North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Sports Media

Notes on a tenth year

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I don’t remember when I started this blog. The first post dates back to June of 2005, but I’m reasonably certain it existed in some form before then: I remember writing about the 2004 NHL finals and I have foul papers of NFL posts in notebooks dating back to 2003. So, in one way or another, I’ve been doing this a long time.

 

A lot’s changed in that time frame. The Internet’s a different place: ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined a site like Grantland, where there’s daily interesting takes on sports and pop culture. After all, one of the reasons I started writing was my general dissatisfaction with writing coming out of Toronto. I was sick of writers like Steve Simmons, Damien Cox and Al Strachan, people who reflected a viewpoint I didn’t share.

 

At the same time, I don’t really remember what the Internet was like back then. I suppose Bill Simmons was writing for ESPN, but I barely knew who he was. Both Deadspin and Truehoop were a little ways off and while I was one of thousands of people who started a blog back then, I genuinely don’t really remember reading anyone else’s: I just started writing online because I was already writing offline, in chapbooks, spiral notebooks and on an ancient IBM laptop that ran Windows 95 and barely at that.

 

Which has always been my raison d’etre, really. I’ve never worried about traffic and over the years, it comes and goes. I’ve always consciously written stuff I’d like to read and if nobody else does, I don’t care. Maybe not the best attitude, but it’s how I’ve always felt.

 

Over the years, being a borderline interesting sports blogger has given me some interesting paths. There was a blog founded by a bunch of teenagers who asked me to write a mailbag column, there was my spell writing a MVP column for Hardwood Paroxysm and, most memorably, I was a featured columnist for The Good Point for about five years.

 

That last one was easily the most rewarding experience I’ve had in these ten years and not jut because it was my only paying gig. Austin, Andrew and Rob, if you’re reading this, thanks for everything. You’ve been a big influence and I learned a lot from you all.

 

I’ve actually given thought to pitching an oral history of The Good Point to, er, someone, since it was an interesting, wild and talented place for a number of years. Just a casual look at the list of contributors is like a who’s-who of young sports writers: Andrew Bucholtz, one of Yahoo Canada’s/Awful Announcing best writers and as ambitious as anyone I’ve ever met; radio personality Chris Pope; Leigh Ellis, co-host of NBA-TV’s The Starters; John Matisz, Sun Media’s go-to hockey writer. There have been others, too.

 

I think if you track my writing over the years there, you can see my evolution as a sports blogger, going from a self-made sports guy to someone who’s really more interested in the margins and what happens off the field. When I started, I was interested in writing about events; by the time I stopped, I was more interested in talking to female writers about why female sports are ignored or how people are making sports culture more open and accessible. It’s to Austin Kent and Rob Boudreau’s absolute credit they never spiked my columns because they weren’t jock-ish enough.

 

Indeed, I think I’ve changed too. Back in 2005 or so, I intentionally set out to re-create myself as something approximating a sports guy. Like most people, I have my demons and this was something of an attempt to combat them: maybe by remaking myself in a certain image, I’d be able to drop them. It hasn’t worked that way, but that’s a learning lesson, too.

 

And now, a good ten years on, I’ve realized I’m not really that guy and maybe I never was. You can probably read it if you look deep enough into my articles and how they’ve evolved over the years. I’ve dropped the Hunter Thompson inspired prose, started reading authors like Imogen Binnie, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kate Bornstein, people who’ve challenged how I see the world and myself.

 

Which is a way to say I’m not going away – if anything I’ve been more prolific than I’ve ever been lately – but I’m not the same person anymore, either. There’s a lot more to life than sports.

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Written by M.

May 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Blowing up, down and around (or What To Do About the Jays)

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(Optional soundtrack to this post)

Right now, the Jays are in the cellar. They’re 13-15 and in last place. Funny: it wasn’t long ago they were in first and I was going crazy over Jose Bautista again. Funny how things change in a month. Hell, just two weeks ago, there was snow on the ground and today I sat outside and read in short sleeves bare feet.

