By Jim Henneman
There's nothing like the Super Bowl to bring out the anger in me that is connected to one of my favorite hot topics.
Those who have heard or read about my complaints in the past undoubtedly realize that I have a newspaper addiction. I not only admit it, but confess there's almost no hope of kicking the habit, which, considering the local state of affairs, makes it a hopeless situation.
What really burns my britches is that I feel the necessity to triple (at least) my expenses by investing in New York papers to supplement my local daily fix, which, unfortunately, doesn't satisfy my urge to indulge. I'm getting better lately, limiting my additional expenditures to weekend editions, but I'm afraid my case is hopeless.
I have had this addiction since my teenage years, when I often fired off letters of complaint to various editors, sometimes to my regret, when they showed up in print. There were plenty of targets during those days, with not one, but three, local dailies -- all with staffers who actually knew something about the area they covered.
As those of us who are compulsive readers know, times have drastically changed. It's a tough business, dominated by contraction. What you read in Baltimore today, and I'm concentrating mostly on sports here, basically is laid out in Chicago -- and half of what you read here is no different than what you would read, verbatim and with identical layout, in every city where the foundering Tribune Company has a newspaper.
That's one reason we get inundated by NBA and NHL stories that have no relevance to this area. These decisions are made by the same company that once owned the (grossly mismanaged, by the way) Chicago Cubs. That same company considers it a conflict of interest for its writers to participate in voting for various awards or the Hall Of Fame. Hello, is anybody home?
What bothers me most about the daily coverage we get is that, with the exception of the major teams in the area, the good writers we still have (meaning those who haven't taken a buyout or been laid off) are virtually ignored. Then, when they do have a major story to cover, we have to put up with the idiotic duplication that has those same stories highlighted (if you can call agate type highlighted) on the "catch-all" page featuring whatever news the out-of-town editor in charge of leftovers deems worthy -- and that ever-popular (but rarely stimulating) "question of the day."
So, what does the Super Bowl have to do with this? Let me count the ways. First of all, I'm appalled that I'm forced to get all my SB coverage (that's two week's worth) from a writer who works for a paper in a town (Los Angeles) that doesn't even have an NFL team. Nothing against Sam Farmer, who is a fine writer, but come on -- how can a national chain of newspapers rely on its NFL coverage coming from a city that doesn't have a team?
(By the way, when the subject comes up debating the issue of whether LA should have a team -- and, let's face it, something's amiss if the nation's second-largest market isn't represented -- how can that not represent a conflict of interest?)
Even after a bad game, and this certainly wasn't one of them, there are always a multitude of story lines, yet the coverage we got locally was minimal and borderline horrendous. One might even say that the game was underplayed in comparison to the coverage of the side shows the TV ads (costing up to $3.5 million, plus production costs) and entertainment have become.
It has always bothered me that the NFL plays a 16-game schedule and three rounds of playoffs while using a 12-minute halftime period, then comes to the biggest day of the year and makes the intermission show a 30-minute extravaganza, which does more to disrupt the flow of the game than it adds to the experience. Somehow it seems as if "The Show" should be the game itself, not whether Madonna is, or isn't, over the hill -- or which commercials were hits or misses (or more X-rated than the halftime show).
Obviously, my thinking is out of sync with the thinking in the rest of the football world, at least based on what I read in the local edition of the Tribune the day after Super Bowl XLVI. Of the relatively limited coverage of the spectacle itself, especially considering the excitement and dramatic ending, we had one full page to digest the success or failure of the commercials, a review of Madonna's performance and a TV critique that used up much more space to counter-review the halftime extravagance.
Somehow, a half-page review of the commercials and roughly two paragraphs about the throw and catch from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham seems a little disproportionate. The NFL could help the situation by donating what it costs to put on those "halftime concerts" to the league's favorite charities and make the game the focal point of Super Sundays -- instead of the afterthought The Tribune seemed to make it out to be. We would have been better served if The Sun's sports staff had covered the game merely by watching the proceedings on television.
It sure would be nice to have a local paper again. It certainly would cut down on the cost of my addiction.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter faces two major problems this spring. The first will be finding enough innings to prepare five starters for the Opening Day rotation. It will not be easy, and you can be assured that some who don't qualify will head to the minor leagues with legitimate claims of being short-changed.
Earl Weaver used to lament that "six is too many and 12 is not enough" -- and he was talking about an entire staff. Showalter is likely to find that to be true as he tries to filter through the tryout camp he'll be conducting during the exhibition season -- and that's only counting starters. Along the way, the Orioles will have to be careful not to suffocate the young pitchers who were supposed to be the backbone of the staff -- last year.
The way things line up right now, you can probably pencil in at least three, probably four, veteran types that will open the season in the five-man rotation. General manager Dan Duquette has already indicated that having some youngsters at the ready in the minor leagues was desirable, as opposed to promotions dictated by need rather than results.
Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada are unknown quantities at this point, but Duquette didn't bring them on board to pitch at Norfolk, so they will assuredly have to pitch their way off the team. With Jeremy Guthrie gone, Tommy Hunter, obtained from Texas late last year, is probably the closest to a sure thing. Newly acquired Jason Hammel will also get maximum exposure, along with Dana Eveland, another veteran without an option or an overly impressive resume, and non-roster invitee Armando Galarraga, of near-perfect-game fame, won't be quickly dismissed.
The sheer numbers don't bode well for Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton or Chris Tillman, three of whom are likely to start the season at Triple-A Norfolk one year after figuring as mainstays on the major league staff. Matusz has the biggest comeback to make, following a puzzling year that followed his 7-1 run down the stretch in 2010, while Arrieta and Britton figure to be closest to regaining the spots they had a year ago. Tillman is the odd man out, awaiting either a growth spurt at Norfolk or eventual trade.
While they try to develop a competitive staff, the Orioles have to be careful that they don't stifle the young pitchers, who only a year ago, represented the brightest hope for the future. Arrieta and Britton both had their moments last season and the way Matusz closed out the 2010 season seemed to be enough to justify the lofty expectations that proved to be such a burden last year.
As he tries to piece together a starting rotation for 2012, Showalter is likely to find the reverse of Weaver's lament to be true: "Twelve is too many and six is not enough."
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Issue 170: February 2012