With 2015 coming to a close we here at TSM HQ thought it would be a good time to look back on the year that was in Toronto sports media. Since most of the time we are forced to write about the very worst segments, articles, tweets, and interviews, we are delighted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the very best work being done by those fortunate enough to have jobs in sports media.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the Shakies in 2015.
It has been a real pleasure watching Shi Davidi develop from CP baseball reporter to standing at the top of the Jays insider pile at Sporsnet. He is a real success, and I’m sure that came as a result of lots of had work. He’s done it without resorting to rumour mongering, silly outfits, shtick, or being a condescending jerk.
From early on in 2015 Shi was in early on every major Jays story, delivering his usual mix of opinion, fact, and sources. He is obviously very well plugged in over at the Jays offices, as he was out front on the whole Beeston fiasco. Whenever a major trade broke, Shi was right in the thick of it delivering insights and analysis. As the AA era came to an abrupt halt Shi has been the go to person for reasonable takes that don’t suffer from post hoc justifications. Of all the people working at Sportsnet he has managed to stay highest above the fray when it comes to needing to defend Rogers’ payroll parameters.
I am very much looking forward to his stock continuing to rise at Sportsnet, and within MLB. The only concern for Shi in 2016 is that he was clearly well respected by AA, and was likely able to get a lot of scoops through that channel. He will have to establish new relationships with Atkins and Shapiro. Great work Shi. In a year where everyone was talking baseball, you were in a league of your own. (You can read Shi’s 20 questions with TSM here)
Rick Westhead had a spectacular 2015, delivering a lot of what we expected and a whole lot that we did not. When he was brought on board by TSN last year (see his 5 questions with me here) Rick had a small track record writing about sports, mostly investigative reporting with a focus on legal and business issues. In those areas Rick had a lot on his plate in 2015 with the NHL concussion lawsuits, the CHL union/compensation battle, CIAU/CIS drug testing, the endless Coyotes saga, and many other stories.
Beyond claiming the ‘business of sports’ space all to himself, Rick also delivered some excellent features for TSN and W-5. (memo to TSN: why is it so hard to find links to Rick’s video work on your wesbsite?) His story on women’s soccer in the favelas of Brazil was highly praised far beyond our borders. Richard Deitsch even promoted it on PTS (Dec 23, Hour 3). While others were (wrongly) reporting that MLSE would hire John Cassaday as their new CEO, Rick correctly told us that the deal was not done. Before the year was out Rick was also reporting that the Jays’ payroll would stay around $140 million. This was eventually “confirmed” by Bob McCown 6 weeks later.
Overall, Rick has been a huge asset to the sports media community by bringing forward stories that would otherwise not be on our radar, and by lending a kind of journalistic credibility to sports reporting that is too often missing.
TSM: So, In all the years we’ve been doing this, to me anyways, it’s the year I’ve had the most difficulty writing the column. This was quite simply a fascinating year in sports and therefore in sports media in this town. Some highlights of the sports year as best as I can recall them and in real order:
I’ve left off the Babcock signing because I think the story itself was so fascinating from a media perspective. If you recall, everyone, and I mean everyone was reporting that Mike Babcock wasn’t coming here. I’m not criticizing that part of the story. It’s what they were told by various sources. However, the morning it actually happened was one of the coolest ways I’ve ever seen a story unfold:
Darren Dreger tweets at 11:06am
“Toronto and Buffalo in bidding war for Babcock. No decision yet. Hearing Red Wings final offer was 5 years at $4 million per.”
At 12:43 pm Bob McKenzie tweeted:
“Sources in BUF say they are OUT on Mike Babcock. Not going to BUF.”
At 12:45pm Aaron Ward Tweeted:
“Source say Mike Babcock has decided to leave the Detroit Red Wings. #TSN”
At 1:06pm Dreger tweets:
“Source says Babcock told Blues 2 days ago he was out. Things change? If not, the Leafs may have won the sweepstakes”
Jeffler chimed in moments later with :
“MLSE’s private jet is scheduled to head to Detroit later today and depart within three minutes of arrival. http://flightaware.com/photos/view/334911-9a6d812c5b8800b9c0c814927ca8c17bbb374469/aircrafttype/GLF4 …”
Friedman and Dreger were tied, both at 1:59pm tweeting that they believed Babcock was indeed a Maple Leaf.
So given all of that, how do I answer the best of the year question? Well, I am going to also go the tie route, and in this year that was so Jays dominated I’m awarding the 2015 Shaky Hunt best overall award to those who cover the Blue Jays on a full time basis.
