Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Steve Phillips

So I really don't care who sleeps with who in the world. I certainly don't much care about a jerkish baseball announcer. But the case of Steve Phillips really bugs me because his sheer existence in the broadcasting world has irked me for years.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Phillips, one of ESPN's leading baseball announcers, was fired this week for sleeping with a young staffer.

OK, well, I certainly don't like people in power sleeping with people they have power over. This is why I find teacher-student romantic relationships so revolting. But what did ESPN expect? Phillips has a history of sexual harassment that stretches back over a decade. He oozes slime when on the screen.

Moreover, Phillips bugs me because the only reason he got a broadcasting job is because he was general manager of the New York Mets. Was he the GM of the Royals or Brewers or Pirates, he wouldn't be seen within 10 miles of a TV screen. This bothers me on multiple levels. First, the hiring of ex-jock sports announcers these days is predicated entirely on a perception of market share. It has little to do with quality and everything to do with their fame during playing years. This creates scenarios where absurdly unqualified people like Emmitt Smith get high profile jobs. Meanwhile, any number of brilliant but lesser known players are never considered for this position. To their credit, ESPN has one recent hire like this, Orestes Destrade, who was an extremely marginal first baseman in his day. He was probably hired to appeal to Latino audiences, but that's fine. Playing days fame has always mattered for these hires, but never so much as the present. People like Dave Campbell, Steve Jones, Harold Reynolds, and even Cris Collinsworth had marginal national fame during their playing careers. Collinsworth was excellent, but played in Cincinnati, meaning he would never get considered today.

Plus, who actually tunes into a game because they liked one of the announcers when he played 10 years ago? Does anyone really watch sports for this reason? Oh, I have to know what Keyshawn Johnson (arguably the most overrated football player of the last 20 years) has to say about the game? Meanwhile, the superb Tom Jackson, a good but not star linebacker from the Broncos teams of the 80s, gets increasingly marginalized because he wasn't a #1 overall pick and general pain in the ass for a decade.

The other problem with Phillips' lack of qualifications for the position to begin with is that he was completely incompetent as a general manager. He got fired for making such brilliant moves as trading a young Scott Kazmir to the Rays for the legendary Victor Zambrano. Phillips was a horrible GM and therefore I have no ability to respect anything he says about players.

Oddly, I consider the case of Matt Millen totally differently. Millen of course is probably the single worst general manager in the history of the NFL. He turned the Detroit Lions, already a bad franchise, into a national joke and kept his job for years because the Lions' owner thought Millen was a good Christian. Now Millen is in the booth and it's hard to hear him talk without snickering. The difference between him and Phillips though is that Millen was a great announcer before he took the GM job; had he remained in the booth, he and not Collinsworth would almost certainly have replaced John Madden on Sunday Night Football this fall. He has amazing insight and great presence. He just can't run a team. Phillips was not good in the booth or as a GM. He was just a super tanned guy from New York.

Of course, it's unlikely that ESPN will pick a decent 3rd guy to join the Jon Miller/Joe Morgan Sunday Night Baseball team. Phillips was put in there as a way to mitigate Morgan's idiocy and assholeishness in the first place. The other guy considered for the job was the loathsome Rick Sutcliffe, a sexist bastard. Meanwhile, high quality guys like Orel Hershisher or Dave Campbell will continue to receive second-rate assignments. Hershisher is at least famous and it's surprising he hasn't been bumped up; perhaps he is too good and would embarrass Morgan. Campbell was a crappy second baseman and although one of the best color men of his generation, will never get that top spot.