What’s coming up for this weekend:
The plan is a sit-down Q-and-A with Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winning USC quarterback who has rebooted as both a Fox Sports college football studio analyst and will be part of the Pac-12 Network’s “Inside Pac-12 Football Show.”
What’s worthy of serving up here and now:
If we can use the phrase properly and without making ourselves look too out of touch, Jessica Mendoza has just shot her baseball TV credibility well above the Mendoza Line.
She probably just re-drew it.
After becoming the first female to be included as a booth analyst on an ESPN MLB game, sitting in with Dave O’Brien and Dallas Braden on ESPN2 coverage of the St. Louis-Arizona contest last Monday from Phoenix, ESPN will announce soon that Mendoza will also be on the upcoming “Sunday Night Baseball” coverage of the Dodgers’ home game against the Chicago Cubs with a 5 p.m. first pitch.
Sitting in the booth with Dan Schulman and John Kruk, she essentially replaces the still-suspended Curt Schilling.
Yet she has definitely earned the opportunity.
Mendoza, who had already been told she would rejoin O’Brien and Braden again on a Labor Day broadcast of the Orioles-Yankees contest from Yankee Stadium (Sept. 7, 10 a.m., ESPN), said response to what she did last Monday is still taking her by surprise.
“I didn’t realize how big the reaction was going to be,” Mendoza said this morning. “I approached it really as just prepping for another event, but the posts have been crazy — in a great way.”
Mendoza, a past president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, heard from fellow members Billie Jean King, Lindsay Davenport, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Julie Foudy with supportive social media posts that kind of blew her away.
“Alyssa Milano even did a post on her site and on Twitter,” Mendoza said of the actress and baseball fan. “I feel like for all women, regardless of it happening or not in sports, we kind of go through this thing that hasn’t been done together.”
The fact that ESPN may not have publicized it much before the game but used social media more during the game to get viewers on board may have also helped Mendoza ease into the situation.
Some viewers weren’t aware of the historical context until a Baseball Tonight tweet came out:
Besides, hadn’t this been done already before?
“My husband (Adam) told me heading into it: ‘This is a big deal,’ but I thought it was really more the norm,” said Mendoza. “I wanted it to feel more normal. I didn’t want to be nervous.”
With Aaron Boone dispatched to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series, it opened up a chair for Mendoza, who might have already been assigned the sideline/dugout reporter role, to sit between play-by-play man O’Brien and analyst (and former MLB pitcher) Braden.
ESPN had not ever tried doing that in its 35 years of covering the MLB.
Mendoza’s qualifications aren’t the issue — the Moorpark resident, two-time Camarillo High Female Athlete of the Year and two-time Olympic softball gold medalist out of Stanford has already been on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” show and was in the booth during last year’s ESPN College World Series coverage.
Her insights Monday actually helped demonstrate not just how far she has come as an information gather as a sideline reporter/analyst who has an open mike and can contribute to a live conversation during an MLB game, but also how much the bat-and-ball sports are be more related than unrelated.
An instance came up in the seventh inning when the Diamondbacks’ Ender Inciarte fouled a pitch off his ankle and tried to walk it off in pain. Mendoza observed:
“I’d like to say I’ve never done this … at least he got part of the cleat. The worst is when you get the ankle bone or shin bone. And you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. You walk it off and to be honest, you try to keep it as warm as possible because when those start to swell that’s when you’re done … I still have knots, up my leg, ankle and shin from doing just that. And they don’t go away. … After you drill a ball on your shin, you get a little gun shy about pitches low and in. If I were (Cardinals reliever Jonathan) Broxton I’d come right back to that spot. It’s still in (Inciarte’s) head as much as it’s throbbing. And it kind of affects your approach.”
Even before last Monday night’s appearance, Allure.com, a beauty trend magazine and website, had posted a story with the headline: “ESPN Analyst Jessica Mendoza is Your Awesome New Role Model”, allowing Mendoza a chance to answer questions as she anticipated the moment happening.
