Monthly Archives: July, 2007

Playing Out The Scroll

It's the first day of training camp for the Steelers. That means two things:

  1. Local news will go 24/7 with Steelers coverage.
  2. It's time to decide if baseball season has ended in Pittsburgh.

Let's check the standings, shall we?

  • Pittsburgh: 41-56 (.423), 2-8 in their last 10 games, 13.5 GB Milwaukee in the Comedy Central, 12 GB in the wildcard race.


At this point, if Penguins salary arbitration hearings bumped the Pirates from the news, nobody would be surprised.

We haven't even gotten to know Cesar Izturis yet.

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If ESPN says “Who’s Now” is meaningful, it’s meaningful, dammit.

Excuse me for a moment, as I slip into my Media Critic gear. (It's a Hartford Whalers Pat Verbeek jersey, if you must know.) I saw this on, and it lit the fuse.

Have you checked the Who's Now results lately? Looks like things are holding to form, aren't they. Not an upset in the bunch. And, as you would expect, the lone NHL representative in the bracket lost in the first round.


Wouldn't you think there would be a lower seed winning somewhere along the way? Just one?

As the voting system works, 70% of the total vote is from readers. The remaining 30% comes from a three man panel: NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson, college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, and Pardon The Interruption co-star Michael Wilbon. (Yes, there's going to be some math.)

To demonstrate a) how ESPN can't be honest about their hockey coverage, and b) how badly ESPN is manipulating the Who's Now results, I'm going to pick apart the transcript of the panel discussion, moderated by SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott, of the Derek Jeter vs. Sidney Crosby matchup, Daring Fireball Jackass Of The Week style.

Stuart Scott (SS): Alright, the 2-7 matchup. One name: Jeter. Against… pretty cool nickname, Sid the Kid. Keyshawn Johnson, Kirk Herbstreit, Mike Wilbon. Does Sid the Kid have a chance here?

I think we all know the answer to that going in.

Keyshawn Johnson (KJ): I think it’s gonna be tough, and the reason, one of the reasons why, you’re talking about a guy, who’s probably one of the top three shortstops of all time…

Don't get me wrong, now. I'm not taking anything away from Jeter.

SS: Wait a sec…

KJ: …four championships…

SS: He’s not—He might not be the best shortstop on his own team.

KJ: Well, we may not find that out…


KJ: …but if you think about it. Best shortstop. Four championships. Ton of money, and y’all know what else…

SS: What else? What else?

KJ: A ton of the nice figures [makes hourglass figure gesture] the whole thing.

SS: Oh, he has been linked, he has been linked, lemme just, lemme just run some names. He has been linked to Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel…

Michael Wilbon (MW): You can stop right there.

Yeah, Stu. You're rubbing it in.

SS: …Mariah Carey…

Kirk Herbstreit (KH): He’s already the winner.

SS: …Jordana Brewster. This guy—Vanessa Minillo— Miss Universe—

Calm down, Stu. Calm down. This is for national TV, now.


SS: Derek Jeter could hit .150 for the rest of his career and still win this whole thing.

MW: It is sealed. It is sealed for Derek Jeter.

That's right. Screw on-the-field achievements. He's getting every piece of starlet ass that passes through Manhattan. That's what puts him ahead the best player in the NHL.

KH: It is sealed. And this whole thing about Sid the Kid being up against Derek Jeter, I mean—think about—forget Derek Jeter for a second, just Sid the Kid. Playing in the NHL in this country right now, it’s hard to get any exposure. Even with the year that he had, he would literally have to win 3 Cups, and win an MVP within all of those Cup runs to—and then come back…

BINGO! The moment where ESPN pretends that it doesn't have a news department! ESPN is that exposure that the NHL can't get. Remember? That whole "Worldwide Leader In Sports" thing? Highlights? Analysis? Complete coverage? Those things that we only get on Thursdays, when Norby (NORBY!) lets Barry Melrose out of the shack he sleeps in on the outskirts of Bristol.

