Thursday, June 19, 2008

Three Columns Into His ESPN Tenure, Rick Reilly Begins Producing Mindless Drivel

The first article he wrote for his new employer? About his dad's alcoholism. Ok, fine. There are some things that even I won't jump on. His second article? A boring but reasonable plea for golf fans to cheer for Phil Mickelson over Tiger Woods during the U.S. Open. (It bothered me a little because of its Yankees-or-Red-Sox-and-no-one-else dichotomized type of approach to fandom; what if I want to cheer for someone besides those two? Whatever.)

But his third? Let's just say it's the kind of garbage I expect him to be writing at the WWL for years to come. In fact, it's worse than garbage; it's in the same vein as what someone like Nancy Grace does. You know, a news story that's totally and utterly meaningless, but contains a shocking/offensive/tragic element, thereby making it effective for sucking in the self-righteous masses. Oh my goodness! Someone did something bad! Doesn't that make you feel good about yourself? Not only would you never do this, but better still, you have an accurate moral compass that tells you these people are bad! Thanks, Rick/Nancy. Without you I would've never been exposed to stories like the one I'm about to unveil, and would subsequently not feel nearly as good about myself as I do for simply being less of an asshole than most.

Sigh. Fucking people. Anyways-

Brushing back a batter? OK. But this? You have to be kidding.

Get ready to be shocked and appalled, people.

You've heard of Kill the Ump, Lynch the Ump, and Strangle the Ump, right?

I'm going to open myself up to criticism here- I played organized baseball for 14 years, and I have no fucking idea what that is. But go on.

Well, get ready for the latest thing—Bean the Ump.

It happened on May 31 in the Georgia high school Class AAA championship game. Stephens County was losing to Cartersville 9-1 early, partly because nine straight SCHS batters had struck out. The last ring-up so hacked off superstar shortstop Ethan Martin—who had just been drafted 15th overall by the Dodgers—that he threw his helmet in protest.

My goodness- Scandal!

But that figured. Martin and his brother, Cody, who was pitching, reportedly had been complaining about balls and strikes the entire game.

What a fucking setup. Thanks, Rick, for telling me in advance who the villains are. You know, this is exactly what Nancy Grace and other bottom feeders of her ilk do. They're constantly hoping to invoke a reaction out of you along the lines of: "I'll tell you one thing right now- it sounds like those boys weren't raised right! If I had been their parent, you'd better believe they would have learned some respect. This whole country is going to hell in a handbasket. You know what's to blame? Violent video games, that's what."

Honestly. Fucking people.

OK. Sorry.

So now it's the bottom of the fourth, with Ethan playing short and Cody on the mound. The catcher is Matt Hill. There are no outs. The count is 0-1. Cody winds up and flings a very high, very hard fastball. Hill comes out of his squat, puts his glove up to catch it, then does a very funny thing.

He doesn't.

Instead, the YouTube video will show, he drops to his knees before the ball gets to him. Doesn't even try to catch it. Just flops to his knees, with his head looking down at the plate. Never looks up or back. The ball, meanwhile, conks umpire Jeff Scott square in the face mask. Rocks him back. Then squirts up the third-base line.

Yup, that's a good synopsis of what happened. That catcher is pretty much the worst actor of all time, and obviously the pitcher or whoever told him to do that is a little bit crazy.

But here's the thing about this incident- IT'S NOT RELEVANT. It's a story about a few shitdick kids who don't know how to control their anger. Off-the-field variations of this incident happen all over the country, 24 hours a day. Kids vandalize shit. They steal shit. They break shit. They assault people. They do unspeakable things because they don't see any other way to deal with their problems. But it's not newsworthy. The fact that ESPN considers it to be so is a sign of the times and a reflection of a tiny-brained audience. It's not a correct or appropriate decision.

Look, if I were writing a graduate thesis about unhealthy attitudes taken by some kids towards sports these days, or about odd examples of juvenile delinquency, this is the kind of incident I'd want to learn about. If enough investigation goes into the matter to draw some significant conclusions about the circumstances that caused it, I'd hope you could read about it in some kind of scholarly journal or something. But... I'm not writing that made up graduate thesis. I'm just a sports fan, who came to this sports site hoping to read an article about something relevant happening in the world of sports today.

I'm not picky. I don't care if it's a heartwarmingly sappy human interest piece. I don't care if it's about a sport most people ignore, like bowling or sailing or pole vaulting. Fuck it- I don't even care if it's about the Celtics or Red Sox. Just don't show me something that belongs in a fucking tabloid. Stop trying to titillate me with stories of people behaving badly and show me something that's primarily focused on, you know, SPORTS.

