ESPN's Decade In Review an Embarrassment In Sports Broadcasting

Burton DeWitt@bsd987Senior Analyst IDecember 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Pitcher Greg Maddux #36 and catcher Russell Martin #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers walk off the field during Game Five of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2008 MLB playoffs on October 15, 2008 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Bob Ley is wrong. Couldn't be more wrong. Not even if he said something like “Glenn Beck is a big Barack Obama supporter.”

And I guess I could leave it at that. Countless major media people have been wrong before.

But rarely have they been as wrong as Ley was on Thursday's SportsCenter special “Decade IN Review” recapping the decade, which sadly was just the first of many embarrassing errors.

Ley called Roger Clemens “the greatest living pitcher,” and no matter how you view the steroid controversy, you need to let that swallow.

Clemens, the greatest? Really? Of every person still breathing?

Now you need to know one small thing about me.

I think Barry Bonds's record shouldn't be asterisked.  Not now, not ever. Not in a million years.

I don't care if he took every conceivable performance-enhancing drug; I don't care if he was getting shot up by Greg Anderson while Major League Baseball was drawing blood from Bonds, if MLB saw Anderson shooting Bonds up. Bonds did not get caught and therefore there is no fair way to punish him.

Bonds' record, as far as I'm concerned, is as legitimate as Henry Aaron's was, or Babe Ruth's was, or name your record.

So let's get back to Clemens.

There's no denying that Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He won 354 games with an ERA just a hair above three and received a record seven Cy Young Awards with four different franchises.

But the greatest living pitcher?

Sandy Koufax, in a much shorter career, won nearly two-thirds of his games, including one of the most dominant five-year runs ever.

From 1962 to 1966, he led the league in ERA five times, pitched at least one no-hitter in the final four years, won three triple crowns, and led the league in walks and hits per inning pitched in all but his final season, where he ranked second.

Bob Feller, despite missing much of his prime to serve the world and our country in World War II, won 266 games, leading the league six times, while pitching in a hitters era. He was a workhorse, throwing 371.1 innings fresh back from the war in 1946, going the distance 36 times and hurling 10 shutouts that season.

There's Tom Seaver, who rose to prominence after MLB lowered the pitchers mound in 1968. Seaver, while pitching for some mediocre teams, won over 300 games with an ERA under three. Among starting pitchers who spent the majority of their career after 1968, Seaver's WHIP ranks third, behind only Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana.

And that's not even looking at the best pitcher of Clemens's own era, Greg Maddux.

Maddux, who never gave anyone a free base, had arguably the greatest seven-year run any pitcher has ever had. From 1992 to 1998, Maddux went 127-53 with an ungodly ERA of 2.15. His WHIP was well under one, and he had a near five-to-one strikeouts-to-base-on-balls ratio.

Yet Ley is so sure that Clemens is the greatest living pitcher that he states it as a fact, that it isn't even disputable?

At best it is an argument, an opinion Ley holds, but to state it as fact, as common knowledge, makes Ley appear foolish at best and senile at worst.

But Ley's mistake was just a microcosm of the entire SportsCenter program. The 90-minute special was riddled with errors, as if ESPN threw it together at the last minute with no editing or fact-checking.

Host Hannah Storm referred to Roger Federer as having won 15 grand slam titles over the past six years.

Not true; it's been over seven years.

She continued showing an inability to grasp time when she claimed that the year after Barbaro's injury, Eight Belles was destroyed at the Kentucky Derby.

Not true; Eight Belles broke down a year and a half after Barbaro was destroyed, but two years after his injury.

Dari Nowkhah stated that blogging did not exist at the beginning of the decade.

Not true; blogging dates back to 1997 and the term “blog” itself to early 1999.

Colin Cowherd, when he's not having his listeners crash websites, must feel left out and had to get involved in the error-making. He claimed Federer had spent four years of the decade at number one.

Not true; Federer has been ranked number one for 262 weeks, or slightly more than five years.

Even the graphics department had its turn.

ESPN displayed the year “2006” alongside a picture of Sara Tucholsky, who gained fame in April 2008 when she hit a home run, only to tear her ACL while rounding the bases. Two people on the other team carried her around the bases, touching her left foot on each of the bases.

2008, as you may have surmised, is not 2006.

The errors were not limited to the decade's timeframe.

Storm called Dale Earnhardt's death an “unimaginable tragedy.” Anyone who has ever watched auto racing of any sort knows just how imaginable such a tragedy can be and is.

Mike Greenberg said something potentially libelous, stating that “Tiger using the word 'infidelity' on his website assured us that at least one of [the tabloid pictures of him with a woman] was” truthful.

No, it assured us that he did have an affair, but not necessarily with one of the tabloid girls.

Storm, while appearing to read from the teleprompter, said something entirely non-sensical.

She asked, “ten years ago, who would have thought...the Red Sox would win as many World Series as the Yankees over the last ten years?”

They didn't.

Ten years ago, the Red Sox had won zero World Series over the previous ten years, while the Yankees had won three.

Did anyone take time to proofread ESPN's scripts?

In quite possibly the most embarrassing of all errors, Chris Connelly stated that “more African-Americans called the White House home, the Obama family, than had ever played in a single PGA event.”

For those who were counting, or at least looking at the picture of the family ESPN flashed across the screen, the Obama family has four members living in the White House.

Just in the 1960s alone, more than four African-Americans played on the PGA Tour. And even if Connelly was only counting people to have won PGA Tour events, he would also be incorrect.

Pete Brown, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, and Charlie Sifford had all won PGA Tour events long before Tiger Woods turned pro, leaving me to wonder just where Connelly did his research.

Overall, the 90-minute special was a disaster no matter how you look at it, an attempt to showcase the decade in sports without any editorial oversight or fact-checking.

While there were a few bright spots, such as the update on Jason McElwain, the kid with autism who in his only high school basketball game scored 20 points, including six three-point shots, were enough to make the show at least somewhat enjoyable.

But the errors kept it from being a worthy compilation, a worthy review of the decade.

And like Bob Ley's opinion-stated-as-fact was a microcosm of the show, this 90-minute special was a microcosm of ESPN's decade.

What was once a great network for showcasing excellence in sports and sports broadcasting has collapsed into tabloidism, where pictures from TMZ and vigils into Brett Favre's daily actions dominate 90 percent of SportsCenter.

Why anyone tolerates this is beyond me.

I would be shocked at this special, at its abundance of errors, but this is ESPN after all.

I guess I should be shocked that the show wasn't worse.


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