IS ESPN BEGINNING A DOWNWARD SPIRAL? MAYBE

The so-called “World Wide Leader in Sports”, ESPN, is starting to feel the pangs of success.  Once considered the only all-sports network, ESPN is now competing with other sports entities and the pressure is being felt.  Within the past 10 days or so, John Skipper…President of ESPN…began laying off employees…over 100 of them, so far!  The fact that a major corporation is laying off hundreds of employees is not the story here.  What the story is: how ESPN is doing it.  From what I have read and heard, ESPN basically told the affected employees, “Nice to see you, thanks for your service, now goodbye!”

Secondly, it appears as if ESPN is not following the basic Corporate rule of “last one hired, first one fired.”  Some of the employees who were let go have been with the network for several years:  Ed Werder, Andy Katz, Danny Kanell, Jayson Stark (WHAT??!!), Ron Jaworski, Doug Glanville, and Jim Bowden are among those who were let go.  Yet, newcomers like Mike Golic, Jr., were retained.  With all due respect to Mike Jr., he should have been the one to go instead of, say, all the others!

What was really incredulous was what Ed Werder tweeted…he said that after ESPN told him he was being laid off, they asked him to stick around for the NFL draft!!!

In addition to all of those employees who were laid off, some long-term employees are going to experience significantly reduced roles.  Ryen Rusillo, Karl Ravech and Hannah Storm will have fewer assignments…perhaps, in a effort to get those veteran announcers to leave on their own.

There have been other personalities who have left “The Mother Ship” as Dan Patrick refers to ESPN.  Patrick left almost ten years ago in order to pursue other opportunities.  He has his own show, “The Dan Patrick Show” and has been quite successful since breaking out on his own.  Colin Cowherd left ESPN for Fox and has also enjoyed much success.  Other personalities to either leave ESPN or retire (perhaps before being laid off) are:  Chris Berman, Mike Tirico, Erin Andrews, etc.

Not only are employees being let go, ESPN is saying goodbye to a couple of long-term programs.  The Sports Reporters, a long-running Sunday show featuring four veteran reporters trading barbs and stories, is going off the air after this Sunday’s show.  The show was anchored for a long period of time by the late John Saunders until he passed away. Mike Lupica tried his very best to fill in as host but the program is still going off the air.

Then, it has been announced that the long-running morning show, “Mike and Mike”, featuring Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic, is going off the air after over 18 years of being together.  Greenberg is going to host a “Today Show”-type television morning show and will be joined by Sage Steele.  With all due respect to Ms. Steele, not having Greenberg and Golic bantering back and forth is going to be a severe loss to morning programming.

With the news of the demise of the above two shows, could “The Sports Reporters” and “Pardon the Interruption” be far behind?  And…oh, by the way, do people really like watching Dan LeBatard, his Papi, and Bomani Jones, all scrunched together in one small place?  If they were any closer, they would have do use much more deodorant!

So, why did all of this happen?  My purely unprofessional opinion is that ESPN simply got “too big for its britches”.  They flipped one successful network into:  ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPNU, not to mention ESPN Classic.  They had too many employees to begin with and it is now taking its toll.  I mean, do you really need five people previewing the NFL schedule on Sunday mornings?  Do you really have to have three people on Baseball Tonight?  Does every football game need two to three people in the booth…and two sideline reporters?

So, apparently, Mr. Skipper is going to try and get leaner and meaner.  The only problem, if all of the good on-air personalities are gone, who is going to be watching the shows?

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MLB WANTS TIES IN BASEBALL…AND I DON’T MEAN BOW TIES!!!

          There has been a lot going on in major league baseball as Commissioner Rob Manfred looks for ways to “speed up” baseball games.  One way to speed up the game was put into place at the beginning of the season…streamlining the intentional walk.  Now, instead of pitchers going through the motions of throwing four pitches way outside of the strike zone, managers just get the attention of the home plate umpire and signals that he wants the batter to be intentionally passed.  The umpire says, “Take your base” and the batter trots down to first.  There is no recourse for the batter…at least, not yet.

