King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Fox fires Steve Lyons for the wrong reason. Can we think of one for Thom Brennaman now?


Salon Staff
October 16, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Fox fired Steve Lyons for that?

Lyons spent 11 years uttering bad jokes and insight-free commentary on Fox's national baseball telecasts. He chattered about family trivia during crucial, ninth-inning at-bats in playoff games. He wore annoying catchphrases like "Pickin' and grinnin' at first base" to their nubs.

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And after all that, Fox decided, with at most four games remaining on Lyons' contract, to give him the ax for making a joke that if you stand on one foot and twist your neck just so, almost sort of sounds like it might have been motivated by ethnic insensitivity.

Because of the Detroit Tigers' sweep of the Oakland A's in the American League Championship Series, it turned out that Lyons would have worked only one more game before his contract expired.

I am one of those p.c. people willing to stand on one foot and twist my neck just so to find the insensitivity in a comment, especially one made on national television by an ex-jock. And I think Steve Lyons got a bum rap.

Here's what happened: In the second inning of Game 3 of the Oakland-Detroit series at Comerica Park Friday afternoon, Lou Piniella, working the Fox booth with Lyons and Thom Brennaman, said that expecting light-hitting A's shortstop Marco Scutaro to repeat his big hitting from the divisional round would be "like finding a wallet on a Friday night and looking for one on Sunday and Monday too."

Later in the inning, giving the "Keys to the Game," Piniella said the A's needed Frank Thomas' bat to get "en fuego," Spanish for on fire, rather than "frio," cold. Brennaman said, "Oh, a little español" and then, a moment later, "The bilingual Lou Piniella."

Lyons chimed in, "It's funny there, Lou's habla-ing some español there and I'm still lookin' for my wallet." Brennaman and Piniella both laughed. "I don't understand him," Lyons continued, chuckling just a bit, "and I don't want to sit close to him now!" Piniella gave a laugh and then Lyons giggled too.

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It was not a particularly awkward moment. Anyone listening would have to twist themselves in knots to not hear Lyons' joke for what it was, a clumsy, unfunny attempt to needle Piniella, not an ethnic slur. Reading the comments makes them sound worse than they sounded on the air. And remember, I'm an easily offended guy who doesn't like Steve Lyons as a broadcaster.

Was it a dumb thing to say? Well, Steve Lyons said it, so that's a clue. Should Lyons know not to combine the butchering of some Spanish with the concept of a Spanish-speaker stealing his wallet on national TV? Well, yeah, even though Piniella is of Spanish heritage, and, unlike their Latin American cousins, Spaniards aren't a particularly discriminated-against minority in the United States.

But you have to know how sensitive people like me are these days.

Still, is it a fireable offense? Considering 11 years of incompetence is not? Wow.

I know, it was Lyons' supposed third strike. In 2004 he'd belittled Shawn Green's decision not to play in a playoff game on Yom Kippur, noting that Green hadn't married "a Jewish girl" and didn't have a bar mitzvah, "which is unfortunate because he didnt get the money."

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Last week he and Brennaman childishly made fun of a device a fan was wearing on his face at Shea Stadium. Turned out the man was nearly blind and the device was a visual aid.

If Fox had said that the wallet joke was the last straw, that Lyons' general lack of skill combined with the increasing frequency of embarrassing moments caused by his poor judgment had led to the conclusion that Lyons didn't belong on the air, that would have been a little more understandable, though even then you let the guy finish out his contract, which meant finishing out the week.

But Fox's statement made it clear he was being fired "for making comments on air that the company found inappropriate." Pretty rich coming from Fox, whose news personalities rail tirelessly and tiresomely against politically correct liberals and the culture of victimhood.

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Especially when you consider that if any actual people were offended by Lyons' comments Friday, they haven't spoken up about it. Or at least I have yet to hear about it, and I've been looking.

I haven't heard of one Latino advocacy group applauding the firing, for example. A quick phone survey of several such groups Monday morning, including the National Council of La Raza, failed to raise a single person who'd heard of the incident. The administrative assistant in the NCLR press office, who told me the appropriate spokesperson wasn't available, hadn't heard of the story and said no one in the office was talking about it.

I don't know why Fox suddenly grew a sensitive soul over the weekend, but it will conveniently allow the network to point to its firing of Lyons the next time it's accused of being insensitive. Lyons, the guy it fired with one game left on his contract.

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Lyons doesn't deserve to work on national broadcasts of playoff games because he just isn't skilled enough. But he doesn't deserve to be branded a racist either.

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Thom Brennaman: Please tell a rude joke [PERMALINK]

Now that Lyons is gone, even if for the wrong reason, we can all hope that his former partner Thom Brennaman has an ethnically insensitive moment in him too.

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The thing that started the whole sequence that led to Lyons' wallet joke was Piniella correcting yet another baseball-related inanity by Brennaman, though this time Brennaman had an assist from the boys in the truck.

Fox flashed a graphic headlined, "Star power?" It had pictures of A's sluggers Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher, plus Scutaro, who improbably had a huge divisional series against the Minnesota Twins while filling in for the injured Bobby Crosby. The graphic compared the trio's big numbers in the ALDS with their combined 0-for-22 in the first two games of the ALCS.

Piniella jumped right on it: "Well, Scutaro doesn't belong in that trio. Scutaro's just your slick-fielding shortstop hitting eighth in the lineup."

There is simply no arguing with what Piniella said. Scutaro had four doubles and six runs batted in in the three games against the Twins, but he's no star.

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Any big-league player will put together a nice series from time to time. Scutaro's ALDS was a freak event. If the A's were planning on him repeating it, or even hoping for him to do so, if they were thinking of him as being a "star," anything like Thomas or Swisher, they were stupid.

Brennaman: "Well, expectations create disappointment. I mean, you drive in six runs during a three-game sweep in the division series, perhaps the A's saying, 'OK, you know, we know you're not going to do that in the next round, but a little bit of something.'"

That's when Piniella said, "That's like finding a wallet on a Friday night and looking for one on Sunday and Monday too."

In other words: That's stupid.

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