Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hockey Is Officially In the Air

Over the past year or so, I've developed a genuine fondness for Jerry Sullivan. I find him endlessly entertaining on the radio and I really enjoy his chats. I occasionally get teary-eyed listening to him talk about his daughters, both of whom he obviously adores, and as far as I can tell, he has excellent taste in books which is a trait I rate very highly in a person. I've even had a few interesting email exchanges with him. I like the guy.

And then I read a column like today's column and I remember why I once called him my least favorite person in the TBN sports department. For those of you who haven't read it yet, here's what it says:

-- Fans are stupid. (Unless they're cheering for a venerable franchise like the St. Louis Cardinals in which case they're loyal and admirable fans not just of their team but of their sport.)

-- If I were GM of the Buffalo Sabres, I wouldn't have to worry about things like salary caps, budgets, trading partners, and overpriced and/or slow markets. Finances would never matter and I would never have to think like an accountant.

-- Mike Grier? Who cares if he's tough and capable of keeping the spoiled kids in line? He wasn't that expensive! You barely spent any money so this can't POSSIBLY be a good move!

-- You know Drew Stafford, that big kid who never uses his size and disappears for long stretches at a time even though he's been given pretty much every opportunity to succeed? He really plays with an edge, that one!

-- Why play hardball with Stafford? You like him, give him what he wants! But he might not be THAT good so don't give him TOO much because it's bad when you do that. But don't play hardball!

-- Also, fans are stupid. Even though they don't evaluate talent, negotiate contracts, handle payroll, or make any kind of decision regarding personnel, this glaring mediocrity is their fault.

TBN, this song was overplayed a year ago. Seriously.

(The good news is, hating on a TBN column makes me feel like hockey really is right around the corner. Woooooooooooooooo, hoceky!)


Mark B said...

Wow. Proving yet again that Sully shouldn't write about hockey. And Bucky shouldn't write about football (or hockey...or anything. Heh).

And even though I own a Stafford jersey and am holding out hope that he can one day play with consistent physicality, I had to laugh really hard at the "plays with an edge" sentence.

I almost have to wonder if this column was Sully trying to be funny. Maybe a parody, self-reverential piece based on how many conflicting things he said in consecutive sentences.

Nah, that would take some intelligence.

joe said...

what would you want sully to write about? That's the problem, people get on him and Bucky for being negative about the Sabres and saying the same crap..but the reality is they haven't done anything to change it...and he's right to a point about the fans..u think if the fans didn't buy tickets the Sabres wouldn't make changes..Think about it? when Golisano bought the team, the team sold tickets worse than the Bisons..what do they do? they add Briere and Drury..they made deals to get fans talking about hockey...all of a sudden, hey we are selling out, lets build from within because it's the cheapest way to do business.

everyone knows Quinn and Golisano are business guys way more then hockey guys... I do agree with you on your comments about sully saying Stafford plays with an that was ignorant.. but he's right about the Sabres not trying to rebuild and doing it both ways..

Heather B. said...

I would like for Sully (and Bucky) to make their points about the Sabres without dragging fans into it. Fans have one job: Cheer for the team whenever and however they choose. If the owner doesn't care about winning, that's on the owner. If the GM is an idiot, that's on the GM. If the team signed the wrong players, that's on the guys who evaluate talent. If the management is happy to just make money, that's on management. If Quinn and Golisano are businessmen who don't care about anything but business THAT'S ON THEM.

Would me not buying tickets send them a message? I don't know, maybe. But I shouldn't have to do that if I don't want to. It's not my job to make the team better, it's not my job to change the talent, it's not my job to make trades and sign free agents. If there are fans out there who want to pull all their financial support from the team, great, I think that's fine and dandy. I'm completely sick of the local paper making me a bad guy in the scenario for choosing not to do that. I don't want to do that. I want to go to the games, I want to watch them on on TV, I want to go to Puck Drop and get autographs, and buy a new jersey when my favorite player leaves. (And yes, before anyone asks, I absolutely want to do all that AND complain about the team. I'm a fan so I can do that because there are no rules on how to be a fan.) That does NOT make me culpable in the teams' mediocrity. Sully (and Bucky) are right about some things. (Some.) They are NOT right about the fans. They are so far off on the fans that I'm pretty close to never touching another copy of TBN.

All that said, (heh), the column was completely off-the-mark anyway. The Sabres are right to play hardball with Stafford because he's yet to live up to his talent level. I think they're right to question his dedication and his work ethic and it's ridiculous to scold them for playing hardball and then, in the NEXT PARAGRAPH, scold them for paying too many players who aren't stars like they are stars.