Now, there are reports going around that MLB wants to have games end in ties, after a certain amount of extra innings.  The reasons for this are:  (1) Games don’t go 15, 16, 17 innings or longer and the games don’t last 4, 5, or even 6 hours.  I am “old school” and my response for MLB wanting games to end in ties is a paraphrase that Tom Hanks…playing Manager Jimmy Dugan in the classic movie, “ A League of Their Own”…spewed out:  “THERE’S NO TYING IN BASEBALL!”

Supposedly, another reason for wanting to end a game after so many innings is that a game that goes 16, 17, or 18 innings would put a tremendous tax on a pitching staff.  Case in point:  On April 13, the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins played a 16-inning game before the Mets finally won out. In that game, the Mets used eight pitchers and the Marlins used nine pitchers.  It did not help that neither starter in that game lasted past the fifth inning.  Also, it needs to be noted that two Mets pitchers…Josh Edgin and Jerry Blevins…lasted one-third of an inning and two-thirds of an inning.

The idea of not having enough pitching is a load of rubbish.  All 30 MLB teams currently have 12 pitchers on their active rosters.  There are 16 teams that are carrying 13 pitchers.  And managers believe they don’t have enough pitching?  Are you kidding me right now?  Perhaps if managers used pitchers to face MORE THAT ONE BATTER, they would not have to worry about not having enough pitchers.

So, how to solve the dilemma of games going too long:  One solution could be the 26th player rule currently in place.  Right now, if a team has a game rained out, they have the option to bring up a 26th player when that game is made up…usually a spot-starter, who comes up to start one game of the doubleheader and then goes back to the minors.  Perhaps, MLB could extend that rule by saying that if teams play a game lasting 12 innings or more, they have five games to bring up an extra pitcher to be available for the next game or so.  That way, managers could rest some of their bullpen.

Secondly, MLB could look into the “international tie-breaker” rules where a runner is “placed” on base after a certain amount of innings are complete.  This is what I do with my Strat-O-Matic table-top baseball game.  I play one extra inning…the tenth inning, like any other normal inning.  If the game then goes to the 11th inning, each team is allowed to place a runner on second base to start.  The runner would be the batter who made the last out of the previous inning.

If neither team scores in the 11th inning, then two runners are placed at first and second base.  If the game goes to the 13th inning, I place runners at second and third.  Using this plan last season, none of my games lasted past the 12th inning.

The international tie-breaker would force managers to use different strategies…the hitting team would have to decide whether to try and sacrifice the runner to third; the fielding team would have to decide whether to intentionally walk the next hitter to get a chance at a DP.

Whatever strategy works the best, MLB CANNOT have ties in baseball! Many old-time managers and players would roll over in their graves!

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ESPN FALLING FROM GRACE

ESPN, dubbed “The World Wide Leader in Sports”, has begun and continues a slow and steady fall from greatness.  Deaths, resignations, and terminations have turned the once-powerful network into one that is struggling to maintain its identity.

The decline began in 2005, when Robin Roberts, host of Sports Center, left ESPN for ABC and “Good Morning, America.”  Two years later, Dan Patrick, host of “The Dan Patrick Show”, told his viewers that he was leaving, effective August 16, 2007.  Nowadays, when Patrick refers to ESPN on his current show, he call it “The Mother Ship”.

Fast forward to 2012, with football analyst Erin Andrews leaving ESPN for rival Fox Sports.  After Andrew’s departure, ESPN began taking some major hits, starting January 4, 2015 when Stuart Scott died of cancer.  Later that year, in June, it was announced that Colin Cowherd…longtime morning show host, would be leaving ESPN to join Fox Sports.  Cowherd promptly began taking shots at his former employer and was asked to leave before his departure date.

In April of last year, Mike Tirico, the voice on Monday Night Football ever since ESPN began broadcasting the game after moving it from ABC, announced that he was leaving for NBC sports.  Tirico shared some of the host duties on Sunday Night Football this past football season and broadcast some games when the network gave Al Michaels some time off.