Constructive feedback from her ESPN bosses has been helpful in the days since that game, she said. Any criticism that she may have read or heard is also taken for what it is. Like this Twitter post:
Women in sports just can’t win. The 1st woman in an ESPN MLB booth is being criticized for being *too* knowledgeable. pic.twitter.com/LmWIwcGTMX — Kavitha A. Davidson (@kavithadavidson) August 25, 2015
When we tweeted out acknowledgement of Mendoza’s night on Monday, telling her to keep taking her cuts, we soon saw this response by former D’backs play-by-play man Daron Sutton:
— Daron Sutton (@lifeisgreatsut) August 25, 2015
Craig Calcaterra responded more to how ESPN broke this barrier on a NBC Sports’ HardballTalk post:
“The most encouraging thing about this was not her mere appearance on a baseball broadcast but that, for once, a major network approached expanding its diversity in a way other than making a special show ‘just for women’ or some such nonsense. Those sorts of initiatives tend to ghettoize unconventional programming or unconventional staffing. The real way to diversify is to simply put people with unconventional backgrounds or demographic profiles in the slots normally held by the conventional. … You’ll improve your broadcasts thanks to new voices and approaches AND you’ll make the weirdness of it all disappear more quickly.”
== So back to that Mendoza Line reference: We hear MLB broadcasters to this day use it, without context, and have to figure than more than half the viewers don’t even know what it means.
Look it up: During the 1980s, the batting average of former defensive specialist shortstop Mario Mendoza would hover around the .200 mark. Back then, the Sunday newspaper would print all the MLB players averages, and some admitted they didn’t want to be below the “Mendoza Line” in that list. Some aren’t even positive which Mendoza is being referenced in this case, or whether Tommy Lasorda helped perpetuate the phrase.
“I would hear it all that time and no one educated me on what it really meant, so I finally asked one time,” Jessica Mendoza, the mother of two who’ll turn 35 in November, admitted when asked about the line. “People still say it. They understand it’s a thing you say in baseball. But I’m sure most don’t know what it really means.”
In this case, maybe it’s easier to say that Jessica Mendoza just raised the bar.
And continues to raise it for those who’ll come after her.
== After Schilling was getting displaced from the Little League World Series assignment this week for a bizarre tweet, and having it now extend through the week, should it be a surprise that he does have his supporters for what he wrote?.
== Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton are also in town this weekend for the Saturday and Sunday ESPN Radio national broadcasts from Dodger Stadium against the Cubs.
== ESPN did officially announce today that Josina Anderson will become an “NFL Insider,” the first female to have the role along with Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and others. She’ll also be involved in “Sunday NFL Countdown.”
== Fox Sports Southeast announced that Stephanie Ready is ready to become a full-time female NBA analyst, working on games covering the Charlotte Hornets. In a three-person booth, she will work with play-by-play man (and former Dodgers broadcaster) Eric Collins as well as former NBA player Dell Curry.
Ready, a reporter on TNT and ESPN basketball telecasts, was an assistant coach from 2001-03 for the NBA Development League’s Greenville Groove. She played college basketball at Coppin State.
Curry said Ready “knows the game very well. She knows the players. She knows strategy, plays. As an ex-player, whether you’re male or female, if you’re an ex-player, you should know your craft and she definitely does.”
== In any discussion about who might be up to replacing the Dodgers’ Vin Scully should he decide soon that he will retire after this season — and again, there is no indication when that announcement will come — Don Orsillo suddenly is included in the conversation.
The Boston Red Sox play-by-play man for the last 15 years and someone who TBS has used in the MLB playoffs will not be back for 2016 after apparently upsetting one of his NESN bosses, according to the Boston Globe.
The previously mentioned Dave O’Brien will be his replacement, coming over from the radio site.