And things have changed for the Jays. Their youth movement wasn’t paying off quite as well as everyone hoped. Their bullpen has struggled and, at times, so has their offence. All of which means it’s time for that annual Toronto tradition, when hockey minds slip into something more comfortable for summer weather – a loose fitting T-shirt, I imagine, and a pair of jorts – and diagnose the problems of Canada’s lone baseball team.

Why here’s Steve Simmons weighing in on if John Gibbons should be fired! Here’s Jeff Blair, making the same argument! Spoiler: both say it’s not his fault. And I’m sure Michael Grange had a bad opinion somewhere recently, too, although I can’t find it at the moment. On Twitter, perhaps?

Firing Gibbons is the kind of move sportswriters love to pontificate about because it seems like a power play: you’re not producing, so you’re gone. It’s a big bang, the kind of simple, big solution everyone always has for the Jays. And while I agree with Simmons and Blair for once, just writing a column asking that question is throwing fuel on the fire.

Should Gibbons lose his job? No, of course not. There are problems with the Jays, but they’re not really huge problems and, further, they’re not problems Gibbons has any real control over. They include slow starts by some players, young rookies not playing like established veterans and a couple of bullpen meltdowns.

One such problem is the Jays defence: the 145 runs they’ve allowed is the most in the majors this season. But that’s been inflated recently: they allowed 12 in a loss to Tampa on Apr. 24, 10 in a loss to Cleveland on May 3, and nine in another Cleveland loss on May 1.

One thing that’s not a problem is their offense, which is the MLB’s best. Forget blowing this team up, they’re blowing around the bases! They’ve scored more than anyone, are sixth in OPS, and average over five runs per game. That’s pretty good! And not something you’d get from Toronto’s Finest. Writes Simmons:

Next on the list is Jose (K) Bautista. K for strikeouts which he is doing too much of… The slow start for Bautista is nothing new — he will find his way, he always does — but his inability to get hits in key situations has factored in games.

Bautista did show he can still make a difference late Monday night against the Yankees. He got a key hit, scored a large run, did what he is paid to do and hasn’t done enough of yet this season.

Never mind how Bautista is fourth on the team in slugging, has five dingers and absolutely showed up Baltimore’s pitching. Never mind how he’s the face of the Jays powerful offense and probably gets more junk than anyone, gets thrown at more than any other Jay. If only there was a way to chart how he’s being pitched to! The guy gets more flak than anyone and when he’s gone, I’m going to genuinely miss the guy.

Thank god for reasonable voices in the Toronto media, like Andrew Stoeten or Arden Zwelling. And especially Mike Wilner. I’m usually hot-and-cold on JaysTalk, but man, he’s had some incredible calls this season and he takes ’em like a champ.

(I think my favourite was when someone earnestly asked if he’d ever tried to play professional baseball, since he likes the sport so much. Not in an accusatory way, more like they just couldn’t understand why he never tried. Wilner asked if he was getting set up, but it never veered into “you can’t if you didn’t” territory, somehow.)

Anyway, I expect the Jays will recover and it’s not all Doom and Gloom. This is a team that can hit and has been all season. Their bullpen’s been iffy, but I imagine it’ll settle down. Look at RA Dickey, who is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA, but pitched a gem the other night. Look at how young this team suddenly is: 12 players are 26 and under, 27 of them under 30. It’s going to take some time for everything to gel and until then I have faith their offense will hit them out of some lousy pitching nights.

Written by M.

May 6, 2015 at 11:59 am

When the Take’s Too Hot

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It’s been a long time since I was in journalism school, but back in my J-School days we had an ethics class and used to have long discussions about what was and wasn’t ethical to publish.

Generally, these talks revolved around ideas like going undercover: if you gave a false identity to get information, does that information outweigh the act of lying? Or, in other words, if you were dishonest to one person, why should the reader believe you’re being honest to them? It was all very academic and looking back at it, makes me wonder if I attended The College-on-the-Hill.

It all kind of came back to me the other day when I read about a scorching hot take which ran over on a Blog I’m Not Going to Name. Basically, it was a vile opinion that wished actual, literal death on Josh Hamilton for being an addict. It was stupid beyond words, a vicious, ugly piece of hot garbage.

