Sports Media Musings: The Best & Worst of 2013

My New Year’s resolution includes a re -commitment to write here more consistently, as in multiple times a week. In order to do so, I’ll need help from you guys, the BSMW community — so send along tips, jokes, articles, or angry missives either to my email – [email protected] – or, if you fancy yourself the progressive type, Out There in the Twitterverse (@Hadfield__). Either way, I’ll be back here with more media chatter and the like on Thursday.

THE BEST & WORST OF SPORTS MEDIA IN 2013

Today: A simple exercise, in which we review the good, the bad, and the Shaughnessy; taking you into a fragmented holiday work week (seriously, Christmas and New Year’s Day on a Wednesday is the worst, right? Right.).

A valuable disclaimer: I did not include the beat reporters in this list; news is news, and while it’s nice to consistently have your name in first place on the imaginary scoreboard of who broke what story, ultimately, the news – not the person – is what matters. (Unless, of course, you’re wrong. Then, you matter. Pretty thankless value proposition.)

BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY AND/OR COLOR ANALYST

Mike Gorman, CSNNE: In the middle of a recent broadcast, Gorman had to explain plus-minus (+/-) to Tommy Heinsohn. Related: Mike Gorman works with Tommy Heinsohn on a regular basis. That alone gives Gorman this award while running away from the pack. The NBA game has changed drastically over the years, but Gorman has been able to keep up every step of the way.

Honorable Mention: Jack Edwards, NESN

BREAKOUT ANALYST

Alex Speier, WEEI.com: For the informed, Speier’s prolific work is anything but new – he’s been doing this since WEEI.com revamped their website in 2008. His profile, however, was rightfully raised this last season, evidenced by his all-too-seldom appearances on CSNNE’s “Sports Tonight.”

To his credit, even as the line between reporter and analyst is increasingly blurred, Speier tells us what he knows, not what he thinks. To that end, the former Harvard debate team member is anything but caustic in his analysis, instead relying on hard data for his insights and a friendly demeanor to cultivate sources, particularly at the minor league level, where his work is undeniably the best in the city, if not all of MLB.

Overall, it was a great year for Speier. While his talent still isn’t used nearly enough on the airwaves of 93.7 FM, the Senior Writer of the dot-com side of WEEI’s operation still cranks out his “Down on the Farm” show and manages to work well alongside Rob Bradford and other personalities for podcasts. Speier also appeared on a memorable podcast with Jonah Keri that ran on Grantland during the Sox’ postseason run, in which the two champions of sabermetrics and advanced statistics discussed the importance of team chemistry. While now dated, it’s still worth your time.

Honorable Mention: Erik Frenz, Boston.com; Matt Chatham, Boston Herald

BEST PERSONALITY

Tom E. Curran, CSNNE.com: Personalities need to write. Like it or not, this comes down to branding. (Did I just Darren Rovell all over myself? Great, I need to shower.) Writing helps reinforce a stance in a clear way that’s not confined to a 15 second spot on a television show, or diluted in a four hour radio program.

Case in point: If you’re not enjoying Tom E. Curran’s work on CSNNE.com, his WEEI appearances, and across other CSNNE’s programming, I don’t know what to tell you. He’s likable and funny — and not in a forced or awkward way. More importantly, he’s honest. He’ll go after those in the media who go after him (*FELGER*), and he’ll applaud those whose work should be praised. He’s not a homer or a contrarian; he’s what Shank pretends to aspire to, without being an elitist about the whole thing: an observer.

Mind you, Curran isn’t Bill Barnwell or Aaron Schatz . He won’t use advanced statistics or run Monte Carlo Simulations, but he manages to impress sound logic to the conventional audience, while covering the most polarizing team in the city, through a balanced perspective aided by basic statistics that are easy to comprehend. Believe me, it’s an invaluable skill.

Honorable Mention: Kirk Minihane, WEEI (Kirk, start writing again). While we’re here, WEEI may have had their struggles, but how about the attempted takedown pieces levied at them, and other in the local sports media, this year … Minihane undressed Alan Siegel on a podcast in the aftermath of his uneven piece about the dire state of local sports media personalities in Boston magazine this year. Then, the third wheel on the “Dennis and Callahan” morning show, helped do the same, both in print and on the air, to Callum Borchers for his poorly conceived hatchet job of the radio station in the Boston Globe.