The team captured our hearts and imagination and the coverage was exceptional. Mike hit it out of the park on Shi Davidi. The whole crew who covers the Jays all season did a great job. Scott MacArthur, Robert MacLeod, Dirk Hayhurst, Arden Zwelling, Ben Nicholson-Smith, Scott Ferguson, Richard Griffin, Bob Elliott, Mike Rutsey, Gregg Zaun, Jamie Campbell, John Lott, Gregor Chisholm, Mike Wilner, Barrie Davis, Buck Martinez, Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddall, Pat Tabler (appologies to those I left out).
Special mention goes to the town’s biggest Jays fan, Bob McCown, add in the addition of Brunt to Blair’s show, Morosi, Rosenthal and the rest of the news breakers south of the border. This was the year of the Jays and we got great coverage.
TSM: I’m going hockey on this one and it’s a tie between Chris Johnston (Sportsnet) and Jeff O’Neil (TSN). O’Neil has, in my mind really become an entertaining broadcaster. He’s no longer the one trick pony as a former player. He adds humour and asks the questions I want asked. Johnston in the last year has become must listen to/much watch tv. He provides great insight and I enjoy listening and watching him all the time.
Mike: In past years I have given this one to Michael Grange (Sporsnet) and Macko&Cauz (TSN1050). This year I am giving it to Damien Cox (Sportsnet/The Star). This might seem like an odd choice, but hear me out. There was a period of time where everything Cox wrote, tweeted, or said seemed intended to rile people up. He would take cheap shots at TSN, bait Bob into useless arguments, and just generally come across as incredibly obnoxious most of the time. I believe 2014 was also the year Cox referred to me as “gutless”.
2015 brought in a much better Cox. His Twitter contributions were on topic and his PTS appearances were pleasant and he enhanced many interviews with his questions. I can’t comment much on his writing since I stopped reading Cox in The Star after his editor approved this advertorial piece on behalf of Sportsnet. With Feschuk and Fitz-Gerald and the underrated McGran there’s lots of other people covering hockey for the Star. But, judging by a quick skim of Cox’s recent postings he is writing interesting stories. As far as his TV work goes, he is nowhere near the top of least likeable people covering hockey for Sportsnet.
Cox is one of the most historically disliked media members in this market over the last 15 years, but based on his 2015 performance he should easily drop out of the top 3. For myself, I enjoyed his work in 2015, especially on Twitter and on radio, and will definitely be checking in more often on what he’s saying and writing in 2016.
Mike: People want different things out of Twitter. As someone who spends very little time tweeting, what I want from the people I follow is interesting links, the odd quick take that can be captured fully in 140 characters, and no pictures of your breakfast or your workout or your cats.
Using these criteria, my best follows in 2015 were Richard Deitsch and Dave Zirin. Both manage to give me the mix of sports and social issues I care about, without falling into the familiar forms of internet social justice hysteria one sometimes sees. Another great follow is Howard Bryant of ESPN, but there is far too much tennis content there for my tastes.
TSM: Given the baseball theme I’m following, I am going with Jon Morosi, Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, Bob Nightengale, Rob Nyer Jason Stark and Jon Heyman. I’ll add in Rick Westhead for his unique broad-based sports coverage.
(Mike) TSN 1150. When the Toronto based stations are unlistenable in the mornings, TSN1150 in Hamilton is broadcasting syndicated US shows Mike&Mike and the Dan Patrick Show. If you like NFL and NBA there is no better option right now. If you hate college professional sports, then I’m afraid you’re better off sticking with the local shows.
(TSM): I’ll add in Morosi and Richard Deitsch as guest co-hosts on Fan 590.
(Mike) the Globe. The combination of Christine Dobby (telco), James Bradshaw (business), and David Shoalts (sports) brought a refreshing injection of sports media coverage in 2015. This space has been largely unoccupied since the Star ditched Chris Zelkovich’s popular column and blog, and since the Globe stopped employing Bruce Dowbiggin to fill Bill Houston’s large shoes. The Globe fumbled the sports media beat around between Simon Houpt and Steve Ladurantaye for a while in years past, but both were pretty far out of their depths. The current group is doing a great job and here’s hoping there is more of it in 2016.
(TSM): Perhaps a cop out, however I am going to those MSMs who take time to tweet. Twitter is the best platform for sports coverage, allowing those who cover the game to do so on their own.
Those are our awards for 2015. What are yours?
Also feel free to give out any awards we missed … Worst Twitter follow? Most annoying PTS co-host? Favourite Cathal Kelly column? Best traffic updates? Best musical bit/impersonation on Mike Richards’ show? Favourite generic male/female highlight narrator?
Happy New Year everyone. Thanks for reading. Consider making your new year’s resolution a commitment to commenting here more often. Discussion is what keeps us motivated to write.
Mike and Jonah/TSM