KJ: His time will come…

KH: …and then come back and (garbled)

MW: If we were in Canada…

We'd be watching TSN.

KJ: …it’s just not now.

MW: …it’s not now. He is…

KH: In Canada…

MW: He is in the future. Sid the Kid is the future if you’re in Canada. In, in the United States, it’s tough to be seen, it really is tough to see the games. I’ve talked to NHL players who call the hotels on the road first, to find out if they can get Versus, so they can find out—so they can see Sid the Kid. That’s not a good situation.

It is a situation of ESPN's own making. Lest anybody forget, after the lockout…

ESPN REJECTED THE NHL, not the other way around.

MW: Derek Jeter is the captain of the New York Yankees.

KJ: As weak as baseball is…

Baseball? Weak? Yeah, maybe Bud Selig rivals Gary Bettman in gross incompetence, but at least ESPN respects the game of baseball. ESPN shits on hockey.

MW: That alone…

KJ: As weak as baseball is in our country, a lot of us still know who Derek Jeter is.

MW: Everybody.

KH: Oh, absolutely.

MW: Everybody.

KH: (garbled) four rings.

KJ: Our kids don’t grow up saying “We gonna play hockey. We’re gonna play hockey.” None of our kids say that.

Right. None of the ten American first-round picks in this year's draft said that. They must have gotten lost on the way to Pony League Texas Hold 'Em practice, and their parents made them stick it out in hockey.

KJ: They say, “Well, maybe we’ll play baseball. We’ll run track. We’ll play football, basketball.” Derek Jeter, I’ll probably say, in a landslide.


KH: Plus, the way Derek Jeter carries himself.

SS: Okay, but…

MW: He’s done nothing…

SS: …all class, all class…

KH: He is class…

MW: There’s no baggage for Derek Jeter. Everything he has done has been great.

SS: But… Sid the Kid: All class. No baggage with him, either. And, Sidney Crosby, the youngest scoring champion, at nineteen years old, of any major pro sport in the history of North America.

KH: That’s great.

SS: I’m just givin’ him a little bit of love.

KH: We appreciate those facts.

You're welcome. Right back at you for the condescension. That's only worth a 7-seed?

SS: Now for your votes.

KJ: He has a great resume, but not now.

SS: [gestures to Keyshawn] So I’m taking it your vote is…

KJ: Derek Jeter, and all twenty of the… [makes “long list” gesture] …yeah.

SS: [gestures to Kirk] I’m taking it you’re vote is…

KH: Derek Jeter, in a landslide. This will be the biggest blowout, I think, of the first round.

More foreshadowing. This needs a pipe organ sting, for emphasis. (They recorded these en masse before any voting began, so they didn't anticipate the 90%-10% smackdown Tiger Woods put on Matt Leinart.)

MW: Unfair to Sid the Kid. Maybe in the future, not now. Derek Jeter is now, and maybe forever, Stuart.

KJ: I wanna read the rest of the list.


SS: Alright, he’s played two years, one year as, like, The Man, for the National Hockey League. That’s what they think. What do you think? To vote, text “WN” for “Who’s Now” to 4ESPN. That’s 43776, or log on to Who do you think is the ultimate sports star? Derek Jeter, or Sid the Kid Crosby? Our polls are always open.

Well, the polls have closed. The results:

Derek Jeter: 63.8%

Sidney Crosby: 36.2%

Not quite the predicted landslide, but close. Or is it? Don't forget, Keyshawn, Kirk, and Wilbon accounted for 30% of the results, so if we subtract 30% from the total, then divide by 70%, ( ($final_percent – ($panel_votes * 10)) / 0.7 ) we can get the actual internet vote:

Sidney Crosby: ((36.2% – 0) / 0.7) = 51.7%

Derek Jeter: ((63.8% – 30) / 0.7) = 48.3%

Oh, my.

Oh, my goodness.

Did the general public, who ESPN insists doesn't have any hockey fans, just prefer Sidney Crosby to the captain of the New York Yankees?

Yes they did. Guess what?

