Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Off-Day Chatter

It's time to go back to last week and address the beer-soaked ramblings of a certain R. Russell hailing from the Old Dominion (in no order whatsoever):

1. Gabe Kapler might be the most sculpted Member of the Tribe these days (though David Beckham is 1/4 Jewish), but Hank Greenberg was a svelte stud way long before the Age of Gabe.

2. Favorite Met: Good question. After giving thought to Lenny Dykstra, Ron Darling, Al Leiter, and especially Mike Piazza, I will go with my gut here. And those who are aware that my gut is increasingly ridiculous shouldn't be surprised that my favorite Met is just as ridiculous as sublime: Dave "Kong" Kingman. When NL Cy Young winner Steve Carlton's .218 BA surpassed HR champ Kingman's .204 mark in 1982, it was just another year in the career of this glorious, lifetime .236, 442-homer hitter. But man, could he hit a long ball.

3. Rob, don't compare your recent brevity with mine. I atoned for my jet-setting lifestyle with mammoth entries that beckoned for a "Less is more" admonition. Your rare, sparse nibbles (prefaced frequently with "Not a whole lot to say about this one") were mere cameos to let us know you were still alive. That said, there was redemption in that Sierra Nevada-prompted barrage and what followed. Except . . .

4. MLC nears ever closer to jumping the shark as it mimics the once-perfect Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, or, as those in the know refer to it, ESPN. As Rob tackles politics/network news, hypes his other, non-baseball blog, and does his best Stu Scott with "Tizzle!" exclamations, this place starts to resemble the shambles ESPN has been in for some time. In truth, we're far from the widely-criticized shell of its former self (if only because we're not popular enough to be widely criticized) that is ESPN these days. Let's examine.

You can find articles in publications from the Des Moines Register to the New York Post (natch) lamenting the current state of affairs in Bristol, most heavily triggered by the decision to carve out 10 minutes of prime SportsCenter air time for five days and have musical acts perform live. Normally an extensive backlash against such an occurrence rubs me the wrong way, as people love to jump on a bashing bandwagon for lack of a creative angle. (New show: Are Jim Rome's Ears Burning?) But in most cases, folks are lashing out at SportsCenter because they used to love the damn channel, and they're increasingly irritated by what the network has become: a station who becomes more overtly corporate-sponsored and desperately ratings-hungry with each passing day. I can hear Jules request: "Example." Okay, here's one or two places ESPN has gone wrong of late:
  1. The ESPYs. Self-promoting and ultimately worthless.
  2. Cold Pizza. Hey, look, it's a Grade D Today Show on ESPN2.
  3. The Budweiser Hot Seat, Coors Silver Spotlight, etc. What is this, a public access channel?
  4. Playmakers. Even First and Ten was better, and on the right network for that stuff.
  5. Dream Job. Really, you didn't want to consider yourselves above the reality-TV sludge?
  6. Nick Bakay and his wife laying odds on the games. What??
  7. Sports-related movies on ESPN in prime time. I gave them a pass on ESPN Classic's Reel Classics, even though airing a Rocky I-V tribute about a month after AMC did it is fairly weak. But Happy Gilmore on ESPN at 8pm is laughable, and not in the good way.
  8. Sorry, no-account (to steal from Michael Wilbon) anchors imbuing the highlights with awful attempts at pseudo-clever catch-phrases. And if one seems to work, it's used ad nauseum. Ugh.
  9. Rush Limbaugh on NFL Countdown. Add a wrinkle, sure, but not big bag of wrinkles who offers no possible enhancement for the true sports fan. Come on now, you really thought it'd work out differently?
  10. Outside the Lines. Started off okay, but high school football players having trouble resisting the temptations of underage drinking and the like drift from compelling.
  11. Around the Horn. Grating, to be kind.
  12. Chris Berman. I have less of a problem with Boomer than some, including my MLC co-host, but he's undeniably a caricature at this point. Of course, these days there are so many of those running around Bristol, they ought to be on the Cartoon Network.
  13. The on-location weekend at the Magic Kingdom. Just in case the obvious Disney ownership influence had escaped you, here's a gimmicky, adds-zero-value stunt at Disney World. The Baseball Tonighters had to holler above the crowd, detracting from the broadcast in the name of . . . what?
  14. That music crap. I know I already mentioned it, but trust me, it's worth beating into the ground.
  15. And finally: Jim Rome. You can only cover up a severely limited understanding of the world of sports with hideous, overaggressive classlessness for so long, though it took the programmers at ESPN a bit longer than most.

And we could go on. There are still many fine reasons to tune in, including PTI (except when there are guest hosts), Baseball Tonight (except when Rob Dibble is on), College GameDay, and The Sports Reporters (though they miss Dick Schaap, and Lupica & Albom are about the only ones with a clue). And oh, yeah, SportsCenter is still the place to get the latest sports news and highlights. But it's so clouded with garbage these days in a blatant push to attract non-sports-addict viewers, they are alienating the rest of us. ESPN's forays into reality TV, movies, game shows, morning talk shows, awards shows, pop culture, and crossover personalities are embarrassing to the ESPN Purist -- the guy who revered the heyday of The Big Show and once upon a time would have chosen this channel if but one station were available in each household.

Because this somewhat resembles a rehash of what's already been published elsewhere, and because by dedicating this much space to something not directly related to the Mets or Red Sox I am doing exactly that for which I chastised my little friend, I'll simply offer a solution. We need an alternative. We need a small channel to spring up and offer what ESPN once provided: a sports fanatic's station. Sure, CNNSI failed, but ESPN wasn't as primed for a toppling as they are now. And please don't even mention the Worst Damn Sports Show Period -- anything with Tom Arnold as a host cannot possibly be taken seriously. The time is now. Let's see someone have a go at the big network by stealing away the purists while ESPN tries to draw the casual fans with its new style of programming. Please?

* * *

Okay, I'd better mention something Mets-related, and quickly. The roster underwent a mild face lift over the weekend. Here's what you need to know:

Ty Wigginton's in Pittsburgh, Scott Erickson's in Texas, and Dan Wheeler, Tyler Yates and Jae Seo are in Norfolk. Shane Spencer's driving out of town for good with a Traveler of Beam and sixer of Schlitz. Matt Ginter and Gerald Williams are back up from AAA, and you already know about Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano.

I'm sure Jae Seo isn't happy about his demotion, considering his . . . middling numbers (4-7, 4.86), but the rotation -- newbies' success pending -- looks solid for the first time all season. I'm sorry to see Yates get sent down, as I think he has a future in the bigs, but at least Ginter's back up. I need to send Dan Wheeler some of my old nightlife recommendations, as he may be down in Norfolk for a while.

And finally, on the MLC globalization front, we heard from Marek in Poland yesterday, as he pleaded for a reason to believe that tonight's game against the Brewers has any importance. Sometimes little things like that put it all in perspective, and at least for tonight, I'm a believer.

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