King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Curt Schilling's bloody sock revisited as Red Sox publicity stunt: Why aren't there standards for TV and radio announcers' reporting?

Published April 27, 2007 4:00PM (EDT)

Don't worry, everybody. Bloody Sockgate is behind us. Our long national nightmare is over. We can all rest assured that Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's bloody socks in the 2004 American League Championship Series and World Series really were stained with blood, not red paint or marker.

I think the lesson we can take from this incident, which shook Red Sox Nation -- forcing Hub fans to actually spend work time discussing it! -- is that I got into the wrong business. You get on the radio or TV, you can say whatever you want, and as long as it's not racist, you're good.

Feel like "reporting" a "story" based on one offhand remark made a year or two ago, with no checking of facts, no asking for comment from the person you're about to all but libel, no interviewing any of the many available witnesses or clarifying with the guy who made the offhand remark?

No problem.

That's what Baltimore Orioles TV announcer Gary Thorne did this week when he said during an Orioles-Red Sox broadcast that Schilling's bloody socks in the 2004 postseason were a hoax, a publicity stunt.

This sort of thing goes on all the time, mostly on talk radio, where hosts pretty much talk out their rear ends whenever the on-air light's on. Most of the time it's a matter of spouting opinions based on false assumptions or a lack of familiarity with the facts. But when it bleeds over into broadcasting bad information without even an attempt at reporting it out, or even outright plagiarism, in other words violating the most basic standards of journalism, the waters barely ripple.

One example: When ESPN Radio jock Colin Cowherd plagiarized a comedy bit from a blog last year, a letter about the incident was met with silence from the media professionals who frequent Jim Romenesko's forum at It was only when outraged fellow bloggers made a stink that Cowherd's theft became a story.

Thorne's comments created not just a ripple but a very brief tsunami not because of his outrageous behavior, but because he was talking about the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and you can't say anything about the 2004 Boston Red Sox without making waves.

Here's the background: Schilling took the mound in Game 6 of the '04 ALCS against the New York Yankees, the Sox down three games to two after having won two straight. He had blood seeping from fresh sutures after his ankle had been surgically jury-rigged, the skin stitched to the bone to keep a tendon in place. We will now have a nausea break.

Alrighty. So he threw seven solid innings in what became the signature moment of the Red Sox's first championship run since 1918 and one of the great baseball stories of the young century. That was the ALCS in which the Sox fell behind the Yankees three games to none, then won four straight, an unmatched feat in big-league baseball.

Schilling did much the same thing in Game 2 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He later said he threw the ALCS sock away, but the World Series sock is at the Hall of Fame.

Thorne, who really should be doing hockey right now, said on Wednesday's Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcast of the Red Sox-Orioles game that the bloody sock was a hoax. He said Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli told him in 2005 that the Sox painted the sock as a publicity stunt.

"The great story we were talking about the other night was that famous red stocking that he wore when they finally won, the blood on his stocking," Thorne said to broadcast partner Jim Palmer about Schilling. "Nah. It was painted. Doug Mirabelli confessed up to it after. It was all for P.R. Two-ball, two-strike count."

And that was pretty much it. Mirabelli hit the roof when told of Thorne's comment, calling it a "straight lie," and various other Red Sox and former Red Sox, such as current Oriole Kevin Millar, rose to Schilling's defense. Thorne discussed the matter with Mirabelli Thursday, then admitted he'd gotten it wrong.

"He said one thing, and I heard something else," Thorne said of his earlier conversation with Mirabelli to a thronglet of reporters before Thursday's game. "I reported what I heard and what I honestly felt was said. Having talked with him today, there's no doubt in my mind that's not what he said, that's not what he meant."

Mirabelli said he didn't remember the earlier conversation, but that Thorne told him that when Thorne ended a conversation by asking him about the sock, Mirabelli had said, "Yeah, we got a lot of publicity out of that."

"That was all that he could recall me saying," Mirabelli told reporters. "And he said that he just assumed that's what I meant, that it was all a publicity stunt. By no means was that what I meant."

Whatever Mirabelli meant, can you imagine a reporter for, say, the New York Times, or the Quad-City Times, or Salon, going to print with the bloody-sock-as-P.R.-stunt story based on that one 2-year-old conversation? Bruno here will stand by as you clear out your desk.

Radio and TV announcers get a pass for things they say off the cuff. Of course you don't have time to report something out or check your facts when an issue comes up and you're expected to talk about it with no notice. Obviously an announcer in that situation is going to flub up sometimes.

But this was different. This was a huge sports news story if true. Thorne disingenuously claimed to have been shocked when he found his supposed throwaway had been blown into a furor, but how could he not have known that saying Schilling's bloody sock was faked would be a bombshell?

Thorne's no bumpkin or dumb ex-jock. He's a lawyer and a fine, veteran announcer who has done national work in two sports for ESPN and has worked in New York.

When I first heard about the comments, I figured it was a joke that had gotten out of hand on Thorne, who has a reputation as something of a loose cannon behind the microphone, and who has a wry sense of humor on the air. But no. His comments Thursday made it clear he'd been dead serious about the hoax story. He'd just gotten it wrong.

Mind-boggling. Never mind not doing the easy work of double-checking with Mirabelli and seeking comment from Schilling, Red Sox officials, the medical staff and members of the '04 team, all of whom are easy to reach for Thorne. The story doesn't even pass the giggle test.

The 2004 Boston Red Sox doing something as a publicity stunt? For P.R.? Are you bananas? The 2004 Red Sox were the most publicized baseball team in the history of history. They had reporters hiding in their nose hair, cameras oozing from their pores. If you piled up the books that were published about that team just by the end of that calendar year, you'd have a really tall pile of books.

The Red Sox, or Curt Schilling personally, doing a publicity stunt would have made about as much sense as the Beatles standing on street corners and handing out fliers advertising their Shea Stadium shows. There just wasn't a need, and that's taking into account that Schilling loves attention.

No standards. I gotta get into that business. Radio and TV, here I come. I've got a great story to report: That great story we were talking about two weeks ago, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. He wasn't really black. Nah. Just had a really deep tan. Pee Wee Reese confessed up to it after. It was all for P.R.

Previous column: NBA police state

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Get a Salon Sports RSS feed.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • By Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------