1 A hot cup of coffee, and as many refills as you can spare. Same with sugar, please. To take the chill off the night before.
2 Access to an electrical outlet. So the phone can be recharged. As long as you’ll allow. To stay connected to the world.
3 Five quiet minutes a restroom. To get reorganized.
Check, check and check. And to check to see if everything is OK.
Ask someone wrestling with the realities of shelter and food insecurity who show up each Saturday morning at the St. Robert’s Center a simple inquiry, which is as much a conversation starter as a fact-finding mission:
So, what do you need?
Replies will span from the eye-opening obvious to the far-more humbling realization and concession.
Because of last umpteen months of protocol adjustments brought on by the COVID pandemic, Catholic Charities L.A.’s facilities like this one on the Venice/Santa Monica border have had to pivot to a “grab-and-go” assembly line. The basics of offering food, clothing and toiletries coming from various sources. Loaded into pre-made grocery bags and lunch bags — granola bars, fruit cups, cans of soup (stay away from anything condensed), Vienna Sausages and whatever else has easy-to-carry nutritional value – are things regularly ordered and picked up at the Westside Foodbank. More financial donations that allow shopping at the local Smart & Final. About a dozen volunteers from surrounding Catholic churches donate their time and hearts — and often what they can cull from their spouse’s closets — each week to make it flow in whatever direction it will end up going.
Blankets, hoodies, socks, pants and other practical clothing items for men and women are there, depending on what’s available. Same with seizing the day for anyone who could use travel-sized bar soap, toothpaste and shampoo/conditioner. Add masks, hand sanitizers and alcohol wipes to the essential lists.
Those three main asks above — coffee, a phone charge and a restroom break — may be easier to accommodate now at the St. Robert’s Center than with other outreach programs, especially on weekends. The guests often hear “sorry, but no, we can’t” before they can get out what they’d truly wish for at that moment.
At the SRC, the process starts with signing in guests, as much for non-profit auditing purposes as it is to connect faces with names. The option is next to head to the station inside the patio where a couple 100-cup pots of coffee brew start brewing since daybreak. New reinforced electrical outlets nearby can handle dozens of phone charging now, and there is security sitting nearby to watch them power up. A restroom inside the clothing boutique can handle one person at a time with his or her essential privacy.
But then, circle back to the inquiry by flipping the situation: What might you require most if your life has been knocked sideways, upside down and into self preservation for whatever reason?
The obvious: A sleeping bag. A backpack. Towels. Socks, underwear and stocking caps. Warm gloves. Shoes. Jeans. Disposable razors. Many of those we have anticipated and seek in bulk to have available.
But whether it’s someone surviving on a street sidewalk in a tent, huddled in the shrubs at a local park, or curled up nightly in the passenger seat of their car or RV, the answer to a question of need sparks interesting back-and-forth.
“I’d really love something to read,” someone will ask. “Do you have any books?”
A variety of paperbacks, including copies of the Bible, are now sought out from local used-book stores that collect them. Magazines are sent over. And, sure, we can also track down a pair of reading glasses to go with that.
“Can openers? We can always use a can opener,” said an otherwise resourceful client.
Not all cans have pull tops, unfortunately. Although the Dollar General stores have those kind of utensils, durability is an issue. Those who know and endorse the military P-38s are far easier to carry around.
“Any laundry detergent?” one will ask. “It gets expensive at the laundromat and that would really help stretch my SSI check.”
Here you go. And a roll of quarters if that helps, too. By the way, have you head of the organization called Laundry Love? Maybe we can connect you. Check in over there at the St. Joseph’s Center during the week.
“Have you seen my artwork?” another pops up, holding up a drawing. “I’m always looking for sketch books.” Or blank journals. Crossword puzzle books. Word-find books. Sudoku books.
A bungee cord, a sewing kit or a couple of pieces of duct tape to fix a shoe. A small mirror for grooming. A belt to hold up these over-sized pants. A ballpoint pen.
The list grows. We’ve tried to supplement that with an Amazon gift registry where volunteers can purchase some of these things in bulk and have them delivered right to the Center for quick distribution.
Ask, and sometimes you might even receive. As well as receive another request you weren’t prepared for.
A homily at a recent at daily Mass – it was the memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul – touched on the old-school Catholic teaching that some of us recall from the Baltimore Catechism and how it relates to the work of this saint of good will and outreach.
Why did God make you? To know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world. Why is it necessary to know God? Because without knowing Him we cannot love Him; without loving Him we cannot be serve him … we serve Him because He is infinitely good.
The homily takeaway: How can you serve anyone unless you take the time to know them? If you can’t find empathy and love for their existence, then activate resources to search for what they’ve asked for, you’ve got it backward.
With this challenging pandemic, and these local homeless in the news for getting moved around off public property and finally some taking to temporary housing, there’s never a quick and easy solution. But in some ways we’ve got to know our unhoused neighbors even more intimately, even through the masks.
We all value the human contact, brief as it may be, but it leads to more familiarity. The numbers who show up each week are going up again. We’ve been able to add a local volunteers who gives haircuts — Bill, a prince of a man, just needs an electrical outlet himself to do the job as he pulls into the lot loaded with equipment. Watch someone’s demeanor and attitude change in an instant.
We can occasionally throw some hot dogs on the patio grill and add that to the celebration of life. Milk and fruit and cereal; tuna sandwiches to go with peanut butter-and-jelly; and even small bags of dog food for the trusted companion.
Someone asked for all those, and we found them.
The dignity offered just by listening to and acknowledging the beauty of a request can usually mean more than one person is on the receiving end of this act of grace.
It’s no wonder our reboot idea has made it to the next level. Just as it’s kinda wonderful that this reboot of “The Wonder Years” really does mean it was never destined to be a one-hit wonder. Rinse and repeat — and please vax up, mask up and power wash — as the latest edition of the Sports Media Misery Index follows the format we revived in September. Let’s Oktoberfest the pumpkin spice out of this thing together as we discuss what’s really a mess, what we might be able to somewhat tolerate, and what we are welcoming:
A NOT-SO-LOW THRESHOLD
Jamie Foxx looks to be damn near unchained.
In a money-green suit, slamming footballs on an unsuspecting gridiron amidst flamboyant pyrotechnics, this Oscar-winning, Grammy-winning, Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice-nominated, NAACP Image Award-winning actor who last June had a show on Netflix called “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!” actually canceled after one season (!) is trying to apparently get someone fired up about the MGM Sports app.
On any given Sunday, this bizzarro version of Steamin’ Willie Beaman comes off either as ultra angry or over anxious. Perhaps he made a large wager on the Miami Sharks to triumph, and it didn’t happen (it’s cool if you bet on your own team to win, ya know), but there was a comp hotel suite and a free fish sandwich coupon at the next Las Vegas Raiders’ home game to make up for it.
Over there, J.B. Smoove is a modern-day Caesar, leading a parking lot rave attended by Patton Oswald, who proudly calls himself Carl from Waukegan. Can’t fool us. All hail Leon Black and Remy the Rat.
Both scream back and fourth about the value of Caesar’s Sports Book as the official sports betting partner of the NFL. And this isn’t just a one-off spot, but an ongoing series that may already be plotting a course as the next promo-turned-Ted Lasso series, worthy of Emmy recognition and fame.
And while Martin Lawrence might have become a new voice in DraftKings ads, the same betting company has faith that 117th leading scorer in NFL history, Martin “Automatica’ Gramatica, can try to kickstart his own educational video series by explaining how to put down a $1 bet and right away be handed $200 in free-play dough, just for allowing yourself to partnerup with the official sports betting partner of the NFL.
What a kick in the groin to us all.
The NFL’s “new play,” as we were warned at the start of September through a New York Times headline, is about how the league is “embracing betting ads and watching the money pour in.” Where fantasy football jibber jabber may have initially been the soft body blows to in this audience in this normalizing conditioning process, the latest paid spots tied to official NFL gambling partners with elevated juice feels more like a round-house wallet punch.
Based on our consumption of the first few weeks in the league’s 102nd season, which seems to be drawing ratings up nine percent over last year and up four percent over the last “normal” schedule in 2019 (as per the Sports Business Journal), this new game plan that promotes the subtraction of your not-so-disposable income through the addition of celebrity-driven gambling endorsements is somehow going to equal a win-win proposition. Depending, of course, on how you spell “Wynn.”
While these new TV spots might constitute less than 10 percent of total sales pitches we witness in a typical broadcast, we finally started to realize how obscenely assaulting it hits our senses and sensibilities, based on what we’ve experienced in the past.