Orsillo has a solid relationship with fans, viewers and players of the team and reaction against this decision has been strong in his favor. Eventually, even Dan Shaughnessy chimed in writing:
“Ratings are down, the Sox are in last place for the third time in four years, and they can’t simply fire another pitching coach. And so Don Orsillo is gone. Without any explanation from ownership or Orsillo’s bosses at NESN. And he’s apparently expected to finish out the season as if none of this is happening. Awkward …
“Historically, baseball fans get attached to those who broadcast games in a market for a number of years. Vin Scully is perhaps the most beloved figure in the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Detroit Tigers faced a fan insurrection when Ernie Harwell was pulled from the air after the 1991 season. Harwell was eventually restored to his booth at Tiger Stadium. The Red Sox faced significant backlash when longtime announcer Ned Martin was dismissed in the 1990s. The Red Sox and NESN officials may have underestimated the reaction to their dumping of Orsillo.”
For what it’s worth, the San Diego Padres have not been told whether Dick Enberg will return in 2016.
Three thumbs up for Fox Sports West Kings’ analyst Jim Fox, KABC-Channel 7 sports anchor Rob Fukuzaki and the late L.A. radio sports-talk host Joe McDonnell. The awards luncheon is scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Lakeside Country Club in Toluca Lake.
(BTW, Fuk, why am I blocked from your Twitter account?)
== There is a notable media angle associated with the Steve Sarkisian story that has been playing out at USC. This piece from something called CFBHuddle.com goes with the headline “Media Outrage Over Sark’s Comment Is Laughable At Best”.
The premise is: “The internet is constantly looking for newer and more advanced methods of feigning their outrage, and this presented a golden opportunity for growth and development in this arena. This situation was tailor-made for outrage.”
It compared it to the incident when L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti dropped an F-bomb during a public rally over the Kings’ Stanley Cup celebration at Staples Center in 2014. It seems more on a national scale — Fox’s Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel, CBS’ Dennis Dodd and Yahoo’s Pat Forde — where the Sarkisian criticism has been consistent and holds true to their coverage about the USC program for the last several years. Still, there doesn’t seem to be as much backlash coming from ESPN types like Shelley Smith or Fox’s Matt Leinart, the former USC quarterback also working for the Pac 12 Network who has known Sarkisian for some 14 years and offered in this tweet:
I’ve known Sark for 14 years. He’s a great coach, a great person and a Trojan. We all make mistakes. Learn from them and move forward! — Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) August 26, 2015
ESPN, Fox and the Pac-12 Net do have some investment in USC’s success this year based on knowing they are partners in covering the conference and will have the Trojans possibly eight times this season.
== Now that the Fox USGA assignments over done for the summer, Joe Buck can concentrated on a) the MLB upcoming playoffs on Fox, b) the upcoming NFL season on Fox, c) another new talk show that DirecTV will be giving him a platform for.
We suspect that a show called “Undeniable with Joe Buck” that is supposed to launch this fall will definitely be something to do between pitches and kickoffs, and have a longer run than what happened with his 2009 “Joe Buck Live”show on HBO that got derailed rather quickly.
The scoop on the series from Variety indicated Buck has at least 10 shows to prove its worth, doing one-on-one interviews with sports folk such as Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter and Michael Phelps (along with some of his Fox cohorts) and that Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Productions crew will make sure it survives on the DirecTV Audience Network.
(Those of us who’ve dropped DirecTV in order to have the Dodgers’ SportsNet LA and the Pac-12 Network will just have to hope YouTube collects some crumbs).
Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews will convene for the Houston-New Orleans NFL exhibition game on Sunday (Channel 11, 1 p.m.). NBC’s Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya are doing the Arizona-Oakland game on Sunday (Channel 4, 5 p.m.)
== Nomar Garciaparra finishes up his Little League World Series duties for ESPN/ABC by calling the International Championship (Saturday, 9:30 a.m., Channel 7), the U.S. Championship (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7) and then the World Series championship (Sunday, noon, Channel 7) with Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson and Jaymee Sire.
