Category Archives: Media

R.I.P. Dick Heller, long-time Wash. Times sports columnist

Dick Heller, longtime Washington Times sports columnist, dead at 76

A Northwest Washington native, Heller began working for newspapers when he was in high school, covering high school sports for The Washington Daily News. He also worked for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Alexandria Gazette before joining The Washington Star, where he covered University of Maryland athletics until the newspaper closed in 1981…

…Following a stint at The Miami Herald, Heller joined The Washington Times in 1986, and he became a columnist in the early 1990s. He remained with the newspaper until it folded its sports section in December 2009, then contributed bi-weekly columns for a time after the section returned in March 2011.

Heller covered the Washington Senators in the 1960s and was featured in a documentary or two about the D.C. baseball. My favorite columns of his were about the end of Griffith Stadium and his anti-Texas Rangers ones, though the alternative turned out to be a bit unpalatable as well.

I read and linked to many Heller columns over the years, some of which you can find here.

WHAT HIS COLLEAGUES ARE SAYING

WELP, NOBODY’S PERFECT

I will probably add to this post as more tributes and obituaries come in. There are some kind words for Heller on the Washington D.C. Baseball History Facebook group.

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anti-masn

Could MASN be a Pyrrhic victory for Peter Angelos? Let’s hope so.

Earlier this month, Grantland published a story by chronicler of Les Expos de Montréal, Jonah Keri on the Baltimore Orioles and their reluctance to spend. That’s nothing new or of even relevant to D.C. sports fans. What is relevant are details of Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) which is primarily owned by Angelos/Orioles.

In 2005, MLB and Angelos worked out a deal allowing the Nationals to operate in D.C. in exchange for a new local TV deal that overwhelmingly favored the Orioles. In July 2006, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network launched a full-time sports programming slate headlined by O’s and Nats games. The terms dictated that each franchise would receive the same amount in rights fees, but that Baltimore would control a 90 percent share of MASN and any MASN-owned spinoff networks at the start; the Nationals would pick up an additional 1 percent stake each year after an initial two-year wait, until eventually reaching a 33 percent cap. Angelos got his lopsided deal, while the Nationals, who play in the nation’s seventh-biggest market, got screwed.

While the Orioles are bringing in quite a bit more than the Nationals, neither team is profiting from MASN as much as it could be. According to SNL Kagan, a group that analyzes cable and broadcast network deals as well as regional sports networks (RSNs), MASN properties generated $167.8 million in total revenue in 2012. The bulk of that money came from advertising and subscriber fees, with 5.4 million consumers paying $2.14 a month. That’s well below the $2.47 industry average for 2012 and $2.69 projection for 2013, and several of the media experts and sports deal makers interviewed for this story said MASN should be getting much more. Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, which primarily airs Washington Capitals and Wizards regular-season games, got $4.02 per month in 2012, indicating the market would likely support a higher rate for MASN. It’s hard to know whether to blame the network’s low subscriber fee on inept management, the timing of the deal, or other factors, but whatever the reason, it’s clear MASN will be leaving tens of millions on the table until it renegotiates with local cable providers.

First off, I have to acknowledge that while the “low” subscriber fee is bad for the revenue of the franchises, it’s not a negative for cable subscribers whether they watch those channels or not. It won’t go as far to say that Angelos is “saving” cable subscribers by having the “low” rate because if not for him, CSN would probably have the Nats and we were already paying for that channel. Angelos was successful in keeping MASN off of most DC area cable systems well into 2006, the Nats second season.

There are more interesting details:

For now, the MASN status quo remains. The Nationals aren’t completely helpless, though: According to a source close to the Washington franchise, MLB has sent the team an undisclosed sum every year to help bridge the gap, and to prevent the Lerners from taking matters to court, until the deal becomes more balanced…

…when the Lerner family bought the Nationals in 2006, it was saddled with this lemon of a deal, in which neither it nor the team’s first president, Stan Kasten, had any say. The terms stipulated that the deal could be renegotiated after five full seasons, and the Nats took their first opportunity to challenge the terms after the 2011 season. When that challenge dragged into 2012, those terms looked even more unfair. After spending years rebuilding a franchise that had been decimated by penny-pinching and mismanagement in Montreal, the Nats finally made the playoffs for the first time, winning 98 games and the NL East title. That same year, the Orioles made the postseason for the first time in 15 seasons. MASN viewership skyrocketed, enhancing the network’s already rising economic profile, but the Nats saw just a fraction of the returns.

