An Open Letter To ESPN

To whom it may concern:

Please remove Steve Phillips from all of your baseball broadcasts. During Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, Phillips has been a relatively unspectacular commentator. Allowing Phillips to speak outside of these timed, mostly scripted intervals, however, has proven to be like a jailbreak, where the prisoners are all the stupidest thoughts about baseball.

After the Mets got off to a modest start this season, Steve Phillips used the late-innings of a Mets/Braves broadcast to hop on all the worst bandwagons of opinion about this team. He latched onto the most nebulous accusations against the Mets, many perpetrated by his successor as GM, Omar Minaya. Phillips accused the team of "lacking edge" a sentiment I've argued is a refuge for people who can't understand the real issues with a team. He cited Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright, in particular, as lacking this edge, and in turn, attributed the Mets inability to reach the playoffs on them.  To the rational observer, this statement seemed pretty ironic, since Wright, Beltran, and Reyes have been shown to be more helpful in bringing their team to the postseason, than just one other player in the National League. Phillips also claimed the Mets lacked a player that "never made mistakes," truly a lofty goal in a sport where even the best players fail 60% of the time. Derek Jeter and Kevin Youkilis were then contrasted as two players who never make mistakes, a claim that probably didn't help your networks' perceived pandering to the biggest markets.

If Mr. Phillips thinks Derek Jeter is perfect, it probably explains much about why his time with the Mets came to a screeching halt in the early-2000s. Jeter represents some of the most overvalued qualities in baseball: hitting for average and fundamentally solid, no-range fielding. Thankfully the Wilpons canned Steve Phillips when they did, because I hate to imagine how he'd fare in a market that's increasingly focused on young talented players and advanced fielding metrics, neither of which Phillips seems to believe in.

Before ESPN's most recent broadcast of the Mets, however, the setting was different. Entering yesterday's game, the Mets were in first place in the East, and much of the stupid "edge" talk surrounding this team had died down. I think the accused, David Wright, said it best:

"The definition of edge is going out there and getting a few wins, and then all of a sudden you don't have to worry about anyone talking about edge anymore"

Many of us expected Phillips to back down from his earlier platitudes, or at least, act as if it had never happened. Instead, he went on the offensive, accusing David Wright and Jose Reyes of lacking leadership. At this point, somewhat miraculously, the much-maligned Joe Morgan came to the rescue and began rebutting much of the stupidity coming out of Phillips' mouth.  Joe Morgan, a man who your own employees had allegedly accused of misinformed broadcasting, a man who had a wildly successful website devoted to making fun of his ineptitude, suddenly sounded like the voice of reason. Morgan pleaded with Phillips that Wright's leadership was subtle and still developing. He argued that Reyes' fun-loving attitude was not necessarily a bad thing. Ol' Joe even made the most obvious point of all: there's absolutely no way the Mets would be better off without their superstars. At one point, Phillips even cited New York talk radio, the lowest common denominator of sports discussion, for the idea of trading Jose Reyes. Joe Morgan laughed.

Still Phillips persisted, and I wanted at that point to ask him a few questions of my own, like: "Do you think the Toronto Blue Jays would mind Wright's lack of leadership?" or "How bad would the Indians be if they suffered through Reyes' immature antics?" Every time I see your network's "Best Team In Baseball" ad, in which Phillips brags about drafting Wright, I die a little inside. I suggest a new ad, where Phillips instead says "...and that's how Mike Hampton rejected my 8-year contract offer, thus giving me a supplemental pick, which I then used to draft high-school third baseman, who I repeatedly tried to trade for crappy outfielders."

Perhaps the most telling part of the whole broadcast was when Phillips had to deliver an obviously prepared presentation on Carlos Beltran being a five-tool player, after ripping him. Needless to say, he wasn't too convincing. At that point, Joe Morgan devolved back into his usual sub-moronic drivel about "the sixth-tool being the brain," which Phillips saw as a great chance to talk about what he really thought about Carlos Beltran. "Carlos Beltran doesn't always exemplify a strong mental game" or something like that, cue video of him not sliding into home. Forget the preponderance of statistical evidence showing Beltran to be one of the smarter baserunners ever. At that point, however, I just turned off the TV.

So, please fire Steve Phillips, or at least remove him from broadcasts. He nearly drove one organization into the ground with his lack of baseball knowledge and I fear he will do the same to yours.

--Sam

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