== Only because it’s taking up space at Staples Center this weekend — and Kobe Bryant may show up to deliver a banner — the ever-present and over-hyped Premiere Boxing Championships gets a turn on ESPN and ESPN Deportes for a Saturday card that begins at 7 p.m. Saturday. Joe Tessitore, Teddy Atlas and reporters Todd Grisham and Bernardo Osuna will be working it with Nigel Collins on social media. Marysol Castro is the “host.” Today’s weigh-ins also get overhyped in today’s 3 p.m. “SportsCenter.”
== ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN3 has carried about 100 Arena Football League games this season. Some included the Los Angeles Kiss. It officially ends Saturday with the ArenaBowl XXVIII (that’s 23 for those counting) at 4 pm. on ESPN when Jacksonville faces San Jose. Jackson is known as the Sharks. San Jose is called the Sabercats. They could easily switch names.
== In the IndyCar League’s first race since the death of driver Justin Wilson, NBCSN covers the Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday at 1 p.m. with Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
== The eighth season of “Inside The NFL” on Showtime will swap out hosts — Adam Schein in for Greg Gumbel, who only lasted a year in place of the departed James Brown — joining Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, starting Sept. 8 at 9 p.m. Since the departure of Cris Collinsworth from the group before the 2014 season, where he had been since the late ’80s, and the move from Wednesdays to Tuesdays, we can’t say this has been on our appointment TV list.
Still, this will be the show’s 37th season on the air going back to its HBO days, the longest-running series on cable TV, going back before the launch of ESPN.
The NFL Network reairs the weekly Tuesday show on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. through the season.
== As ESPN Radio continues to buy time before announcing Dan LeBatard’s probable arrival to fill the 7-to-10 a.m. weekday slot recently vacated by Colin Cowherd, the network said Ian Fitzimmons will take that lead role this coming Monday-Friday with co-hosts such as Will Cain, Trevor Matich and Freddie Coleman.
== Going back to a reporter for MMQB.com/SI.com who did not report the Cris Carter “find a fall guy” comment while at the 2014 summer rookie symposium: He explains why he didn’t include that incident and, to us, it makes sense.
== We feel regret in not catching onto the opening run of the new documentary, “Being Evel,” a 2015 Sundance selection that landed at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood starting last Friday.
The key to this is how it ties Evel Knievel’s past with the contemporary attitude of X Games athletes — the showmanship that’s involved in athletic feat being just as important as the feat itself. That’s probably because the films producers are BMX rider Mat Hoffman and “Jackass” creator Johnny Knoxville.
Knoxville basically narrates the piece talking about how it affected his childhood in the 1970s.
We flash back to our own memories of Knievel, as we wrote in a 2007 column following up on his death, and then having his former business partner Shelly Saltman try to set us straight by saying: “Anyone who tells you he was a hero, he’s no hero. … I just hear everyone eulogizing him and I have to speak up. His macho front wasn’t real. I have no malice against him. Just pity.”
That whole physical assault story is documented here, too. As it should be. Here’s a review as it appeared this week in Variety.
== NBC sends out Laffit Pincay III as the host, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey as the analysts, Donna Brothers as the reporter, Eddie Olczyk and Bob Neumeier as the handicappers, and Larry Collmus to call the Travers Stakes from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
All because American Pharoah is there.
Coverage on Channel 4 begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.
== And finally, thanks to “Behind The Glass” host David Gascon and partner Ghizal Hasan for dragging me into those Sherman Oaks studios for a professionally done podcast earlier this week, available on FoxSportsRadio.com. Topics discussed included Vin Scully’s future as well as media coverage of the Steve Sarkisian-USC situation.
Gascon, a former Mary Star of the Sea (San Pedro) and El Camino College football player, actually played on an ECC team with Sarkisian as an assistant coach on John Featherstone’s staff in 1999 before heading to USC. Gascon has been a national anchor at Fox Sports Radio, did play-by-play on ESPN3’s Big West soccer as well as calling games for UC Riverside basketball. Ghizal is the play-by-play for Cal State Northridge basketball.
Hopefully the podcast has a shelf life worth visiting this late in the week.