Book Reviews

Sports Media Weekly Podcast No. 58- Dan Barry, Author

Sports Media Weekly I’m riding solo for this week’s edition of the Sports Media Weekly Podcast.  Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites had a previous commitment and could not join us for the show.

I did have the opportunity to talk baseball with our guest, Dan Barry, columnist for the New York Times who wrote Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.

The book looks back at the players, fans, and media who were involved in the 33 inning game, 30 years ago,  between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox, at the time the Triple-A affiliates of the Orioles and Red Sox.

Dan and I discuss many of the famous players who took part in the game, including a pair of Hall of Famers.  We also discuss how the game shaped the future of the Pawtucket franchise as at the time of the game’s conclusion, Major League Baseball was in the midst of a player’s strike, brining heightened media attention to a little Rhode Island city which was feeding the baseball appetite of the country.


Book Review- Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN

It’s impossible to satisfy all readers when it comes to the content of a book that is as highly anticipated as Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.  And because early reviews seem split as to what should, or should not, have been included in the book, it looks like authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales have a success on their hands in at least whetting the appetite of them all.

Those who are interested in how ESPN became arguably the most successful cable television network in history will have little problem digesting the behind-the-scenes tidbits into what made ESPN, well, ESPN.  I fall into this camp.  As much as I appreciated Miller & Shales’ first-hand accounts of those who played a role in the history of the World Wide Leader, I feel it could have been done in less than the 745 pages (763 if you read the acknowledgements and index) in this book.  To successfully navigate the book I suggest ingesting it in small chunks.  There is  THAT much information.

For those who are looking for more details into the in-fighting between staffers and who had affairs with whom, some of that is in the book,  but I’m sure not enough for some.  I, for one, thought the personality conflicts and romantic hook-ups, although not my cup of tea, were relevant to the discussion of what was happening at the network at the time.

The seminal events that shaped the development of ESPN are all in this book; the humble beginnings of Founder Bill Rasmussen selecting the sleepy town of Bristol, CT as the network’s headquarters, the hiring of on-air and production staff, how ESPN built the brand that is SportsCenter, its acquisition of rights to the NFL, MLB, and NBA, and its eventual rise as the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

The not-so-attractive events are also in the book; charges of sexual harassment of women and the perception of ESPN as a “frat house” in the early years, the dismissal and suspension of various on-air and administrative staff, and broadcast blunders such as LeBron James’ “The Decision”.

What I found great about the book was being reminded of all the events that happened at ESPN that may have escaped many of our memories.  Remember Bonds on Bonds and Dream Job?

Along with being an oral history, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, is also a business book on how a television network was born with less than $40,000 and grew to one with annual revenues of upwards of $8 billion.   All in a little over 30 years!

Miller and Shales conducted interviews with over 500 people to be used in the book.  All the big names are included; Berman, Ley, Patrick (Dan & Mike), Olbermann, Simmons, Tirico.  President Obama also has a blurb as do those who are in competition with ESPN, namely Dick Ebrsol (formerly of NBC) and David Hill (Fox Sports).

I would have liked to have read more into what are on peoples’ minds about the future of ESPN.  I guess we’ll find out soon as the network plans to make a bid next month on the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.  If successful I’m sure Miller & Shales will include the details in the paperback version of the book.

All-in-all Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN is a must read for anyone interested in the history of television in general and of sports media in particular.

Make sure to listen to our podcast with author James Andrew Miller.

Sports Media Weekly Podcast No. 57- James Andrew Miller, Author

Sports Media Weekly It’s the talk of the sports media world, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, the new book by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. James Andrew Miller joins Ken Fang from Fang’s Bites and I for the entire episode.

Among the topics we discuss with Miller; the impetus behind his writing the book, some of the more interesting behind-the-scenes snipings, and why ESPN is so sensitive about how it is perceived by the outside world.

We wish we had more time with Miller.  Neither Ken nor I were able to delve into all the topics we wanted to cover.  We plan on having Miller back to continue the discussion on a future podcast.


SMJ Book Review- God Save the Fan, Will Leitch

Another new feature here at SMJ, one we hope will be useful when you take your next trip to the bookstore.  Our book reviews will consist of those dealing exclusively with the sports media or those written by sports media members.

Our first foray is God Save the Fan- How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (and How We Can Get It Back), the latest book by Deadspin creator Will Leitch (in bookstores Tuesday, January 22nd).

Those of you who follow the sports blogsphere know all about Deadspin. It’s arguably the most popular sports blog on the Internet.   And all the credit goes to Leitch.

In short, if you love Deadspin, you will love this book.  Unlike other authors, Leitch does not resurrect old Deadspin posts and publish them in book form.   This read is all new material.  And there is no doubt that Leitch’s sense of humor and irreverance comes through.  God Saves the Fan reflects what attracts people to Deadspin, taking fun jabs at the people who play for, own, report on, and cheer on sports franchises.

Leitch takes great steps to detail how he feels players, owners, the media, and fans have evolved within the sports culture of today. He points out that sports today are different from years ago, and these changes are not necessarily good ones.  And much of that has to do with the growing influence money now plays in the world of sports.

Leitch shares many a story, some personal, others forwarded through Deadspin, to illustrate these flaws in the sports world.  He also notes out that we, as fans, hold the ultimate chit in changing these flaws, through our decisions to buy tickets, watch television and patronize sponsors.

I was particularly interested in Leitch’s section on the media.  He details off-the-air encounters by famous personalities, most of which are known to those who visit his site.  He takes shots at ESPN.  And like many of us, points out how its mega growth has clouded its judgement, especially how it covers events based more on promoting the ESPN brand then the sport itself.  He tries to support the case that the World Wide Leader is more interested in controversy and confrontation over informed analysis.  And he points to those who were let go for not heeding the ESPN message.

Leitch does a good job in detailing the problems with sports media today.  Where God Save the Fan falls short is that after all the dissection of the ills within sports and the media, he really doesn’t offer many solutions.  It would have been helpful for Leitch to take the role as head of ESPN and come up with concrete, constructive ways to make ESPN better.  Maybe that will be in God Save the Fan 2.

Leitch is spot on toward the end of the book in his evaluation of blogs and how they are viewed negatively by those in the mainstream sports media.  I agree with him that blogs offer everyone a voice, and that’s important to the discourse of the country.

Leitch has done well by Deadspin and God Save the Fan will be a winner with his fans.  But Leitch missed an opportunity to not just be funny, but to use his influence to do some good in devising ways to make sports better.  That gesture would have not only lent Deadspin more credibility in particular, but by association all sports blogs in general.  That’s too bad.