Another death stung the network on August 10, 2016, when John Saunders died in his sleep.  Saunders wore many hats at ESPN, including studio host during the college football season, and the host of “The Sports Reporters”, which aired on Sunday mornings.

When the curtain fell on the 2016 NFL season, ESPN announced that Chris Berman, who has been with the network since its inception, would no longer be doing the NFL Sunday pre-game show AND NFL Prime Time.  Berman will be doing other things for the network but his absence from these two critically acclaimed shows will be noticeable.

A couple of weeks ago, ESPN announced that the long-running morning sports show, “Mike and Mike”, would be ending as Mike Greenberg will be hosting a new morning sports show.  Greenburg, and former NFL player Mike Golic, had been doing their show, now going on 17 years.  Their show was highlighted by the two performing several stunts, including betting their “Sheets of Integrity” for the NCAA College Basketball tournament.  The loser of their bet had to do some wild things…Golic had his body “waxed” on live TV; Greenburg had to milk a real cow!

Another show will be falling by the wayside as “The Sports Reporters” will be ending soon.  Mike Lupica had successfully transitioned over to full-time host when Saunders died, but the show will not be going on.

There were other less-known attritions:  Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds (who was accused of sexual harassment) going to the MLB channel; Skip Bayless leaving “First Take” for a similar sports show on Fox; Brent Musburger just announced that he will be doing his last play-by-play on January 31; and so on and so on.  ESPN head John Skipper is probably thinking that the network is big enough to withstand all of these moves.  He had better hope that it will.

 

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TRAGEDY STRIKES MLB AGAIN…AND AGAIN!!!

Major League Baseball suffered two gut-punches this past Sunday, not even four months after losing one of its top young pitchers in the game…Jose Fernandez.  This time, the double blows came from the Dominican Republic.  Former major leaguer Andy Marte was killed in an auto accident at the age of 33.  While the Dominican Republic authorities were trying to collect information on Marte’s crash, news trickled in that 25-year-old Yordano Ventura, starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, was also killed in an automobile accident.  Ventura would have been leaving for Spring Training in about three weeks.  Talk about a one-two punch!

MLB has been no stranger to tragedy over the past 27 months.  Fernandez, the 24-year-old flame thrower from Cuba, died in a boating accident on September 25, 2016.  He was having a banner year…a 16-8 record with a 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts.  Fernandez probably would have generated quite a few votes for the Cy Young Award.  The Miami Marlins pitcher had made 76 starts for the Marlins from 2013 through 2016.  He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2013 and had recorded 589 strikeouts in those four years.  His statistics would have been even better had Fernandez missed almost all of the 2014 season by undergoing Tommy John surgery.  His Marlins teammates honored Fernandez by donning his #16 jersey for a game at Marlins Park.

In 2104, the St. Louis Cardinals lost a top prospect, Oscar Taveras, who was 22 when he and his girlfriend died in a car wreck.  Taveras was also from the Dominican Republic.   He appeared in 80 major league games for the Cardinals in 2014…batting .239 with three home runs and 22 RBI.  He was chosen as a minor league All Star in 2012, playing for Springfield, an affiliate of the Cardinals.

Marte, born in Villa Tapia, had been considered a “can’t miss” prospect when he signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2000.  He played nine years with Atlanta, Cleveland and Arizona.  On December 18, 2005, Marte was traded from Atlanta to Boston for infielder Edgar Renteria.  Then, on January 27, 2016, he was flipped to the Cleveland Indians in a six-player trade.  Marte appeared in 80 major league games twice…in 2008 and 2010.  He had a career MLB average of .218 with 21 home runs and 99 RBI.  In the minors, Marte hit 20+ home runs four times and had a career-high 105 RBI in 2002.