This post isn’t about that, though. It’s about what happened in the layer above the post: the editor who ran it, quickly deleted it but gave the writer a chance to write a self-congratulatory, tone-deaf ‘apology.’ How does that happen?

The goal of opinion writing is supposed to be to present an informed take on a subject and present it in a way that makes a logical argument. If I were to write something about how the Toronto Raptors should fire Dwane Casey, I’d have to make a case for why he’s failed at his job, why Toronto should move on him and maybe even argue a case for who should be coach. I’d have to write about something concrete: wins, losses, defensive meltdowns and short rotations.

I wouldn’t launch a personal attack.

For one, that’s rude and distasteful. Second, it doesn’t actually mean anything: if I start calling people names and slandering them, it’s only making me look petty and uninformed and unintelligent. And again: it’s stupid. My job as a ‘sportswriter’ – anyone who has that job, really – is to argue about sports and be able to back it up. Ad hominem attacks are lazy, uninformed and a waste of everyone’s time.

If I know this, why doesn’t the editor at Blog I’m Not Going To Name? Why doesn’t his boss at A Much Larger Blog Network know this? Were they even in the loop? When the blogger went back and wrote a goodbye post, was it something they approved or even knew about? Who the hell knows.

But it’s not just this one post – although it kind of pushed me to write this – but it’s something I see all the damn time these days: Hot Take after Hot Take, often just out there to shock readers into a few clicks. As a certain four-letter network says, Embrace Debate.

Which brings me back to my days in ethics class: we used to talk and argue these things and hear multiple points of view. Which is what I think every good blog needs: communication. You need to talk with editors to help shape your piece. You need to think about your words and how they’ll impact people.

As we used to say: it’s impact, not intent. I could mean the nicest thing in the world, but that’s moot if they start pissing people off. And once you start coming off like an asshole, it’s pretty hard to gain trust back from readers. Maybe that’s why I avoid a lot of sports media these days.

Written by M.

April 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

Posted in Sports Media

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The Doom and Gloomy Leafs on a Sunny Jays Sunday

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It was warm and sunny on Sunday as I drove into Blue Mountain, but it was also a day where the slopes were still open, too: people carrying snowboards, skis and helmets commingled with people in shorts, tank tops and sandals at the bottom of the hill.

Seemed like fitting weather, given the day’s sports news coming out of Toronto. It too was a mix of summer and winter, the Jays and Leafs each with moves that would normally lead the sports section.

On Saturday night the Leafs season finally came to an end against Montreal. Not an exciting game, not even one I bothered watching to completion. It’d been a rough year by anyone’s standards, not even getting into the weird little soap operas that kept bubbling up throughout the year: Kessel snapping at the media, a plague of jerseys thrown on the ice, a media-driven flap over players not saluting fans who were booing them off the ice. Like I said: it was a weird year.

Anyway, less than 24 hours after the Leafs final game, Brendan Shanahan started purging the team. He fired the general manager, the coach and a bunch of assistants. Depending on who you read, their scouting department was gutted as well. He had promised quick changes, but man, this was quick. As a twitter wag noted, there wasn’t even time for the traditional contract extensions first.

There aren’t really any compelling arguments for keeping Dave Nonis on as GM. For one, his position under Shanahan seems ill defined and is maybe powerless. Even last summer, when the Leafs started hiring management, the moves were seen as Shanahan moves, like when the Leafs hired Kyle Dubas away from the OHL’s Sault St Marie Greyhounds.

If that left the player moves to Nonis, it’s worth noting what happened there is problem number two. Over the past few seasons, the Leafs have let much of their talent walk, kept underperforming players around and never really addressed positional needs.

One example: In the spring of 2013, James Reimer backstopped the Leafs deep into the first round of the playoffs, often while facing upwards of 40 shots a night. That summer, the Leafs added another goalie, who also regularly faces upwards of 40 shots a night. They still haven’t really addressed their defensive and puck possession problems.

In a way, it’s frustrating. The Leafs are always in the news and it’s rarely for something interesting. It’s always negative, either because they lost, because the media is throwing someone under the bus or because there’s some kind of controversy being drummed up. First it was people throwing jerseys, then it was salute-gate, finally it was Kessel getting fed up by accusatory questions.

