(Each month SI.com highlights those in the sports media who have proved newsworthy, both for positive and negative achievements.)
1. Joe Buck, Fox: Here's something you probably don't know about Joe Buck: He speaks to his mother, Carole, after every baseball broadcast. The calls come about three minutes after he signs off the air, and the one following the conclusion of Game 6 of the World Series was particularly meaningful, given Buck referenced his late father, Jack, when he signed off at the end of the game.
"I heard in her voice how touched she was," Buck said. "I did it probably more for her than for anyone else or for any other reason. She told me: 'I know your Dad is watching that and hearing that somewhere and was with you tonight.' "
Those who dislike the Fox broadcaster are an active lot, especially in the social media space. But here's how I see it: Buck had a terrific World Series, highlighted by his tribute to Jack and his ability to step away from the action when the moment called for natural sound. It was a terrific performance during a year in which he suffered from a nerve ailment in his left vocal cord for months.
"I've taking criticism my whole life from one entity or another," Buck said. "I'm willing to admit when I was wrong or something does not work."
On that end, Buck says he self-evaluates his work, especially for the NFL. He travels with a laptop so he can watch his just-completed football broadcast on flights back to his St. Louis home.
"I like to evaluate the tone, and if there was too much talk or not enough talk," Buck said. "The specific of the calls I'm not worried about. It's more general strokes."
The quality of play-by-play this postseason, with Buck, Turner's Brian Anderson and ESPN Radio's Dan Shulman, was particularly high. October was a good month for baseball.
2. Sara Ganim, reporter, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News: Ganim's reporting on the Jerry Sandusky story has been remarkable, including her most recent piece in which the mothers of two of Sandusky's alleged victims lashed out at Penn State officials' handling of the scandal. She is a crime reporter for her paper and has been investigating the Sandusky case for nearly three years. "This is a crime story for me and that's how I've always approached this," she said. "We [her editor, David Newhouse] have been careful to deal in facts and not rumors. This story has been carefully sourced."
In an interview with SI.com on Tuesday evening, Ganim said the biggest initial challenge with the story was no one would go on the record. "It was a challenge because people were so afraid of coming out and being the first one to speak out against him [Sandusky]," she said. "Once they started to talk, it was unbeliavble some of the information we found it, and how many times, obviously allegedly, he was almost caught."
Ganim said 99 percent of her paper's readership has been supportive of her coverage. "I was bracing for the mob to come after me," Ganim said. "A couple of years ago, the Nittany Lion mascot got a DUI and I got hate mail for like six months. That was my barometer and I thought this would be awful."A 2008 graduate of Penn State, Ganim joined the Patriot-News in January and previously worked at The Centre Daily Times in State College. Her work has earned plaudits from national reporters, media inquiries, and as the story heads forward, she'll be a must-follow on Twitter and a bookmark for those interested in the Sandusky story.
3. Jonathan Hock, sports documentarian: It seems silly to declare someone as the best sports documentarian, given how subjective such a declaration rings, but Hock rates very high on any list. Unguarded (which re-airs on ESPN2 on Thursday), his most recent work for ESPN Films, chronicled the rise and fall and ongoing redemption of Chris Herren, a schoolboy basketball star from Fall River, Mass. It was fantastic work. Hock's previous sports doc was The Best That Never Was, a terrific exploration of the life of Marcus Dupree, arguably the greatest high school running back. I asked Hock why people react so strongly to sports stories where redemption is part of the narrative.
"To me, games are play-dramas unto themselves, self-contained," Hock said. "But the story really begins once the game ends. Real redemption -- what we pretend the games are about but what real life really is about -- can only happen for the athlete after the game is over and real life begins. The heroes of TheBest That Never Was and Unguarded might be thought of as failures if you considered only the game. But in life, ultimately, both Marcus Dupree and Chris Herren achieved a kind of grace that is much truer than anything they could have attained by winning a Heisman Trophy or becoming an NBA All-Star."
Hock said that he and film producers Mike Tollin and Frank Marshall are trying to develop The Best That Never Was as a narrative feature film.
"There's a lot more to it that involved Marcus's family -- his grandfather and mother and brother in particular -- that we weren't able to really capture in the documentary," Hock said. "It'll be the same main character, but a different kind of storytelling that will hopefully reach even more people than the documentary."
4. Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network: Joe Theismann is gone. So is Matt Millen. And their departure means the NFL Network gets another opportunity to rebrand what has been an ever-changing broadcast booth. On Thursday, Nessler and Mayock debut for the call of the Raiders at Chargers, the first of NFLN's eight-game schedule.
Mayock and Nessler have called two rehearsal games this preseason -- both were Monday Night Football games, where ESPN allowed NFLN to set up a production truck next to ESPN's and use its feed -- and NFLN execs were pleased with the result. Of course, we've learned to exercise caution when it comes to this booth.