The NYT story clearly points out the hypocrisy of how this professional sports organization was once clearly on the record against any gambling pretense. It was presented as not just unlawful but unmoral, threatening the integrity of anyone who was involved. But this over-the-top pivot toward previously unshared financial windfall seems to be dependent on unsuspecting participants asked to carry endless supplies of try tinder to this firestorm.
Somehow, the Art of the Deal and the collateral damage tale of Art Schlichter have overlapped in the Venn Diagram of profiteering. Principles gave way to a group of businessman’s financial prerogative.
The Shield insists you can shield yourselves from any guilt or shame, investing not just your time and enjoyment but now all that valuable knowledge you’ve accumulated to claim a stake in the outcome of an over/under, parlay or the accumulation of some player’s statistical performance. The message is you’ve apparently have nothing to gain by passively lounging around on a Sunday afternoon it your can’t-give-it-away-on-eBay Rams’ Jared Goff jersey and begging your schizophrenic puggle tragically named Spuds McKenzie to alert someone that you’re ready for your third mojito before the two-minute halftime warning.
Our front-row seat to witness the league’s latest tone deaf approach toward its own de-evolution already features enough celebrity endorsers like Man Bun Aaron Rodgers going grunge rock on Jake from State Farm, Snoop Dogg trying to be nice by handing out Coronas on the beach that have a great chance of being recycled as beer-less glass bongs, and Liev Schreiber’s bizarre hard sell for a new soft new mattress, when everyone knows it just takes a handful of Melatonin if we’re truly concerned about our circadian rhythms.
Where is the Helpful Honda Person to perform a trademarked “random act of helpfulness” by snatching a not-so-smart phone out of your hands and tossing it off a pedestrian bridge before the any impulsive, self-inflicted stupidity can occur?
For everyone’s benefit, the very least someone in standards and practices could do it insist in enlarging the typeface of the endless paragraph in the bottom half of the TV screen at the close of the Caesars’ ad. That toxic pile of legalese supposedly absolves them taking responsibility, meant to be checked off like the terms of a new software upload.
Please hit pause, and read it. Note how many references there are to a confidential crisis counselors’ 800-number.
NBC, CBS, ABC/ESPN, Fox and even the league’s own NFL Network are confidently complicit in all this ad revenue generated from these deals. Sportico reports the NFL’s sportsbook partners have spent $50.7 million on in-game advertising since the the season started Sept. 9.
Now it’s your job to filter out the flimsy folly. It isn’t that easy with more and more media platforms launching themselves into this problematic income stream.
Mike Greenberg isn’t shy about supporting the official draft fantasy league of the NFL (that would be DraftKings) on his daily ESPN radio show because “it’s safe, it’s secure and it’s reliable,” so use my name as the promo code. CBS’ Phil Simms and Boomer Esiasion are equally all-in by promoting their picks as part of a FanDuel promo during NFL broadcasts on their network that goes back to a Super Bowl ad they did together last season. The Associated Press also notes in stories that FanDuel is its official odds supplier.
When it comes to reporting on the ins and outs of this betting biz, few do it better these days than the Sports Business Journal’s Bill King.
We are getting so much pressure — and we’ve got to do these things for sponsors, No. 1 But now we’ve got to do two or three segments about fantasy football and gambling. I want to talk about the game, and I don’t want to talk about how many yards Nick Chubb is going to have tonight. That might be part of the story, and [NBC Sports executive producer] Sam [Flood] is always saying, ‘Weave that in.’ I’d like to just tell that story, rather than say ‘I think Nick Chubb is going to get 75 yards, so make sure you click there and dial that up so you can make a million dollars.’ I’m very frustrated by that. I think it’s going to nose its way into our business, and I don’t think it’s good.”
About all these ads floating around, Carlton told King: “We can stop glamorizing gambling. Stop making it seem like it’s the cool, hip thing to do. There are marketing messages out there that are not on board with gambling responsibly. I think both the leagues and operators can do a far better job in those two areas. You’re making it seem glamorous because it’s not. And changing some of the marketing plays to get people to come gamble for the first time. I think we can do better in both those areas.”
NBC’s Al Michaelssaid before the season that “we’re in a brave new world of sorts” on going from passive gambling references “in the side door” to where now “I guess they’re allowing me to come in the front door, which is not as much fun as doing it subtly.” The funny thing is, if this is part of our brave new world of consuming NFL games on TV, we’ve become more reticent, irresolute and unsettled on this side of the betting line.
If we were the betting type, we’d wager that someday, HBO merges “Real Sports” with “Hard Knocks” to craft one of those cautionary tale series, about a series of unsuspecting NFL fans who drank the free Gatorade and still can’t buy how they squandered their income, family, respectability — go ahead and pick one — with no idea about what to do next. Bryant Gumbel will ask the question: When do you think this started? We have an idea about where to find the answer: Sometime in September, 2021. Because I was led to believe it might be a fun idea.
As a reputable institute guided by decades of knowledgeable folk in the business world, USC must have weighed all its due diligence when it decided in May of 2019 to break away from its previous radio home at ESPN’s all-sports 710-AM and rush over to sign a five-year deal with talk radio KABC-AM (790) to carry its football and basketball broadcasts. It must have known this wasn’t the KABC that once had its games in the 1970s, as well as the Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Galaxy, as well as an exceptional sports-talk show hosted by Steve Edwards. Those talking the talk weekdays on KABC are a slew of conservative-based pablum, opinionated puffery that gives way to those advancing conspiracy theories, re-framing accurate information and won’t stop believing there’s a return to greatness. Kinda like the USC football team’s program. If only because of the Trojan Sports Network, we’ve kept KABC on our pre-set touch screen. Not any more. When we last punched up the station, USC had that Saturday afternoon contest at Washington State, middle of September, following the Clay Helton firing. When we arrived home somewhere in the third quarter, we parked the jalopy in the driveway and finished watching on the big screen. Fast foward to Monday afternoon, jumping back into the car to run some errands. KABC was left on. But as much as we’d like to hear all sides of a discussion, this disgusting ssault on reality was like nothing we could have anticipated. Back when USC’s decision makers (led by once Pennsylvania GOP governor candidate and athletic director Lynn Swann) decided to go in this direction, it must not only have known the station’s bent and financial demographics of its listeners, but believed they aligned with its own value system. It seemed somewhat deviant to leave an all-sports station home base that provided daily discussion about the teams on all its programming. But it does make sense now. We’ve deleted 790 from our pre-set, having found on our Sirius XM menu there’s more than often an ESPN Radio national broadcast of USC travails. The residual effect of getting a more concise down-the-middle account of what’s happening is also beneficial — Jorge Sedano and Tom Ramsey filled that role wonderfully on that particular afternoon as we went back and fourth from satellite to pedestrian feeds. USC’s alignment with Today’s KABC may be exactly what it desires. But we’ve found it to be a huge disconnect. Fright on.
Three episodes in, and already the Peyton and Eli Manning version of “The Man Show” meets the “Coaches’ Room” from the College Football Playoff championship game MegaCast have incited reaction and review that could prove to be premature jubilation. It probably won’t, so for some, it’s good to get ahead of this and lead the charge by breaking it down and connecting the dots. We get it. “Monday Night Football” is a much easier watch now that we don’t have to watch “MNF” on the regular ESPN feed. We appreciate having “O Manning Brothers: Where Art Thou?” in this parallel universe of ESPN2. But changing television? It’s not like Norman Lear is producing this. They’ve really only made an iconic sports series that ESPN has darn-near drowned come back to life a bit through Week 3, when we’re all just trying to get our bearing again.
From the first “ManningCast” (Sept. 13: Baltimore-Las Vegas) drawing about 800,000 viewers, it has more than doubled for Weeks 2 and 3 (Sept. 20: Green Bay-Detroit’ Sept. 27: Philadelphia at Dallas) with 1.86 million and 1.89 million respectively. That shouldn’t measure its new success, considering there’s about 13 million each week who’ve stuck with the main ESPN feed, perhaps fearing they’ll get a pair of “We’re No. 1” fingers pointed at them.
Progress is evident with each new week as it finds its rhythm, its purpose and its value. They figure out when and where to engage in the action versus the plausibility to allow guests to come in and not just sidetrack things but get involved in the conversation of play guessing. Last Monday’s insertion of LeBron James not only gave him the opportunity to talk about his own football career and being once coaxed to try out for the Cowboys and Seahawks, but Peyton and LeBron could relate to how difficult it us to play against a zone defense in the NFL vs. the NBA, and LeBron had the chance to predict a Dallas rushing touchdown based on how he saw the game progressing to that point.
