1. Ernie HarwellHis Southern voice -- rich and authoritative but not overbearing -- became as distinctive to Michigan listeners as baseball itself. That's how Detroit Free Press writer John Lowe described Harwell in his graceful tribute to the life of the broadcaster, who passed away last week at 92. Having lived in Michigan for eight months last year, I got a small slice of the love Michiganders had for the announcer. This intimate connection, forged by the medium of radio, is sadly becoming an endangered species. As SI's Tom Verducci wrote last week, Harwell had an understated elegance, which has become "a lost art given the audaciousness, trumped-up signature calls and desire to be noticed in broadcasting today." (Here's looking at you, John Sterling). His life and times produced some remarkable tributes, including here and here, and of particular note was this terrific compendium on the Free Press Web site. Lastly, watch this.
2. Trey Wingo, Ron Jaworski, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, ESPN NFL Draft hosts:No excess yelling or screaming, and no shtick. That's how the quartet above handled its assignment on the third day of the NFL draft. As I wrote last month, I believe ESPN should make this group (plus Jon Gruden) its main draft team for 2011. The result would be ratings similar to this year, if not higher, and a massive reduction of criticism showered on this year's main set group from Twitter users and other social media streams. I'd put the odds at ESPN implementing my suggestion about the same as the U.S. winning the World Cup.
3. Sean Grande, Celtics play-by-play man:You make this list with a performance like this.
4. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, New York Times best-selling authors:Sandwiched between Trisha Yearwood and Giada De Laurentiis, the ESPN Radio duo hit the New York Times' best-seller list last month in the "Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous" category. I have no idea whether Greenberg and Golic are literary lions, but ESPN's promotional apparatus for the book has been James Joyce-esque as we see here, here, and here. Am I jealous? Hell, yeah.
5. David Levy, Turner Sports president:By virtue of its billion-dollar partnership with CBS, Turner becomes a major player in college basketball. Beginning in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner; the Final Four and the championship game will alternate every year between CBS and TBS. What remains unknown at this point is how the talent will be distributed between CBS and Turner, and despite our pushing, Levy was not giving any specifics to SI.com.
Said Levy: "We are still working out the details on that but I will tell you this: Both CBS and ourselves have tremendous talent. What we want to make sure is that the look and feel of the programming is consistent whether it is on TBS, TNT, TruTV or CBS. We will have specific branding, and part of that specific branding may be our talent. We will use the best talent across platforms. You might see some Turner talent on CBS. You might see some CBS talent on Turner. That will be discussed between [CBS sports head] Sean McManus and I as we get toward March Madness next year."
6. The Two Escobars, ESPN 30 for 30 film:Of all the 30 for 30 films I've seen so far, this thrilling exploration of the era of Colombia's narco-soccer era is the most ambitious and worthy of praise. Directors Michael and Jeff Zimbalist, filmmakers with deep roots in the country, weaved twin stories of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and national team captain Andres Escobar into a highly entertaining 100-minute film. Soccer fans, in particular, will enjoy the deconstruction of why Colombia's 1994 World Cup team -- favored by many to get to the semifinals -- crashed out of the tournament after the opening round. The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last month (where I saw it) and will air on ESPN June 22, followed by a limited theatrical release. I'd encourage all World Cup fans to see it.
7. Tim Tebow, ratings draw:Prior to the NFL draft, ESPN producer Jay Rothman predicted the intrigue of the Tebow selection would drive the ratings for both ESPN and the NFL Network. Both networks recorded historic viewership for the draft's opening night coverage, with the move to primetime accounting for most of that, but the Tebow factor certainly helping. The Broncos quarterback topped all jersey sales for April and helped the Broncos lead the league in sales on NFLShop.com that same month after the team had ranked 10th for the year ending March 31, according to the Denver Post. Clearly, Tebow is unlike any other player to enter the league in some time, and the NFL (with HBO whispering in its ear) would be wise to make the Broncos the Hard Knocks team for next season.
8. Erin Andrews bashing, various sources:
Last month Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiMannounloaded on Andrews for her turn on Dancing With the Stars, writing "she's made a fool out of herself and a sham of her profession." Far more mean-spirited was this bit of nonsense from The View panelist Elisabeth Hasselbeck. From this view, Andrews appearing on DWTS should be viewed through the same lens as KennyMayne's entree onto the show -- an ESPN personality who occasionally practices journalism. There's a long column to be done one day about how much journalism is done by sideline reporters and those who conduct these practices with a true journalist's bent, but far more newsworthy for this column is how ESPN management felt about DiManno's column. It's something I had not seen.
"My role is to put people in the best possible positions to succeed and to protect ESPN and to serve sports fans," said ESPN's vice president of production Norby Williamson. "Her appearance on Dancing With the Stars has not inhibited her ability to be a reporter one bit, whether it's her professionalism or her ability to ask tough questions. She worked on our NFL draft coverage, in and around the show. It has not affected her at all.
"She is committed to her work. She is professional, and Kenny Mayne did it and no one had issues. He did not bring down the bastion of anchoring SportsCenter because he showed up on Dancing With the Stars. Erin is a lifelong dancer, and she had her reasons for doing this. I'm sure you read her quotes: She was victimized, she had her reasons for doing the show, whether it was getting over that or not being an ongoing victim. She wanted to chase her dreams. They had asked for her previously, the time was right and she was not going to let what happened to her stand in the way. I give her a lot of credit for that. Ultimately, it does not pose a problem for me or for ESPN. If this is a good thing for her and she enjoys doing it, more power to her."