Now, I’m not bringing up either to laud Minihane – or defend WEEI, for that matter – but, rather, to raise the question as to why neither Borchers or Seigel could defend their reporting or analysis? Oddly, both had holes in their stories, but the process should have been cake; either way, these two came off as rather pathetic in both instances.

WORST PLAY-BY-PLAY AND/OR COLOR ANALYST

Scott Zolak, 98.5 The Sports Hub: Say what you will about Edwards’ strange post-game monologues – and there is plenty to say – but they rarely take away from the broadcast. Zolak’s “WHERE’S THE BEEF CALL?!” did exactly that. And no, “Toucher and Rich,” it’s not that I’m “taking sports too seriously,” I just think that there is a way to call a game that appropriately captures the excitement of the moment without sounding like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch circa 1994.

Honorable Mention: Tommy Heinsohn, CSNNE

WORST PERSONALITY

Before giving my pick, I need to work this out in my head. On one hand, you have a dude like Eric Wilbur, who has taken trollin’ to Baylessian Levels. This is a guy who wrote the following statements this year …

Following the Browns win:

It’s OK, Pats fans. It’s OK to laugh at yourself, get frustrated when things don’t go the right way, particularly against the likes of the Cleveland Browns. It’s OK to have a sense of humor about things, and even more apropos, a sense of humility.

It’s OK to show emotion other than when reciting the Kraft Pledge of Allegiance. It’s OK to question the status of a quarterback and head coach who both haven’t won a Super Bowl in almost a decade. It’s OK to wonder just why in the hell you’re running the ball with a minute left, down by 12.

Because of drivel like this, I won’t remember the Patriots’ run as an unprecedented decade-plus of consistency, but rather a period where we actually diminished the value of regular season wins based on – I don’t know? Style points, I guess? Still, it’s worth nothing that Wilbur isn’t the only person guilty of throwing this type of garbage against the wall.

Here’s another gem:

Was it interference or not? Who cares? It was a bad pass. End of discussion.

I imagine Wilbur’s had a car accident at one point in his lifetime, and I picture the discussion developing like so: “Who cares that I ran a red light?!? You were going 10 miles above the speed limit!”

Wilbur also recently hypothesized that Rob Gronkowski’s venture into film in his upcoming role in the “Entourage” movie could be a tipping point as far as distractions go. Last spring, he ripped the David Ortiz contract, because the slugger got two years from the Sox, and insisted that the only reason Papi was still around was to sell tickets.

Here’s the thing, though: I think Wilbur is a really good writer who can put together an entertaining piece … he just tries too hard to identify what will get him clicks and attention and – ultimately – relevance. That, coupled with his relative obscure visibility, detracts from his candidacy atop this list.

Michael Felger and Tony Massarrotti’s strange crusade against the media this year makes them likely candidates, particularly when they questioned Mike Reiss’ reporting for reasons that remain unclear, but I don’t think listeners take the duo seriously enough anymore. They’re entertaining radio, full of salacious discourse but that’s about it.

Gary Tanguay flipped out a few times. That was fun. But he is too goofy to care about. Plus, the hair is a feat of itself.

Let’s be real, you knew how this game was ending before it began. If nothing else, Dan Shaughnessy made waves this year, and that’s why he’s your winner (and I mean that in the worst possible way). Look, we don’t need to rehash the issues with his much-discussed column about the staples of solid commentary: TELLING IT LIKE IT IS. In the end, we should be grateful that Dan took the time to share with us his mission, his plight; and that he addressed something that really needed to be brought to the forefront.

Writers should be objective and care only about the story at hand, not the subjects. Journalism 101, everyone.Shank did well with the Terry Francona book, but his cohorts, who rallied around him after his TRUTH TELLER COLUMN, need to remember why Shank is terrible and he sucks.

To properly understand why we say this requires one to peer back to the beginning of the year and recall the unnecessary, self-serving insertion into the Texans-Patriots Divisional playoff game. This, readers and media members, is why Shank sucks. Because Dan claims to be a neutral observer WHO CARES ONLY ABOUT THE STORY! … oh, right – and also someone who occasionally interjects himself into the storyline itself. What a joke.