Jiminy fucking Christmas. It's never easy, is it?

Scott Singer, who videotaped the game from behind the plate, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I don't know what was going through their heads but … it's like, good god!"

Good God indeed! Scott, you've played directly into the media's hand on this one. That's pretty much what they needed you to say, in order to invoke an identical reaction from their readers. I'm very disappointed in you. If you actually had a brain and a pair of balls, you would've told the reporter something like "What really offends me is how poorly the catcher tried to play it off. Jesus, who did he think he was going to fool?" or "Hey, the ump had it coming." Better yet, "I think it's pretty obvious that those kids are assholes. But really, do you need to be writing a story about this? Isn't there some news going on somewhere that needs to be covered?"

After the game, Hill explained that he'd been expecting a curveball, instead got a fastball and just didn't catch it.

Yeah, surrrre. I used to catch a little. Happens all the time. You're expecting a curveball and instead you get a fastball so you say, "Boy, didn't see that coming. I'll just drop to my knees and wait for the next one."

Yeah, actually, that does happen. But not in the way you see in the video. Even when Rick's right, he's wrong.

What's worse is that Hill's coach, Mark Gosnell, believed him! Right, Coach. And remember that time you found the school mascot tied up in a locker with a sock in his mouth? That was definitely terrorists.

Wow. Hey Rick- not to shit too messily on your embarrassingly bad joke, but this is not a PG-rated Disney comedy about how a ragtag band of unathletic misfits beat the well-coached and heavily favored varsity baseball team in a competition to see who would get to represent the school in the state tournament. (The reason I'm making this clarification is because that's the only situation I can imagine in which someone would bind and gag a school mascot, shove him/her into a locker, and then blame the incident on terrorism.)

If indeed this was premeditated—take a look for yourself and decide—then maybe Cody Martin should be drafted too. Say what you want, but that's pretty good aim.

Anyway, now the ump has to get back behind noncatcher Hill, who may very well have just schemed to remove his noggin from his neck. Wouldn't you have loved to have heard the conversation as they awaited the next pitch?

Ump: Uh, any chance you might catch this one, or should I duck now?

Hill: Depends. Is it going to be a strike?

I guess Rick was being honest in his chat last week when he insisted that he and Bill Simmons were getting along just fine. Apparently Bill's writing jokes for him.

Isn't it enough for an umpire to endure all the blind jokes—Hey, ump, what's it like to get your checks in Braille?—without two players actually trying to blind him?

If you want to hear an awkward, douchechilly silence, just go to a baseball game and shout "Hey ump, what's it like to get your checks in Braille?"

Cartersville wound up winning the game 13-1, and when state athletic officials saw the tape, they snapped. "The catcher did not intend to catch the pitch," says Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association. "I didn't see the eyes of the catcher tracking the pitch." He put Stephens County on "severe warning" and fined it $1,000.

Now Rick/Nancy is turning the story. Up until this point, they've wanted us to be worried that whatever criminals they've been talking about were going to get away with whatever it was they did. You're supposed to be on the edge of your seat- are you? Oh my goodness! Please don't tell me this awful act went unpunished!

Then some payback came for Hill, who was planning to walk on at Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga., next season. He got the word from Gordon coach Travis McClanahan, who said, Forget it, we don't want you. "I've seen catchers get crossed up before," says McClanahan. "But he appeared to be blocking a curveball in the dirt. I was shocked. I've never seen that happen. I've never heard of a player even suggesting doing that."

And NOW comes the part that really gives the reader the warm fuzzies. You like that, don't you? Good has triumphed over evil. Better than that- like I already mentioned, the reader gets to feel like they're a good person because they saw what the bad person did and that the bad person got punished.

I bet Hill didn't see that one coming. Don't know, though, since neither Hill nor Martin is talking.

As for umpire Scott, he had a headache after the game and went for an MRI. Then he decided to get himself a lawyer. And I'm guessing there are two things that lawyer is checking out: the health of his client and the health of Hill's dad's wallet.

Awesome. A lawsuit. God bless America. I hope the judge throws a baseball at Scott's face when he arrives at court for his first hearing.

Good god, what's becoming of us?

Track star: Well, yeah, I've always hated that official, but I sure didn't mean for my javelin to go right through his spleen like that!

Announcer: But you're a sprinter.

