Hines Ward joins NBC as analyst; really excited!

Hines Ward is really excited, with an exclamation mark!

From the release:

Hines Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler who played 14 years for the Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring after the 2011 season, joins NBC Sports Group as an analyst across its NFL, college football and studio programming, it was announced today.

As part of the multi-year agreement, Ward will be a regular contributor to the critically- acclaimed Football Night in America; serve as an analyst every Saturday on NBC’s and NBC Sports Network’s college football studio programming with Liam McHugh and Doug Flutie; and will regularly appear on NBC SportsTalk with Mike Florio and Peter King to preview and recap the week in the NFL.

Ward, who appeared on NBC’s Super Bowl XLVI pre-game show, is a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and two-time Super Bowl champion. The Super Bowl XL MVP finished his stellar 14-year career with 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 83 touchdowns, all Steelers’ records.

“We think Hines is a perfect match for television because he brings with him a unique combination of charisma and football experience, which he demonstrated on our Super Bowl pre-game show from Indianapolis,” said Sam Flood, executive producer, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “He’s an opinionated personality who can draw upon his 14 years of experience, having excelled at the highest levels of the game. Just don’t expect him to dance.”

“I am really excited! It’s not everyday that you get the chance to work for a powerhouse like the NBC Sports Group,” said Ward. “It is a big honor for me and I am looking forward to making the most of this great opportunity.”

Miami-Boston rules over Cup opener in NY, LA markets; Buffalo does higher local rating

This has to be unprecedented. If not, then I can’t remember the last time it happened.

Wednesday, a Stanley Cup Final opener couldn’t pull better ratings in the local cities of the two participating teams than an NBA semifinal playoff game with out of market teams.

Basketball, not hockey, was the top-rated sporting event for the evening in both New York and Los Angeles. The Miami-Boston game drew a 7.4 rating in New York and a 6.1 in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final featuring local teams in New Jersey-Los Angeles did a 5.1 rating in New York and a 4.2 in Los Angeles.

As predicted, it shows the limited ratings appeal for the New Jersey Devils in the New York area and the Los Angeles Kings in LA. You could be sure the New York numbers would have been much different if the Rangers advanced to the Final.

As for the Los Angeles component, can you imagine a Miami-Boston basketball game doing a better local rating in Chicago if the Blackhawks were playing Game 1 of a Cup Final? Or Detroit? St. Louis? Even Nashville?

And furthermore, Buffalo, with a 7.8 rating, led all major markets, easily beating New York and LA. Minneapolis actually tied LA for third at 4.2. Again, hard to remember when one of the participating team’s market wasn’t No. 1 for a Final game.

All told, Game 1 did a 2.4 rating, down 25 percent from last year’s game 1 between Boston-Vancouver.







Explaining, defending Ken Harrelson

I’ve known Ken Harrelson for 26 years. Back in 1986, the Chicago Tribune dropped me without a parachute into the White Sox beat. I was 26-years-old and woefully inexperienced; the year before I actually covered the Illinois state high school badminton tournament.

To top things off, the Sox made Ken Harrelson their general manager. It proved to be a wild season, with Hawk eventually firing Tony La Russa. Yet through it all, I still have fond memories of working with Harrelson that year. There never was any BS with him and that definitely holds true today.

I’m saying all this because it helps explain why Harrelson went off like he did Wednesday in Tampa. The video has gone viral, and he even got some play on SportsCenter.

It is a quite a rant. Epic, even.

Yet this is what White Sox fans come to expect of Harrelson. In fact, this homerish approach even predates him. During the 1970s and early 80s, Harry Caray was blowing up people left and right while calling Sox games, and many of his targets were Sox players. Then it went over the top when Caray was joined by Jimmy Piersall, easily forming the most outrageous broadcast team of all time.

You think yesterday was crazy? Just check out some old clips from Harry and Jimmy.

Back to Harrelson, as I saw first-hand 26 years ago, you need to know he lives for this team, and he will do anything for its owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. He has more than 30 years invested in this franchise. The loyalty runs extremely deep.

