Shooting from the lip
The latest from the world of televised sports ...
Blog post of the day
ESPN SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight anchor Steve Berthiaume didn’t mince words in a blog post Thursday that was splashed on ESPN.com. His first sentence said it all: "The Tampa Bay Rays must be moved.''
He went on to make well-reasoned points that are hard for Rays fans to rebut. The Rays have put a good product on the field the past four seasons but remain near the bottom of the league in attendance. Plus, TV ratings are down this season compared to last season.
Berthiaume wrote about stadium location, traffic, the struggling local economy. He wrote that he didn't blame fans for not going to games. He went out of his way to say he wasn't pointing fingers at anyone. He's not the first to suggest the Rays should move, and he won’' be the last. His blog post didn't have an angry or bitter tone.
Like I said, it's hard to argue with anything he wrote. But that doesn't mean the post didn't have problems.
For starters -- and this is inexcusable -- the photos that accompanied it were blatantly unfair and unnecessary. One showed the Rays working out inside an empty Tropicana Field. The fan blog RaysIndex.com did a little research and discovered the photo was from an offday workout during the 2008 playoffs -- a workout that was closed to the public! Another photo was from a September 2004 game against Kansas City that was moved from a 7:15 p.m. start to 12:15 p.m. at late notice because of potentially approaching Hurricane Ivan. The photo was eventually removed from ESPN.com.
It's despicable and unethical that ESPN.com would use such photos. (It should be noted that Berthiaume likely did not chose the photos that ran with his post.) And did ESPN really need to use misleading photos to make its point? Isn't enough evidence out there to show empty seats?
Next up: Should Berthiaume even be writing such a post? Everyone has a right to his opinion, but Berthiaume is not an analyst. He is an anchor. That means he is, first and foremost, a reporter. At least that's how an anchor has traditionally been defined. As a reporter, his role is to objectively report the news, not give his opinions. It's not as if ESPN is lacking analysts who would have a take on the Rays. Should an ESPN anchor try to set an agenda -- in this case, encouraging Major League Baseball to move the Rays?
Finally, it would have been nice if Berthiaume had told us where the Rays should move. This is more of a general criticism of everyone who insists the Rays should be moved. Tell us a better place for them. It's like saying a manager should be fired without offering a suitable replacement. Unless you have one in mind, it's hard to say firing the current guy is the right move.
Berthiaume's blog post wasn't the first time someone at ESPN has suggested the Rays should move. And it does seem as if ESPN is leading the charge to get the Rays out of Tampa Bay. In the end, ESPN can do what it wants. But it might have a little more credibility if it went about making its case in a way that didn't include misleading photos and analysis from a guy whose job is to report the news, not make it.
Ratings of the day
One of the more interesting items in ESPN.com's suggestion that the Rays should move was how the Rays' TV ratings have seriously dipped from a year ago. As of last month, game ratings on Sun Sports were down 34 percent, a decrease of about 30,000 households.
Last year the Rays' ratings were through the roof. In July they were up a remarkable 71 percent from July 2009, and the Rays finished among the top five in baseball in ratings, which indicate the percentage of local households tuned in.
Why the drop? One could argue this year's numbers are more in line with 2009 and 2008, and 2010 was an anomaly. Another factor: In April and May of this year, the Rays faced the Yankees and Red Sox, teams that generate good TV numbers, five times. In 2010 the Rays played them 12 times in the first two months of the season.
But the biggest factor might be the Lightning's run in the playoffs. Last year the Lightning’s season concluded April 11 and it was so far out of playoff contention that local fans were barely paying attention come baseball season. This year the Lightning became the dominant sports story in town by playing until May 27 and to within a game of Stanley Cup final.
* The best part about the Rangers and Flyers playing in the outdoor Winter Classic on Jan. 2 is the teams likely will be a part of HBO's behind-the-scenes show leading up to the game, so we'll get to see Rangers and former Lightning coach John Tortorella uncensored. That will be awesome.
* ESPN is considering adding the UFC to its network, USA Today reports. ESPN doesn’t do a lot with mixed martial arts, and nothing with UFC appears imminent. But it would be a major move for the UFC to land on ESPN.
* Comedy Central has canceled Sports Show With Norm MacDonald and Onion SportsDome after one season each. Both were averaging just under 1 million viewers. It’s too bad, because both shows, especially MacDonald's, were entertaining.
Comparison of the day
Is Jon Gruden the next John Madden? Both had successful NFL coaching careers, then went on to become excellent TV analysts. I'm starting to get the feeling Gruden likes his ESPN gig so much that he might not go back to the sideline, especially because Gruden seems to get his coaching fix working with young quarterbacks. Did anyone think Gruden would be out of coaching this long? Next season would be his third for ESPN.
Jeff Fedotin of the website National Football Post figured out just how similar Gruden is to Madden. Gruden became a head coach at age 34 and was fired at age 45. He coached 176 regular-season games and won five division titles and a Super Bowl. Madden was hired at age 32 and quit at 42. He coached 142 regular-season games and won seven division titles and a Super Bowl.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Sure, he was ticked about not getting a contract extension, but it still seems strange that former St. Petersburg Cardinals manager Jim Riggleman resigned as Nationals manager while the team is on an 11-1 run and is one of the best-looking young organizations in baseball.
2. It's odd to look at the NHL schedule and see the word "Winnipeg.'' It's better than seeing the word "Atlanta.''
3. How in the world was the Lightning's Steve Yzerman not named GM of the year?