Wednesday May 12th, 2010

At a time when newspaper sports departments are disappearing as fast as Baltimore Oriole fans, I'm delighted to have The Wall Street Journal aboard as a new member of what has long been characterized as the toy department. Yes, America's sober-sided business gazette has started a ballyhooed section in the New York market that features local news, culture and . . . sports.

However, while I admit that I'm not qualified to advise The Journal on how to write about credit default swaps, may I be so impudent to dare tell the Journal that if it purports to cover sports on its gray pages, it must get on the same page with the rest of us world's jock literati.

That is, my dear stock market friends, if you're going to write about games, you don't call players Mr. or Ms. In sports sections or sports TV or sports internet, the world over, nobody -- not even fancy-pants team owners -- gets to be a Mr. or Mrs. Or a Senor or a Mademoiselle or a Herr. Why, they don't even use courtesy titles on the jolly olde Wimbledon scoreboard any more.

But because it is the Journal's style to refer to hedge funders in their bespoke suits and Turnbull and Asser shirts and ties by their courtesy title, it has foolishly decided to maintain this same policy in sports. Thus we have a discussion of a Mr. Braden's perfect game, a Mr. Barajas behind the plate and a Mr. James, who works for a Cleveland firm. Having The Journal report on sports is rather like having Miss Jane Austen write them for you, with Mr. Darcy batting and Mr. Bingley pitching.

Thank heavens the legendary Grantland Rice was not working for Mr. Rupert Murdoch when he wrote about a Notre Dame backfield -- that most famous line ever to appear on a sports page -- or it would've come out this way: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they were known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Mr. Struhldreher, Mr. Miller, Mr. Crowley and Mr. Layden."

Or, as Howard Cosell would've called out memorably on Journal television: "Down goes Mr. Frazier. Down goes Mr. Frazier."

Now, it is true that there was a double standard on the sports pages for many years. Whereas male athletes would be identified by only their last name, it was felt that sportswomen could not be treated so rudely. Thus we had Laver vs. Rosewall, but Mrs. King vs. Miss Bueno.

If anything, though, now we are heading downscale, where more and more athletes -- both genders, all sports -- are referred to in the media simply by their first name or a nickname. Thus we have Kobe and A-Rod and Serena and T.O. -- all far better known in those informal ways, than by what appears last on their passport.

Yes, Mister Wall Street Journal, we welcome you to the arena, but please, one of the nice things about our business is that there are no misters in sport. Just players.

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