There’s no downside for ESPN to offering this alternate free “MNF” feed. Frankly, it’s almost two years too late, considering what viewers had to once endure with the Holey Moley of Joe Tessatore, Booger McFarland and that other NFL player who was so out of sync he decided it was easier to go back and play. The current “MNF” team better suited for a Saturday afternoon SEC broadcast — Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick — have nothing to sweat (for now) as ratings bear out more will see them than the Manning Family Values feed. But if you’ve got nothing invested in either the teams or players, this is a place to watch and learn, and then ESPN can also promote the educational aspects of this on its website with stories about “what we learned” from the lecture hall.
As many in the media world already are forecasting, this will also be a training ground for either/or Peyton and Eli to take their talents to a traditional broadcast booth for a major network — especially with ESPN/ABC in line for a 2026 and 2030 Super Bowl. Keep experimenting. OK, we’ll allow that the Brofest is bro-rific to this point. And, yes, it’s a crummy time to hit pause as this Monday’s Raiders-Chargers game from SoFi Stadium is coming up. So we’ll take a break, see you back in Week 7, and see if you’ve come up with fresh ways to execute the right amount of socially distant atomic wedgies and crying to dad for a bigger allowance before we exalt any of this to higher levels.
Listen up: At the end of one-hour doc that ESPN pulled together this week to recognize the 20th anniversary of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon’s run on “Pardon The Interruption” — even though Oct. 22, 2001 is the official launch, but why let that trip things up? — Kornheiser quips: “The magic of the show is 11 words: ‘Black guy, white guy, yell at each other, love each other.'” It always was, and always has been, and any network that has tried to replicate it (including ESPN) must figure that out the hard way. It is the relationship we all yearn for, if sports has to be the platform to do it, that Kornheiser and Wilbon have made look too easy going back to their days in The Washington Post newsroom — something modern newsrooms don’t even realize they’re missing. Chemistry can’t be fabricated. Maybe that was even obvious when CBS tried to create a sit-com called “Listen Up!” based on Kornheiser in 2005 with Jason Alexander in the miscast lead role (as he was also excutive producer, with Malcolm Jamaal-Warner as Wilbon). It lasted one season and 22 episodes. Maybe someday Paramount+ will give us a chance to binge watch it and reassess its value.
If you’re a daily sports news junkie and need some context for argument’s sake, this remains a valuable barometer and should have on its resume more than just three Emmys for Daily Outstanding Studio Show (2009, ’16 and ’19). It’s a little disjointed since Kornheiser has been sequestered at home during COVID, and too often guest co-hosts jump in and reveal they are OK to lip through a topic but really don’t have the foundation the show is based on to make it more than a poor substitute. As a show, it has set a new standard with the graphic menu of topics and segment titles that gave structure to what could otherwise be something the could easily slide off the rails. Their pledge “to do better next time” is also reassuring they don’t believe themselves to be perfect. But they’re as close to perfection as they can get. Also check out the four-episode podcast hosted by Pablo Torre launching Saturday.
A better-late-than-Neverett book report in 2020 words or less: If not for Orel Hershiser’s forward or all the shots provided by team photographer Jon Soohoo, we’re not sure what else could be labeled as compelling about “COVID Curveball: An Inside View of the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers World Championship Season” scratched out by Tim Neverett, the outstandingly average fill-in TV and radio play-by-play placeholder who loves to show off his World Series ring. A “riveting inside account” is relative to how much you believe you’re getting from someone far more on the fringes trying to look in and piecing things together. Evident by basically introducing himself to readers in the introduction and going down his resume, any long-term connection to Dodgers’ followers is basically missing from this equation. In the intro, he also admits he kept his “daily chronicles a secret from the Dodgers and everyone else I worked with through the entire season so that no one would offer or withhold information, and people could operate around me without having to think that I was writing a book. I didn’t want anyone to act or do anything differently than they normally would.” In another interview, he adds: “I didn’t try to take anybody inside the clubhouse because I didn’t get there myself.” All of that can be an issue, for all involved. In an interview with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Neverett admits the content could have been far more tedious because “I was basically writing a journal, I had stories about everyday goings on around L.A. as well as a number of negative things happening in the building where I lived. My editor told me that I should focus on baseball, and I eventually agreed. He was right, I think—there’s really not a good spot for a lot of that stuff in this book. Ultimately we cut about 100 pages.” A 4,000-word essay for DodgerDigest.com might have been better digested. Using a publisher that doesn’t seem to be have a track record with such sporty things, and with an unreasonable delay in getting it out to the public until late August, it seemed like a missed opportunity to at least have it all done before the 2021 season began, or else it was ancient history to some. By the way, Neverett has never seemed to be anything but a nice, affable fellow, according to those who work with him. He has showed his serviceable worth at the end of September — always be available — when Dodgers’ top-notch play-by-play man Joe Davis had a positive COVID test and had to sideline himself for a time (he tells us he hopes to be back for the final two home Dodger games this weekend, with Orel Hershiser off until the appearances in the studio for the playoffs). In this wordsmith business, Neverett has never moved the needle past pedestrian, somewhat cliché and often lacking much in depth. It comes across in the book as well. Take it for what it’s worth — except the $28 ask might be more satisfying on a Dodger Postmates meat-less order of “Vegan Loaded Nachos” ($13.95) along with “Championship Rings” (that’s $5.95 onion rings) jammed inside a somewhat porous plastic helmet.
More on how the meritocracy of mediocrity manifests itself in the Southern California professional baseball broadcasting world: True enough, Terry Smith is finishing his 20th season on Angels’ radio (and rare fill-in TV) play by play. That’s longer than anyone has done it in the team’s 60-year history, as pointed out in a newsletter blast by media connoisseur David J. Halberstam for his Sports Broadcast Journal website. Smith, after almost the same decades-long period more suitable with the Yankees’ Triple-A organization, somehow got this gig to share the radio booth with the late Rory Markas, also hired in 2002. Markas was the primary voice, with Smith as a second fiddler, until Markas’ passing in 2010 at age 54. More notably, a third voice was added that season: Jose Mota, starting on the Spanish-language side. His versatility doing of play-by-play, analyst, sideline reporter and pre- and post-game host in both English and Spanish has been worthy of Baseball Hall of Fame recognition, with an expansion of that role this season. Mota’s 20 seasons (see his 10 paragraph bio on the team site) contains far more historical impact than that of the remarkably bland four-graphs-and-out allotted to Smith. Also note that current Angels’ TV analyst Mark Gubicza also has 20 years with the team — the first five as a studio voice, the last 15 as one of the best in the business blending well with a variety of play-by-play partners (including three new this season). At some point, a night-after-night Mota-Gubicza team on TV would make the most sense. As for Smith’s tenure, it can only be explained by the assumption he comes as inexpensively as one wants to fork out. A team well off enough to control its own radio station doesn’t seem to ever want to invest anything more to improve that area of its business. The sameness of Smith, who we’ve referrred to as the “Smithers” of sports broadcasting, will remain as captivating and riveting as his name implies. Another season of the Angels’ failing to reach the playoffs must support the team’s longterm plan of selling themselves short on the radio.
A HIGHER TOLERANCE
A warm embrace to Jaime Jarrin, who has announced it’s time to end his “vacation” and step back from his Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcasting perch after the 2022 season. As much the same way as Vin Scully showed how to step aside with class and dignity, and following the exits of L.A.’s elite team broadcasters like Chick Hearn, Bob Miller and Ralph Lawler, Jarrin has always brought that sense of connection and community for those who’ve listened to his descriptions over the decades. One of them, maybe not surprisingly, is ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza, who on Tuesday’s network telecast of the Dodgers-Padres game talked about how he was “a voice I grew up listening to … in my Spanish-speaking household, my father from Mexico listened to Jaime … one of the sweetest human beings you’ll ever meet.” His Ford Frick Award/Baseball Hall of Fame credentials may not be obvious to those in other parts of the country, but in L.A., his achievements are constantly on our radar.
We’ve known him for many years and appreciated his generosity. For those with a deeper connection, Jarrin has been called “the spiritual godfather of every Latino in media.” Scully made it to 67 seasons; Jarrin will have 64 down after next year. What other team can claim two broadcasters with those two parallel runs and now the opportunity to step aside on their own terms?
