Friday, October 9, 2015

No penis required

In general, I enjoy watching sports (some far more so than others, to be sure). But as frequent readers of this blog—all three of them—might know, I don't have much use for sports broadcasters or journalists who annoy me. At the top of this list were—for a long, long time—the broadcasting duo of Paul Maguire and Joe Theismann. I get annoyed just typing their names. They typified—for me—the chief problem in sports broadcasting today: the assumption that ex-jocks automatically make good analysts.

I detailed some of the results of this flawed assumption, from the dim-witted banter on NFL studio shows, to the mumbling incoherence of Barkley and company on Inside the NBA. Of course, those examples are about studio shows, only. The problem also exists with actual game commentators, above and beyond the now-defunct Maguire/Theismann partnership.

That said, there are many ex-athletes who moved into broadcasting and did or still do a good job, in my opinion. Indeed, some do an excellent job. Which brings us to the chief subject of this piece: Jessica Mendoza. For those unaware, Ms. Mendoza called the MLB wild card playoff game on Tuesday night with John Kruk and Dan Shulman. Shulman handled the play-by-play while Kruk, an ex-jock himself, and Mendoza were there for analysis and color.

Now, part of the reason Mendoza is in this seat is because regular ESPN color man and ex-jock Curt Schilling was suspended by the network in September for some questionable Facebook posts (the current sensitivity to such things is a topic I won't broach here). That opened the door for Mendoza, who had already been on the Sunday Night Baseball studio team and had been in the booth for some of the NCAA Baseball College World Series in June and one MLB game in August.

Mendoza is a former NCAA and Olympic athlete, having played softball at Stanford—where she was an all-american four years in row—and for the U.S Olympic team in both 2004 and 2008. Shortly after that, she went to work for ESPN as a reporter and an analyst for the NCAA Softball College World Series. Like most ex-jocks turned broadcasters, she slid into the gig in the sport she came from.

And let me say this, as a regular watcher of the softball world series: Mendoza was good. Excellent, really. She took to the job and obviously worked hard at it to become even better (which is all that can be asked of anyone in any job, in my opinion). So I'm guessing that her performance earned her a chance to jump to baseball, which I'm assuming entitled not only a much bigger audience, but also a much bigger paycheck.

The last is a serious point lost on many, many people I think. Mendoza, like many other athletes who played in second or even third-tier sports (sports with far less money in them than the NFL, NBA, and MLB), has to earn a living. And like everyone else, she's entitled to try to improve her earnings. Sure, many ex-NBA/NFL/MLB players retire from the sport and end up actually needing paychecks and look to broadcasting to fill that need, but many—I think—retire from these sports with considerable dollars in the bank and, frankly, get into broadcasting to stay involved and for the implicit ego-stroking they anticipate.

Anyway, Mendoza made the jump successfully. Granted, softball and baseball are not the same thing, but they're far less dissimilar than auto-racing and basketball, yet that didn't cause anyone to freak out when Brad Daugherty started working as a NASCAR analyst. In contrast, Mendoza's jump has been met with all kinds of commentary about how she shouldn't have such a job, how ESPN's move is just a PR stunt, about how she doesn't know enough about the game to add anything to the broadcasts.

This all kind of bubbled over after the wild card game when a sports talk show host in Atlanta—Mike Bell—took to twitter to vent his apparent frustration over ESPN's decision to put Mendoza in the booth. He called her her "Tits Mcghee" (an Anchorman reference) and mocked the idea of a former softball player talking baseball. And he caught a lot of flak for his knuckle-dragging stupidity, ultimately getting suspended by the radio station he works for.

But he's far from the only sportstalk guy offering these kinds of opinions. Witness John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, sportstalk guys out of Boston, who simply refused to allow it was possible for someone to honestly think Mendoza is capable in her new role, much less that she is as good as Schilling. True enough, they're not going the open knuckle-dragger route, but the gist is the same.

Personally, I don't follow nor watch baseball. And I didn't watch the game Mendoza called, so I don't have an informed opinion with regard to how she did. But again, I do know that she proved herself both capable and professional when calling softball games. So I kinda think she probably did just fine the other night, especially given all of the positive review out there. Because the negative one, well they're either full of the crap Bell was shoveling or they're coming from people like Dennis and Callahan, looking to gin up some controversy for their talk shows.

Which, I think, brings up an interesting counter point with regard to the idea that Mendoza can't be a good analyst because she was never a professional baseball player: how can Dennis, Callahan, Bell, and other sportstalk guys be any good at their jobs when none of them played professional sports? The answer is, of course, that they can learn about these things, can observe just like anyone else, and can work at being good at what they do. Just like Jessica Mendoza. No penis required.


  1. Considering the lackluster job Kruk and Shulman do, every time I tune into a Sunday night game on ESPN, I can't say that she could do any worse than they do...

  2. Lol. As I said, I can't really say, as I don't watch baseball. :)