The suggestion that the team or possibly, the Lerner family themselves, are getting payola under the table additional compensation is new to me. Whether that statement is accurate or not will certainly not be mentioned by the Lerners (see, publicly financed Nationals Park roof for reference) so we’ll have to take this cocktail party supposition with a grain of salt. An aside – several years ago I heard a rumor from a one-time employee that in addition to the $450 million purchase price, the Lerner ownership also assumed over $100 million in debt from when MLB operated the franchise. Of course, I’ve had mixed results from that source.

Given that the Lerner family is the richest in MLB, they may have the patience to wait this out a while and if they get a little good behavior money on the side, well, why not. There is risk in that as well, but TV deals have gone up so much across the league, they seem unlikely to regress all the way back.

The motivations of Angelos on the other hand, are not completely clear. As the rest of the article notes, he hasn’t not been a big spender for most of his tenure as Orioles owner (BREAKING: Since I finished writing this post, Baltimore signed Ubaldo Jimenez for four years to which Cleveland fan Vince Guerreri invoked Bill Veeck’s maxim about “the high cost of mediocrity“), this offseason being another example of that and doesn’t seem motivated by his team winning on the field. Seemingly, his motivation for being loved, liked or even respected by his fan base is not significant either — he has had a dozen years to bring Maryland’s favorite son Cal Ripken, Jr. into a meaningful role with the franchise and choose not to go that way. Hiring Ripken would be at minimum on par with bringing in Dan Duquette to take credit for Andy McPhail’s improvements. It seems as though Angelos, in addition to being duplicitous (2004: “There are no baseball fans in Washington, D.C., that’s a fiction.” 2010: What’s good for the Nationals is good for MASN) lacks business sense. Perhaps he is self-aware of that, but it isn’t a stretch to say he’s more motivated to be vindictive. What’s really weird is that he and the Orioles still enjoy relatively uncritical coverage in either his home market of Baltimore or the market he is envious of, Washington, even though he isn’t good at his job.

Another possibility is that the three main participants are quite old. Selig will be 80 in July and has pushed back his retirement date for years. Officially, he plans to step down at the beginning of 2015. Angelos will be 85 in July while Lerner is 88. The three of them could be punting or should I say, pitching around the hitter, to the next generation. That’s not necessarily bad for the Nats, the next commissioner may not have a friendship with Angelos. Of course, what the descendents of the principal owners want and are willing to do is an unknown, though Mark Lerner and his brothers-in-law seem to be in for the long haul. Whehther Angelos’ family is the same I cannot say.

Left unsaid in Keri’s piece is a wild card in all of this – Ted Leonsis. The owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, holding company of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Mystics and Verizon Center, has won’t shut up been very vocal about his plans to create a new cable channel as soon as his broadcast deals with CSN expire, going as far to start an online channel. Obviously, CSN and unless Angelos is really oblivious, MASN, have to be quite interested in this development. For CSN, they are looking at extinction unless they reach a deal with Leonsis. Angelos and MASN probably realize that too and should they team up with Leonsis, that channel would be the dominant sports channel in multiple regional markets without any meaningful competition — i.e. what Angelos wanted from MLB and lost, yet on terms very favorable to him, even if he lacks the business-sense to make it work. Of course the question is whether split profits would be a deterrent to some or all sides. CSN is but one small part of the Comcast empire that includes, many other RSNs, cable/broadband systems and something called the National Broadcasting Company. Fighting over the DC & Baltimore markets might not be a big deal to the diagonally integrated corporate conglomerate.

These are but a few possible scenarios presented and I’ve looked at it more at a mostly local & regional level; FOX Sports or some other corporation may want to be a player too. Ultimately, I expect the endgame to be not terribly palatable to Washingtonians or the Nats franchise. The likeliest situation has Angelos and not necessarily the Baltimore American League ball club coming out far ahead of anybody else. The Lerners may ultimately buy him out, holding their noses as they do it. Regardless, it is worth pointing out that the demise of the Baltimore Orioles is an acceptable, albeit unlikely outcome, for the Washington National League ball club and their fans should it result in the restoration of television rights. Since in the Angelos and Orioles point of view, Washingtonians were acceptable as collateral damage, the same can be applied to Baltimoreans. Perhaps Mr. Keri’s city would be a suitable relocation site for Orioles, whose lease ends in 2021.