From our growing list of subject matter we felt was someday deserving of a book — and one we’d hope to have time to write – the evolution of the NFL pregame show from Point A to modern times in the TV media business was high up there. Monitoring the way CBS’ “NFL Today” launched as the first half-hour network “let’s get ’em ready” show in 1967 led to a 50th anniversary recognition in 2017, and gave us an opportunity of reliving some of that with former studio analyst Irv Cross, the ex-L.A. Rams defensive back who also just wrote his autobiography at the time. He died last February at age 81. If anyone had the unimpeachable credentials of pulling this kind of oral history together of how CBS’ “The NFL Today” raised the bar for everyone’s attempt at doing it the way it is today, it would be Rich Podolsky, and he shows it so well with his new book: “You Are Looking Live! How The NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting” (Globe Pequot / Lyons Press, 240 pages, $29.95, out Oct. 4). The sportswriter became a writer for CBS Sports programming, including this show, for more than five years and called it “exhilarating. … a dream come true,” able to go out with the crew afterward to share in storytelling and drinks. And gain valuable insight now revealed. For an excerpt, we yield to what the Sports Business Journal did recently in how anchorman Brent Musburger ended up as the one who made the call on who would replace Phyllis George.
George, hired in ’74, was the first female host on any major sports network show. After three seasons, her deal was up (although she came back from ’80-’84, then went to CBS News). Eventual George replacement winner Jayne Kennedy explained:
“There were 16 of us [auditioning] and I was maybe number 14. So I did my thing with Brent on camera and the five-minute athlete interview, and after I was done Brent stood up and said, ‘That’s it. It’s either Jayne or nobody.’ He didn’t even stay to interview the other two girls. He just left the studio.” Who were the other two, or the previous 13? We now need to know. The story continues: “Everyone — director Bob Fishman, (producer) Mike Pearl, (executive) Kevin O’Malley, and (networks sports president) Frank Smith, agreed that Jayne was their choice. ‘It was unanimous,’ said O’Malley, ‘and I remember Fishman saying, ‘You couldn’t make her look any less gorgeous if you tried.’” She thought the job was hers. Then she was told she had to wait for one final approval. ” ‘They couldn’t hire me, for fear of the Southern affiliates walking. They sent my audition tape to the Southern affiliates and asked what they thought. CBS was afraid it would be a problem because now they would have two Blacks and one white on the set. That’s when they decided to put Jimmy The Greek on the set too. That way they had two Blacks and two whites [to satisfy the Southern affiliates].’ ” Kennedy was only given a six-week contract. It was only expanded to the full year when she, through her contacts, was able to land an interview with Muhammad Ali prior to his Sept., 1978 fight with Leon Spinks. Kennedy was eventually let go with more drama and … that was how the show kept rolling forward. Podolsky has more to explain about the book when he appeared on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.”
As for more on Ali … The recently completed four-part PBS Ken Burns documentary didn’t really teach us anything news through the famed filmmakers’ filter, much like his piece on Jackie Robinson. But it’s worth having in the archives, available for streaming for those who still want to consume it versus seeing various based-on-a-true-story films or books done on Ali over the years. If you’re into the search of other things that landed this past month but are worthy of having tucked away, there’s the HBO four-part series “Level Playing Field,” which launched in mid-September and has one more episode left, available on HBO Max, produced by Vox Media Studios. HBO also gave us (and HBO Max continues to have access to) the six-episode docuseries “The 100 Foot Wave” with surfer Garrett McNamara that aired in August and has been renewed for a second season.
First things first: Yes, less could be made about this “first female narrative” that continues to come up with some twist of phrasing. Hey, it’s 2021. We’re on board. Just do it. ESPN’s remote pairing of Melanie Newman and Jessica Mendoza calling Wednesday’s phenomenal ending to the Dodgers-Padres telecast from Dodger Stadium (blacked out in the L.A. market) gave the network pause to proclaim it was creating the first “all woman broadcast team for a nationally televised MLB game” as well as “the first time ESPN has had an all-woman broadcast for a MLB, NBA or NFL game.” Put it out there in a post-season matchup, and then we’re talkin’.
ESPN had already elevated Mendoza to an MLB “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast position but then “reassigned her” (maybe it has something to do with her side job with the New York Mets?) in 2020. Last July, the MLB production of a Baltimore-Tampa Bay game exclusive for YouTube had an all-female broadcast team where Newman, who works for the Orioles, did the play-by-play. She’s also come on recently to do ESPN mid-week games. For other “female firsts” this past month, we saw the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks hire 45-year-old Lisa Byington as their new full time TV play-by-play broadcaster (with Marques Johnson) upon the retirement after 35 years by Jim Paschke. Her hiring was called “the first full-time female TV play-by play announcer for a major US men’s pro team.” Said Byington: “I applaud the Bucks for taking the first steps toward making hires like this more of the norm in the NBA. Because it’s time.” A couple weeks later came this:
Back, back, back when we were once lancing free at the Los Angeles Times, the creation of the maniacal Sports Media Misery Index was our small-but-regular check and balance on the temperature of what sort of things we learned, liked and loathed at various points in time during our media consumption. Our own dysfunctional erectile thermometer pointing true south. With the complete acknowledgment that perhaps we’ve missed this more than you did, here’s a calculated risk in trying to make a call to the bullpen and bring this back when we feel it becomes slightly necessary. Like, now. With summer all but gone, and the fantasy of football coming back to haunt us, the Sports Media Index labors into September, 2021:
A NOT-SO-LOW THRESHOLD
There is still joy in listening to Vin Scully call a game, reinforced the other day on SportsNet LA — one of those “Timeless Dodger” telecasts from June, 2016, Vin’s final season. The headline was giving us the chance to watch Corey Seager’s three-homer game versus Atlanta during his Rookie of the Year season. But we didn’t stick with it because of that. At one point, the TV camera points to the dugout. There’s the 22-year-old Seager, after one his fencebusters, sitting next to and talking with the 19-year-old Julio Urias. Scully comments, rather matter-of-factly, about how these two young men will someday lead the team to greater feats and accomplishments. As if he knew that would give us chills five years later when were to recall how the 2020 World Series played out. How does he do that? Still? With all the anxieties and imperfections and upside-down MLB decisions that keeps getting thrown at our psyche, who couldn’t use a refresher batch of a Scully Marathon. Not just to fill programming on a 24/7 channel loop, but do wonders for the soul. Sirius XM has channels devoted to the Beatles, Springsteen, Elvis and the Beach Boys (which somehow they moved and we can’t find it, just as they’ve released a new retro boxed set). They devote a channel to the Rolling Stones after the passing of Charlie Watts, and it’s brilliant to hear their songs again, to interpret the drum beats and the authentic way he contributed to their sound. The Sounds of Scully could be alone the price of the monthly RSN fees for SportsNet LA, which doesn’t seem to be doing too badly these days in its musical chairs distribution game. That said, at least during this SportsNet LA airing, there were no commercials popping up for the latest Scully-related things to knee-jerkingly consider purchasing.
Scully, who will turn 94 in November, was telling us recently that he’s doing good but a bit lonely. He’d been watching a lot of things on TV in his room — especially English soccer. A sport he says he’d have the nerve to call because “I have no idea what’s going on.” We had a nice long talk, and I posted a few highlights. Nothing on the record. Then the L.A. Times’ Bill Plaschke did his own Q&A with Scully shortly thereafter, and that’s the story, morning glory.
Last September, Scully was talked into getting a Twitter account, which could then promote the fact he was going to sell off a bunch of his memorabilia — rings, awards, golf clubs. He raised about $1 million and said the proceeds were going to charity as well as his family. All fine and dandy. But lately, something popped up called shopvinscully.com, where someone is in the process of peddling “Vin Scully merch.” It’s not clear who is behind it, where the proceeds go, or, most importantly, why it’s needed. Adult T-shirts are selling for $35 each, a youth shirt at $30 and an adult sweatshirt for $67. If only there was a small blanket we could wrap ourselves into in a time of need, but … who’d really be getting fleeced? This comes on the heels of Scully’s business manager, Dennis Gilbert, introducing him the bizarreness of selling off NFT — something of course Scully had to have explained to him.
The auction included a chance to go to a game with Gilbert in those backstop seats — Scully said he wasn’t part of the package. It topped out at $5,800. All 140 of Scully’s story about Kirk Gibson and the 1988 World Series sold out at $88 apiece. There are still less than 100 left of the original 255 of Scully talking about Sandy Amorous’ 1955 World Series catch at $32 each. How about as we go forward, pump the breaks on Scully Branding opportunities tugging at our nostalgic heartstrings — fungible or otherwise. His relationship to Twitter still draws a smile, especially when he discovered how he could personal make something trend. His participation on Twitter now is a sweet deal — it hasn’t moved to a pay tier yet, but that’s always a business plan someone might consider. Twitter is free, but still doesn’t seem to fit his personality. There is too much sniping on the social media site that forces some of us to just give it up on some days. With Vin, it’s a win-win situation to dictate a post, just to check in. But it now seems to have ulterior motives, to keep his brand fresh with hip demographics so that it can be monetized when the mood strikes. Unfollow. And, for the record: Please, no Go-Go Gilbert ideas about Vin pitching reverse mortgages or Cameo calls. Or as Vin might be paraphrased, if you want to make God smile, tell him your memory-milking schemes.