Ventura exploded onto the MLB scene with his debut on September 17, 2013.  The following year, he was starting for the Royals in the 2014 World Series and then won a World Series ring with Kansas City in 2015.  In all, Ventura made 93 starts in the majors and recorded double-digit wins in his last three seasons.  He was 38-31 with 470 career strikeouts.

So, is there anything that connects any or all of these deaths?  Tragically, there may be…and it is: alcohol.  It was reported that Taveras had a blood alcohol content of 0.287 which is six times the legal limit for the Dominican Republic.  Ironically, Ventura—starting game six of the 2014 World Series—wrote on his hat “R.I.P. O.T. #18 as a tribute to his fellow countryman.

Fernandez was not only intoxicated, he had cocaine in his system that led to the boat crash that killed him and two friends.  He, most certainly, was on his way to becoming one of the top pitchers in the major leagues.

It will be at least three weeks before we find out whether Marte and Ventura had been drinking…one thing was confirmed:  Ventura was not wearing a seat belt when he crashed.

Hopefully, other major leaguers will learn something from these two tragedies.  First of all, don’t drive while intoxicated…take a taxi or have someone drive them home.

 

 

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PENN STATE IMPLODES; LOSES ROSE BOWL GAME THEY SHOULD HAVE WON

Penn State had all the makings of a story-book finish to their 2016 season and a return to prominence after several years of heart-break. Coach James Franklin had led the Nittany Lions to their best record since 2009 and were 15 minutes away from a “fantastic finish” to their season Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down as a result of one measly interception.

The Nittany Lions had finished their season on a nine-game winning streak.  There was quite a bit of grumbling among college football pundits when Ohio State, a team that Penn State defeated en route to a Big 10 championship, was selected for the College Football Playoff and the Nittany Lions were not.

They led the USC Trojans by 17 points going into the fourth quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl.  Penn State was the best college team in the nation in fourth quarter scoring…they rolled a big fat ZERO in this one!  What’s more, Penn State sophomore QB Trace McSorley, who had passed for 254 yards and four touchdowns, was trying to lead his offense into position to kick a game-winning field goal…then came: THE PASS.

McSorley floated a pass toward junior wide out Chris Godwin, who had already hauled in nine passes for 187 yards and two TDS, including a 72-yarder.  As McSorley would later be quoted as saying he “…forced the pass, trying to win the game.”  Unfortunately for McSorley and the Nittany Lions, he also “telegraphed” the pass and USC Trojan safety Leon McQuay III stepped in and intercepted the pass and returned it to the Penn State 30.  Seconds later, USC kicker Matt Boormeester, who had missed two field goal attempts, booted the game winner to cap an improbable comeback.

What was even more heart-breaking for Penn State is that the pass that McSorley threw before the interception was also “telegraphed” and McQuay had his hands on that one but dropped it.  So, why would McSorley try the same type of pass and have disastrous results?  It is a question that Penn State fans will be asking the entire off-season.  Again, refer back to what McSorley was quoted:  he forced the pass.

So, while the Nittany Lions will be lamenting what could have been, Trojan fans will be celebrating their nine consecutive wins and looking forward to a 2017 season that could net them 11 or 12 wins.

 

 

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USC-PENN STATE ROSE BOWL GAME AN INSTANT CLASSIC!

The wild affair that occurred in Pasadena yesterday at the Rose Bowl immediately goes into the record books as one of the top five all-time great college football bowl games.  Numerous records were set and, when all was said and done, the USC Trojans outlasted the Penn State Nittany Lions, 52-49, in a game that lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours.

Nobody will ask me, but I list this game as the third all-time greatest game in college football history.  The number one game was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona when the upstart Boise State Broncos stunned the legendary famous Oklahoma Sooners, 43-42, in overtime.  It wasn’t so much that the Broncos won the game…that would have been enough of a shocker.  It was how they won it.  Trailing the Sooners, 42-35, Boise State pulled a trick play to score a touchdown and pull to within one point of sending the game into a second overtime.  Broncos coach, Chris Petersen, decided he wanted to end the game right then and there.  Using the old “Statue of Liberty” play, the Broncos caught the Sooners napping and won the game.

