ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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ESPN Thinks You’re Stupid

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In The Simpsons’ Halloween special Treehouse of Horror III, Bart Simpson finds a Waldo book in the library. He opens it and finds that there’s no “where” in Waldo as you can see below.

Bart then says in reference to the unhidden Waldo, “He’s not even trying anymore.”

That’s how I feel about ESPN’s latest display designed not to entertain or inform, but to treat you—the reader—like an idiot and use your interest in Bryce Harper and the Yankees to generate webhits.

Webhits = advertising dollars and it doesn’t matter how they’re accrued.

You can read the piece entitled “First Pitch: Bryce Harper, future Yankee?” by Andrew Marchand although there’s not much of a point since there’s nothing much to read. In fact, it’s a colossal waste of space.

Harper grew up a Yankee fan.

Blah.

The Yankees always have the money to go after the players they want.

Blah blah.

Harper might want to be a Yankee.

Blah, blah, blah.

Maybe the Yankees will be willing to give Harper Cliff Lee’s old locker from his time as a Yan..kee…um…wait…

Oh. Yeah. Lee didn’t want to sign with the Yankees.

By the time he’s a free agent—if he’s a free agent—Harper might be a mature young man whose first priority is making as much money and/or the best deal possible and signing with the team that provides that rather than indulging in some adolescent fantasy to be a Yankee.

Why did ESPN publish this? I’ll tell you why: There are certain names that generate automatic webhits. Bryce Harper is one. Tim Tebow is another. LeBron James, Billy Beane, Tiger Woods. They’re obvious. ESPN has been a trendsetter in the mania with their market research. It’s not entirely their fault. They’re giving the public what it’s asking for by doling what’s desired—no matter how worthless—to their customers. But while they’re doing this, they can’t call themselves a “sports news” organization and be serious about it. The mixing of athletes and the “reporters” who are supposed to be covering them with objectivity has blurred the line between the two until we’re at the stage where we expect this type of sludge and don’t blink when it’s presented without even a pretense of genuine sports reporting and analysis.

For every quality person they hire to write or broadcast for them they have ten others whose resume is built on faulty premises of having worked in the front office of a team or because they’re a former athlete; whose work is sycophantic, amateurish and designed for public consumption at the expense of legitimate sports news.

I don’t blame Marchand or the ESPN personalities. They’re told what to do, whom to talk about, what to write and are nudged into disagreeing with one another to create “interesting” televised debates.

I guarantee you Marchand was instructed by an editor or a boss that they needed a Harper/Yankees connection in advance of the matchup between Harper’s Nationals and the Yankees in Washington. Of course he could’ve done it a little more smoothly and with less blatancy. But he’s following orders.

It’s not simply a matter of providing content to the public. It’s a matter of providing content to the public that is utterly vapid. Once it’s clear that the webhit accumulation is paramount and all it takes is the inclusion of one of the above-listed names to get what they want, quality work is one of the last things on the checklist before publication. That’s how you wind up with rapidly diminishing credibility and wind up where ESPN is now.

Harper may never see free agency; the Nats might sign him to a 10-year contract sometime next season to prevent just that eventuality; he might not be available to the Yankees; if he is, it’s seven years from now and the Yankees—really—might not be the attraction they are now.

It’s ridiculous to speculate on now.

But none of that matters to ESPN. What matters to ESPN is the number of hits they received and if it was a topic of conversation. Whether or not anyone read, liked, laughed at or believed the story is irrelevant.

If you keep indulging them, they’re going to keep doing it.

It’s a systemic problem and as long as you, the reader, partakes in it, it won’t stop.

But if you like being made into a fool, so be it. Click onto ESPN. They’ll give you what you want. They’ll give you your fix.

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Cashman’s Personal Life Is Not Our Business

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Has Brian Cashman ever sat in an interview and uttered such advertising-centric inanities as “my family is my rock” or other some such nonsense that Tiger Woods used to say about his wife and children while he was conducting multiple affairs on the side?

Does Cashman claim to be living under the vows of Catholicism or whatever religion he happens to be adherent to and extol his virtuous behaviors with sex only used within the bounds of Holy matrimony and, even then, for procreation and nothing else?

Is he, in part seeking public validation of being a “good” person, by saying he was a virgin as Barry Sanders did years ago and failed at it as he had a child out of wedlock; as Tim Tebow is doing now and, as far as we know, sticking to it?

Are Cashman and his girlfriend on the cover of US Magazine like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie talking about whatever Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie talk about on the cover of US Magazine?