A legal-binding shot-gun wedding this past June blissfully uniting Fox Sports with Clay Travis apparently bypassed any sort objection by someone who didn’t want to hold their piece of credibility. It is a marriage of convenience — the parent company network that leans on its crutch of fact-challenged bloviation united with one who provides the same guaranteed nerve reactions in the sports world by Travis’ Outkick.com platform.
A place that really isn’t “OK” as the logo implies, and asks one immediately if they want to sign up for “facts” delivered to their inbox every morning, with the choices of “Yes, Count Me In” or “No, I Prefer Mainstream Bias.”
Give an idiot two choices, and he’ll pick the one that he doesn’t even realize proves what everyone else already knows about him. Or her. Or them. Or whatever they hate these days. This relationship’s first act of attention-grabbing anarchy is having Travis become an element of their otherwise predictably re-unwatchable (now that Urban Meyer has left) “Big Noon Kickoff,” where Clay will be traveling to Fox- and FS1-covered college football games — played in the South, speaking to his backward fan base. It starts with Georgia-Clemson on Saturday. Then to Texas-Arkansas in Week 2 and Alabama-Florida in Week 3 — complete with a tour bus with an oddly decorated photograph to attract the months.
You can just look away, as most with some sense of personal protection should. But if you enjoy the pain, check out the many disturbing facets to this farcical arrangement, which Fox explains in its press release: “Outkick is an omnichannel leader in sports, opinion, politics, and pop culture content across its radio, podcasts, online and social outlets, as well as being one of the foremost sources of sports wagering information in the United States. Further, Outkick has an incredible track record in the wagering category, serving as one of the most successful sources of referrals to FanDuel sportsbook.” In the hands of that Southern base, Clay becomes more clayful, to mould into their own NIL. Best get a vaccination shot if you plan to be within 100 yards of his coverage.
Writes man above from the South with dozens of followers. Perhaps forgive them, for they not know how far they E-I-E-I-owe Fox to continue as their beacon of hateful hope while submerged too far into their own howdy doody.
Anyone who tries to give ESPN a pass in this whole Bishop Sycamore-IMG high school football game telecast debacle hasn’t been paying to all the info dug up in the AwfulAnnouncing.com ball-to-ball coverage, with even the dubious Deadspin.com as well. It’s right in their wheelhouses.
ESPN’s passing the buck on this one is even more hypocritically and morally obtuse than anything else it has tried to bait-and-switch this past month — it doesn’t even come close to the Jump-the-shark yarn that festered to the New York Times’ radar and led to the departure of Maria Taylor because of what Rachel What’s-Her-Name told someone on a recorded phone call mess. Those who chased their own tails trying to follow on that one must realize now they were sucked into “ESPN has a pervasive race problem” narrative with something that sounds like another bad episode of “Friends” must see now that the real exploitation of some high school kids who trust adults to help them make life-altering decisions is far more tragic, and ESPN is complicit in the crime to kids predominantly of minority races.
So … what if on whatever high school games that come on this year on ESPN (with the help of its accomplices in the contracted marketing company), fans in the stands buy up and start wearing these Bishop Sycamore T-shirts. It may not be that obvious to the casual viewer, but those who know, will know, and realize that Centurions Lives Matter.
And there’s a very good reason why Tigers game analyst and Baseball Hall of Fame jackass Jack Morris won the battle for Deadspin Idiot of the Month honors for August. “If I offended you …” Maybe you didn’t. But that apology sure did. Shoulda listened to how Stephen A. Smith did his.
Bet we can wrap up the NBC Tokyo Olympics coverage in one tweet. OK, have at it:
David J. Halbertstam, a sports broadcasting industry veteran (and no relation to the real David Halberstam, author extraordinaire), has achieved a variety of roles in the business, and luckily votes on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for lifetime achievement. He decided to post a list in mid-August on his website of what he believes to be “Southern California’s top all-time play-by-play voices.” His Top 16 is topped off by Scully, Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg. He decided to wedge in Ralph Lawler ahead of Bob Miller — perhaps not our choice, but then we did push Lawler to finally get recognition in the Basketball Hall of Fame before his retirement with the Clippers, but always knew Miller was Hockey Hall of Fame material and needed no campaign (same with Nick Nickson). It starts to run out of some steam with Jerry Doggett somehow included, ahead of Tom Kelly, and Bob Starr, and Pete Arbogast … The particulars are there for debate. The beauty of lists, it must be pointed out. We all read and learn. In 2013, we did a similar exercise — the “most influential” of all time. We wanted to keep it at 10, but went to 11 to include the Raiders’ Bill King. We didn’t rank our picks, but we look back now and are pleased our choices included the likes of Frick Award winner Jaime Jarrin, Dick Lane (famed for roller derby and boxing) as well as Fred Haney, a Pacific Coast League broadcaster who influenced the likes of Enberg growing up in the San Fernando Valley. We showed Halberstam our list, which he said he’d never seen before. As long as he was impressed, we’re good. We at least could agree on another thing: Charley Steiner would likely never be on any sort of “best of” lists, no matter his length of service in the L.A. market. We actually recruited Halberstam to help us with a critique of Steiner around the 2018 World Series — when we had enough of his “contagiously imprecise descriptions” and put forth the idea that his time on the air must have been affecting his ability to do simple things, like follow the flight of a ball. Maybe it’s time soon to compare notes with Halberstam on an all-time worst list. Got any ideas?
The Dodgers’ set of media notes prior to their Aug. 27 game included the fact that Steiner, in his 17th year with the team, was announced as part of the “25th Mountain Valley Conference Hall of Fame class” as a 1971 graduate of Bradley University — a school that allowed him to buy the naming rights to its “Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication,” and notes that it is “the first named sports communication school in the nation.” He was also included in the National Radio Hall of Fame in November 2013. More power to him trying to follow the trajectory of his career from here until retirement as he tries to dream up another rehearsed ad-lib he can use on the air from his living room watching on TV if the Dodgers win back-to-back titles.
One of the newest show on ESPN’s pay-to-view platform called ESPN+ (we don’t get it, on many levels, no matter how Disney wants to us to bundle and save as if we were buying unprogressive car and home insurance) involves Mike Greenberg hosting a dramatization of some of the wacky things that can happen in sports gambling. So cool to see the promo for it during the Little League World Series, the latest step in normalizing sports wagering. C’mon, it’s all innocent fun. Just like watching 12-year-old kids on TV crying after their team loses a game in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This year, they don’t have to worry about all those foreign teams coming over to challenge them for the title. COVID says you’re welcome. Premiere channels to draw viewer money is like paying the extra $50 at Disneyland to park closer to the entrance, or giving up and finally kicking in the extra $5 a month for USA Today to read some exclusive rewrite of a press release. One can find value in it. But inch by inch, we’re watching our freedoms monetized. Because they can be, and will be, for someone else’s benefits. ESPN+ is a minus when it comes to another tier of disconcerting programming that plays into how sports channels are getting viewers comfortable with having more live events diverted onto their premium services. So just weeks after NBC laid on us an abundance of prime-time beach volleyball from Tokyo during the Summer Olympics, it recently bypassed showing any of the iconic AVP Manhattan Beach Open on its NBC network of NBCSN all-sports cable feeds (the later of which will soon fade away). Instead, it harness all the content onto Peacock streaming service — one level is free, then there are two more that run $4.99 and $9.99 a month. Notre Dame’s first college football home game of the season against Toledo on Sept. 11 (after the Irish opener at Florida State this Sunday afternoon on ABC) will be on Peacock Premium upgrade, but there is surely a lure to sign up for free just to get you situated, like the frog in the cool pot of water that doesn’t notice how the flame underneath is at a low setting so that it can get acclimated to a warmer and warmer surrounding, soon to perish under the boil. Because by that time, you’ll already be somewhat OK with an idea somewhere sooner than later that a Super Bowl can be justified worthy of a premium service stream just like a boxing event or a fantastically phony WWE spectacle.
