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:
Photo from ESPN and @jessmendoza
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:
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:
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.”