“Sunday Night Baseball” loves Chachi

ESPN bringing Steve Phillips into the booth with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan is the oldest trick in TV land, and one of the worst.

Topics: Baseball, Paul Shirley, ESPN,

ESPN announced this week that Steve Phillips will join Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in the booth of “Sunday Night Baseball,” the network’s signature baseball telecast.

There had been rumors during the postseason, denied by ESPN, that the network was about to break up the 19-year pairing of Miller and Morgan.

Instead, the four-letter has turned to the oldest trick in the long-running TV series book: It’s brought in Cousin Oliver.

Phillips is the new kid, introduced to give a little goose to a program that’s gone flat, that has — if I may use a catchphrase that has MySpaced — jumped the shark.

Steve Phillips is Seven on “Married … With Children.” He’s Olivia on “The Cosby Show.” He’s Chachi.

I’m not sure the show needed freshening up — I mean “Sunday Night Baseball,” not “The Cosby Show.” But I do know that Phillips is just the guy to not do it. The former New York Mets general manager has been with ESPN since 2004, working some games but mostly on the panel of “Baseball Tonight,” where he’s provided a steady stream of reasons for the other 29 teams not to hire him.

Notwithstanding the moronic mock press conferences “Baseball Tonight” used to present, with Phillips impersonating the G.M. of the featured team each night, he has never given viewers a reason to believe he was ever a general manager, has never offered evidence that he gleaned any insights or inside knowledge from his years running the Mets.

His signature moment, for me — and in the interest of full disclosure I should say I have missed a lot of Steve Phillips moments on ESPN — was his confident statement in July 2006 that the New York Yankees should trade Alex Rodriguez, dump him, get rid of him while the getting was good. Rodriguez was having a down year — for him, that is: He ended up with a .915 OPS and 35 home runs. And he was in the midst of an ugly slump.

“His play won’t come back,” Phillips proclaimed. “I think it’s time to move him before it’s too late.”



TV executives are always yammering on about how this or that broadcaster is just like a guy you might watch the game with on your couch at home. Why this is supposed to be a good thing is beyond me. If I wanted to hear what a guy sitting on my couch might say about a game, I’d talk to the guy sitting on my couch.

Guys who can sit on my couch and say dumb stuff about sports are not scarce. I’m one of those guys myself. It’s nothing, trust me.

But even the guy who sits next to you on the couch would have been smarter than Phillips that day. He’d have said, “You don’t dump one of the greatest players of all time when he’s in the middle of a slump, you dolt. That’s called selling low.” That’s the kind of insight and insider knowledge the guy on your couch gleaned from playing rotisserie baseball when he was supposed to be working.

Over the next week or so Rodriguez had four two-hit games and a three-hit game and he put up a .975 OPS the rest of the year. The next season he hit 54 home runs and won the MVP, with daylight second.

There’s an online cottage industry devoted to hating Joe Morgan, and he can be awfully frustrating to listen to. His ESPN chats, which the late Web site FireJoeMorgan.com made its bones dissecting, reveal how little he actually watches or thinks about baseball. He can be hostile to new ideas, and while he has a sense of humor, which the excellent Miller adroitly draws out at times, he can turn dour and humorless when something offends his sensibilities.

All that said, I like listening to Morgan for the same reason I like listening to Bill Walton comment on basketball: There just aren’t that many chances to get the point of view of guys like that. That’s because there aren’t many guys like him in the first place. Morgan is right there with Rogers Hornsby as the greatest second baseman of all time.

Guys like that, scarce as they are, are even more scarce in the booth. They tend not to take announcing gigs. In my lifetime the only players anywhere near Morgan’s caliber who did it were Tom Seaver and Reggie Jackson, neither of whom did it for long. I’ll put up with some pontificating about how things should be and some lobbying for Dave Concepcion’s Hall of Fame candidacy to listen to Morgan talking about the playing of the game.

Now I’ll have one more thing I’ll have to put up with to get that. The new kid with his insight-free ramblings. Steve Phillips. Chachi.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>