On August, 18, KLAA-AM (830) afternoon drive talk show host Roger Lodge lost his longtime producer, James Allen. He lost a bout with COVID. The greater loss is to Allen’s wife and four daughters. A service in Whittier is coming up Tuesday. A GoFundMe page has nearly raised $50,000 to help the family he leaves behind. Please, on as many levels as you can comprehend this, do what you can to prevent something this tragic from happening to those you love. It should be that difficult.
A HIGHER TOLERANCE
Bon voyage to the good ship Jackie MacMullan, exiting ESPN’s “Around the Horn” this week on her final show Tuesday filled with a variety of really sweet tributes. She was then pit against Bob Ryan in the final segment and, of course, declared the winner. Whatever you win on that thing. Now, at age 60, she says he’s retiring.
In 2012, she was part of a story we did about the 40th anniversary of Title IX impact on women in sports journalism. MacMullen, a former Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated columnist, was fittingly the first woman to receive the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame media award
Otherwise, she still hasn’t Tweeted since June, 2011. That’s an achievement in itself. And this one still holds up.
Without the lanes paved by the likes of MacMullan, we don’t doubt there would be any sort of legitimate discussion about how someone like Mina Kines could be using her appearances on the ESPN sports-blabbering circuit to reach a point in any conversation about how someday she could legit join the ESPN “Monday Night Football” team. Not sideline reporter. As analyst/color commentator/information provider. This possibility has been on many a radar for awhile, yet it wasn’t really broached in this L.A. Times profile last September. It finally was pushed more forward during a Twitter exchange with former ESPN TV mate Dan LeBatard in early August:
There’s good reason why Kimes was given a couple of reps during the NFL exhibition season to put on her sizzle reel. ESPN allowed her to join the Disney-owned KABC-Channel 7 broadcast team of pro’s pro Andrew Siciliano and the otherwise undecipherable Aqub Talib on a Rams’ home and road contest. That first one was also simulcast on the NFL Network. There’s work to be done in the live-game shaping, but at the very least, she was never caught with her pants down on the Rams’ telecasts, never sounding like a frilly, misplaced sideline reporter who kept turning on her mike at the 40 yard line to prove she had inside info. Kimes’ development in this area, on the heels of what Andrea Kremer was doing with Thursday Night Amazon Prime streaming in 2018, continues to prove that it’s a talent that needs its reps, and reinforces how someone like an Erin Andrews has absolutely no shot at this kind of consideration no matter what network employs her despite her own feelings of import.
If a MNF crew could once sub in non-NFL types like Dennis Miller or Tony Kornheiser at various points in the show’s de-evolution, the thinking is that there would be progress in many ways if more was bestowed on Kimes, if something could be slow grilling to be ready for the start of the 2022 season opening doubleheader. When perhaps Kimes could work with Beth Mowins and possibly put that idea out there that began in 2017.
Kimes over Rex Ryan, any day. Add to that, Kimes has this story and video produced on her discussion with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert — more proof she’s got the goods.
A few more specific links to stories and other assorted whatnot that brightened up our previous August:
Like, L.A. traffic. So if you’re heading to bookstores, maybe shop online, including the independent sellers. It’s why we put multiple links with each review.
The first wave of baseball books has passed – and others dropped in unannounced – and we’re sorry we couldn’t get to them all. It’s been a challenging process to get these 30 done and whittled down in due time. The next sets will drop in the next few months. They’re also on our radar and are worth passing on for consideration:
The marketing people have called this “a magnum opus” and “instant classic) from the acclaimed Posnanski, who started his project at The Athletic in late 2019 and spread it out, announcing one player per day going forward. Normally, a list of 100 anything is more of an easy marketing pitch to get people to read it, disagree, justify and move on. But this is no ordinary Joe pulling these essays together. Whether you agree with the ranking, you’re guaranteed to be informed and entertained. George Will writes in the forward: “Posnanski must already have lived more than two hundred years. How else could he have acquired such a stock of illuminating facts and entertaining stories about the rich history of this endlessly fascinating sport?” This shouldn’t be a spoiler alert, but his top 20 are Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, then Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Oscar Charleston, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mantle, Honus Wagner, Roger Clemens, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Alex Rodriguez, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and (a tie for No. 20) Mike Schmidt and Frank Robinson. More recognizable names later include Albert Pujols (No. 23), Mike Trout (No. 27, fittingly), Jackie Robinson (fittingly at No. 42), Nolan Ryan (No. 50), Sandy Koufax (No. 70), Clayton Kershaw (No. 78), Mike Piazza (No. 89) and Roy Campanella (No. 94).
The late ESPN baseball reporter, who died suddenly at age 58 last February, left his mark on many. As a return favor, essays have been written about his impact on their career and their lives. The contributors include Jack Curry, Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, Ross Newhan, Tracy Ringolsby, Howard Bryant, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Ley, Jeremy Schaap and Keith Olbermann. (Personal aside: An essay by Brian Murphy called “Always Grab the Corks” is particularly poignant for me. I had talked to Pedro off and on about stories he was doing for ESPN. When I covered the Dodgers’ NL West clincher down in the visiting locker room at Chase Field in Phoenix in late September of 2013 — the one when the players jumped into the right-field pool — I ran into Pedro as the champagne was flowing. He had already mentioned to me how fun it is to pick up a cork and give it to someone special, so they can feel they were part of the celebration. I did just that and can’t believe — but why not? — that this was a piece of advice Pedro apparently told many in the journalism field). Profits from every purchase of this book will benefit the Pedro Gomez Foundation, which was created by Nikki Balich and Micah Kinsler for the Gomez family to honor Pedro’s legacy in sports journalism. Currently all donations are also being directed to undergraduate students completing a degree in Sports Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
The Dodgers’ backup TV and radio play-by-play man had to do games, like Joe Davis, in empty ballparks, off video monitors, not knowing what was coming day to day, and associated with a team that was awarded the 2020 championship while playing at a neutral site in Texas. Orel Hershiser does the forward. For what it’s worth, it can also be pointed out that “The Bronx Zoom: Inside the New York Yankees’ Most Bizarre Season,” by Bryan Hoch, the Yankees’ MLB.com beat reporter (forward by Gerrit Cole) from Triumph Books ($28, 240 pages) came out on June 8.
As we learned from a discussion Hensler had with Baseball By The Book podcaster Justin McGuire, the title comes from the instrumental theme song that many associate with the ending of the Mel Allen-narrated syndicated show, “This Week in Baseball,” which makes sense as you’re researching how the game reacted to this latest incarnation of the game between 1977 and ’89. The show started in ’77.
“Crowds did indeed gather, at the ballpark and in front of the television set, to watch and enjoy the national pastime as never before,” Hensler notes on page 233.
If owners predicted doom and gloom after the Andy Messersmith-led free-agency case, it seemed the opposite occurred, giving the sport more competition and parity. The Angels may have been one of the bigger spenders in this time as owner Gene Autry went out fishing for, among others, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Bruce Kison, Doug DeCinces, Ken Forsch and Bob Boone as he competed for attention in the Southern California market. But this was also a time when the Toronto Blue Jays were bolstering their farm system under Pat Gillick, as Hensler points out. There were many more competitive teams in this era. Marketing and cable TV was influential. There was little needed with expansion. It was a far more stable time. A surge of baseball card collecting and rotisseries leagues. Fantasy camps for older folks yearning for nostalgia. New ballparks were springing out of it as Janet Marie Smith, who the Dodgers recently elevated to EVP of Planning and Development after her recent facelift of Dodger Stadium, gets plenty of run here as well for her creativity put into the Orioles Park at Camden Yards as a game changer. “If Marvin Miller could be elected to the Hall of Fame in his role as the kind of baseball’s economic revolution, then the same honor is due for Janet Marie Smith, the queen of baseball’s architectural revolution who fronted the effort to construct Camden Yards. She would later take her discerning eye to other cities to apply a deft hand in construction and remodeling endeavors.” Hensler, who also did “The New Boys of Summer: Baseball’s Radical Transformation in the Late Sixities, points out that this period he covers now is when the game “grew, matured and prospered.” In the McGuire interview, Hensler also admits that he may be “showing my age … but the modern game doesn’t hold interest for me. I’m not sure what (commissioner Rob) Manfred can do. He’s tried some gimmicks, but it’s a radical turn from the game we grew up watching.”
The two-volume set comes with the American League version released in July, 2020, and the National League version due later this year. Bain, involved in baseball analytics for more than 10 years, also includes a chapter focused on the evolution of the game’s general managers and a discussion with former Dodgers GM Fred Claire.
As we did with several authors along the way, we’ve connected with Derek for a quick Q&A on his work:
Q: Where did your love of baseball take you on this path of statistical analysis and interpretation?