They also voted for mixed martial arts fighter Chuck Liddell (#5) over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (#4), 54.7% to 45.3%.

They also voted for Barcelona midfielder Ronaldinho (#6) over Laker Kobe Bryant (#3), 56% to 44%.

They also voted for Barry Bonds (#5) over Jeff Gordon (#4), 54% to 46%.

Maybe this is why ESPN is only showing the grand totals, not the internet vote. Because a full analysis of the numbers would show that ESPN is forcing readers to select an underdog by a 2/3 majority to overcome a unanimous decision by the panel.

Unanimous decisions so far: 9 out of 13, counting tonight's open poll, Bridget Monahan's baby daddy vs. Big Papi.

So it looks like the "Who's Now" competition, which was designed to reinforce ESPN's preferred sports celebrities in the first place, is also designed to prevent the general public from deviating from those preferences, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Don't let ESPN tell you that your vote counts. It doesn't.

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So, the Home Run Derby… happened

Last night, from 8:00pm to 10:00pm 11:00pm EDT, was Amateur Hour on ESPN.

ESPN's plan was to send a small army to San Francisco. Chris Berman, Joe Morgan, and Dusty Baker would call the action, with Peter Gammons and Erin Andrews doing player interviews, and Kenny Mayne in a kayak in McCovey Cove. The Baseball Tonight team, Karl Ravech, John Kruk, and Steve Phillips, would chime in from a platform in the right-center stands. That's nine commentators for an eight-player derby. And that's not counting Jon Miller, who was doing PA work at AT&T Park, nor the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes crew.

Right off the bat, they fooled themselves into believing that this was the year the Home Run Derby would actually end in its allotted two hours. Um, guys? The HRD has been getting progressively longer as years go by. What made you think this would be the year for a dramatic reversal in that trend? The HRD didn't end until around 11:05pm EDT, delaying part 1 of their long-hyped mini-series, New York Is The Center Of The Universe The Bronx Is Burning, by over an hour, and thoroughly screwing anybody who set their VCR and/or TiVO.

Then ESPN was handed a slight change of plans. Seems that they scooped TBS' exclusive All-Star Lineup show by announcing the National League starters the night before. Bud Selig was not amused, and punished ESPN by banning the Baseball Tonight crew from working live from San Francisco. Ravech, Kruk, and Phillips were stuck in Bristol, while their platform, which had already been assembled, was given over to photographers.

Now I don't know for sure why the evening turned out the way it did. Maybe it was the late BBTN banishment, or maybe tWWL is just getting sloppy. But last night was the poorest production I've seen from ESPN in decades. Versus' first week of NHL broadcasts weren't this bad. (OK, maybe the temporary Hockey Central set was that bad.)

Everybody's timing was off. Segues between the BBTN crew and AT&T Park were particularly clumsy. Berman, Morgan, and Baker were stepping on each other's lines all night. Berman and Morgan do the HRD every year. Adding Dusty probably threw the chemistry out of whack. Not that there was much chemistry to begin with. Morgan just gets dumber every year, and Boomer is, well, Boomer. "Winnie The Pujols?" Shoot me now.

The audio engineering was a joke. Throughout the night, microphones weren't properly muted, allowing little bits of chit-chat and discussions with inaudible producers to cut into pretty much anything that was going on.

Worst of all, the event itself conspired against the network. First of all, to fit the 8:00pm EDT time slot, the HRD started at 5:00pm PDT. At that time, the shadows around home plate at AT&T Park start creeping towards the pitcher's mound. That put the pitcher in bright sunshine and the batters in shade for most of the first round. Even at soft-toss speeds, the pitches were hard to see, so the night started out with a whimper. The cool, dry atmosphere and inward-blowing winds certainly didn't help.

The big attraction of a Home Run Derby at AT&T Park is, obviously, McCovey Cove. Joe Morgan was legitimately concerned that, should anybody fall in the water, they wouldn't be able to surface for all the boats crammed into the prime landing zone. Mayne and his helmet-cam stayed on the fringe of the flotilla, where he could get a better view of the scene and keep thousands of dollars of ESPN camera equipment from taking a swim. You know what this means, of course.