"It's early, but the initial indicators are what I hoped," said Mark Quenzel, the senior vice president of programming & production for the NFLN. "Mike does a phenomenal job of explaining the intricacies of the game in a simple, direct way. Mike does not mince words. And Brad is just a preeminent caller of the game, and secondarily, allows us to get outside of that specific game and talk about the league."
5. Erik Rydholm, executive producer, Pardon the Interruption: Two weeks ago, PTI celebrated its 10th anniversary on the air, and if nothing else, every sports writer with a TV gig owes a debt to Rydholm, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon for helping legitimize the idea. (They were not the first sportswriters on TV, but they have become the most prominent.) Recently, I conducted an email conversation with Rydholm on how he sees PTI evolving, and whether the opinions of Kornheiser and Wilbon have become more establishment as their collective stars have risen. You can read that discussion here.
6. Brian Kenny, MLB Network: A steady pro in a variety of roles for ESPN, from his work on boxing to hosting his ESPN Radio show, Kenny joined MLB Network last month, and explains why here. What I found interesting from the many emails MLBN public relations ace Lorraine Fisher sent on this subject (Kenny should buy her dinner) was the network's building a show around him where the subject is sabermetrics. MLB Network is calling it the first analytics-based studio show, and the Kenny-hosted Clubhouse Confidential will debate the day's news and moves using modern statistical research and value projection. It will also include contributors from the sabermetrics community.
Will it work? Said Tony Petitti, president and CEO of MLB Network, in a statement: "There is no other program on the air that is dedicated to covering baseball this way."
7. Terry Francona, Fox MLB analyst: Though Francona is likely to land a managing job in the near future, his performance for Fox as a fill-in for Tim McCarver during the American League Championship Series provided him a nice backup plan. He was terrific for someone with little broadcasting experience -- funny, insightful and freewheeling with his commentary. He also received growing reviews from critics (Yahoo! Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan asked: "Is Terry Francona Wally Pipping Tim McCarver?") fans and his partner in the booth.
"I have never been more proud having made a suggestion, having chased the guy down and having convinced him to do it," Buck said. "It was like watching my kid. He did two games and I think he grew to love it. I think broadcasting is there for him if he wants it, and not too far out of the possibility. He's a smart, funny guy and you only got a sliver of his humor."
I spoke with Francona after his broadcast and he admitted he enjoyed it much more than he expected. Fox Sports execs thought he was really good, and no doubt the ESPN suits were watching as well.
8. Rico Labbe, Michael Sciallis, Whitney Osteen, ESPN Monday Night Football staffers: After Hank Williams Jr. was issued his exit papers from Monday Night Football, ESPN needed a creative solution where Bocephus once roamed. The answer has been a series of crisp openings conceived and produced by Labbe and Sciallis, the founders of Victory Pictures. (Osteen is an ESPN production assistant who pulls the NFL clips for MNF.) The openings are worth viewing if you haven't seen them, especially this Barry Sanders piece before the Oct. 10 broadcast and this opener featuring Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson.
9. Soccer on Fox: One of the great triumphs of ESPN in recent years has been its international soccer coverage. The network learned from past mistakes -- the foremost being an insistence on an American match caller -- and steadily built a terrific soccer production. Particularly impressive was the commitment ESPN gave the women's World Cup, and the network deserves all the plaudits it gets. This is a preamble to the news last month that FIFA awarded the U.S. broadcast rights for 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Fox, which paid a reported $450 million to $500 million to beat out ESPN and NBC.
Let's be blunt: On the surface, this isn't good news for soccer fans. The only good news is that Fox has plenty of time to change that perception. Fox (not the Fox Soccer Channel) has treated U.S. soccer viewers like fools so far with such stints as inexplicably tossing Michael Strahan into its pregame show for the final of the Champions League, and fronting an inane "Football versus Futbol" segment. That's having a tin ear, given that the U.S. soccer audience is a particularly educated group about the sport and rightfully howls at a broadcast with a "Soccer For Dummies" feel. This take explains all nicely, and my colleague Grant Wahl weighs in with his smart take.
If I'm a Fox Sports executive, I'm already planning to pluck as many quality game broadcasters from ESPN (Ian Darke, Martin Tyler, etc.) as possible when that network concludes its World Cup run in 2014. Many of those broadcasters will be U.S. free agents, so the opportunity is there.
10. Occupy Tebow: Nothing has illustrated the overcaffeinated Tim Tebow coverage more than the demagoguery of ESPN2's Skip Bayless, a nearly 60-year-old man who defends Tebow like a self-appointed F. Lee Bailey. It's part of a larger Tebow obsession by ESPN (and others, for sure), and I believe such excess led to one of the more fascinating commenter threads on a sports website in recent history. This piece offers the background of the revolt, and this takes it even deeper.
In short, a group of commenters have occupied this ESPN.com story for more than a week now, responding to the saturation of Tebow coverage on ESPN and other outlets. Drunk on Tebow coverage, I tweeted last week that I thought ESPN was dictating the coverage of the story. With that premise in mind, I decided to chronicle how much Tebow content ESPN did one day last week. This was the result of the experiment.