1. Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, ESPN reporters: Investigative reporting is hardly a glamorous endeavor. Where sports columnists and television personalities are the gliteratti of the profession, most reporters who specialize in muckraking rarely see the klieg lights of Pardon The Interruption or the seven-figure salaries of Kornheiser-Wilbon Inc. But such reporters are invaluable when it comes to the collective gravitas of a news organization.
To bolster its fledgling multi-platform investigative unit, ESPN made a pair of splashy hires this month with the additions of New York Daily News ace Quinn and BALCO stud Fainaru-Wada, a San Francisco Chronicle sports reporter and co-author of Game of Shadows. The two will work on stories featured on Outside The Lines, SportsCenter, among other entities.
"It was not an easy decision at all, because I very much consider myself a newspaper person," Quinn says, "but the idea of creating a team using ESPN's resources was really intriguing, and the idea of working with Mark was terrific incentive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a world of difference between what TV pays you and what newspapers pay you. You hate that to be a deciding factor, but I have three kids. That alone isn't enough, but it pushes you in that direction."
Both reporters signed two year-deals, and though they are known for their coverage of BALCO, they plan to delve into subjects beyond steroids.
"As much as BALCO is the story that gives and keeps on giving, and I am looking forward to covering the Bonds indictment however it plays out, I can't wait to start working on something different," says Fainaru-Wada.
One good sign: Both pledged during an interview with SI.com that they have no plans to appear on Around the Horn. And, yes, we have that on tape.
2. Knicks beat writers: In this terrific New York Observer piece, those poor, tired, huddled masses otherwise known as the Knicks beat reporters pulled down the wall on the team's Soviet-like attempts at controlling the flow of information. Some readers might argue a group of people paid to cover professional basketball have no right to complain. To that I say, hogwash. Beat writers have the toughest job in sports journalism.
Howard Beck (New York Times), Marc Berman (New York Post), Alan Hahn (Newsday),and Frank Isola (New York Daily News) deserve a key to New York City, not only for enduring this gulag, but for speaking out so that Knick fans can see the Wizard behind the curtain. "I'm so glad I'm not there," a former Knick beat writer e-mailed me this week. We hear you.
3. Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star columnist: From Charlie Parker (who was born there) to Count Basie (who played there) to Ernest Hemingway (whose journalism career started there), Kansas City has always attracted world-class artists, and the country's current best daily sports columnist also resides in the heart of barbeque country.
Along with Posnanski's work in the Star (The Associated Press Sports Editors recently named him the country's top sports columnist), he recently added this entertaining blog to his portfolio. "I would say the blog is whatever happens to be going on in my goofy head that day," he says. "Often it's about baseball because I love baseball, but it's also about other sports, pop culture, whatever I happen to be reading, family stuff -- I'm trying to say that I really don't know what it's about. The only really defining feature of the blog is that the posts are almost always excessively long."
But worth your time. Here's the e-mail exchange I had with Posnanski for this piece.
4. Jim Nantz, CBS Sports announcer: Nantz channeled his inner-Nostradamus prior to the Pats-Colts game and came away looking like a genius. Said Nantz: "I think it's going to be a 20-something rating." CBS posted a 20.1 final Nielsen rating (33.8 million viewers) for the game, the highest-rated regular season Sunday afternoon NFL telecast on any network since a Fox-aired Cowboys-49ers game in '96. In that spirit, I'll predict Nantz will tell me why the Masters is the greatest sporting spectacle at least 50 times next April.
5. Frank Caliendo, TBS and Fox comic: Most of the industrialized world became familiar with Caliendo and his many impressions after ads for his show Frank TV ran during baseball's postseason with the frequency of a commuter train. "Whether you liked them or hated them, [the spots] became a story," says Caliendo. "It was a polarizing thing. Listen, I was the first person to watch those promos and say, 'Oh, my God, me again.' And that was the first one."
Well, the campaign worked. The debut of Frank TV drew 2.9 million viewers, a remarkable number for a show that aired at 11 p.m. on the East Coast. No matter what happens with Frank TV, the exposure has raised Caliendo's star at Fox. He has one year left on his deal and the bet here is it gets extended soon.
6. HBO Sports, documentarian: It's become rote to praise HBO for its sports documentaries. The network is compelling at storytelling, and last month's Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry was no exception. Footage of iconic Michigan coach Bo Schembechler giving what was essentially his last national interview is worth the viewing alone.
7. Gary Danielson, CBS Sports analyst: Danielson had an exceptional broadcast on last week's LSU-Arkansas game. With a minute left in the fourth quarter, he correctly forecast a quarterback draw by LSU quarterback Matt Flynn. And as the New York Post's Phil Mushnick points out here, Danielson offered an on-air mea culpa when he was wrong on a call. That's something we rarely see. He and the always-underrated Verne Lundquist provide a professional broadcast week in and week out. No shtick. And, thankfully, no asking what Britney Spears is doing with her life and career.
8. Bill Conlin, Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist: Last year, while attending a sports media seminar at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., I saw Conlin driving around in a sports car that was so tricked out it could have been lifted from a Knight Rider episode. Nice bank, I thought.
I always enjoyed Conlin's gruff attitude on The Sports Reporters, and he clearly has the kind of financial security that gives him some freedom, which he expressed in an sizzling e-mail exchange with Crashburn Alley, a Phillies blog that focuses on the sabermetric side of sports. The lessons learned from this exchange: 1. Always avoid Hitler references in a non-academic enviornment. 2. Recognize that as a member of the so-called mainstream press, your e-mail correspondences can and will be used by a blog. Those who think bloggers have to play by traditional journalism rules are living in another century. Some do, some don't. But if they chose not to track in fact, fairness and balance, it is their choice. Caveat emptor.
9. Steve Beuerlein, CBS NFL analyst: CBS says Beuerlein was kidding when he referred to Titans running back LenDale White as a "USC thug" during last week's Titans-Bengals telecast. (The announcer did not realize his mic was live after a commercial break.)
A CBS spokesperson told SI.com that neither the network nor Beuerlein will address it this weekend. That's weak: The comment offended some people and Beuerlein should address viewers on his own rather than through the filter of a network spokesperson, even if his explanation is that his comment was merely an innocuous dig at a player who played for his college rival (Beuerlein played at Notre Dame).
10. Jim Knox, FSN reporter: Perhaps CBS Sports president Sean McManus was on to something when he eliminated NFL sideline reporters from his network.