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Praise for Mike Pettigano and Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com on breaking the Christie GWB scandal

NorthJersey-com-Christie-scandal-mike-pettigano
The allegations that officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration ordered the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close some lanes of the George Washington Bridge (I-95, US 1 & 9) is disappointing on several fronts. What isn’t disappointing is that my friend and former colleague from my Gannett days (and fellow Penn State College of Communications graduate), Mike Pettigano, has been part of the Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com team breaking the story. Some of you may even remember Mike from when he was running Penn State sports blog Black Shoe Diaries or the preview magazine, We Are Penn State 2013 (He’s doing that again this year).

As for Christie, I’m disappointed the people he selected appeared to have acted in such a vindictive way. I’ll be curious to see what the Record learns about his involvement. I have great affection for the Garden State, having been born there and then visiting family, friends and of course, the Jersey Shore, regularly and I was pulling for Christie to rise in his party. Now, I’m probably not feeling that way.

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I-95 service area Maryland House expected to reopen in early 2014

Maryland House to Reopen in Early 2014Aberdeen Patch
Maryland House, the first service area on all of northbound Interstate 95 is now expected to reopen in early 2014. A specific date was not mentioned. Previously, Maryland House was supposed to open this month.

However, there was significant work to be done at the 50-year-old Maryland House, where remediation of fuel-contaminated soil cost $2.6 million, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealPart of the Maryland Transportation Authority‘s John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, Maryland House service area closed in September 2012 after 49 years of service, for renovations. The other service area along I-95 in Maryland, Chesapeake House, will closed down to be rebuilt after Maryland House reopens. Each of the service areas has a unique design; Maryland House invokes the letter “M” while Chesapeake House is designed to look like the letter “C.”

Several years ago, the Delaware Turnpike service area along I-95 was also rebuilt.

DID YOU KNOW? Service areas like Maryland House are not permitted in the interstate highway system. However, the I-95 service areas are grandfathered in since they are primarily along toll roads that were planned prior to the prohibition and were noted funded by federal the federal government.

h/t DCroads.net Facebook group

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Sam Huff is off Redskins radio, Herzog thinks he was fired

Sam Huff is out of the Washington Redskins radio booth, leaving Sonny Jurgensen as the lone member of the Sonny, Sam & Frank glory days of Redskins radio. (After nearly 50 years as a player, coach, and broadcaster, Sam Huff retires from Washington Redskins) For a generation Washingtonians watched the game with “the sound turned down and the radio” to hear Huff and Sonny Jurgensen add commentary to Frank Herzog’s play-by-play. The trio was broken up in 2004 when Herzog was dumped for V.P. of branding or some other B.S. title, Larry Michael.

Herzog went on WTOP radio this weekend and suggested that Huff was fired - Hall of Famer Huff retires, Herzog questions move. It seems Herzog’s claims were based on his intiution that Huff would never give up and not any actual conversations. Perhaps Herzog was just trying to get some attention, but it is worth considering.

Huff had a reduced schedule last season, a concession to age. Barry Svrluga, described it in
Sam Huff won’t broadcast Redskins opener for first time since 1974:

Linebackers, over time, lose a step. The proof shows up on game film: Tackles are missed, yards are gained, games are lost. Radio announcers, too, wear down, and the proof is right there for fans to hear. Such inevitable drop-offs are almost imperceptible from game to game or even season to season. Yet at a certain point, they are undeniable.

Huff will still join Jurgensen and Michael in the booth for the Redskins’ eight home games as well as two on the road, against the rival Giants and Cowboys, but his curtailed schedule is an acknowledgment, in a roundabout way, that he has lost a step in recent years. “Everything ends in sports,” he said recently, and lowered his voice. “Everything ends in sports.”

That doesn’t mean he’s at peace with the decision. “I don’t understand it all,” he said one July day, not long after the Redskins’ flagship radio station, ESPN 980, announced his reduced schedule.

Huff’s departure from the booth is shocking only in that it took so long for it to happen. Dave McKenna wrote about Huff’s decline for years in the CityPaper. From November 2007: The Final Countdown? The decline of Sam Huff and Redskins radio

This Hall of Famer has spent most Sunday afternoons this fall appearing befuddled by the simplest on-field action. It’s impossible to ignore all the accusations that the game he once mastered has passed him by, and even diehard Skins fans have stopped defending his flawed performances. Many hope he goes away before he puts a permanent hurt on his local legacy.

In September 2010, McKenna wrote about Huff again Sam Huff: From “The Violent World” to His Own World

…has seemed wobbly in the booth for a while.

But by now that wobbliness has reached a level of consistency that makes the audience stay tuned so as not to miss whatever wackiness will come next.