9. MLB's Twitter policy:
If we've learned anything about the Twitter policies of sports entities, it's that they often resemble a plot on Lost, shape-shifting, sideways and open to interpretation. (If I were a wise guy, I might make a joke here that ESPN's Twitter's policy changes after every Bill Simmons tweet).
NBC Sports.com baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman reported last month that Major League Baseball had cracked down on the Twitter usage of its MLB.com writers, ordering them to stop tweeting non-baseball topics. Gleeman wrote that the organizational ire stemmed from non-baseball tweets showing up in the MLB.com Twitter aggregator. Immediately before and after Gleeman's reporting, numerous MLB.com writers announced that they were shifting the focus of their Twitter accounts to baseball-related content only. Some even established a separate Twitter account for non-baseball tweets. SI.com confirmed independently that MLB.com writers were told by superiors to keep their social media musings to baseball only.
On Friday, SI.com called MLB vice president of public relations Patrick Courtney to get clarification about what its writers can and cannot do on Twitter. Asked if MLB writers had been specifically asked not to tweet non-baseball related items or notes, Courtney said he was not aware of that, though he did note that MLB sent an email in April to all its non-playing employees outlining its social media policy.
"To the best of my knowledge there has been no separate policy for reporters," he said. "The policy that went out for all MLB people is the same across the board."
Courtney did say that messages posted by MLB employees in the social media space on non-baseball accounts should meet a certain standard. "My position on something like that would be if I'm Pat Courtney at MLB or I'm Pat Courtney at Gmail or Pat Courtney New Jersey Guy, I'm still an employee of MLB. There's no differentiation between those things to the extent you are still an employee here and the positions and things you say."
I asked Courtney about what some would consider a double standard for MLB on-air talent such as Peter Gammons, whose (very entertaining) Twitter feed is filled with left-of-center political musings and music, along with baseball goodies. Said Courtney: "To the extent that it comes to our attention, it is something for determination on an individual basis. If we feel something crosses the line, we'll speak to someone about it."
Courtney said MLB encourages its writers to be individuals in the social media space and that the organization wants its writers to gain a following among fans. There is no arguing that MLB Advanced Media has been at the forefront of social media among sports entities, and the reason the MLB Network gained credibility so quickly is that it didn't shy away from the seamy parts of the game, be it steroids or drugs, and hired independent voices such as Bob Costas. That's why this chilling (my words) of speech either directly or indirectly is disappointing. MLB should trust its writers, and the people who read them. Part of the fun of Twitter is learning about the personalities of those behind the 140 characters.
10. Craig James, ESPN:
Last month James called the Alabama spring game and remains part of the regular rotation for ESPN's College Football Live. Williamson told SI.com that he anticipates James will have a "similar schedule" to last year, which included calling Thursday night and Saturday games. Given that James is involved in a legal dispute with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, plenty of questions have emerged about his objectivity in the arena. Williamson addressed a few below:
SI.com: How involved should James be with Big 12 games next season?
Williamson: This thing will play out more. But if you are putting me on the spot right now and saying, "Am I confident from what I know of the situation, and from what Craig has told me on the investigation, and from what I have read and everything that I have done, am I confident that Craig James can do a Big 12 game where there is not an overarching issue regarding Texas Tech," at this time, yes, I am. We believe Craig still has a connection with coaches and players and there is a trust element there.
SI.com: Will Craig's involvement in the Leach case affect his assignments heading forward?
Williamson: His primary responsibility has been working games, working some studio and some radio. Clearly, right now you have an investigation and a situation that is still ongoing. Obviously, he cannot have any connection to Texas Tech. That goes to games, and it goes to commentary about Texas Tech. Anywhere in that genre, he has to recuse himself of that and we would not put him in a position to comment about that. Number two is we have to be transparent with the viewers. While this is a well-known situation, it is not unbelievably well known. There are different levels of this. It is our obligation to be transparent with the viewers, even if he is on a show where there is a discussion going on that could involve Texas Tech or elements of the Big 12 or things like that.
SI.com: Are you comfortable with Craig being on a studio broadcast where the Big 12 conference is discussed?
Williamson: Right now, it depends what the topics are in and around the Big 12 being discussed. If you are talking the top players in the Big 12 conference and there are Texas Tech players, I don't think that would be appropriate for him to be commenting. If you are looking for impact in the Big 12 or how Tommy Tuberville will deal with things, I don't think that is appropriate for him. I think we have to be transparent about that. First and foremost, you want to be open. We want to make sure Craig doesn't put himself in the area of any sense of perception that negatively impacts ESPN, the show he is on or himself. But I will tell you based on right now and everything we know, from talking to Craig extensively and what has been out there publicly and with the backdrop, that this thing is an ongoing thing. Craig's track record with us, his college football knowledge and TV experience, right now we are comfortable with Craig's ability to serve as a professional college football analyst and an objective college football analyst with the caveats of Texas Tech and certain targeted things that could be within the Big 12.
SI.com: Why are you confident that ESPN can cover the ongoing legal case while Craig is still employed with you?
Williamson: I think this place is a big enterprise and we have our track record with journalism. I will not sit here and tell you that we have never made mistakes but I think we have a great track record. We do a lot of journalism and hardcore journalism with people we have rights agreement with. We have agreements with the NFL but I will put our body of work in journalism and investigations into the concussion syndrome, for example, against anyone in the industry. We have demonstrated we can manage those things.
"Our news-gathering apparatus is separate from the event production team. I think fans understand that and they understand there is credibility with ESPN. There are checks and balances that we have here in the infrastructure that allow us to parse things out. The fact that Craig is employed here, you have to take some steps such as no Texas Tech games, but I am very confident in the people who are making those day-in, day-out decisions.