Ranking Detroit's Pundits: The Best and Worst Sports Writers
I am in the process of writing an article that ranks the national sports reporters, and it got me thinking about our local people.
I read sports articles every day. And sure, I am not a professional writer, but I would like to think that I know what is good and what is not so good.
Over the years, we have had some very good writers come through Michigan. Personally, it didn't get any better for me than Joe Falls. I even remember having a little mini-shrine to Kirk Gibson that was made up almost exclusively of Falls' articles.
But there aren't a lot of Joe Falls left in this industry. The Stephen A. Smith's of the world have done their best to make themselves the story above the athletes, basically thinking that their readers are there for them regardless of the team.
Some people do well at this, but others are transparently so self involved that it distracts from the story.
To me, a good sports writer puts the story before himself and captures the zeitgeist.
But before I publish my article on the national people, let's explore the locals.
Personally, the one person I go to for Tigers baseball is Lynn Henning. Mr. Henning writes for the Detroit News and is especially good at mining the minors.
Now this isn't to say that Henning is flawless. He certainly isn't, and sometimes his wacky stats are maddening. Take for instance this snippet discussing how well Clete Thomas is doing:
"Finally warming up, Thomas is batting .345 in seven of his last nine games."
What kind of wacky math is that? And Henning does this often. Personally, I don't understand what the heck this means, but apparently the News is OK with this framing of statistics.
But Henning is to me how I judge whether or not to go out to eat. I love to cook, and I will only go out to eat if the restaurant makes something that I don't or wouldn't want to attempt.
Henning always gives me something I don't know already, and that is a rare trait.
Dan Feldman is someone that doesn't get nearly enough attention as a writer. He currently works for MLive.com, but what really sets him apart is his daily blog on the Pistons on the True Hoop Network on ESPN.com.
His blog is called PistonPowered and he does a very good job of covering the team without making it about himself. He writes from a very subjective perspective and uses statistics to back up his points.
There are a lot of good Pistons blogs out there (notably Need4Sheed, DetroitJockCity, TheBigMitt.com), but Feldman's work in my eyes is a cut ahead.
When it comes to covering the Lions, there are a lot of solid writers out there, but Tom Kowalski from mlive.com is probably my favorite. I'm not particularly impressed with his behavior at some press conferences, notably during the Rod Marinelli era and the last year of Steve Mariucci, but his writing is solid and he definitely knows the team.
Nicolas Cotsonika tries, but I still don't get a lot from him that I can't see myself. Kowalski at least gets to the next level. Besides, Cotsonika really comes across as timid, which really isn't a good fit with football.
Bill Simonson's Huge Show is exactly the opposite. Simonson's persona is larger than life, and he also puts together a decent article here and there. I was particularly impressed with one he wrote a couple months back that roasted Jim Leyland in a rational way.
Jamie Samuelson also has his moments, and actually goes out on a limb every once in a while. However, I also think he takes himself a little too seriously and maybe even puts himself in the rock star stratosphere. In a lot of ways, I can see him trying to channel Jim Rome over time.
Ted Kulfan knows the Wings a lot better than I do, so I am not the one to tear down his work. For me, it is best to stay in my lane, and the Wings are not my strongest subject.
Vince Ellis isn't terrible but isn't all that good either. I rarely get anything really notable from him, and while he does do a good job of reporting facts, he also avoids taking risks. Is this because he lacks substance or because he wants to play it safe? Sadly, we probably will never know.
Jerry Green has been covering the Detroit sports scene for a very long time. I like to get the historical perspective from time to time, and he does well at that.
But if you are looking for current analysis, I would avoid him. He really seems to have gotten caught in a bubble a few years back, and doesn't seem to go too far out of the good old days.
Chris Iott from Mlive is similar to Ellis in that he puts out solid reporting, but I'm not sold on his perspective. He really doesn't put out a lot that you couldn't come up with on sports radio. He is better than the national pundits on covering the Pistons, but he is not at the top of the list.
Carlos Monarrez is a solid Lions writer that I don't usually have a problem with.
This brings us to the bottom of the group.
Surprisingly, these are the most famous of the bunch.
Mitch Albom is a fine writer of fiction and inspirational reading. Tuesdays with Morrie was a fantastic book, and some of his other works have gained a strong following.
But his sports writing is weak. It's as though he doesn't even watch sports anymore, and rests solely on his laurels. He only weighs in on certain hot topics, and when he does, he doesn't add much to the story.
If he is the spokesman for Detroit sports, we are certainly not putting our best foot forward.
Michael Rosenberg is a smart guy that puts out some cute pieces from time to time. But he tries way too hard to be part Mike Lupica and part Joel Stein.
He forces his cutesy jokes into nearly every article he writes. Now maybe this is his hook, but to someone looking for legitimate sports coverage, this gets old quickly.
Terry Foster and Drew Sharp fall into the same category to me. They both are trying to get into the Stephen A. Smith category of making themselves bigger than the story.
Sharp is chiefly a contrarian. I waits to see what everyone else is saying, and then comes out with something different. Sure, he is opinionated and puts himself out there, but there is a reason that fans have nicknamed him "Not so" (as in Drew Not So Sharp).
Sharp to me is the guy that bashes Detroit sports but then gets upset when outsiders do the same. It's as though he has proven his "Detroit-ness" and thinks that this gives him carte blanche to be the prime critic of all things therein.
Foster definitely isn't at that level yet, and is quite likeable. But do you really get anything significant out of his reporting? Then when we see him on television trying to represent Detroit, it always makes us look amateurish.
The bottom line is that there are definitely some good writers out there that bring a fresh perspective to Detroit sports, but there are way too many that have either gotten lazy or have put themselves above the game.
Personally, I am going to stick to mining the "amateurs" for gems since it seems as though those are the only ones that are putting themselves out there on a regular basis.
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