Will Leitch apparently caught some heat in the blogs recently (I say apparently, because I read Deadspin but not all the bloggins by the dozens out there) for getting a chance to tell Scott Van Pelt exactly how he'd change ESPN on Van Pelt's radio show and responding only with a few joke answers. Leitch was there to talk about sports bloggers and their relationship with the ESPN empire, why they, as Van Pelt put it, seem to think they'd be better off without it (radio clips available here from Awful Announcing). I think sports fans, never mind bloggers, watch tons and tons of ESPN because it's ESPN; it has all the highlights and news and a great many of the nationally televised games. We like watching ESPN, but we're keenly aware of its many failings, because how can we avoid them? Maybe Leitch could have thrown a few serious answers in there just to finally get them voiced on an ESPN property, in this case ESPN radio. I think we can all rattle off five or six things off the tops of our heads that would make the Worldwide Leader eminently more watchable. I know I can.
How I would fix ESPN:
Baseball Tonight: Rehire Harold Reynolds. Fire Steve Phillips (he'll be okay; he's been there). Keep John Kruk around for entertainment value but slash his airtime. More Peter Gammons and Buster Olney. And please, please, no more out of this guy:
SportsCenter: You know what? Keep the nicknames and catchphrases, even the terrible ones. Get rid of each and every contrived, gimmicky game and human interest spot. The Hot Seat, Who's Now?, My Wish, et al. If you do that, I'll forgive every other sin. I mean it.
Baseball broadcasts: Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Where do I start? I'll say this: The two have a genuine chemistry together that makes them at least pleasant to listen to as a sort of white noise, if you're careful not to listen too closely to what they're actually saying. I respect that Morgan is old school, but why is he unwilling to take any other perspective seriously? Why is the way he and his team played the only right way to play baseball? Why doesn't he even bother to try to understand other smart baseball peoples' opinions, even if he still disagrees with them? Time for some new blood: Hire Gary Cohen away from SNY to do play by play and pair him with a rotating two- or three-man rotation of competent color guys who have different perspectives, whether that means old school, new school, no particular school, whatever. Al Leiter? Orel Hersheiser? I'd say Joe Girardi but he'll probably go back to managing sooner than later.
Basketball: Just don't even get me started. Just don't. Although here's a good teaching moment: The only good national broadcast of a sport that I watch (so we're talking about baseball, basketball, and the occasional tennis match) is TNT's basketball broadcast, from the studio show (Kenny, Ernie, and Charles) to the A-game (Marv Albert's) team to the B-game (Mike Breen's) team. There isn't a lot of dead weight anywhere to be found in TNT's broadcasts, unless Magic Johnson or Reggie Miller is involved. Let's just leave it at this: ESPN's basketball broadcasts are very nearly the polar opposite of TNT's. And they're the ones who are supposed to be the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Pseudosports: I'm going to call NASCAR a pseudosport because it's my blog and I can say whatever the hell I want. Arena football? I don't expect a lot of arguments calling the AFL a pseudosport. Poker, too. Putting arena football on the news scroll and showing highlights on SportsCenter only reduces their credibility in the eyes of anyone who actually bothers to worry about ESPN's credibility. Anyway, they're only treating it like a real sport on their highlight shows because they have the broadcasts, which is pretty lame.
There's more. Much more. But I feel like that's a good, concrete list that I'll hold onto in case I ever find myself of the Scott Van Pelt show.
Since this is such a negatively toned piece, why not end on a positive note. I love Pardon the Interruption with Wilbon and Kornheiser. I actually like having morning radio guys Mike & Mike on ESPN2 when I'm getting ready for work in the morning (why? I don't know. They've grown on me, I guess). I like that they've let TrueHoop be itself even after acquiring it recently. And of course there's the aforementioned Gammons and Olney, as well as a handful of other magazine and web site columnists. And then of course there's Bill Simmons, who knows more hoops then most people who cover hoops (or at least as much) and who every sports blogger copies from.