It is all genuine with Harrelson in the booth. When the Sox lose, it’s hard to say who takes it tougher: Hawk or Sox GM Kenny Williams.

I tried to call Harrelson this morning, but he explained in a radio interview on WSCR-AM 670, he has decided to turn off his phone. However, don’t think for one minute he will back down from yesterday’s comments.

From WSCR’s site, which has audio of the entire interview:

“First of all, I still have a headache because I got so upset yesterday,” he said. “I took four Advil after that inning was over and then I had to take four more on the plane and then when I got home last night I had to take four more. Also, when I got up this morning, I had to take four more.”

As for the play, his stance hasn’t changed.

“We had two guys drilled, none of their guys got thrown at, none of their guys left their feet and then all the sudden we throw at Zobrist, which was below the belt about knee high behind him, and he throws Quintana out? Give me a break,” the broadcaster said.

ChicagoSide also ran an interview by Daniel Dorfman this morning on Harrelson’s 30 years in Chicago. It included this quote:

…On being a homer

HAWK:That to me is the greatest compliment that can be paid to an announcer. I want the White Sox to win. When they win there is not one person happier than I am. When they lose there is no one more down than I am. I have some detractors, as every announcer does, and I have fans who love the Hawk, and I think one of the reasons why is that I am a White Sox guy and I give the other team credit but I want the White Sox to win.

When I am doing a game and I have to bite my tongue, they know by my silence, which is the greatest communicator of them all.

Indeed, at age 70, Harrelson isn’t about to change, and most Sox fans are fine with that. Expect more clips like the one he produced Wednesday.





Pearlman tells complete story of infamous John Rocker story

There’s the story that gets printed in a publication. Then there’s the story behind the story.

Often, the latter is just as interesting.

Jeff Pearlman has decided to tell what happened before, during and after his infamous story on John Rocker that ran in Sports Illustrated in 1999. He writes about the weird encounters on his JeffPearlman.com in response to Rocker knocking him in a recent interview.

Rocker said of Pearlman:

Pearlman spent nearly 10 hours with me that day and we engaged in numerous very long-winded conversations on everything from how to throw a breaking ball to the effects of a flawed U.S. immigration policy. Strategically extracting a sentence fragment here and separate thought there Pearlman painted the exact picture of me he intended from the very beginning and in doing so remained true to form and consistent with his long and decorated history of trash journalism. In my research I have found that Pearlman has done eerily similar hatchet jobs to dozens of other subjects during his 20 year career.

Pearlman decided he couldn’t let the comments go. He goes into the details of how Rocker went off his rocker.

Pearlman writes:

Rocker has said and said and said that his words were taken out of context; that, in and of themselves, they sound awful. But that we were actually discussing, oh, foreign policy and race relations and the such. This, of course, is a complete lie. Like, not even close to the close to the close to the truth. He said what he said because he was—and still seems to be—quite stupid. Stupid people call black teammates “fat monkeys,” and berate “queers with AIDS” on the New York City subway. At the time, Rocker was dating Don Sutton’s daughter. He was also dating another young woman. One of his girlfriends (I can’t recall which) was in the car with us. When she left, he called the other.

My favorite moment actually never made print. We were driving around Atlanta—girlfriend in the front seat, me in the back—when Rocker asked whether I’d ever been to Disney World.

“I have,” I replied.

“You know all those characters who walk around the park—Mickey, Donald, Minnie …”

“Sure,” I said.

“Well, they’re all faggots,” he said. “They’re all fucking faggots.”

Pearlman also writes about Rocker threatening him in a clubhouse encounter after the interview:

Rocker spent the ensuing two minutes (felt like 10) in my face, jabbing his finger into my chest, blasting me for ruining his career, his family. He said, “Do you know what I can do to you?”—and I thought, “Yes, beat the living shit out of me.” My only strong moment came midway through, when he said, “I even bought you lunch!”