See, because a sprinter would normally not have access to javelins, nor would they be throwing them for any reason. I'm going to re-write a better punchline for this joke. Here goes: Sprinter? I hardly know her!

I hope Scott does ask for damages, and that the players have to pay in a way they'll never forget: by being forced to umpire Little League games. They'll be amazed how vile parental vocabulary can be, how far little brothers can spit and how many pitched balls wind up hitting them in the thorax.

But at least the 8-year-olds won't be doing it on purpose.

That's deep, man. I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that Rick Reilly has won like a million awards for his writing. With conclusions like that one, you can see why.

Sometimes I wonder if, in the course of writing this blog, I get too tied up in obviously horrible writing like this. I mean, people like Simmons, Jemele Hill, Gene Wojceichowski, Reilly... everyone knows they suck. They're low-hanging fruit. There's no real challenge in picking them apart. Even the least discerning of our readers should be able to see without much help why most of what they write sucks. I mean, maybe I should spend more time finding articles with a little more depth to their awfulness. There are plenty of writers out there who actually have a decent grasp on their subject matter but still produce work that deserves to be criticized. I've done it before, and it's felt pretty rewarding. For every Bill Simmons, there are three baseball writers who think stolen bases are more important than walks and three football writers who don't understand that an offense depends on more than a quarterback. Yeah, maybe I should make fun of more stuff like that!

At least, that's what I say to myself about once a month. Shortly thereafter, I'll casually surf over to and check out what's linked on the front page. Something like this Reilly article will come up. And I'll realize that my intentions to branch out are, well, nothing more than intentions. As long as Reilly/Wojceichowski/Simmons/Hill keep doing what they've been doing, I'm not going to be able to change a damn thing about how I blog.

Maybe that's the way it should be.

(Did you like the format of my conclusion? Guess who I stole it from!)


Tonus said...

If Nancy Grace bore Joe Torre's kids, what kind of noses would they have?

I bet they'd have noses shaped like king cobras.

Jeff said...

The javelin - sprinter setup is pure hilarity!

CitizenX said...

Ooh, ooh, I have one:

Rick Reilly: Well, I've always been something of a hack, but I never meant to write such a stupid column.

General Public: But you're not a professional sportswriter, you're a lightly regarded fourth grade teacher from Packson, Kentucky!

matt said...

Sure, maybe the conclusions Reilly draws are kind of poor. And I don't think his writing is great by any means. But I didn't have a problem with the story itself - to me, that's way more interesting than a piece about reasons to root for Mickelson over Tiger.

Jarrett said...

that video = comedy gold if they would add a *booooiioioioioing* sound effect. Maybe a slide whistle after to set the mood.

larry b said...

Matt- Although the Tiger/Phil piece wasn't exactly gripping, at least it wasn't tabloidish. I just don't see why anyone should care about this.

Jarrett- They would also have to play the clip in fast motion, both forwards and reversed, several times.

cs said...

I can understand why this would be written about. There was like a national outcry when Roberto Alomar spit in the plate umpire's face. Cover of SI I think, all that stuff.

I do think it's pretty fucked to throw a fastball at an ump's face. Not even throw it, but have the catcher pretend to try to catch it and then bail so the ump is totally unprepared. That's fucked up.

John said...

The difference between the Alomar thing and this is that Alomar was playing for one of the best teams in baseball (the Indians) and looked to be headed to the Hall of Fame. This is a AAA (not sure how Georgia works, but that's pretty small in the states I've lived in) high school game. Nobody cares.

If ESPN wants someone to cover it (or better yet, pull it off one of the wires) and put it in the "other sports" section, fine. But to have a guy who is making $5 million a year wasting everyone's time with this is embarrassing. Then again, this is what Riley has been doing basically his whole career, and he's making a ton of money and winning a ton of sportswriting awards. He doesn't deserve that, but then again, Steve Nash didn't deserve his MVPs, and Ben Wallace didn't deserve his contract. I guess I can't blame Riley for doing what makes him money and wins him awards. I just wish that people would stop reading him, so he would stop getting fat contracts and winning ridiculous awards. It seems that is the only way to get him to change the way he writes and the stories he covers. But as long as people keep reading him, he has no motivation to stop being terrible.

Riley is one of the worst prominent sportswriters in the country. At least Simmons is generally entertaining when he's not talking about Boston. I can't ever remember reading something that Riley wrote that made me thing, "Wow! That was a great column!" He's awful.

Bengoodfella said...

I like this John fellow and his point of view. Given Mariotti and others who get sportswriting awards, I have come to the conclusion that it is not that hard to win a sportswriting award.

