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Sports Media Musings: Congressman Felger, Scal’s Foray, ESPN Drama

Brian Scalabrine's first real venture into the sports media happened this week. (Courtesy CBS)

It may be a slow week in Boston sports, but  the sports media is like NYC: It never sleeps. So take a second to step away from the riveting “Gonzo to outfield” or “Tito treating Big Papi with kid gloves” debate, and enjoy this weeks Media Musings piece.

The Manchurian Candidate?

On their uproarious program, Toucher & Rich, Fred Toettcher often refers to an imaginary “Sports Lodge” where all Boston sports media-types hang out. Toettcher gives out roles derisive of a particular media figure’s stature in the community. For example, Toettcher often quips that veteran headline man, Jon Wallach, is a waiter at the lodge due to his ineptitude (obviously joking).

I’d argue the head of the lodge is none other than Toettcher’s fellow 98.5 Sports Hub host, Michael Felger.

Felger has immersed himself in every avenue of sports media since his arrival in 1989. The three major mediums for any aspiring sports personality are television (first and foremost, because of $$$), writing (that’s what I tell myself, at least), and radio (substandard pay, onerous task of filling airtime). And say what you will about Michael Felger, but the dude hailing from Milwaukee has conquered all three aforementioned feats of sports media. He established himself in the print world at the Boston Herald, became mainstay at the burgeoning Comcast Sport Net show Sports Tonight, and now - after initially failing at ESPN’s 890 AM station - has thrived in his afternoon-drive radio program (Felger and Mazz) as the domineering choice in the Boston market.

Felger’s success is only matched by the perceived disdain that he himself perpetuates, although that statement is somewhat equivocal. For example, a sound bite often played by 98.5 The Sports Hub is Felger bemoaning “No one likes me enough to give me privileged information”; only he’ll oft say things like, “I have on good word, Brad Marchand was told to simmer down on the partying.”

I’ll wave the white flag in saying Marchand’s antics being put to a halt from up top isn’t exactly breaking news, but Felger’s experience in covering both the Bruins and Patriots beat makes the former statement disingenuous.

Felger is our own Skip Bayless. We love to hate him and feel like we need to shower when we agree with him, yet the difference is – unlike Bayless – we respect his opinion. This is probably due to Felger’s own admission of miscalculated pretenses in the past.

For what it’s worth, he was right in backing the Moss trade, which was accentuated when he effusively praised the subsequent Branch acquisition. And Felger reminded us of his correct appraisal of the situation incessantly. Incongruously, he was wrong on Claude Juilen and the Bruins, which was accentuated by Shawn Thorton’s ”Suck it Felger” quote admist Boston’s convivial Stanley Cup celebration.

Right now, if ESPN came to the patrons of sports media in Boston, and asked who we want to represent us in a fictional series called Pardon the interruption: City Vs City, we would pick Felger. And thus he’s holding court in Toettcher’s lodge, for now.

Training Day (See what I did there? Two Dezel references)

Speaking of Felger’s nightly television gig, Sports Tonight, beloved former Cetlic Brian Scalabrine made his debut this week on the program. This came to no surprise, as Comcast Sports Net has been promoting Scal’s scheduled color commentating role for the Connecticut Sun along-side sage, Mike Gorman.

To be honest, I’m slightly disappointed in the cameo. Possibly because of Scal’s titillating analytical potential displayed in his brief appearances on air with Toucher & Rich. Possibly because I want this for Scal (he seems like a good guy).  Possibly because as I unexpectedly saw his curly haired mug on the TV, I was reminded of the built-up Will Ferrell cameo in Wedding Crashers. Possibly because he seems to have a really good self-awareness about him, which, quite frankly, a lot of professional athletes lack. Scal knows he’s a borderline 12th man on most NBA teams, and he’s okay with that, but he doesn’t let that fact emasculate his accomplishments.