A: As a baseball fan since the age of 10, I’ve always been interested in the statistical side of the game. I started collecting baseball cards in the mid-1980s and spent hours pouring over the numbers on the card backs. My interest evolved as new computer baseball simulations were released every year and I played MicroLeague, Earl Weaver, Tony La Russa and APBA Baseball (among others). In particular I enjoyed modifying the team rosters and creating All-Time Teams for each franchise. Roster construction and player development has always been top of mind for me during the writing process and in my overall fascination with the sport.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway talking to Fred Claire about the job of a modern day GM?
A: Growing up I always envisioned the General Manager as the “wheeler-dealer” type in the Frank Lane mold, making quick decisions based on their years of experience and relying on their gut instincts. While that may have been the case with certain individuals, Mr. Claire displayed a willingness to gather input from his scouts, trainers, physicians, managers, coaches and others in the organization before making critical decisions. He also relied on his scouting director to preside over the Amateur Draft and his farm director in relation to many decisions regarding minor league personnel. The second edition of Hardball Architects (Volume 2 – National League) includes interviews with former Angels GM Mike Port and current Reds GM Nick Krall along with Fred Claire’s interview. My hope is that those interviews serve as a link between the modern and not-so-distant past regarding front office strategies and the use of analytics.
Q: That’s an interesting cover you created to illustrate a connection to all those in the GM field who have had experience as an MLB player. Do you think those will be far and few between as the years go one?
A: The former player-turned-General Manager appears to be a dying breed but I wouldn’t completely rule it out in the future. I would imagine that an organization would not be opposed to bringing a former player up through the front office ranks and eventually promoting them to the Executive / General Manager level.
Q: What is the main thing you’d like readers to come away with after reading your book and all its research?
A: I want to engage the reader not only with the text but also interactively with the various charts and graphs to give them a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of each team’s roster along with how the standings correlate with transactions over different periods in a franchise’s history. Although I sometimes refer to crediting a GM with making certain moves or scouting directors with drafting a player, know that many of these transactions are consummated only after a thorough review of multiple scenarios with a variety of input from employees throughout an organization.
Q: As we listen sometimes to Dodgers games on the radio here, broadcasters Charley Steiner and Rick Monday will almost never recite statistical data/SABR-created analysis because they want to be “old-school guys” and not cross over into the non-traditional numbers. It seems as if they are doing the listeners a disservice. What do you think has to do be done to entice a reader into digging in about things that are statistical-based without having them roll their eyes and think they are going to be bored since they are married to their disposition that some numbers are just going too far out there?
A: Given the amount of statistical information that I include in my work, I’m sure it’s a limiting factor as far as the percentage of baseball fans who are willing to delve into the data and really dig into the content but that’s OK. I believe that baseball fans who are not interested in all of the analytics can still enjoy the information that I present.
Q: What can of nuggets can we expect from the look at the National League coming out soon?
A: Further evidence about the talent level of the 1960’s Giants despite the fact that they only reached the World Series in ’62. Cincinnati’s policy against free agency which lasted nearly two decades with the exception of the Dave Parker signing in ’83 .. and the aforementioned interviews with Mike Port and Nick Krall.
Q: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
A: The pros are that I control the content, scheduling, pricing – nearly every aspect of the book’s release except for the royalty rate 😊 … the cons are that I’m the only one promoting my work so I’ve had to reach out to customers through multiple venues with a limited budget.
This updated paperback from the original hardback released in 2002 allows Philadelphia native Mandel to dust it off in time for the MLB “Field of Dreams” Yankees-White Sox game to come around on Aug. 12 of this year (after a postponement last year). It may also be worth going back to Mandel’s 1997 book, “Minor Players, Major Dreams” for Bison Books, where he convinced the Rookie League’s new Ogden Raptors in Utah to let him join the 1994 team and write about the experience.
An argument must be made — and fast — to get Bonds into the Hall after he’s been rejected his first eight years of eligibility for his link to steroid use. In the last vote, he received 61.8 percent (with 75 percent needed), a sizeable jump from the 36.2 percent he had in his first year of 2013. But Bonds has only one year left in the Baseball Writers Association of America voting.
The all-time career home run leader (762), the single-season home-run leader (73 in ’01), just short of 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs, 500-plus steals, two batting titles, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Gloves, and first overall in career WAR for position players (162.7) … The numbers are all there, of course.
“This book isn’t going to convince you of the author’s position if it’s different from yours,” Wee writes. “The purpose of this book is to share the lesser-known and lesser-remembered stories about Bonds, who simply wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. … Bonds, just like any professional athlete in any era, is a human being and has flaws just like you and me. …”
Sure, why not. We’ve always taken the stand that if what Bonds ever did was illegal, he would have been banned. They let him play. And this is what he accomplished. The numbers add up this Hall status, and then it becomes a talking point for dads to take their kids to Cooperstown and explain what the context of all this involves. Turn the other way, and you’re doing Bonds and the game a disservice.
It draws us back to the Sports Illustrated creation, “The Story of Baseball in 100 Photographs,” from 2018, where the emphasis was on those evocative and stunning. If that grabbed you, so should this one, although the first review we spied on Amazon.com said: “Cheap paper only adds to the disappointment of this uninspired collection of photographs, surprisingly few of which have not been reproduced elsewhere. Don’t waste your time or money on this book.” And if you’re a member of the Hall, there’s a nice discount awaiting.
A full-press examination of the all-hit, no-field first baseman who once made both 1961 NL All Star teams (in a season of 35 homers and 117 RBIs), and led the AL in RBIs and errors by a first baseman in ’63. Dick Stuart still was, in Ryczek’s assessment, “a bottomless font of outrageous quotes. He was brash, he was boastful; he was funny, and nothing seemed to faze him.” In his acknowledgements, Ryczek, who has done many books for this publisher over the years, writes: “Works of this nature are never best-sellers; most casual baseball fans haven’t a clue who Dick Stuart was or why he might be an interesting biographical subject. I like exploring areas where few have gone and thankfully there are enough of you out there with an interest in baseball history to make it worthwhile for someone to publish those more obscure but fascinating stories.” By the way: Ryczek’s research indicated that his family never called him Dike, but Rich or Richard. For an appetizer, Stuart, who also had some local fame with the PCL’s Hollywood Stars and hit his final four MLB homers while playing for both the Dodgers (in ’66, and appearing in the World Series) and Angels (in ’69), has this writeup on the SABR Bio Project.
“All of us at NBC feel certain that a World Series game played at night bears witness to the increasing popularity of sports on nighttime television,” said Carl Lindemann Jr., vice president of NBC Sports.
Since Game 6 of the ’87 Series, all have been at night.
That ’71 game was about 35 years from the first night game in MLB history — at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field when the Reds faced the Phillies, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw a ceremonial switch at the White House in Washington for the lights to go on in Cincinnati. And that was five years after they pulled off the first official try at a night game —
Something that definitely sheds new light on why there was a push to play more games after the sun set to maximize attendance and profits as well as TV viewership. On that note, we also have a heads up for “Lightning Strikes Twice: Johnny Vander Meer and the Cincinnati Reds,” by Lew Freedman (McFarland, 203 pages, to be released in October, 2021). After he no-hit the Boston Bees on the Saturday afternoon of June 11, 1938 at Crosley Field, he came back four days later and – in the first night game at Ebbets Field – no hit the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 23-year-old in his first full season with the Reds still has a record many think can rarely be matched, let alone extended, with the back-to-back no hitters. In both games, he actually outhit the opponent (with a hit of his own). His SABR biography is here.
As an extension of an exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., honoring the fashion history of the baseball-inspired uniform, the book highlights the cultural impact of the threads that are far more than representing one’s favorite team. Baseball jerseys as artwork combined aesthetics and athletics, nostalgia and modern garments.
These are the two follow-ups to Soderholm-Difatte’s previous three books, the 2015 “The Golden Era of Major League Baseball: A Time of Transition and Integration,” the 2018 “America’s Game: A History of Major League Baseball Through World War II” and the 2019 “Tumultuous Times in America’s Game: From Jackie Robinson’s Breakthrough to the War Over Free Agency.” There doesn’t seem to be a real demand for these works by the SABR member and contributor to “The Baseball Research Journal,” but they’re at our disposal regardless. The same could be said for another McFarland title, “Major League Turbulence: Baseball in the Era of Drug Use, Labor Strife and Black Power, 1968-1988,” by Douglas M. Branson (to be released in September, 2021), although it does have rather a wild cover art design.
