ESPN: KUBAR (Kruked Up Beyond All Repair)

It's hard to know when it really started. The new sets for the shows were a step in the wrong direction. It might have been when they made half their ESPN.com columns (from their better writers) subscription only. From what I've read, the trend may be much older, but lately it's found new lows.

One of the biggest recent problems was giving Joe Morgan a regular column. His coloquial, down-home style works quite well when contrasted with John Miller on Sunday Night Baseball, but in print it just doesn't work. His chats have become near legendary on baseball blogging circuts, as has his confusion over who really wrote Moneyball. I won't bother rehashing what has been so well documented, but if you need something more concrete, see this article by Aaron Gleeman.

Sunday Night Baseball itself, which used to be beautifully produced, when a viewer was only subliminally aware that they were watching television, has turned into a spectacle, complete with theme song and gaudy intro. Worst of all, there's now even a segment for a band that ESPN feels it should 'spotlight.' Granted the band does usually say something about baseball, but it's even dumber than what Kruk or Bowa have to say. Add in the constant ESPNHD plugs and you'll know why I've enjoyed MLB.TV so much this season. I've even found a couple of networks that don't even air commercials, giving me a new level of enjoyment for Yankees games on the YES network.

I used to have a level of respect for all the regulars on both SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. That is simply no longer the case. While ESPN used to balance between entertainment and journalism, they seemed to have slipped over the edge and become nothing more than entertainers. Stuart Scott has simply gotten out of hand. Steven A Smith is no more than thirty seconds from killing someone on air every time he speaks. The one and only thing Larry Bowa could do to become even mildly interesting (since he'll never be informative) is get angry, and he hasn't done it once that I've seen. Come on Larry, toss a chair at the Kruker! Pedro Gomez must feel like he was sent to the Bahamas and then got caught in a three-month long freak snowstorm, which is fine with me. In football season we have to put up with the insufferable Sean Salisbury. Even the once dependable Tim Kurkjian has begun to slip. In his most recent ESPN.com article on how Derek Jeter is "the face of baseball," he wrote the following:

Jeter wants none of the attention, but it comes because of the way he plays. Three of the most memorable plays of this decade belong to Jeter, and all because of his hustle. There was the famous backhanded flip to the plate in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against the A's. There was the running catch, and subsequent bloody tumble into the stands, on July 1 last year against the Red Sox. And this year, on May 25, there was the diving catch he made – jumping over rookie second baseman Robinson Cano, a play filled with symbolism – in shallow center field.

Now I might personally disagree with his assessment of Jeter, but that's not what I'm taking issue with. Two of the plays that Kurkjian mentioned, the tag of Giambi and the dive into the seats, may be some of the more memorable, but his catch over Cano will be forgotten by the end of the season, and probably before then as the Yankees continue to sink. Again, this is an article about entertainment and not about sports. With all the compelling stories, all the surprising statistics this year (even those around those damn Yankees) why aren't we talking about the sport itself? If ESPN is trying to help rehabilitate the image of the MLB after the steriod controversy, then instead of talking about the image, they should be actively doing something to improve it, a move that is entirely in their own economic interest as well. You can't make the Jeter-Cano catch into a historical moment, no matter how hard you try, because it's not. But you can talk about everything that's actually going on with the Yankees, instead of writing Jeter a nice little promo. With what Lee is doing, this article is about the wrong Der(r)ek.

It seems like all the real analysis has been relegated to Peter Gammons, with occasional help from the unlikely source of Harold Reynolds, who was calmed down in recent years and provides a very good ex-player's perspective on the game. Gammons has seemed quieter as of late and seems almost dejected on air at times. I think this has less to do with him getting older, less to do with the tarnishing of baseball with steroids, and more to do with the people who have begun to surround him. I won't even start in on Kruk himself. In order to really disect Kruk, I'll need an entire article (and an XXL discetion table). He's that bad. Still, Kruk is only a symptom of the disease that ESPN seems to have caught. You would think after ESPN created a reality show to find the best anchor possible, in which they were judged on accuracy and analysis as much as character and poise, that they might apply the same rules in house. I suppose the problem is that they can't even see anything in the studio anymore other than the neon red and blue. I'll get to Kruk next week, hopefully with some choice quotes from the last two years. Until then, when you turn to ESPN, just use the mute button.