Not to mention, he was a jellyfish during his self-defense of that debacle, quipping “I don’t know football” to a Houston radio station. Well, that’s great — good thing we established your incompetence as a sports columnist who doesn’t “know sports.”

Congrats, buddy. 2013 was your year, a swan song of sorts; shine on, you crazy little diamond.

As always, thanks for reading. @Hadfield__ 

  • bsmfan

    Ryan,

    I think the Borges co-written article in RS deserves some consideration on the “worst of” here:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/the-gangster-in-the-huddle

    Borges “participation” in this was basically just an alternative vehicle for him to trash the team. The article was 80% reciting known facts/evidence from other publications, 10% Borges injecting his own hatred for the team, and 10% “new” things but single-sourced. We can discount it a little because RS has been a joke and irrelevant for a while. But, like many of these “big” pieces, after the initial 24hr buzz, it was forgotten.

  • Political_Memory

    While you are mostly on point with your observations, I totally disagree with your comments on Zolak. I never listen to his mid-day show, but because I drive around a lot on Sundays, I end up listening to the Patriots on the radio quite a bit. Although he is occasionally full of histrionics after a big play (which are the ones that get replayed the following day on the radio), he is by far one of the most knowledgeable in-game commentators on the Xs and Os of what is occurring on the field. He often calls plays (or what broke in a play) well-before any chance for a replay and almost always identifies the penalty prior to the officials announce why the flag was thrown. I truly think you are letting personal animus (fed by his daytime talk) color your perception of Zolak as a pure football analyst. He is one of the best (and certainly not the worst).

    • Oswee Larvey Hald

      Couldn’t disagree more. He says more per game than play-by-play man Bob Socci. Seriously. Think about that. It just shouldn’t be. Add in the fact that in the most crucial moments of games he is deliberately dropping frat boy style in-jokes so that he and his sports talk radio buds have something to riff on for a few days, and the guy loses all credibility.

  • Mgar6577

    I was going to disagree with the Zolak pick, but when thinking about who is worse, it is really hard to pick anyone else. Do you want to pick on an elderly Tommy ? probably not. Jerry Remy? With everything that has gone on in his life the past 5 years, it is understandable. The other sports color and play by play are all more then solid. So i get the Zolak pick by default but give him some credit. Take away the stupid end of game calls and he does bring a lot of great football understanding.

    • Homer Greenz

      Remy sucks, I hope they fire him and hire Eck on a full-time basis.

    • bsmfan

      Each time Remy has had some fill-in from Eck or another person, people have said (here and elsewhere) how much better it is. Couldn’t agree more. I get that he’s loved, and NESN/local brands like that. He’s got no problem being a homer and the personality has loyalty. Would he be missed in the end? I don’t think so.

      Also, Remy has the whole thing with his son going on. I know NESN gave him the rest of the year off but if they were to transition to someone else, now is the time. Does NESN bringing him back mean they support spousal abuse? Not at all. You know this connection will be made. At the same time, it also brings unnecessary attention to something that could be avoided.

      On the Celtics/Tommy thing, it seems like people are afraid to criticize him because he’s ‘royalty’. Gorman is a pro but it’s sometimes hard to listen to CSNNE, when you have a choice, because Tommy spends half the game screaming at the refs. Outside of that, he spends a lot of the time comparing modern players to guys who played in the 60s, whom I assume 90% of the viewers don’t know and don’t care. Compare it to the road feed when PJ Carlesimo is cool, calm and tells you what’s going on, much like an ESPN telecast.

      Both seem to have this ‘shield’ because of who they are, and none of criticism thrown their way has anything to do with it. Outside of the fans who would hammer you for saying anything bad, I don’t even see an honest critique beyond the occasional Finn ‘oh replacement person does great work’. Which, obviously, is a compliment to the fill-in but when it happens often enough, I consider it an implicit endorsement that the person being filled-in for is expendable.