3 left-handed hitters, 8 home runs between them, zero in McCovey Cove.

And none of the lefties made it through to the second round, either.

In the end, this night belonged to Vladimir Guerrero. He must have figured that, if he didn't hit anything, he'd at least bring a party with him. Literally. There was a small entourage of buddies with him on the sideline, who would occasionally come out to towel him off, or exchange high fives. But it was fellow Dominican David Ortiz who stole the show. After Vlad started his first round with three straight outs, Big Papi stepped up to the plate, took Vlad's bat out of his hands, and had one of Vlad's buddies bring him a large box. Ortiz opened the box to reveal another, presumably better, bat, which Ortiz kissed before giving it to Guerrero. Vlad then proceeded to then crush pretty much anything he made contact with. In the second round, with the mound in shadows, he hit some towering shots to left-center, and almost became the first player in AT&T Park history to hit the giant glove behind the stands.

Now that I think of it, maybe ESPN's 2-hour timing is wishful thinking on their part. I couldn't tell you much about the final round because I had zoned out by that time. All I can tell you is a) Guerrero beat Alex Rios 3-2 in the final round, and b) Alex Rios? Where the hell did he come from?

The only other notable thing about the night, at least for me, were the on-the-sly hockey references thrown in by Boomer and Mayne. Most of them were in the first round, as British Columbia native Justin Morneau was at bat, as Berman pointed out that Morneau wears 33 in honor of Patrick Roy. Later, Mayne joked that he'd like to try kayak-cam again for the NHL All-Star Game. It was probably out of the blue for most, but that Situationist blog entry I linked to last week bubbled its way up to Deadspin yesterday, so it's probably been making the rounds in Bristol.

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ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Confirmation Bias

(h/t: Eric at Off Wing Opinion)

If you're like me, and you watch ESPN's hockey coverage with a mix of shock, disappointment, and simmering rage, there's good news. Jason Chung, writing for the Harvard Law School's Project on Law and Mind Sciences blog, The Situationist, has backed up our armchair media criticism:

To make matters worse, such informational social influence can translate into normative social influence, which is born of the need to “conform to the rules of other people.” If it seems that a growing number of people dislike hockey or that being a hockey fan exposes one to ridicule, many will hide, ignore, or lose their affection for hockey.

Thus, [ESPN]’s negative portrayal of hockey is very likely causing a profound two-fold effect on the viewing public by prejudicing their perception of the facts and by affecting their feelings for the game.

Of course, you can see this in action with ESPN's self-aggrandizing events of the moment: The ESPY Awards, and the "Who's Now" bracket.

The ESPYs are the network's annual "best reasons to watch Sportscenter religiously" awards. With categories like Best Male Athlete, Best Team, Best Game, Best Finish, and Best Play, there are plenty of opportunities for nominations from the NHL, right?


Not a single NHL player, team, or game was nominated in any of those categories. There is a Best NHL Player award, as there are for the other major sports, but that's it.

The Who's Now promotion pits 32 athletes in a bracket-style "tournament", broken down into four "regions", with the goal of finding the "hottest" athlete. Since celebrity and endorsements count as much as on-the-field achievements, it's obvious that ESPN is seeking to justify the fawning coverage they've already given to many of these jocks.

Sidney Crosby is the only NHL player in the field, seeded seventh in his region, and facing Derek Jeter in the first round. The 7-seed is insulting on its face, but a match-up with a media darling like Jeter in the first round? I'd say ESPN was intentionally trying to eliminate Sid in the first round, just so they'd have something to point to the next time someone calls them out on their anti-hockey bias.

Out of sight, out of mind. That's how ESPN covers hockey.

P.S.: Don't think you're off the hook, Sports Illustrated. Explain to me why your cover story, after the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup, was Yet Another New York Baseball Team, not the champion of one of the four major leagues in North America?

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