Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One of Those Mornings -- ESPN, Redskins, and Book Reviews; Quick Note on the Mids

Maybe it’s the fact that it is raining (again) or that I know a week from now it will be getting dark by 5 o’clock. Or maybe it’s just the fact that getting my son out of bed and in the car to go to school on time is the parental equivalent of playing football without a helmet, but I’m in a lousy mood this morning.

Which may explain why two minor items in the paper set me off. The first was a short story in The Washington Post which was headlined, “Cerrato talks to ESPN.” I have to say that in some ways I agree with my colleague Mike Wise who wrote in today’s paper that it has become pointless to continue writing or talking about the sitcom that Dan Snyder and his henchmen Cerrato have turned the Redskins into.

That said, Cerrato simply should not be allowed to pick soft landing spots to spread the Snyder, “it’s not my fault,” propaganda. Since blackmailing Jim Zorn into giving up his play-calling duties to a bingo-caller nine days ago (on Snyder’s orders, Cerrato doesn’t comb his hair without Snyder’s permission) Cerrato has ducked the media. He went on his own Snyder-paid-for radio show on Friday to make the big announcement that Zorn wouldn’t be fired before season’s end (what’s the over-under on when that becomes a lie?) and tried to blame the team’s horrible start on—who else?—the media.

Then on Monday he did a softball interview with ESPN’s Sal Palantonio, claiming he and Snyder expected to be 3-3 at this point in the schedule without making it clear whether that expectation came in August or two weeks ago. He went on and on about the genius of Sherman Lewis as a play-caller and said calling plays was like riding a bike. Really? It’s that easy? No wonder the Redskins STILL haven’t scored more than 17 points in a game this year.

I’m certain—without actually checking with my colleagues yet—that real reporters were kept away from Cerrato by security after he was done with Palantonio. Here’s what I actually think reporters should do with Cerrato: Not speak to him. If Snyder wants to say something it should come from his mouth not from his mouthpiece.

The other item was actually more annoying because we’ve all come to expect nothing but claptrap from the Redskins. Apparently ESPN, as part of its never-ending efforts to self-promote itself puts on something called a “Monday Night Football chalk-talk,” when it comes to town. People get sucked into paying money to hear Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Ron Jaworski tell everyone how great the game will be and how thrilled they are to be in (fill in the name of the city).

Okay, fine, if people want to pay money for that, they’re entitled to do so. But last I looked Tirico, Gruden and Jaworski were member of the media—not journalists God forbid, but members of the media. Gruden is one of the many coaches rumored to perhaps be interested in taking a few million dollars from Snyder next year to coach the team. I think Vince Lombardi, George Allen and Paul Brown are also on the short list.

Naturally, since the Redskins are always the biggest story in D.C. a couple reporters showed up at the lunch to try to talk to Gruden. Except they weren’t allowed to. He was “not made available to the media,” according to The Post. Hmm. Does that mean that Tirico and Jaworski couldn’t talk to him either?

My guess is he’d be available if someone wanted to ask him how GREAT it is to work for ESPN. Maybe ESPN could have had Sal Palantonio interview him. “In an exclusive interview with ESPN, ESPN’s John Gruden tells ESPN that he has learned from Brett Favre’s agent that Favre may or may not play in 2010, ESPN has learned.”

I told you I was in a bad mood.

Completely different subject. My friend Mike Vaccaro, who writes an excellent column for The New York Post (yes The New York Post, there are some talented guys there) has just come out with a book on the 1912 World Series, which according to most baseball historians was the first one that was truly a national event.

Much to my surprise, The Washington Post reviewed the book on Sunday because The Post book section (what’s left of it since it was stuck in the back of the Outlook section a few months ago) usually reviews books on bridge or chess when it feels the urge to deal with anything related to sports.

But it is World Series week so, just to show that the section is actually aware of that, there were two reviews of baseball books. Mike’s book—“The First Fall Classic,”—was reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, who has been reviewing books for The Post since about 1898.

Let’s pause here for my disclaimer: I’m not a fan of book review sections like The Post or The New York Times. I think they’re run by pseudo-intellectual snobs and that most people who review books for a living do so because they can’t write books with any modicum of success. What’s the old saying: “Those who can’t do, teach?” I don’t believe that’s always the case but I do believe that, just as failed jocks like me find a way to stay in sports by writing, failed writers find jobs critiquing those who can write.

Yardley is the epitome of the self-centered, blowhard critic. He actually writes occasional reviews of classic old books as if anyone cares in 2009 what he thinks about “Catcher in The Rye.” In fact, he wrote a review a couple of years ago saying “Catcher in The Rye,” was not a good book. That must be why every teen-ager of the last 50 years has read it, why my son read it 35 years after I read it and why it is quoted from ALL the time.

