Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inside the Pages: 7/26/80 edition of The Sporting News

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, The Sporting News was an awesome read for serious sports fans, especially those who loved baseball. At that time, the weekly newsprint-style publication contained an enormous amount of information which you couldn't easily get anywhere else.

Here is a look at an issue from July 1980 which had a cover price of $1.50 and contained 56 pages. The cover photo and some ads were in color, but most of the pictures were black & white. Subscribers received the publication wrapped in a paper mailing sleeve.

The cover story examines the unique relationship between Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and pitcher Jim Palmer. Both later became broadcasters for ABC and would work with Keith Jackson in a 3-man TV booth for the 1982 ALCS.

The Sporting News used an array of writers and columnists from newspapers across North America. The core of the publication was its baseball coverage including a sizable article on each MLB team from a local beat writer. These writeups always ended with a notes section using a creative label such as Wigwam Wisps (Braves) or Bird Seed (Orioles). In addition, the baseball portion had a weekly AL Beat column by Peter Gammons, arguably the best baseball writer of that era and an NL Beat column by the infamous Bill Conlin.

The huge statistics section provided league standings and batting/pitching leaders even though these numbers would be about a week out of date by the time the issue reached readers. The standings even provided the number of games won by each team against each opponent. Each issue contained box scores and brief summaries of every MLB game from the past week along with the schedule for the upcoming week.

The magazine featured weekly columnists such as Dick Young, Joe Falls, and Furman Bisher. Leonard Koppett frequently incorporated statistics into his articles. Hal Lebovitz wrote a regular feature Ask Hal, The Referee where he answered reader questions on rules. This issue featured five such questions, all on baseball.

One of the regular columnists was Jack Craig of the Boston Globe who wrote about sports media. His SporTView column in this edition profiled Orioles broadcaster Bill O'Donnell. Craig labelled O'Donnell and his radio broadcast partner Chuck Thompson as the "longest-running announcing team in the majors". The story said that the Orioles did about 50 local telecasts a season with Brooks Robinson serving as the TV analyst. Craig wrote that up through 1978, O'Donnell was employed by chief sponsor National Brewery rather than flagship station WBAL. Craig chronicled O'Donnell's history of minor league broadcasting assignments before he landed the Orioles job in 1966. The article also mentions his role on the NBC Game of the Week backup telecasts and college basketball work for TVS and the fact that he was doing some work for ESPN which was less than a year old.

The NFL got 3 pages in this issue with college football stealing just a few paragraphs on one of those. The NHL got a single page, while the NBA and college basketball split a page. TSN would increase coverage of these sports when they were in-season, but would cover MLB rather extensively year round. Another page consisted of items on a set of miscellaneous sports including golf, tennis, and boxing.

To illustrate how basetball-centric TSN was during that era, minor league baseball got a whopping 7 pages including stats and standings for AAA, AA, and A leagues and even some coverage of Rookie Leagues and the Mexican League.

The Voice of the Fan page contained 16 letters from readers including many lengthy ones. In the "some things never change" department, there were multiple complaints about All-Star voting, the MLB rain delay policy, and a comment about the over-reliance of MLB managers on relief pitchers. Other articles bemoaned the skyrocketing player salaries and late starting times for night games.

The magazine publicized a one-year TSN subscription for $24.50 - a tremendous value at about 47 cents per issue.

Most of the ads were for alcohol, tobacco, or automotive products. There was also one for Cruex (jock itch relief). There were ads for Pro Football Weekly and various NFL team newsletters such as Ray Nitschke's Packer Report. The classified section featured various baseball camps and umpiring schools. The Hobby Corner section contained many ads for baseball cards.

There was also an ad for the classic APBA dice-simulation strategy game with an offer to receive two free sample player cards and a brochure. The ad conveniently doesn't mention the price of the game (which I recall as being a bit steep for that time).

Some miscellaneous tidbits from the issue:
  • Heading into the All-Star break, the Texas Rangers only had 18 games televised so far that season - a reminder as to how different the TV landscape was at the time.
  • Active Cubs player Dave Kingman had recently resigned as a part-time columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
  • The average length of AL games that season was 2 hours, 47 minutes.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays made a "serious offer" to 19-year old (and reigning NHL MVP) Wayne Gretzky for a tryout and believed that he could have a future in pro baseball. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shot chart from ESPN Sunday Open Championship telecast

I tracked the strokes shown on ESPN during the final round of the British Open. With the lead group teeing off at 9:40am ET, I started the tracking at 9:00 to provide a similar time frame to the shot charts of the Masters and US Open from earlier this year.

ESPN showed all but one stroke by winner Rory McIlroy, skipping a tap-in putt on #3. ESPN televised all but 4 shots for each of Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia. Partway through the front nine, the network settled into a pattern of focusing almost exclusively on that trio who occupied the top three spots on the leaderboard for most of the day. During the tracking period, ESPN devoted 72.5% of the on-camera strokes to these three and spent a lot of air time showing them walking at the expense of other golf action. The only other player to be covered for more than 9 shots was Dustin Johnson.

ESPN showed a total of 269 strokes during the tracking period which ended at 1:26pm. This worked out to only 1.01 shots per minute which was noticeably less than the Sunday coverage of the other majors. ESPN showed only 18 golfers during this period and covered more than one stroke for just 12 players. The highest finisher not shown was Charl Schwartzel who tied for 7th.

The complete shot chart:

PlayerShots shownFinishPairing
Rory McIlroy70 (of 71)11
Rickie Fowler63 (of 67)T21
Sergio Garcia62 (of 66)T22
Dustin Johnson19T122
Adam Scott9T54
Victor Dubuisson7T93
Robert Karlsson7T125
Angel Cabrera7T1918
Jim Furyk645
Shane Lowry5T914
Marc Leishman4T58
Phil Mickelson4T2318
Edoardo Molinari1T73
Graeme McDowell1T97
Francesco Molinari1T1515
Matteo Manassero1T194
Jimmy Walker1T268
Thomas Bjorn1T2626
Charl Schwartzel0T76

Note: The Pairing column reflects the tee time groupings in reverse order, so 1 =  final pairing, 2 = next-to-last, etc.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The memorable 1999 MLB All-Star pregame ceremony

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of an extremely memorable pregame ceremony. Prior to the All-Star game on 7/13/1999 at Fenway Park, several living members on the MLB All-Century Team ballot appeared on the field with actor Kevin Costner performing the introductions. Then the 1999 All-Stars were announced. But the highlight of the evening came after the national anthem when PA announcer Ed Brickley introduced Ted Williams who rode on a cart from the outfield to the pitching mound. This created an unforgettable scene as the current All-Stars surrounded "The Splendid Splinter" on the mound with none of the participants wanting the moment to end. Booth announcers Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, and Bob Brenly sounded rather emotional in describing the events. Eventually MLB officials were able to clear the field so that Williams could deliver the ceremonial first pitch assisted by Tony Gwynn.

The All-Century intros start at the 5:25 mark on this clip, beginning a stretch where Fox stayed on the air for over 38 straight minutes without a commercial break. The Williams segment runs from 36:07 through 43:46.

I still have vivid memories of watching the entire pregame show that night which overshadowed everything else. I didn't even bother watching the exhibition game that followed.