As told by a Boston-based TV reporter, Reinstein seems interested in the story about how Boston City Councilman Izzy Muchnick persuaded the Red Sox to try out three black players in return for a favorable vote to allow the team to play on Sundays. The Red Sox got the councilman’s vote, but the tryout was a sham. Jackie Robinson was one of them. Who else fought segregation in baseball, from communist newspaper reporters to the Pullman car porters?
In his argument that the Lone Star State was the center of America’s expanding political, economic and emotional investment in sports teams, he covers the Washington Senators move to Arlington, Tex., to become the Rangers, and the birth of the Houston Colt .45s and their stupendous Eighth Wonder of the World that now sits abandoned. An author part of the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Guridy explains more here:
“Detroit Tigers Gone Wild: Mischief, Crimes and Hard Times,” by George Hunter (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, $21.99): For the only Major League franchise to sign two star player out of prison — Gates Brown and Ron Leflore – it takes a veteran Detroit News cop reporter to go over all the times players from the organization found their way onto the police blotter.
“Historic Ballparks of the Twin Cities,” by Stew Thornley (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, $21.99): The official scorer at Twins home games and an historian of Minnesota baseball for decades, Thornley goes well beyond what we know of Target Field, the Metrodome and the old Metropolitan Stadium.
“Zack Wheat: The Life of the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer,” by Joe Niese (McFarland, $29.95, 206 pages, released in Nov., 2020): If you’re still looking for the background on who is still considered by many the organization’s greatest player (1909 through 1926), holder of several team career records (games played, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, runs created), and 1959 Hall of Fame inductee, maybe the most interesting stuff is what happened to him after his playing days were done.
“After Jackie: Fifteen Pioneers Who Helped Change the Face of Baseball,” by Jeffrey S. Copeland (Paragon House, $19.95, 320 pages, to be released January, 2022): The cover shows the 15 highlighted include Hank Thompson (the only player in Negro League history to integrate two MLB teams – St. Louis Browns and New York Giants), Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, Pumpsie Green, Sam Jethroe, Minnie Minoso, Monty Irvin and Curt Roberts.
The New York Times picked up on it in 2017, and then NPR. It was about this New York Mets fan who had died in 2008 and left as his final wish for a friend to flush his ashes in every Major League Baseball public restroom while a game was going on.
It seemed appropriate to not only start the journey with the Mets, but also in Flushing, N.Y.
“I know people might think it’s weird, and if it were anyone else’s ashes, I’d agree,” said his friend, Tim MacDonald. “But for Roy, this is the perfect tribute to a plumber and a baseball fan and just a brilliant, wild guy.”
We never heard if this task flowed well to the end or if it somehow got clogged up somewhere between Kansas City and Arlington, Texas. Anyone have some verification?
We’ve reached the first day of summer, and what seems to be the last day of our annual book reviews. It started in early March and concludes here, as many of us are preparing for post-COVID, get-out-and-breathe-some-fresh-air road trips.
If baseball intersects somehow in those excursions, all the better.
A friend and I are planning to hit the road for the MLB’s Field of Dreams game in Iowa coming up in mid-August. The trip will include several side trips when there’s horsehide to be found.
If we were to start a game plan today and uphold a fan’s wishes, alive or deceased, to make a visit all 30 MLB parks, here might be some entertainment value in picking up Moon’s Baseball Road Trips guide.
In his own list of Top 10 Ballparks, Wrigley is first, with Dodger Stadium at No. 4. The Field of Dreams is among a list of “best baseball attractions” along with the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City and the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.
It becomes a very basic “how to” book for those who’ve considered such trips, but considered trying to do all 30 parks is just too daunting. Instead, section it off and tackle it in pieces. He suggests a color-coded way dividing it up by way of the East Coast, Florida and the Southeast, The Great Lakes, Chicago and the Midwest, The Heartland and Texas, Arizona and the Rocky Mountains and, finally, the West Coast – from San Diego to Seattle in six stops over 1,300 miles that should take less than two weeks if done efficiently. He’s even got it laid out for a Day 1 to Day 11 scenario that fits in a tourist day in L.A. and alternates visiting Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium around that break.
His highlights of Dodger Stadium: “It’s hard not to see Dodger Stadium (1000 Vin Scully Ave.) and immediately wax poetic about how the game is supposed to look .. It’s a deceptively simple ballpark that looks absolutely perfect.” And this was before all the renovations to upgrade a center-field front porch and navigation access to all areas.”
And of Angel Stadium: “Dodger Stadium gets all the love, but Angel Stadium (2000 Gene Autry Way, Anaheim) is arguably the most influential ballpark in America. .. Anaheim was arguably the first example of an American city that grew exponentially because of tourism … Angel Stadium may not possess the classic, unvarnished beauty of Dodger Stadium, but it’s a nice park that long ago pointed the way forward for how baseball is experienced today.”
From there are mini-stops for what the best seats are to look for and purchase (you’ll bake on the first-base side at Dodger Stadium so maybe avoid it, and club level works best at the Big A, as does the lower view MVP level in sections 411-426), how to get there most effectively, what to expect for food, if there are stadium tours available, where to shop, where to stay if you’re out of town (yes, the Super 8 on Sunset is OK), and then other sights to take in around the area, including recreation and hiking.
It’s best to pre-read this before taking any baseball-related trip, but take along as well as to not forget some of the finer nuances of where you end up.
As a bonus, there’s a two-sided pull-out map in the back – one side is a general map of the regions and stadiums to visualize, the other side is the checklist to make sure you’ve got to where you want to go and document it.
Meanwhile, in “100 Miles of Baseball,” the husband and wife team of Dale and Heidi Jacobs are itching to get out and see the baseball world. How will they accomplish it, based in Detroit, and seemingly losing some of their passion for the game?
As the title implies, the map out a way to spend the summer of 2018 hitting as many different live baseball experiences as possible. In providing a map just after the table of contents, they manage their 50 games in 26 ballparks, starting in Windsor, Ontario in Canada, directly east from Detroit.
The impetus is how baseball games with the Tigers sort of became a chore for them. They decided against renewing their 2017 season seats. What could they do instead?
The MLB visits would be minimal — Comerica Park in Detroit and Progressive Field in Cleveland. Most times, they found themselves at places like the Police Athletic League fields, minor league games with Lugnuts, college games, junior college games, secondary school games, amateur men’s leagues … whatever got in their sight-lines, even if they were still wearing mittens and gloves in late March to fight off the cold.
“I tried to maintain a connection to baseball that seemed to be slipping away,” Heidi writes in the prologue.
“As we traveled around Southwestern Ontario and eastern Michigan in the summer of 2017, I started to understand that baseball could still have a place in my life and in the life I shared with Heidi,” adds Dale.
Between March 30 and August 29, ’18, traveling more than 54,000 miles round trip and spending more than $11,000 in tickets, they saw their share of rain delays (Chapter 2), managed to hit three games in 24 hours (Chapter 3), the NCAA Division III regional tournament (Chapter 6), the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League (Chapter 13), the Under 21 Canadian Baseball Championship (Chapter 17), and even a match up of the Tecumseh Green Giants 35+ against the Tillsonburg Old Sox played at Oriole Park in Woodslee, Ontario off Country Road 46.
They are so immersed in the experience that, even while keeping a scorebook, they only know the final result was 6-4, but they aren’t sure who won.
With the idea of what would happen if the couple went to 50 games in a 100-mile radius in one summer, they came out of it even more muddled when the 2020 COVID shutdown occurred as they were finishing up the final edits.
They conclude, without giving away any spoiler alerts:
Baseball is about connecting – with people we’ve just met, people we’ll never meet again, people we know, people we love and miss. Above all, baseball, with its springtime opening, is about new beginnings, about possibility, about hope. Perhaps that’s what we miss and need the most right now.”
How it goes in the scorebook
Pretty trippy even without a GPS.
As neither are traditional baseball books that we’ve come across, both easy to manage paperbacks are interesting in their own right for how they can teach someone about the ways to approach a baseball-related journey.
“Baseball Road Trips” is more something you might expect to get at the Auto Club but with far more detail about what else there is to get to en route, going out of town, and then while you’re there. Few details are left to chance. Opinions/ratings are welcome.
“100 Miles of Baseball” allows for a mindful, stay-in-the-moment experience as the game, and life, unfolds. The Jacobs aren’t necessarily seeking information on how to get from place to place, but to be present and aware at each stop they pick. There is at times far more detail about what happens in the games — maybe some tighter editing would make it a better read, because not every play documented is essential to what we need to discover. But at the end of the day — or the end of 50 days — it is a somewhat predictable conclusion about the game’s impact on their existence. But sometimes, you just need that reinforced. Especially these days.