This season, more than any other I can remember, seemed like the media trying to crank out a new scandal every few days to sell papers or push a columnists name ahead. When I get around to the sports section, it feels like the same old doom and gloom from a crop of writers I used to enjoy reading. Maybe that’s why I read it less and less these days.

And indeed, all the moves are leading the sports pages today. The scribes are already writing stuff that throws Kessel under the bus (no, I’m not linking to it) and slamming Nonis on the way out. I’m sure that in days to come, they’ll find hands to wring, people to blame and easy solutions that won’t really solve anything. I’m also sure I won’t bother reading any of it.

It’s too bad: the Jays played their most exciting game of the year on Sunday and frankly, it might be one of their best games of 2015.

 

I caught snatches of the game on the radio and on Twitter: lots of hitting, a big Jays lead and a near-comeback by the Baltimore Orioles. I think my favourite part was the late home run by Bautista: buzzed by an inside pitch, he took the next into the seats and ran around the bases yelling at Darren O’Day. If I remember right, he was even yelling from the dugout afterwards! It was great: his first home run of the year, one that gave the Jays an extended lead in the late innings and a nice display of emotion from a guy who generally seems pretty reserved.

 

But remember: late last year, Bautista went on a tear and more or less kept the Jays in playoff contention almost single-handedly (I even wrote about it here). He hit .299/.430/.540 in September, including a 12-game stretch where he hit eight homers and slugged a 1.205 OPS. He started this season a little slowly, but man, he seemed jacked up after that dinger and I’m hoping it’s a sign he’ll go on a tear.

 

There were other cool moments. There was a great grab by Donaldson late in the game, where he dove and grabbed a sharply-hit ball. There was two good grabs by Kevin Pillar, including one in the ninth where he lost his glove but the ball stayed inside (he hit a dinger, too). And there was Castro, who found himself in a jam in the ninth, with the tying run at the plate and one out, but pitched his way out of it. Not bad for a rookie!

 

For me, the game hit all the right notes: memorable defense, good pitching (by Castro, anyway) and a Bautista dinger. And what’s more, it’s a positive story: there isn’t anyone to throw under the bus, nobody you to assign blame to, not even a stupid controversy to milk. After all, after a week into the new season, the Jays have gone 4-2 and are tied for the AL East lead. It should be an exciting time!

 

It’s too bad it’s buried under a pile of Leafs-autopsy ink.

Swoon City: Toronto, Sports and the Media in 2015

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It’s early on Wednesday morning and I’m driving around, listening to 1050 TSN when I hear the latest Hot Take: the Raptors are bad because the Leafs are bad because Toronto likes bad teams.

 

I used to call this The Toronto Malaise, a general feeling of depression that hangs over the city and it’s sports teams. When I wrote that, the Jays and Leafs were doormats and the Raptors the best of a bad division, fading with nothing to show for it.

 

But that was then and this is now: both the Leafs and Raptors have been in the playoffs in recent years and the Jays might too, if they can stay healthy and shore up their pitching. There are several great athletes in this city and most of them are pretty young. They’re even happy to be here! So things should be looking better, right? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

March 26, 2015 at 10:47 am

From the vault: Roger Lajoie, The Busiest Man In Sports

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I was cleaning up my laptop the other day, backing up some writing, deleting some others, when I came across this: an unpublished profile of Roger Lajoie. I wrote it some time in 2007, I think. No idea on the exact date. Below, I’ve added some reflections on this piece.

Roger Lajoie, The Busiest Man In Sports

Roger Lajoie bills himself as “the busiest man in sports” and it’s a claim that’s hard to disprove. He – often simultaneously – works for the Reuters newsgathering agency, for the FAN 590 radio station in Toronto, for Rogers Television, stars on Sun-TV’s “The Grill Room”, for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team and for the Oshawa Generals. This is all in addition to his freelance work and his two upcoming books.

Roger is best described as more of a freelancer then anything else. “I don’t have a typical ‘nine to five’ day,” he says. Instead he has many little jobs, all of which he enjoys. “My creed is that my work is my play”, he explains, “I don’t have to be as busy as I am, but I love it.”

