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Behind the Mic: SNY Takes Your Call

On SNY taking phone calls during Mets games, Billy Jaffe "not positive enough", and a quick chat with ESPN's John Buccigross.

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You Know the Number to Call

So on Monday night/Tuesday morning, I got my first chance to check out SNY's occasional, controversial experiment with taking phone calls from fans during blowouts.  With the Mets down 11-1 in the top of the 8th against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the game being well past midnight on a weeknight, you'd think it would provide a lot of theater for Mets fans to angrily criticize the team, as Michael Kay has most famously criticized this practice, because ... he has the bully pulpit to talk about it, I guess.

It wasn't exactly this.  Callers were given one question then hung up on and allowed to listen to the answer on TV - as is the case with most radio - and were largely respectful to Gary Cohen and Ron Darling.  Instead of giving fans a forum to rant, they set up the two men to find some decent discussion in the doldrums of an eighth-inning blowout, and despite Cohen and Darling being solid as usual, you always can use some extra material.  One fan's question on dry air affecting Mike Pelfrey's pitching was as insightful as you'd hear on anything being called in to WFAN.

In the end, Cohen even felt gratified by the fans questions.  While lets not go too far in praising my fellow Metropolitan faithful - 95% of the questions featured the trading of almost every player in the roster - they were mellowed, humbled and happy to get this rare opportunity.  You hear a lot of negativity about New York fans from the blogs and such, but it showed that the diehard Met fan has, as Cohen and Darling noted, a "character" necessary to follow the orange and blue.  Also, a stupidity. 

Largely, I think its a good idea by SNY.  If they can keep the fans from being profane and use the questions as the source for some late-game fodder, I don't see the problem with this.  The questions were never dismissed, but provided for reasonable, non-yelling discussion.  Other booths should give it a try on a touch and go basis.  I think certainly the Yankees could stand to take a shot at it, but some markets my not have the passionate fans to call into a broadcast booth after midnight on a Tuesday.

Meanwhile, kudos to Mets studio analyst Bobby Ojeda, who ripped the team and manager Jerry Manuel a televised new one after their extra-inning loss to Arizona on Wednesday.  As the Mets fade into oblivion, the always candid and unguarded Ojeda is finding his stride.  He knew Mets fans who'd stayed up until 2AM were likely very angry and frustrated, and he gave them what they wanted.  If the Wilpons fire him for his candor, he should immediately get a national TV job.  TBS' playoff studio show could especially use him.

Islanders Look Positively Terrible in Getting Rid of Jaffe

It is often thought that TV and radio announcers for any professional sports team are just extensions of that teams PR department.  If Chicago Blackhawks President John McDounough sees the telecast of his game as "a three-hour commercial for our brand" as he often describes it, then guys like Michael Kay and Howie Rose and Chico Resch and Clyde Frazier are your humble pitchmen.  They're Billy Mays and that British no one cares about but still was on the TV show.

This is especially expressed as the position of the color commentator.  Typically, the play-by-play guy is to be straight-laced and somewhat even-handed, while the color man is allowed to be ... well, colorful, and stuff.  He's supposed to be funny and outrageous and everything, but most of all, he's to speak the company line.  He's to be a homer and a representative of the fan.  I'm not saying it is true in all cases - as Mr. Ojeda proved in the piece above - but largely it is seen as his role.

So then why the hell was New York Islanders/MSG Plus Billy Jaffe fired for what Islanders Point Blank writer Chris Botta was reporting as being "not positive enough"?  It is a bafflingly incorrect decision made by the Islanders.  Not only because it crosses that line of admitting that the color guy is basically meant to be a shill (oftentimes shrill) for the franchise.  Moreso because 9 times out of 10, Jaffe is that guy!  He's also hosted numerous community events for the team and was very popular with fans.  There is already a Facebook group trying to petition Jaffe back.

To be fair, he's a very good broadcaster when asked to perform on the national stage for VERSUS, but when he worked Islanders telecasts on MSG Plus (who wanted to bring Jaffe back, according to Botta's sources) it was very clear that he was on the Isles side.  Maybe in not as disgusting a fashion as Joe Micheletti stumps for the Rangers, and Jaffe's style is certainly more tolerable, but enough to the point where my dad - who usually can care less about announcers - will often feel that way during a Devils-Islanders game.  That's the litmus test, Isles, and you failed it with crashing colors.  