“Actually,” I said, “I paid.”

“Well, fuck you …”

Read the entire piece and tell me who you’re going to believe.



This week’s SI: The untold story about steroids in baseball

Back in 2002, Ken Caminiti’s revelations in Sports Illustrated blew open what was painfully obvious: rampant use of steroids in baseball.

This week, Caminiti, who died of a drug overdose, is back on the cover of SI. However, on the 10th anniversary of the original story, SI’s Tom Verducci takes a different approach on discussing the impact steroids had on the game.

His opening paragraph:

This is a story about the real cost of steroids in baseball–not the broken records, not the litigation, not the talk-show drone about the elite players who juiced and how to weigh their Hall of Fame candidacy. This is a story about the hundred, even thousands, of anonymous ballplayers whose careers and lives were changed by a temptation that defined an era.

Kudos to Verducci and SI for detailing the deeper implications here. It went far beyond Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Sosa, etc..

This is a must-read story. One of the best I’ve seen in SI in a long time.

From the release:

(Verducci) examines the playing careers of four right handed pitchers who were members of the Minnesota Twins organization in mid-to-late 1990s. They had similar skills and backgrounds. None were drafted by the Twins higher than the fourth round of the MLB amateur draft. One of the four, however, took steroids, and he was the only one who ever reached the major leagues. His name was Dan Naulty and his decision to cheat the game, his teammates and himself affected all their lives.

Naulty was 6’6’’ and 180 pounds as a senior at Cal State Fullerton, had a fastball that sat around 85mph and was drafted in the 14th round. After using steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs, he began throwing his fastball at up to 95mph and at one point weighed 248 pounds. He spent three seasons with the Twins, pitching in 97 games before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1999, where he won a World Series.

On the outside, he looked like many other major leaguers, but inside he was an emotional wreck from the steroids, the guilt of cheating and a drinking problem. Naulty hit rock bottom just after the World Series. After a night of celebrating with some teammates, Naulty asked his driver as they crossed the George Washington Bridge, “Tell me. Tell me if this is all there is to life. Because if this is all there is, just stop this car right now and I’ll jump…. I had no hope. I had sold myself that bill of goods so long that I believed it. But I realized at that moment I had totally destroyed my life. And I had destroyed countless other people’s lives. I was ready to die.”


Verdi on covering Nicklaus: He just gets it

It is a big week for my old Chicago Tribune colleague Bob Verdi. He is receiving the 2012 Memorial Golf Journalism Award at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament.

Verdi has received many honors through the years, but this one is special because of his relationship with Nicklaus.

Unlike Tiger Woods, who doesn’t get it in regards to the media, Nicklaus continues to be the all-time greatest golfer in the pressroom too. There’s a reason why Nicklaus, at age 72, resonates more than just about anybody associated with the game.

During an interview on my golf radio show on WSCR-AM 670 in Chicago, Verdi talked about covering the Golden Bear for the Tribune, Golf World and Golf Digest:

Jack realized early on, probably from (Arnold Palmer), whether he shot 65 or 75, he was news. He never brushed off the media. He just gets it. It’s part of the reason why he is what he is. It’s not only the way he played, but also the way he conducted himself.

Verdi then couldn’t resist sharing his favorite Nicklaus story:

My only problem with Jack is that he designed a course on the Cayman Islands. The property wasn’t big enough so he invented the Cayman Ball. It couldn’t go more than 125 yards.

He said, “I’m going to patent it.”

I said to Jack, “How can you patent it? I’ve been using that ball for 25 years.”





Back by unpopular demand: Pro Bowl returns for 2013

This is your fault, people. If you didn’t watch the Pro Bowl, there wouldn’t be a Pro Bowl.

But football fans do tune in. That’s the main, and perhaps only, reason why the NFL just announced that yet another Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 27 in Hawaii.

From the release:

The NFL’s All-Star Game will be played the week before the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. The 2012 Pro Bowl on NBC was watched by an average of 12.5 million viewers, the second most-watched NFL All-Star game since 2001 behind 2011’s game (13.4 million viewers). The Pro Bowl was the most-watched all-star game in all of sports in the 2011 season.