ESPN wastes a lot of people's time with these types of stories and I even put Simmons in there just because his articles really lack anything close to substance. I think Buzz was wrong, current sportswriting is what is dumbing down the industry.

larry b said...

As a non-sports extension of John's point re: Alomar, it's like the difference between a celebrity dying tragically (say, Heath Ledger) versus a nobody dying tragically (say, that dumb broad who died in Aruba). While I personally don't give a fuck about Ledger, I can see what that's news. A lot of people liked what he did when he was alive, so when he passed, it makes sense that it would be reported upon. On the other hand, what the fuck did that girl do besides die tragically? Nothing. The fact that that story had legs for more than 2 years after the event occurred (and in fact, may still have legs) is a sad indictment of how fucking stupid America is. On the day she died, I promise you, hundreds of other no name Americans also died tragically. Therefore, I don't give a shit about her and neither should you. And so it goes with the difference between Alomar's loogie and these kids' ineffective revenge plan.

Bengoodfella said...

Man, don't fuck with Larry, he can put you right in your place.

I completely agree with Larry and I think we can see what type of shit Rick Reilly is supposed to write for the WWL. I dislike nothing more than a piece of journalism that tries to tell me how I should feel and wants to pile on a situation.

The only thing I can remember Rick Reilly did worth a shit is that "Nothing but Net" 800 word piece for SI that helped kids with malaria in Africa. He pulled his weight at that point.

I can't understand paying someone $5 million for writing when there is really not that big of a difference in him and the other "top 20%" of sportswriters in America. It is not like he is an athlete where he has some skills that make him more valuable. I think if we are going to talk about some people who get paid too much for no discernable skills that separate them from the general public to make them worth that money are writers like Reilly. Is he really worth $5 million compared to what someone two years out of J school would write?

And no, I don't want to be a sportswriter and I am not jealous.

larry b said...

Thanks for the kind words Ben, but I don't mean to put anyone in their place. Given the fact that my place is in my parents' basement, I really can't say a whole lot about anyone else. I just get intensely frustrated with stories about that girl in Aruba, or that Lacy Peterson lady whose husband probably killed her. I just sit there staring at the TV/newspaper and shake my head. Why? Why should we care? GRRRRRRRRR. Eat shit and die, America. We are truly a country full of dumbfucks.

As for Reilly's high salary, obviously it's a product of name recognition. ESPN's executives may full well know that he stinks, but they know that millions of readers are going to see his mug on their front page (or in their magazine) and say "Oh! That guy! I know him! I think I'll read!" Simple as that.

Bengoodfella said...

I was actually going to suggest the name recognition issue but I guess the dreamer part of me would hope the ESPN executives would say, "Why get Reilly for $5 million when we can have this good journalist from Idaho for a lot cheaper and he also is not a shithead who writes good columns." Name recognition goes a long way, but I would rather read someone who I have no idea who they are than a known columnist who is going to only surprise me with the rapid decline of his/her work.

I want to be the first, and only, to say I like LZ Granderson on Page 2 generally. I think he has potential. Now that I have said that, he will probably put out an article titled, "The five biggest misconceptions about Darin Erstad."

The sad part about the Natalie Holloway thing in Aruba is that if she were not a young, blonde attractive girl, no one would give a shit.

CitizenX said...

On the other hand, what the fuck did that cute, white girl do besides die tragically under the influence of cuteness and whiteness in America? Nothing.

CitizenX said...

Also, I should read all of the comments before replying.

Will bengoodfella be the next guest on LZ's cafe?

I'm hungry.

cs said...

My point was both stories involved assaulting/insulting an umpire, a man of authority. Americans jump all of over these kinds of stories. That's why he wrote it. I'm not justifying its value as a news story, just that its theme is something people are interested in - a man of authority being attacked. Just like its a state-wide day of mourning and a huge story when a cop is killed, and a non-story when downtrodden fellow A kills downtrodden fellow B. In most cases, the cops aren't famous, they represent something in the American psyche.

And no shit Alomar (Orioles, not Indians) is more famous than the kids in the HS story. Again, not the point, but nonetheless human interest pieces shouldn't only involve celebrities. But as far as the being well-known thing goes, I think we have that displayed: the Alomar thing was a national story on SC, in SI, in newspapers everywhere. I've heard of these kids for the first and probably last time with Reilly's column. In terms of coverage, that's fair I'd say.