There were the expected errors – such as Scal enunciating stud Patriot cornerback Devin McCourty, “Mccourtaaay” – but the reason for the let-down is more on CSN than Scalabrine’s. I was slightly perturbed in the producer’s decision to stick Scal with Lou Merloni - who although has grown prolifically as an analyst – still needs grooming himself (as evidenced by the fact his midday show on WEEI is inexplicably losing to the putrid Gresh & Zo program).

I’d rather the network have Scal lose his Sports Tonight virginity with someone like Felger, or even Greg Dickerson (Note Gare-Bear Tanguay was on paternity leave). The next decision that irked me were content-based. I understand Philly/Boston was all the jive this week and the show had to open with a series preview, but why have Merloni field questions to Scal? Why not do the inverse, since, you know, Merloni played baseball?

Even with that said, Scal settled into the role once the conversation turned to the NBA. I particularly enjoyed his gusto in saying, “I played with Jason Kidd, D. Rose, and Rondo — and Rondo was the smartest point guard out of all three.” Scal has a place talking sports in Boston, he just needs time. At best he is a rich man’s Merloni. Meanwhile, worst-case scenario Scal is just Merloni. I really have that much faith in Scalabrine. His fate will not be that of Mr. Zolak. (I’ll get to him one of these days…)

This Never Gets Old

ESPN has been through hell and back with its personalities. You may have heard, there is a book documenting all the inter-office romance, debauchery, and hijinks. Well, after a few months of dating, Sports Nation host Michelle Beadle and ESPN hockey analyst (and former NHL player) Matthew Barnaby, broke up. After Barnaby, who recently had some legal trouble, and the popular host called it quits – Beadle channelled her inner “16-year-old-angry-about-a-relationship-on-social-media” hitting us with this spite:

@ESPN_Michelle You ever think you know someone and it turns out they’re the biggest loser of all?!

Umph, and he’s down for the count! The tweet has since been deleted, but I’m sure execs over at the four letter network weren’t thrilled about the dirty laundry being aired on such a large forum.

Beadle followed that incident up by discussing internet porn with Regis.

When the Grass is Cut, the Snakes Will Show

Before we get to this week’s top articles, I want to address something that is carping to me, and it’s right in this column’s wheelhouse….

The other night Damon Amendolara pointed out John Tomase deserved credit for “breaking” the David Ortiz to start at first base story. I don’t have a problem with DA deploying credit. That’s fine. My question is: who cares?

I think so much of media vs media crime (not only in this town, but in general) originates from writer’s breaking stories. This is exasperated by the rise of Twitter, where beat writers everywhere are thumbing away to yell, “FIRST!!! ME FIRST!”, when in reality we just want to know what they’re breaking.

I don’t care that McAdam breaks the same story first, or if Chris Forsberg breaks a Celtics trade. All I want from beat writers, who seem like glorified sleuths, is accurate information. Tomase’s victory the other night doesn’t trump his failures during “Spygate” in my eyes (and probably his employer’s eyes either since he was basically excommunicated from any inside information involving the Patriots. Tough loss for a guy so firmly entrenched in the beat).

Things I’m Reading

A slow week in the sports universe. I can only read so many lock-out(s) columns. Here are some must-reads to take in going into Independence Day.

Chad Finn talks with Dale Arnold about his diminished role at WEEI, the catharsis that was Game 7 for the former Bruins play-by-play man (who happened to be in Tampa Bay calling the Red Sox game), and his future in the industry. A good read, love-me some Dale Arnold.

The Big Lead’s Ty Duffy is an exceptional writer. He’s a bit flowery, preachy, and the like with his dialect — but ultimately a great read. This is ESPECIALLY the case in terms of his soccer knowledge. Here he projects the lineup and what the USMNT must do going forward to Brazil in 2014.

Steve Buckley puts “The Tradition” into perspective, and says the colloquial conversation creates vivid moments that can be had no where else.



About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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