Yes, higher ratings than the Mid-Summer Classic, supposedly the best All-Star game in all of sports. NBC, which will air the Pro Bowl, won’t mind pulling in 12-13 million viewers on a Sunday night in January.

And then there’s this quote.

“The players believe that the Pro Bowl is an important tradition,” said NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth. “We worked hard with the league to make sure the best players in the NFL are honored for their achievements on the field.”

Yes, nothing like the tradition of seeing players at 1/4 speed trying to avoid turf burns.

Supposedly, the Pro Bowl was on life support. Guess not.

Long live the Pro Bowl.


New Stanley Cup promo captures the feeling

The NHL certainly has done an impressive job with promos capturing the joy of winning the Stanley Cup.

This year’s entry shows a montage of winning teams gathering around the Cup on the ice for those epic group photos. Simple and cool. Very cool. Kudos to Young & Rubicam for their idea and execution.

Here are the previous entries. The 2010 spot shows players getting choked up in their moment of victory.

Here’s the one from 2008 on raising the Cup.

Saints owner: Times-Picayune needs to be published daily

Since forever, we’ve heard how teams, owners, players don’t need newspapers. Until they realize they do.

That appears to be the case in New Orleans. Saints owner Tom Benson is upset with last week’s announcement that the New Orleans Times-Picayune will be published only three days per week. He fired off a pleading note to Advance Publication’s Steve Newhouse, asking him to reconsider the decision.

Benson writes:

It is my belief that New Orleans has the passion and spirit and resilience and deserves to be a city with a daily. Major league cities (and rest assured, we are one), have high-visibility entities such as NBA and NFL teams. They host Super Bowls, Final Fours, BCS National Championships, All-Star games, and other international events. It is hard for me to imagine no Times-Picayune on Monday, February 4, 2013, the day after our city hosts Super Bowl XLVII.

Indeed, imagine how strange it would be not to have a daily hometown paper during Super Bowl week. I think there’s a good chance the Times-Picayune will go seven days to capitalize on all the visitors in town.

However, what about the rest of the time?

The bigger picture is that multiple stories about the Saints in a newspaper represents free advertising for Benson. Even when the stories are bad (and they’ve been really bad for the Saints of late), a huge daily presence still keeps the team front and center.

Obviously, Benson is worried there won’t be the same effect for the Times-Picayune’s coverage on the other days via its website. He concludes:

The Times-Picayune boasts top ranking in the nation in proportion of people who read both daily and Sunday newspapers. That’s the pinnacle and gold standard for a newspaper to aspire to. It is not the time to make a dramatic switch to publishing only three times a week.

I urge you to please reconsider your decision to take away our city’s only daily newspaper.

Benson’s note has to make you feel better if you still work for a newspaper. It shows some people still think they are important.


No swear zone: NBC producer defends McGuire

If the coaches start launching F-bombs over Pierre McGuire’s head during the Stanley Cup Final, executive producer Sam Flood said NBC will handle it the same way it did during Game 4 of the Rangers-Devils series.

During a conference call Tuesday, Flood said if McGuire doesn’t cut off his microphone, the truck would. Flood supported McGuire, who has come under fire for censoring the heated exchange between Rangers coach John Tortorella and New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer.

Flood said:

Pierre is going to give the information. It’s simply two coaches who are not getting along. What they’re saying is not ready for broadcast. (McGuire can say) ‘I can tell you they’re mad at each other’ He can tell you the context without any words. That’s his job.

Later Flood added:

He and I talk after every situation and how it was handled….In terms of language, I certainly wouldn’t want my children to listen to that. So why should I put it in living rooms across the country?

McGuire said:

It’s not an overly sanitized place to work. We’re not in a sound chamber. Also, there’s a responsibility. If somebody uses unbelievable amounts of vulgarity, which happens from time to time in professional sports, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on that.