  • smack_libs_around

    This observation is probably a fact: Shaughnessy’s rage and bitterness stems from the fact that former colleague Bob Ryan is revered and respected by fans while he is not. And for having that belief, You, ‘The Customer,’ are always wrong. You are to be discounted and mocked for your sports-loving enthusiasm. When you go to work with a ‘Customer Is Always Wrong’ attitude, you get what you deserve: You get locked behind a 99-cent paywall.

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      I don’t think Shaughnessy has any rage, just pure cynicism. In fact, i think the edge of passion/anger in Ryan’s work is what has made him an effective and respected columnist. CHB is a lot of things (including patronizing to readers), but he ain’t angry, at least legitimately.

  • DryHeave

    on Eric Wilbur: “That, coupled with his relative obscure visibility”

    yes, this clown is easy to ignore. The only reason I know he exists is some Patriot fans will mention their disgust for him in tweets and BSMW will point out his super trolling ways from time to time. I have my limits. From what I’ve heard this guy is so over the top with his trolling it’s ridiculous. In fact I just wrote way too many words about him, just amazed the globe actually pays him money for such nonsense.

  • Homer Greenz

    1. Zolak describes television replays, during the radio broadcast, as if his audience is entirely made up of television viewers. He’s good for about 10x to 20x of these moments per game. Is this done with intent, do they have data that proves there are fewer pure radio listeners than people watching CBS with the sound off?

    2. Yesterday Zolak and Socci, 1x for each, called the end of the SD-KC game twice in a span of 5 minutes. As in, “The game is over, the Chargers have won!” “Oh wait, no, the game isn’t over.”

    3. Socci knows the common name of exactly one offensive formation, trips.

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      He must also know the wishbone from calling Navy games, but that’s not coming up in the NFL.

  • Andy Dursin

    The problem with Zolak is him trampling over Bob Socci’s play by play calls in critical spots. Those soundbytes get played over and over and they’re basically everything you’re not supposed to do as a color guy — he doesn’t let Socci even describe the play, instead he’s reacting to it. It’s terrible radio.

    That said, I like Zolak, and I agree with other comments here: he’s actually an astute commentator and one of the best football broadcasters in this market. He just needs to tone down the shtick in a big spot, or else he’ll continue to be a running joke like the bad color guys he and Gresh often rip apart on Mondays.

  • Homer Greenz

    “Mike Gorman, CSNNE: In the middle of a recent broadcast, Gorman had to explain plus-minus (+/-) to Tommy Heinsohn.”

    And how did Tommy react to the explanation?

    • bsmfan

      His reaction?

      He screamed at Joey Crawford for calling a foul on Jeff Green and missing one from an opposing team’s player.

      He then reminisced back to the 60s where none of this would have gone on.

  • Oswee Larvey Hald

    I honestly have no idea who Eric Wilbur is.

    • the_other_side

      You are better off for it. I know he works for the Globe because the Globe, Boston.com, and Ben Volin constantly retweet his drivel. I’ve clicked one link. That was too many.

  • the_other_side

    IMHO, Zolak is one of the better color analysts on NFL or college football radio broadcasts. However, that may be an indictment of football radio analysts than it is an endorsement of Zolak. I hear a lot worse when I’m driving around, listening to Sirius or the NFL app. Most guys are nothing but cheerleaders, Zolak can break down a play and describe it to you. He also does a decent job with the Bellistrator segment on Patriots All Access. He knows the game, but should calm down a bit. Also, though, let’s not forget. This is his first year with Socci. Give them a chance, how long had Gil and Gino been together?

  • Andy Dursin

    One big indictment with Remy is that Don Orsillo sounds so much looser and relaxed when he’s working with Eck. He actually sounds like an entirely different broadcaster — for the better. The problem with Eck is that he’d never do full-time for NESN — he’s got an MLB Network gig and, more over, doesn’t want to work every game in the first place. I think the best way for NESN to go forward — if Remy doesn’t return — is to find a revolving door of analysts much like Michael Kay works with on Yankee YES games. It might be trial-and-error process — and PLEASE NO NICK CAFARDO — but that might be the best way to go.

  • bsmfan

    If you need an update of how big most industry awards are these days:

    “Peter King 2013 NSSA National Sportswriter of the Year”

    http://nssafame.com/2014/01/01/emrick-king-win-2013-nssa-national-awards/

    Do these people even read the columns?