Why do we need pregame shows? I think about that question at odd moments. Like when I'm watching a pregame show, which happens seldom enough that I consider it an odd moment when I do.
I tuned in to Fox's pregame show Tuesday night before Game 1 of the Tigers-Yankees series. I should have known better, but first day of the postseason and all. I was champing at the bit.
What a waste of time! The only thing that made it worthwhile was getting to witness the veins popping out of co-host Kevin Kennedy's head as he talked about the Jason Grimsley story.
Grimsley is the then Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher whose house federal agents raided in June, turning up a cache of human growth hormone. In an affidavit related to the search, investigators wrote that Grimsley had named several former teammates as users of performance-enhancing drugs, including amphetamines and HGH, for which baseball doesn't test. The names were blacked out in court filings.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the blacked-out names were former Grimsley teammates Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons. A bombshell.
The Times report cited two anonymous sources familiar with the affidavit, one of whom showed it to the paper, but didn't let it keep a copy.
Tuesday's pregame show began not with Grimsley but with a Fox baseball music video by Audioslave, the band members rather skillfully spliced in with footage and stills of ballplayers and old-timey lettering. A complete time waster, but nicely done.
Jeanne Zelasko then led the non-music-video portion of the show with the day-old story that a prosecutor in the case had said the Times report contained "significant inaccuracies." She didn't report it that way, as a prosecutor criticizing the report. She reported it as fact: "It turns out," she said, that the report "contained, quote, 'significant inaccuracies.'"
Only if you already knew the story would you know this wasn't an indisputable fact, but a statement by a prosecutor.
"In fact," she said, "the prosecutor was told the aforementioned players would, quote, 'never in a million years use performance-enhancing drugs.'" Zelasko didn't say who told the prosecutor that. It was Grimsley's attorney. Grimsley has said the investigators put words in his mouth and he didn't accuse Clemens and the others of juicing.
So, OK, it's a he-said, they-said, everybody-said story. Nobody really knows at this point where the truth is. Except Fox, that is. At Fox, this baby's been settled and baseball's clean as a whistle. Whew! Hate to think there might be some kind of serious steroid problem in the sport we are going to spend the next month trying to get you to watch on our network.
"We are putting it Page 1," Zelasko said. Well, after the music video. "Retractions don't make headlines."
Nobody's retracted anything. All that's happened is that someone has said a story contains inaccuracies. The Times issued a statement Monday: "We take seriously that the U.S. attorney's office has questioned our story. We are continuing to report on this important subject." That's not quite "We stand by our story" but it's certainly not a retraction.
Never mind that. It was time to bring in Kennedy. He'll show them punks!
"Out of control," Zelasko continued, and hours later I'm still at a loss trying to figure out who she was saying was out of control. The media? The investigators? Grimsley? Ami Dolenz? "A little head-hunting at this point on Pettitte and Clemens?"
"Yes, of course," Kennedy huffed. "And you know what? It's always anonymous, too. And you know what? You're anonymous because you're gutless and you're not sure. If you've got proof, put your name to it. That's all I've got to say."
I know. I was confused at first too. But remember, the sources who showed the Times the affidavit and confirmed its contents were anonymous.
Now, I don't expect Kevin Kennedy to understand the nuances of journalism or even civics. And you know what? I don't even expect him to understand the nuances of baseball. This is a guy who thought having Jose Canseco pitch was a really bright idea.
But "because you're gutless and you're not sure" is not the only reason for a source to be anonymous. Sometimes a source puts him- or herself at risk by giving information to the media unless he or she is anonymous. Without anonymous sources, important stories might not get told. Important whistles might not get blown.
Watergate wouldn't have happened without Deep Throat. The BALCO case wouldn't have happened if not for the anonymous coach who sent a dirty syringe to investigators.
The process is certainly ripe for abuse. Most famously, Janet Cooke of the Washington Post used anonymous sources to write a story that won her a Pulitzer Prize. She had to give it back when it was revealed she made the story up. USA Today and other publications have banned their use, and not without reason.
But Kennedy's Broderick Crawford routine, barking that anonymous sources are only anonymous because they're "gutless" -- he looked like he was ready to challenge this Anonymous guy to a fight -- was just buffoonery. What a clown.
To get back to my original question, of course we don't need pregame shows, at least not the kind of thing we're getting from Fox before postseason baseball games. Various NFL pregame shows offer various levels of highlights, commentary and analysis that both hardcore and casual fans might or might not find interesting.
And I've said before that TNT's NBA studio show, the one with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, is the best show on television, and I don't mean the best sports studio show. I mean the best TV show.
But all Fox is doing with its nearly content-free pregame baseball show is stretching the prime-time coverage by 20 minutes or so, the better to sell advertising with.
The 14-minute show Tuesday included that one-minute, 55-second music video, which was both a commercial for Audioslave and a house ad for the baseball coverage, plus 5:15 of more traditional ads. So that's about 50 percent advertising.
In the seven minutes or so in between, Zelasko and Kennedy showed highlights of the other two games and discussed Grimsley and a couple of other news stories: the Orlando Hernandez injury and the start of the managerial firing season, both of which could easily have been covered between pitches during the game. Plus there was a short but still dull feature about Alex Rodriguez's difficult season.
And then Joe Buck and Tim McCarver took over for three minutes, followed by three minutes of commercials, and then the first pitch at 8:20 EDT. That would have been a nice pregame show. A three-minute set-up, a set of commercials, and let's go. That's how ESPN does baseball.
There are two kinds of people who might see Fox's pregame show. Hardcore baseball fans, who are going to have their intelligence insulted by Fox's inch-wide, millimeter-deep coverage, which includes clear non-baseball-fan Zelasko's cliché-filled contributions, and casual or non-fans looking to get up to speed, which Zelasko and Kennedy won't help them do.
If Fox were really trying to provide worthwhile content rather than stretch the baseball game to sell more advertising during "the baseball game," it would be honest about the pregame show. It's common for local broadcasters to say something like "Airtime is 7, first pitch at 7:10, and don't forget the pregame show at 6:30." Fox's nod to the truth is to say, "Coverage begins at 8."
Fox's schedule says the baseball games start at 8 p.m. EDT, but if you tune in at 8, you'll get, "Welcome to the Chevy MLB Pregame Show on Fox." Do what I do, usually: Tune in at 8:20.
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NHL season begins [PERMALINK]
Did you know the NHL season begins Wednesday night?
I know there's tradition to think about and everything, but can the NHL think of a worse week to start its schedule? The baseball postseason is in full frenzy, with two or three games a day, plus college football and the NFL are just starting to heat up.
But hey, here comes the NHL with a splashy Wednesday night open. Opposite playoff baseball.
Nothing but good would result from the league cutting its regular season by at least a dozen games -- I'd vote for about 40. And one of the positive effects would be the season starting in November, when, even with the NBA starting at about the same time, there'd be a little more room in the sports media.
No league needs to make a splash more than the NHL, and no league starts its season with such stealth.
Previous column: Playoff preview
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