And yes, while it is annoying to hear the same excuses from the GM etc. about free agency, the trade market etc. this off-season it happens to be very true. It's been a TERRIBLE off-season for THE ENTIRE NHL. Many teams have not made themselves that much better because no one is spending big money on the market and no is making big trades. But TBN can't acknowledge that because either they don't know it (possible) or it goes against their established song and dance about the Sabres (even more possible).

The Sabres put themselves in a tough spot, trying to turn things around in a tough off-season. It's going to be either a good season for them (young guys play well, current starters finally grow the heck up) or it's going to be a really bad one (young guys really struggle, current starters continue to flail). Either way, I had nothing to do with them getting in that spot so I would like to stop getting lecture for having the nerve to show up at the arena on opening night and hoping it all turns out well.

Lee Andrew said...

Maybe Sully thinks he has to live up to the definition of his name.

Anne M said...

Good post, but your comment is even better. The thing that bugs me most about Bucky and Sully (and many other sports commentators, but they are the subjects here) is exactly the contradictions you raise in your comment. Writing that the Sabres shouldn't play hardball with Stafford gives Sully the perfect out if negotiations fail. "See?! I said not to play hardball; now the Sabres have lost another player." But also saying not to overpay players works for pretty much any player on the team. "See?! I said overpaying non-stars was a bad idea and now look at {insert name of below-expectations player here}'s play. He is obviously lazy because he's making too much money. If only the Sabres had spent that money on {keeping DruBriCamp, Stafford, getting a new GM, etc}."

Ultimately, I think the situations with the front office, with the players, with the fans, with the league overall are complicated and Bucky and Sully are just not good enough (as writers? as thinkers? I'm honestly not sure which) to really provide good analysis. If they WERE good enough, we wouldn't see the same freaking column from both of them, week after week, month after month, year after year. Don't tell me it's because the Sabres never change. This summer, the Sabres have added a few "tough guy" players, which is something TBN writers have been preaching for two years. And yet we still read the same shit from them. With Bucky in particular, these are practically fill in the blanks scenarios, where he throws down his top topics (Drury, Briere, Campbell, 5 for $25, Golisano sucks, Quinn sucks, local guy in the NHL should play for the Sabres, fans put up with mediocrity) and then fills in some words around those topics. It's never anything new, and a lot of the time, it's insulting, either to my intelligence, or to my fandom. Add to that my lack of trust in their connections and sources (I am talking hockey only as I don't use TBN as a source for any other sport) and it turns out I can get much better hockey information just about anywhere else.

Heather B. said...

Ultimately, I think the situations with the front office, with the players, with the fans, with the league overall are complicated and Bucky and Sully are just not good enough (as writers? as thinkers? I'm honestly not sure which) to really provide good analysis.

I can't remember if this made the interview when I posted it or if got lost in the final edit, but Mike Harrington and I had a lengthy conversation about this. When I complained about much of the hockey coverage being repetitive and surface-level, he responded that most of the readership was not as informed and intelligent as me which kinda flipped me out. Then inform us! Write more in-depth stuff. Look at things from angles beyond "Drury and Briere are forever awesome" and "Dick Jauron should be fired." I mean, it's fine if you believe those things but there's nothing else wrong with either team worth writing about? Challenge us. Quit writing to the lowest common denominator all the time. Again, it's insulting. (And I'm moving beyond the columnists here. I do have some sympathy for the fact that it might not be easy to delve into a complicated issue in 18 inches of type. Some.)

But why take the time to do all that when you can change a few sentences in a column you've already written 10 times and why challenge anyone when a certain segment of the audience will always be there to lap up the easy stuff?

I know there are people who love Bucky (right?) and I do generally like Sully but sometimes I feel like TBN really needs a new voice in the mix, one that's different from what's already there.

Anne M said...

I don't remember that from your Harrington interview, but wow. That's insulting to everyone and smacks of snobbery (Buffalo = blue collar = not that smart). I'm sure that's not what he intended to say, but that's how it comes across. A good newspaper writer takes the complicated and confusing and makes sense of them. He (or she) doesn't just skip over the hard stuff. I'm not saying this is always easy, but I do think it's a major component of the job. It sure was for me when I was a reporter at a small city daily.

Heather B. said...

I'm pretty sure Mike was just trying to distract me with compliments :P but I did think it was a little indicative of the general attitude towards fan/readers because I'd consider him one of the better guys over there. So if *he's* willing to say it...