And yeah Larry, thanks for "putting me right in my place". OUCH. Can we get a bib for Ben with all that man juice dripping off his chin? It's getting a bit messy.

larry b said...

Commenter fight! Easy, fellas. It's the weekend. Save the animosity for Monday. CS, I see what you're saying about how human interest pieces don't necessarily have to be about celebrities, but I really feel like this story is tabloidish and useless because there's no depth to it. The kids were mad that they weren't getting calls. They took a strange form of revenge. The end. Unless there's something more to report there, some other kind of angle, I think this is useless. And the fact that it wasn't necessarily plastered all over the national news like what's-her-face doesn't matter to me- one national columnist picked it up, and now millions of people will read about it when they could be reading about something else. That bothers me.

X- Might I recommend some Sun Chips for your hunger? I'm enjoying some right now, and they're definitely getting the job done. Also, way to (fairly) play the race card. SMACK!

Bengoodfella said...

I did not mean put specifically you in your right place, I was just referring to his general rant about America and this passage:

"On the other hand, what the fuck did that girl do besides die tragically? Nothing. The fact that that story had legs for more than 2 years after the event occurred (and in fact, may still have legs) is a sad indictment of how fucking stupid America is. On the day she died, I promise you, hundreds of other no name Americans also died tragically."

I appreciate the thoughtfulness about the bib, but I have a napkin and I will clean it up myself. I will try not to agree with anyone in the future with such apparent glee.

Bengoodfella said...

I hate umpires so that is most likely why they do not hold a special place in my heart. I stil wish someone would throw a baseball at the umpire Drew Coble.

Maybe this umpire in Georgia was consistently a dick?

Chris W said...

it's not like someone took a bat to the ump.

This is about a half inch up above "knockdown pitch" in terms of things of sketchy ethics in baseball.

People ding umps like that all the time on fake crossups. The only reason this has legs at all is because Youtube caught on to how hilariously awful the catcher's fakeout was.

Seriously, it's a pretty shitty thing to do to fake crossup an ump like that, but then again it's a pretty shitty thing to do to throw at a batter's head or spike a SS.

But baseball is full of dirty plays that are all part of the game.

cs said...

All right, well I take back what I said to Ben. I got a bit cunty, and I didn't really mean it to be so mean spirited. I'll blame it on my crappy morning, if that's cool with you.

And listen, I'm not suggesting Reilly wrote a fantastic article. I can understand why it was written and why people would read it, that's all. The Alomar situation was blown up way beyond what it should have been. I think him and the ump made up and were involved in charities and stuff afterwards. And its telling that the make up and subsequent charitable events and activities they did didn't make the cover of SI and first segment of Sprotscenter. America apparently wants the sensationalism, but not the real stories that mean something.

cs said...

Chris, yeah man, but those things are a part of the game. Faking out an ump and throwing a fastball at his head is not. At the very least, just throw it at his head straight up and have the catcher just sit there. Were they afraid they'd get ejected? Well no shit they would have, but if you do something like that, at least man up and say "Yeah, we fucking threw at you" instead of pretending it was some bullshit cross up.

Dirty shit happens, sure, but the players usually keep it between themselves and don't involve the guys in blue. I didn't have a problem with NY's Duncan cleeting the Tampa Bay second baseman in spring training. It was dirty, yeah, but it was a part of how the game of baseball has evolved. Throwing at the ump's head and pretending you didn't is just fucked up and cowardly.

Martin said...

I'll lay odds that the Rickster found out about this story from Deadspin, or The Big Lead, or one of the other blog spots. I heard about this a week before he wrote about it. The fact he was a week late on it bothered me more then anything. It reeked of lazy journalism, as if the Rickster had done bupkis for a column for the week, and instead of addressing a real story, wrote this half assed commentary.

Frank Deford pisses this commentary on his PBS minutes each week. Scott Van Pelt busts this out on an ESPN Extra Point before the commercials between Cowherd and Tirico's shows. This isn't the 3rd column by some guy being paid millons for commentary. When it comes down to it, they should kick this money over to their Ombudswoman, she writes a better column than Reilly or Simmons.

larry b said...

All kinds of hilarious words getting thrown around tonight. Thanks to CS for "cunty" and to Martin for "bupkis."

As for the Ombudswoman/man/person, Schreiber- she has replaced John Elway, who had held the spot since I was six years old, as my hero. She's that good. I just hope she truly writes independently and isn't censored or edited too heavily by the powers that be. It sure doesn't seem so, but with ESPN/ABC/Disney, I'm always suspicious. Fuck yourself, Michael Eisner.