Tony Kornheiser Leaving MNF

ESPN announced yesterday that Jon Gruden will replace Tony Kornheiser on MNF. According to the official statement, Kornheiser opted out of this assignment because of his fear of flying – an actual fear of being in an airplane and not a fear of having to read Erica Jong’s horrid novel of the same name. Today on Pardon the Interruption, I am sure we will hear more from “Mr. Tony” on this decision.

Tony Kornheiser is an acquired taste. I happen to enjoy his work in print, on the radio, on PTI and on The Sports Reporters. I find him knowledgeable and entertaining at the same time. I will miss him on MNF. That statement is not a knock on Jon Gruden who does not have a body of work in radio/TV that would allow me to form an opinion on his competence or lack thereof. This may turn out to be a brilliant move on the part of the MNF producers; time will tell.

Having said all of the above, I am beginning to wonder if the “three-man booth” is overpopulated. Back in the early 1970s, MNF broke new ground with a “three man booth”. The trio of Frank Gifford, Dandy Don Meredith and Howard Cosell provided an entertaining – and very different – presentation of NFL football on TV. [Aside: Keith Jackson did play-by-play the first year for MNF before Frank Gifford took over that role.] Most folks have attributed those golden days for MNF to Howard Cosell; and in no way, do I doubt for a moment that he was a critical element of the show’s success. Nevertheless, my sense is that the “three man booth” worked well because of the presence of Don Meredith who did not compete with the other two for airtime.

One other “three man booth” worked brilliantly. In the 1980s, Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire formed the best announcing team for college basketball ever. Enberg provided competent play-by-play; Packer had not become the annoying scold that he would turn into 20 years later but when he did go off on some tangential point, Al McGuire calmly pricked the balloon and brought him back to Planet Earth with wit and charm.

In my opinion, those are the ONLY “three man booths” that have been excellent and you will note that both of these ceased to exist about 25 years ago. Ergo, I suggest that the suits at the various networks consider the possibility that:

    Two announcers are sufficient to do a sporting event on television.

In another announcement related to sports media yesterday, FOX said that it had reached an agreement with MLB to move up the start of World Series games this fall. The games will start at 8:00 PM Eastern Time meaning that on most nights here on the East Coast one should be in bed by midnight. Of course, that assumes there will be no snow delays in the games that will be played in November… I realize that on the West Coast that means the games will start at 5:00 PM and that working folks will miss the first inning or two – - depending on traffic. Nevertheless, I think this change is a positive step overall. Here is the next step that MLB needs to take:

    Saturday games for the World Series need to happen in the afternoon.

Here in the DC area, baseball news has to focus on something other than the 2009 version of the Washington Nationals because that club would have to be twice as good as it is to pretend to be a major league squad. So, the baseball buzz here is all about whether or not the Nats will use their first pick in the baseball draft next month to take pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the uber-prospect from San Diego State who has Scott Boras as an agent and who may ask for a $50M rookie contract. I do not care how fast he throws a baseball or how great his career has been to date, that is a huge financial risk on the part of a baseball team in terms of a young pitcher.

Nevertheless, here is why the Nats really do have to take that risk and pay this kid whatever it takes to sign him. The front-running fans of Washington have abandoned the Nationals. The team is only 5 years old in this town and it is playing its second year in a new stadium. In 2009, they have played 18 home games. Compared to the first 18 games of last season, attendance is down 170,658 people. For those keeping score at home, that is an average of 9,481 fewer people per game.

The Nationals have not been willing to announce how many season tickets the team sold this year; last year it bragged that it had more than 20,000 of them sold. Various estimates for this year put the number for 2009 in the 14,000 range; obviously, that is an estimate/educated guess. Here is what is not a guess. If the Nats actually renewed 20,000 season tix for 2009, there are loads of ticket holders who are not coming to the games AND who are not disposing of their tix in such a way that someone else goes to the games. I watched last night’s game; the announced attendance was 14,549. All I can say is that the people running the concession stands had to have been VERY busy last night because it sure did not ever look as if there were that many folks actually in seats watching baseball action.

By the way, if any of you are visiting Washington this summer and want to take in a ballgame, you can be certain to buy walk-up seats. In addition, a check of Stubhub will reveal that cheap seats – - as low as $4 in some cases – - are available for all home games.

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald put Saturday’s Preakness win by Rachael Alexandra into a perfect social context with this comment:

“Rachel Alexandra on Saturday became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924. Twelve desperate males chasing one favored female? Sounds about like any Saturday in any bar in America.”

Finally, here is another observation by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about the Florida Marlins – another MLB team with attendance woes – and one thing the team has tried to do to ease those woes:

“Friday night’s Marlins game featured a ‘Saturday Spectacular’ postgame concert by ‘Stevie B with Angel and Aby formerly of TKA and download Mp3 online.’ Because, evidently, all of the performers anybody had ever heard of or might care to see had been booked.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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  • Matt  On May 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Wait, are you saying that you were NOT a fan of the MNF three man booth of Al Michaels, Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller? That group was awesome! I would have thought you’d have been a huge fan of them!

    And since the internet is a hard medium to convey this in, let me say that: “Yes, that was sarcasm.”

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On May 19, 2009 at 2:12 pm


    I had repressed that memory – - until now.

    I have also repressed the memory of the year that Fred “The Hammer” Williamson spent in the MNF booth. And for the record, the OJ years on MNF were not spectacular either…

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