, so let’s do what we can to make it better. Tell our PDs how to fix this part of their programming.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)