Anyway, Yardley is one of those guys who thinks because he has a fantasy baseball team he’s an expert on baseball. So, he deigned to review Mike’s book. Amazingly, he actually liked it, saying up high that it was lively and entertaining. He then wrote most of the review about Ring Lardner—who he just happened to have written a biography of years ago that no doubt sold into the dozens—and why Lardner was such a great baseball writer. If the review was 1,000 words maybe 100 of them were about the book he was allegedly reviewing.

As a writer, nothing drives me crazy more than a non-review. You’re assigned to review a book you review the book, not one of your own books or go on and on about yourself—another Yardley habit. I have never, ever talked to Yardley about his work because it’s a waste of time. This time I couldn’t resist. I wrote him a note saying I was glad he liked Mike’s book but that I wished he had written more about Mike than about Lardner, noting that he had mentioned not ONE word about the book after the third paragraph except to scold Mike for not quoting Lardner’s story on the final game of that World Series—and then quoting it at length himself.

Here’s the response I got: “I think that review fully conveyed my admiration for Vaccaro’s excellent book and the pleasure it gave me.”

My response was just about as direct: “Typical book reviewer. Not only are you never wrong, you can’t even consider the possibility that someone might make a legitimate point. I’m still searching for the word, ‘excellent,’ in the review.’”

Like I said, trying to tell Yardley he might be anything less than perfect was a complete waste of time. What an absolute blowhard he is. Still, I felt better getting it off my chest.

One last thing on a happier note: Someone wrote a post yesterday wondering why I didn’t write about Navy’s win over Wake Forest Saturday. To be honest, I don’t want to make every Monday, ‘Navy post,’ day just because I do the games on radio. But he’s right, to beat Wake Forest in one of the worst rainstorms I’ve ever seen at a football game without starting quarterback Ricky Dobbs and without leading rusher and receiver Marcus Curry, was about one step short of miraculous.

The Mids are now 6-2, one win from clinching a seventh straight bowl bid. They are a remarkable bunch led by a wonderful coach, Ken Niamatalolo. Dobbs won’t play again this week against Temple, which is coming to town on a five game win streak (with the Philly papers predicting the Owls will win out and go 10-2) and badly wanting to get even after blowing a 27-7 fourth quarter lead in Annapolis last year. That will be a tough out. But being associated with Navy and this team (like every year) even in the smallest possible way is something I greatly enjoy. I’m proud to have had the chance to do it for the past 13 years.

Okay, writing about Navy put me in a better mood. But it’s still raining.


rich m said...

I too am feeling depressed by the weather and shorter days. With your job John, could you live half the year in Florida or Arizona? I know it would be tough on your children.

JJ said...

I feel for Redskins fans, especially those guys who dress up in dresses and pigs noses. The O-line is so far from being "Hogs", that it's pathetic.

A golf note for you...I went to the first round of the BMW championship in Chicago. I followed Anthony Kim, and Rory Sabbatini, along with 6 others, including a wife and girlfriend. While they were waiting on one of the par 3's, A.K. went over to his friends, and laid down on the hill next to the tee box! Imagine Tiger or Phil doing that.

Vin said...

The section of this piece on reviewers made my week -- and it's only Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

At least for me, cranky days are sometimes the most productive. Getting stuff done becomes the name of the game, be damned what's in the way!

More Navy game recaps isn't a bad thing...spreads the word about non-BCS guys.

Bennettar said...

Wow, John, your bad mood mixed with your usual honesty made for quite the verbal beatdowns today.

I appreciate the depth of live coverage that ESPN provides, but I hate to hear about these situations where they treat their own like royalty. There is a serious double standard in protecting Gruden from the media. The guy is talking about football and his potential employment - he is not leaking national security secrets.

deepvalue said...

Thank you for not letting Cerrato get away with the blame game. Touting the Skins 5th ranked defense was Cerrato's latest scam. No wonder the Skins defense is ranked 5th - they haven't played ANYONE who can score.

Cerrato is suggesting the problem is the coach and not the defensive players or four offensive pro-blowlers from last year, but puhlease. Two of the offensive pro-bowlers are done for the season and Portis is a diminished player.

PS - Anyone else notice Zorn is wearing a LOT of black lately. Guess he agrees with the blackout concept. His tone in the press reeks of the underlying game of chicken between him and Snyder.

DaveC 67 said...


You are a treasure...don't ever leave Navy football or basketball...