ESPN IS SHAKING THINGS UP

Media execs looking hard at former Texans QB to improve broadcast

Photo by Getty Images.

It's hardly shocking that ESPN finally lowered the boom on its Monday Night Football announcing tandem of play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland. The surprise is, why'd it take so long? Tessitore and McFarland were widely criticized by fans and TV-sports columnists their entire tenure on ESPN – both years. To be fair, they had help stinking up the booth their first year when Jason Witten was part of the team.

Here's what I don't get. It's clear that it was time (overtime) that ESPN fired, or to put it in coronavirus-era terms, laid off, Tessitore and McFarland. But also what needs to be done is boot the person, probably a whole executive floor of persons, who hired those two. Didn't they have Tessitore and McFarland announce rehearsal games at corporate headquarters? What did ESPN see in those two before they got on-air that they didn't deliver after they got on-air? Did Tessitore suddenly stop being interesting? Did McFarland suddenly start making dumb mistakes?

It's like that in local TV news. A station hires new anchors from out-of-town. They make a huge fuss over them, explain how the anchors love Texas, post photos of the anchors at home with their cute dogs, mention how the anchors are looking forward to all the great Houston restaurants they've heard about … and six months later, hoist anchors, you're out of here. Who's to blame here, the anchors who failed to catch on in Houston, or the station execs who hired the anchors?

Each year, awfulannouncing.com asks its readers to rank the NFL announcing duos, all 15 of them. Tessitore and McFarland finished dead last – solid F grades - both years they did Monday Night Football. The people, and now ESPN bosses, have spoken, Tessitore and McFarland are gone from Monday Night Football. They won't be gone from the network, however. Both will stay with ESPN in "high-profile roles." The spelling bee airs in April, right?

Now on to their replacements on Monday night. After failed runs at Al Michaels (NBC wouldn't let him go), Tony Romo (staying with CBS for crazy money), Peyton Manning (said no thank you) and Drew Brees (two-year contract to stick with the Saints), ESPN says it will hire the next Monday night tandem from in-house. Some of the clubhouse leaders appear to be longtime ESPN'er Steve Levy as play-by-play, and Louis Riddick, Brian Griese and former Texans quarterback Dan Orlovsky as color analyst.

Levy and Griese have teamed up before on college games and some NFL action. It's important that announcers' names rhyme.

Things are shaking the rest of the work week at ESPN, too. This week, ESPN rolled out its new, jam-packed daytime lineup that boasts more live broadcasts, but shortened versions of old, let's be kind and call them favorites. Here's the lineup:

7 a.m. – Get Up

9 a.m. – First Take

11 a.m. – SportsCenter

1 p.m. – NFL Live

2 p.m. – The Jump

2:30 a.m. – First Take Extra

3 p.m. – Jalen and Jacoby

3:20 p.m. – Highly Questionable

3:40 p.m. – Around the Horn

4 p.m. – SportsCenter

The 4 p.m. SportsCenter will include a segment of Pardon the Interruption. While the bottom line is more live programming, it's the rare case of subtraction by addition. Highly Questionable is my favorite of the daytime talkers. Dan Le Batard, Papi (miss him) and Mina Kimes are smart, funny and unpredictable. Jalen and Jaboby have grown on me, obviously they're buddies, which is not always the case on TV. Around the Horn is fine when Bill Plaschke's attendance is not required. He's just so full of it. Host Tony Reali and Woody Paige's blackboard are the best things about the "competitive banter" game show.

There's rattling on ESPN's radio side, too. Trey Wingo's contract is up this year and there's speculation that he wants off the Golic and Wingo show that airs 6-10 a.m. on the east coast. One clue is Wingo's bio on Twitter … "Not really a morning person." That's like the county coroner saying "I'm squeamish." Don't count on a reunion of Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, though. Greeny may be adding a show on ESPN radio, where openings appear on the horizon.

Will Cain is rumored to be leaving ESPN any moment to sign a deal with Fox News. Cain, an outspoken conservative voice, has worked for Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" and once debated gun control with Whoopi Goldberg on The View. You don't have to guess which side Cain took. Cain, who graduated from UT Law School, is one of the ESPN hosts, you just get the idea that he doesn't know a whole lot about sports. He will be more comfortable, politically speaking, which is what he'll do, at Fox News.

Le Batard may be on his way out from ESPN, too. He's not exactly teacher's pet at ESPN, where the rule is Keep It Sports, Stupid. Le Batard, brilliantly clever and very loud, likes to stray off the straight and narrow sports lane too much for ESPN's taste. ESPN especially doesn't like when Le Batard dives into political commentary. That's a no-no at ESPN (see Jemele Hill, or more accurately, don't see Jemele Hill).

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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