His freelancing career started in 1998, when Roger left his job as editor of the Durham Post, leaving behind a career as a reporter. By doing so, he left behind a steady job for a series of part-time jobs, starting with the United Press International. “I traded the security of a full-time job for the flexibility of being able to do 10 or 12 things,” Roger says, “If had a full time job … I couldn’t go to the World Series next week, I’d have to go to work.”  Roger worked for UPI for six years before leaving to become the North American sports correspondent for Reuters, a position he holds to this day. Among the various events that Roger covers for Reuters are: the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NCAA’s Final Four, the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA’s Finals.

By working for a wire service, Roger encounters some unique problems – his stories don’t have to be ready in a few hours, they have to be ready as soon as the game ends – even if the outcome changes at the last second. “(Sometimes) you have to write it again,” says Roger, “but you can’t write too much because you don’t know what’s going to happen.” Smart writers, he says, learn to write small parts of the story as they happen and to leave the bigger details (who hit the game winning hit or who scored in overtime or whatever) until the end.

In addition to working for a wire service, Roger also works for “The Fan 590”, hosting a show on Saturday mornings and co-hosting “Late Night” with Norm Rumack three nights a week. He also does play-by-play on Rogers Television for the St. Michael Majors for the last seven years, as well as for the Oshawa Generals for the last two years – at the same time! He regularly appear on Sun-TV’s ‘The Grill Room”, a nightly sports talk show and is the official scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team, a position he’s held since 1978. In addition to being their official scorer, Roger is also their PA announcer and writes their press releases.

All in all, Roger is indeed very busy, which Roger says he enjoys. “I’ve got my career where I want it, now,” he says. “I’m at the stage where my goal would be to do what I’m doing for 20 years.”

***

I vaguely remember why I wrote this: I had an interviewing class and this was likely for an assignment. If it’s what I think it is, I recorded this interview, wrote a profile story and handed in both the tape (this was how I did it then: I recorded all my interviews on microcassette) and the profile. One of my professors – probably Brian Legree, although I’m far from certain – would compare the two and assign a grade. 

Somehow, I got in touch with Lajoie and we met in a strip mall, at a now long-gone coffee store in north Oshawa. I remember Lajoie saying he used to tape his broadcasts on cassette and listens to them in the car; Danny Gallivan’s influence on a young Lajoie; the frustrating  2001 World Series, when several wild ninth innings played havoc on his wire-reporting stories. Funny how none of those made their way into mine. But then, it’s probably the first profile I ever wrote. 

I don’t remember what happened to this story. Did it run in the school newspaper? I doubt it. Then why didn’t I run it here? I don’t know.Reading it now, I’m surprised by how short it is, by how little I let Lajoie’s voice get into the story. Not how I’d write it today, but I guess was learning the ropes.

A final aside: two years after I wrote this, I started working with Lajoie on Oshawa Generals broadcasts. Granted, I was one of the guys who carried cameras, pointing them at people when instructed. One time I tripped over a camera cable in front of Lajoie talking on-air. Did Lajoie remember me? If he did, he kept it to himself.

Written by M.

April 29, 2014 at 9:00 am

The Good Point: On Equal Coverage

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Over at The Good Point, I’ve got a piece I’m pretty happy with, where I examine why more mainstream sports outlets – Sports Illustrated, ESPN, etc – don’t cover women’s sports like they do men’s.

In it, I spoke to a woman who runs a great site, The Scoreboard for Equality. There, she keeps an eye on the NY Times and other sites. As I wrote in my story:

A sample day: on July 12, the New York Times had 25 stories about men’s sports and just one about women’s: a lone story about golf in China. The night before, there were two WNBA games and a NWSL match between Seattle and Western New York. ESPN premiered the first of it’s Nine for IX documentary series just a couple days later. As per the report on Scoreboard, none of those events were on the publication’s main sports page.

Perhaps you’ve heard the Times famed motto: All the News That’s Fit To Print.

Click here to read the whole story!

Written by M.

August 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Sports Media, The Good Point

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