Second on my list of top five games is the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC.  That is when Longhorns QB Vince Young scored a touchdown on the final play of the game to give Texas a 41-38 win over the Trojans.

Last night’s game goes down as number three.  USC trailed Penn State, 49-35, going into the fourth quarter.  The Nittany Lions were the best team in college football scoring fourth quarter points.  The Trojans defense not only shut them down, they shut them out!  Matt Boormeester, the junior place-kicker for USC, had missed two field goals that would have made the game a lot less exciting.  He got redemption, however, as he drilled the game winner from 46 yards out to cap an unbelievable comeback.

Number four on my list was the 2003 BCS championship game where Ohio State defeated Miami of Florida, 31-24, in double overtime.  The game was tied, 17-17, at the end of regulation.  Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime.  There was a controversial pass interference call that led to the second overtime when Buckeyes RB Maurice Clarett scored to give Ohio State the lead.  Miami had a first and goal but could not score the tying TD and the Buckeyes prevailed.

Finally, the game that is forever being called “The Chicken Soup” game:  the 1979 Cotton Bowl (certainly a classic!) between Notre Dame and Houston.  This was the signature game for Irish QB Joe Montana.  Because of unusually cold weather in Dallas, Texas (the city had its worst ice storm in 30 years), the Cotton Bowl game was adversely affected.  Montana had the flu and remained in the locker room at half time and, supposedly, had a bowl of chicken soup.  He rallied his health and came back out to lead the Irish to an improbable 35-34 win over the Cougars.

Well, those are my top five college football bowl games of all time.  I would love to hear what yours are!


 

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MEJIA’S BAN FROM MLB A BITTER BLOW TO A TALENTED ATHLETE

I always have to shake my head and cluck my teeth when I read about talented professional athletes waste their gifts and exit a sport before getting chance to reap the treasures of a productive career.  The latest to fall from grace is relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia of the New York Mets.  Mejia, a 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has been suspended from major league baseball permanently for his third strike of testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs.

Mejia said, in an interview, that he is going to appeal the suspension.  “It is not like they say, Mejia was quoted in a local paper.  “I am sure that I did not use anything.  I will appeal…win or lose, I have faith.  I have to clear my name.”  Mejia went on to say, “…I will take this case to the bitter end.”

That may be, Jenrry, but the fact of the matter remains that you tested positive…not once, not twice, but THREE times for Boldernone, an anabolic steroid used for Androgen deficiency disorders, and Stanozolol, used to decrease pain and increased joint discomfort.  This probably stems from the fact that Mejia was recovering from right elbow surgery he had performed in July, 2013.  He appeared in 63 games in 2014, but then began experiencing discomfort in the same elbow.  In April, 2015, Mejia was placed on the disabled list because of right elbow inflammation.

The first suspension handed to Mejia was on April 11, 2015.  He was given an 80-game ban for a first offense.  Then, on July 28, he tested positive again and was suspended for 162 games.  That means Mejia would not have been able to pitch in the big leagues until July 28 of this year.  Even in the middle of the second suspension, Mejia was expected to be tendered a contract for whenever he returned.  Finally, last week, Mejia tested positive for the third time.  Now, he is banned for life.

It is a shame that Mejia and his representatives could not let the injury heal itself.  Now, after five pretty good years in the MLB, he is gone for good.  Mejia would have been arbitration-eligible after the 2017 season.  He made over $500,000 in salary for the 2015 season…now, he will make $0.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, Mejia will be able to apply for reinstatement after two years.  That will give MLB plenty of time to decide what they can do…since Mejia is the first major league player to receive a lifetime suspension.  Alex Rodriguez got a one-year ban; so, this will be uncharted territory for MLB to explore.

For now, though, Mejia probably just needs to concentrate on letting his elbow rest and, perhaps, begin a throwing program later in the year.  Let’s hope that whoever is handling him does it the correct and proper way.

 

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