We'll see where the Icelanders go from here - Islanders dynasty members Denis Potvin and current studio analyst Butch Goring are rumored replacements - but it looks awful bad for a franchise that has made itself look bad many, many times, especially when it comes to broadcasting lately.  The Islanders move to simulcast their TV and radio broadcasts was inexplicable, and detrimental to fans.  Howie Rose is the hardest working man in New York sports, but the style in which he calls games for MSG Plus did not change notedly enough to be palatable for a radio show.

Chris King and Billy Jaffe were the Islanders radio and TV analysts two seasons ago.  Both are very good analysts, and very personable and very talented in dealing with a team that hasn't been above 26th overall in the league since their previous playoff appearance in 2007, which seems oh, so long ago right about now.  Now, one is let go by the organization he served admirably for four years after Micheletti left to be a shill for the Isles hated rivals, and one is reduced to a radio intermission host job.  That doesn't even count Steve Mears, who was a really good, developing play-by-play man on radio.  You've got to wonder what the Islanders are thinking when they do anything, but especially when it comes to handling people who deal most directly with the people who matter most - the fans.

He Said What?

During yesterday's FOX broadcast of Mets-Dodgers, with the obligatory managerial interview in the middle of the game, Joe Torre told Kenny Albert and Eric Karros that he had spoken to Yogi Berra after his fall near his home in Montclair last week.  What, did Yogi not get mein fuhrer McCarver's memo?

Five in a New York Minute with ... ESPN's John Buccigross 

Five in a New York Minute is a weekly feature on Behind the Mic, in which we go rapid-fire, 5-up 5-down, with some of the big names in sports media.  This week's contestant is columnist, SportsCenter anchor, former NHL2Night host, and 'Jonesy, Put Your Head Down and Skate: The Improbably Career of Keith Jones' author John Buccigross.

Steve Lepore: Who's free agent negotiation was worse: LeBron or Kovalchuk

John Buccigross: Lebron James didn't negotiate much at all. His wasn't a contract negotiation as much as it was an employment relocation program for Lebron James Inc. He is a corporation of flesh, bones, calf muscles, and sneakers. He was adopted by corporate and cultural America and he is a willing and dutiful son. When you look through it using that lens it all makes perfect sense. True sport died with the Miracle on ice hockey team. Sport is now mostly layers upon layers of brand names. Also, James is now a resident of Florida where not only his salary is protected from state income taxes but so is the income from his endorsements and investments. I love this game!

Ilya Kovalchuk wanted the most money he could get. Plain and simple. Lebron is talking his talents to South Beach. Ilya is taking his to Newark. And neither will be making car payments like you and me. And neither will pay 30 bucks to park at the arena like you and me. Life sucks and then you pay for parking.

SL: Over/Under: Ilya Kovalchuk will win 2 Stanley Cups in his tenure with the Devils.

JB: He will win one if the Devils have 100 million to give to their best and most complete player, Zach Parise.

SL: What stops the Yankees from repeating?

JB: Starting pitching and age. Sabathia is the only sure thing on the starting staff. People were surprised when the Yankees were in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Why? After Sabathia, Petitte is older, Hughes will be shut down or innings managed, Vasquez has bad playoff numbers, Burnett has been way off. Starting pitching and age are their concerns.

SL: Can the Mets make the post-season?

JB: Well, sure, they could but the probability is low. They are like the New York Rangers in that they have a couple of big names, some overpaid players, and some overrated younger players. I say they miss the post season. They need Oswalt and Chris Drury to join the pitching staff.

SL: You're hosting the Ilya Kovalchuk "Decision" special: What's the first question you ask him?

JB: "Is ESPN going to get hockey back?"

Ratings Book (Recent ratings for sporting events in the NY market) 

1. Yankees-Rays (Friday, YES): 6.3

2. Mets-Nationals (7/3/10, Fox 5): 3.9 

3. Yankees Old-Timers Day (Saturday, YES): 3.2