*WARNING* This post pertains to one of the most insidious creations of the last 20 years – sports talk radio.
I will admit (under duress) that I used to listen to quite a lot of sports radio. I still do listen occasionally, but having only 2 stations in Chicago (670AM WSCR and AM1000 WMVP) can quickly burn a person out on these personalities. This post in particular deals with 670, better known to its listeners as The Score. The Score likes to bill itself as the fans’ station. Several of their on-air personalities had no broadcasting or sports journalism experience when they were hired (and it often shows), because these were supposed to be just regular guys, talking sports, free to rip the local teams without fear of retribution. One of the Score’s better moves came following the 2004 season, when they hired Steve Stone, who had just resigned from his job with the Cubs, to do baseball analysis for the station. It was a good move, as Stone obviously has a built in following, his baseball knowledge is excellent and they could promote him as the man who was too “dangerous” to work for the Chicago Cubs. immediately, the Score began billing Steve Stone as the guy who would “tell it like it is”. Stone played his own part well, starting a small war of words with Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood over his mechanics, before settling down and doing his usual terrific job talking baseball. The Score hosts, in particular ex-bleacher bum Mike Murphy, seemed to go out of their way to fan the flames of controversy, usually by attacking new hire Bob Brenly and accusing him of being a homer and a company mouth piece. When Brenly finally settled into the job and began to offer more pointed criticism from the booth, Mike Murphy responded by asking whether Brenly was going to be fired for telling the truth, like Stone had been (despite the fact that Stone resigned).
So, obviously, WSCR is a station of principle. They want to bring the best sports analysis that they can to listeners, and they certainly would never violate their principles by caving into pressure from one of the local teams, right? Maybe not. You see last summer WSCR aquired the rights to broadcast Chicago White Sox games, starting in 2006. Jerry Reinsdorf, the Sox owner, is known for wanting a say in the talent that works on the stations that air his teams’ games. Back in 2004, Reinsdorf is said to have played a major part in forcing Jay Mariotti out at AM1000. So I guess it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when the Score announced today that longtime contributor Jimmy Piersall was being let go. Piersall and Reinsdorf have never gotten along, stretching all the way back to the early 1980′s when Jerry bought the White Sox and inherited one of the most critical announcing team in history; Jimmy Piersall and Harry Caray. Reinsdorf wanted “company men” in the booth and Caray saw the writing on the wall and jumped to the Cubs, with Jimmy being fired shortly afterwards.
Piersall is exactly what the Score says they want in an analyst, smart, knows his game, and is unafraid to speak his mind. In fact, comments he made on the station several years ago resulted in his firing as a minor league outfield instructor for the Cubs (putting him in the dubious company of Bruce Kimm and Larry Himes, as men who’ve been fired by both Chicago ballclubs). I hope Jimmy catches on somewhere else. The best 20 minutes of the Score’s broadcast week came when Piersall would call in and hijack Mike Murphy’s show. He was funny, he was informative, and he was fearless.
Too bad I can’t say the same for the Score.