Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sucking Their Way to Respectability

It’s been a long time since this blog has seen any action. Let’s skip the whys and wherefores. Instead, let’s get right down to engaging in our favorite sport: knocking sports media.

There’s always so much to dissect and ridicule, but some tidbits from Saturday’s TV coverage should suffice.

It’s hard to know who to begin with: Cornball has-been Dick Enberg or super-weenie, speech-impedimented Josh Lewin.

It’s a toss-up, so let’s start with the venerable Enberg. At least, everyone else seems to consider him venerable, since he’s been broadcasting sports for about 50 years. Like politicians, old buildings and whores, sports broadcasters tend to achieve respected status if they’re around long enough. Even if they suck. (Remember Harry Kalas?)

Enberg—hold on to your uppers—is 75. (No wonder younger guys can’t get a leg up in the lucrative world of sportscasting. Between moronic ex-jocks who can’t talk and old farts like Enberg and Brent Musberger, both past 70, how would a recent broadcasting grad ever get a job?)

Check Enberg out on Wikipedia, and you’ll find a dude who is an achiever (it says he holds a doctorate in health sciences). Whatever. He’s also probably a millionaire many times over, after breaking in to TV and radio sports in the ’60s. He was with NBC-TV for years and years, doing football, and he’s always had gigs doing California pro and college teams in various sports. Enberg’s resume is impressive and long, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t probably the luckiest SOB alive.

Currently, he’s the main dude for CBS-TV’s broadcast of the U. S. Open tennis championship—and boy does he suck. Who else but cornball old Enberg would display his “eloquence” by referring to finalist Vera Zvonereva as “the 26-year-old Muscovite.” Or to women’s finals winner Kim Clijsters as “the 27-year-old mom from Bree, Belgium.” (Hard to know what to make of this style; it’s as if Enberg’s auditioning to do the play-by-play for a beauty pageant.)

Enberg is Mr. Pollyanna, and his make-no-waves, ultra-saccharine approach to sports is tough to take. Always has been. He’s a corporate shill masquerading as a fan, and he’s been pulling off this charade for decades.

Occasionally, Dick’ll show up wanting to do one of his “commentaries,” which qualify as the tofu of sports reporting—just godawful blandness and cheerleading and homerism, with Enberg never truly making an incisive point about anything or anybody, presumably for fear he might offend.

Many was the moment during the current U. S. Open telecast when one had to wonder what the heck Enberg was doing there, besides waxing faux-rhapsodic and pseudo-poetic about the New York setting, the weather, the enthusiastic crowds, and the little “heart-rending” tidbits he’d boned up on regarding the players and their loved ones, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Enberg is less a play-by-play guy than he is a publicity agent. He might be what is termed “obsequious.” Synonyms might be, courtesy of the Mac dictionary, “servile, ingratiating, sycophantic, fawning, unctuous, oily, oleaginous, groveling, cringing, subservient, submissive, slavish; informal brown-nosing, bootlicking, smarmy; vulgar slang ass-kissing.” Yep, those all work.

Enberg wrote a book once about himself. He called it Oh My!—after his big “catchphrase.” Eeeesh... I cringe whenever Enberg says, “Oh my!” I’m pretty sure the South Park kids would agree that that’s really gay.

Then there’s the strange case of Lewin, whom we have written about previously. If the Enbergs of the world won’t move over to let younger talent get a crack at the big jobs, even more worrisome is the fact that Lewin stays gainfully employed—perhaps the only play-by-play man in the history of broadcasting who has a speech impediment.

Honestly, no one wants to poke fun at anyone’s affliction. So I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll just pose a question: Under what circumstance would a professional sports franchise or major sports network hire a play-by-play guy with an oh-so-noticeable lisp? Lewin, who seems to go from pillar to post, a bona fide broadcasting whore, currently has a gig doing San Diego Chargers football and also Texas Rangers baseball, but he turns up nationally on FOX’s Saturday baseball broadcasts, too. (Ka-ching!)

Lewin is also really corny, as he attempts to cozy up to sidekicks like Mark Grace, who both know each other from their days with the Cubs. Lewin calls Grace “Gracie.” I guess a lot of people call Grace that, but when Lewin does it, it sounds really gay.

Lewin has an unpleasant, unmodulated tenor-y voice to begin with, and he uses it to pepper his narrative with phrases that sound memorized from The Gee-Whiz Phrases and Colorful Terms You Can Use When Doing Your Own Backyard Baseball Telecast Handbook. (Today, Lewin told us that Nate McLouth “hightailed it into third.” Wow. Colorful.)

But really, Lewin does have a lisp, and it sounds more pronounced now than it did 10 years ago. Coupled with his other failings, I can’t listen to the guy for more than about a minute, especially when he gets on a roll and likes to start speculating about stuff that he probably doesn’t really know anything about. And especially if what he’s saying has a lot of s’s and diphthongs in it.

He’s also one of those guys who comes prepared with stats, so he can find unnatural moments to throw them in to the broadcast, so he sounds “premised.” (Sorry, Josh, you just sound fake.)

What can I say...Lewin the broadcaster is as phony as a three-dollar bill. And he’s got this awful lisp, which ought to disqualify him from an on-air job. Why he continues to work is a mystery.

But don’t worry. Give it some time, and eventually Lewin will also reach the status of an old whore: Respected as a survivor, even if he’s been sucking for decades.

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