What’s that you say?

You don’t care about Brian Cashman’s personal life because he’s neither a star athlete nor a Hollywood luminary?

That’s exactly the point.

Who cares about Cashman’s affairs?

Believe me when I tell you that one of the last things I want to be thinking about is Brian Cashman doing whatever it is he does when he’s not general managing the Yankees.

Apparently Deadspin does think and care about these things—link—as they’ve gone to the level of visiting his former mistress, examined a pair of pajama pants as if they’re on a level with Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress…

***I’ll pause while you go get yourself a cold drink and try to keep from throwing up.***

…and played a phone call from Cashman to the woman in question (“Lou”) in which his tone is eerily similar to what I imagine he sounds like when he’s calling a rival GM and attempting to trade for Sergio Mitre.

This is a man who basically grew up under the influence of, functioned and survived in the amoral and haphazardly run dictatorship known as the George Steinbrenner Yankees.

The most impressive thing Cashman has done in his 26 years with the organization was to keep his job.

It’s not as if his image is being sullied or he’s being cut down and exposed as a hypocrite—he never espoused to any “I’m better than you because of <X>” rhetoric. He’s not particularly likable; doesn’t have much of a personality; and, if anything, this humanizes him and makes him look more like a normal person than some dead-eyed corporate menace who, if he weren’t in baseball, would be a middle-to-upper-middle managing lawyer or accountant who you wouldn’t notice until you came face-to-face with him while riding a packed subway at rush hour.

The only things people are interested in with Cashman are the types of moves he makes on the field with the Yankees.

Was he carrying on these affairs while wooing CC Sabathia to re-sign with the Yankees without venturing into free agency after his opt-out? Did his girlfriend(s) accompany him as he went to talk to the representatives for Hiroki Kuroda? Was he in one of their apartments while negotiating with the Mariners for Michael Pineda?

If yes, so what?

This doesn’t affect his work as the peccadillos of Steve Phillips did while he was the Mets GM because the Mets—due to Phillips’s inability to control himself (it was a recurring life-trend)—were under threat of a lawsuit for sexual harassment. That was the business of the media because it was part of the way the Mets were being run.

But this?

Deadspin is trying to become the TMZ/National Enquirer of the sports world. While the audio tape, pictures and story will yield a few extra webhits (probably a lot of extra webhits), it’s like rubbernecking during a fender bender. It’s a minor distraction that’s not influencing nor hurting anyone.

So who really cares?

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Professional Wrestling, 21 Jump Street, Then Golf

Media, Players

I don’t follow golf, but if I did I doubt I’d be any more than scarcely aware as to whom the individual players’ caddies are.

I remember the Puff guy from Tiger Woods’s first Masters victory, mostly because of his mustache, but apart from that, they’re caddies—I would assume they’re like quality service in a restaurant: attentive, professional and only noticeable if they’re not doing a good job.

Prior to the past few months, there were several “Steve Williams” higher on my radar.

There was the late former professional wrestler and Oklahoma University football player Steve “Dr. Death” Williams who most famously (to me) wrestled the same night he’d received 107 stitches in his eye in a match earlier in the day.

There’s also the fine character actor Steven Williams who played Captain Fuller in 21 Jump Street and was Mr. X in the X-Files among many other roles.

Now I know who Steve Williams the caddie is.

In case you missed it, the caddie Williams—who engaged in a public spitting match (almost entirely on his end) after Woods fired him—made a comment regarding Woods that wound up adding to his reputation as an obnoxious, self-centered, bitter and arrogant jerk.

Receiving a caddy of the year award in Shanghai, Williams made the comment comment, “I wanted to shove it up that black arsehole,” in reference to Woods after he was questioned on his silly behavior after assisting his new employer, Adam Scott, to a win in another tournament.

I don’t think it was intended as a racist comment.

It was just stupid.

Is Woods not allowed to fire an employee without being subjected to continued vitriol for making that decision?

And how is this going to help Williams’s career? Is he looking for a book deal? To aggrandize himself? Does he want “revenge” in a Homer Simpson, bridge-torching sort of way for Woods having employed him and presumably paying him lucratively?

Does he want lay-golf-people to know that he’s the “golf Steve Williams” and not the wrestler Steve Williams or the actor Steven Williams?

Well, he’s accomplished his goal if that’s the case.

Someone needs to tell the golf caddie Steve Williams to carry the bags and keep his mouth shut. That’s if anyone wants him to carry the bags anymore at all.

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