He’s thrown so much crazy stuff out there this year, partners Larry Michael and Sonny Jurgensen have to be on clean-up alert whenever their beloved cohort’s microphone is on. During an exhibition game against Baltimore, for example, the refs dropped a penalty flag as the Ravens offense was approaching the line of scrimmage.

“Its gotta be holding!” said Huff. Michael and Jurgensen pointed out the ball hadn’t been snapped.

So, the end of Huff’s tenure has been a long time coming, but it is reasonable to say that his status as a Redskins icon kept him around longer than merit as a broadcaster and analyst.

NOW WHAT?

I don’t know how long Jurgensen is going to keep going and Michael is probably here forever unless he parks in Dan Snyder’s special parking space or something similar. Back in 2010, I suggested that John Riggins and Joe Theismann would make a great Redskins radio team. That seems highly unlikely though, because I don’t see Riggins coming aboard. Riggins has shown a great deal of antipathy for Snyder, but also seems to have removed himself from football completely (John Riggins on Alfred Morris: “Never Heard of Him…I Don’t Watch Football” – Hogs Haven) in favor of his outdoors show, Riggo on the Range. Theismann, who had national announcing jobs for years, might be willing to move into Redskins radio booth if offered. Rick “Doc” Walker has worked the sidelines for a while and could make his way up to the booth as well.

SONNY & SAM, MORE THAN TEAMMATES

The Redskins produced a long documentary on Huff and Jurgensen, who arrived in 1964 from the New York Football Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. They’ve been best friends since those trades.

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Inside the booth with Charlie & Dave – The Summoner explained

I woke up this morning to two great videos of Washington Nationals radio broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler. The first, featuring Slowes, is inside the booth while he calls Ian Desmond’s Thursday evening home run.

The second video is a longer feature in which Jageler explains how he developed his interest in broadcasting and talks about The Summoner.

As I have said countless times, Nats fans are blessed to have such a great team of radio broadcasters in Slowes and Jageler. The know the game, they know the medium and they have such enthusiasm for it. As I have said years ago, the Nats need to give these guys tenure. Drive dump trucks full of money up to their houses if necessary, I want them around forever.

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Nats grievances for Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Washington Nationals lost another one to the team they are forced to subsidize, the Baltimore Orioles. I gotta a lot of problems right now!

3. MASN using broadcasters of both teams

I don’t care about the Baltimore angle on the sportscast, I don’t care about promotions at Orioles Park, etc. It is a stupid agreement that nobody likes – On the MASN split booths DC Sports Bog

2. Nats blow 6-2 lead

The Nats were rolling with Ryan Zimmerman hitting three home runs. Jordan Zimmerman though, after 78 innings this season, finally pitched a bad one. It was really bad. Seven Baltimore runners crossed home plate in the inning. Tyler Clippard couldn’t stop the bleeding much either.

“It’s tough to have a night like that and not be able to kinda celebrate it and have fun, because we lost,” said Zimmerman.

I’m in agreement with the face of the franchise on that one.

1.) The Nats TV rights being given to Peter Angelos (default)

Bad idea in 2005, bad idea now. This joint booth is an annoyance, but the whole corrupt bargain is the bigger problem. You can follow along via the category Peter Angelos is a Coward and by the tag MASN Sucks. How bad is the arrangement? It made me take Comcast’s side back in the day.

As for the final game of the Battle of the Beltways, only…Dan Haren can save us now?

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Smokin’ Al Koken’s origin story

The Washington Capitals made their seemingly traditional first round exit on Monday and while that is still being discussed (remember, D.C. isn’t a hockey town at all) I’m post, for posterity, recent coverage of rink side broadcaster, Smokin’ Al Koken. Dan Steinberg has been profiling Koken, who was “present at the creation” of the Caps, on DC Sports Bog but all in a long feature.

‘Smokin’ ’ Al Koken has ties to Capitals and Washington, D.C., sports going back to 1970sThe Post

Koken’s Caps responsibilities allowed enough free time to serve as the third sports anchor at WUSA along with Ken Mease and Brenner. Among Koken’s duties was doing live interviews from RFK Stadium during Redskins postgame shows, and out of nowhere one weekend, Brenner threw it back to “Smokin’ Al Koken” at the stadium.

The WUSA sports desk kept the nickname going over the objections of the station’s news director, who worried that it sounded unprofessional.

“Whenever Glenn threw to him, he’d say Smokin’ Al Koken,” said Larry Duvall, then a sports producer at WUSA and now with Comcast SportsNet. “I would type in ‘Smokin’ Al Koken,’ like it was his official name. The news director would say, ‘No, no, no, we shouldn’t do that.’ But Glenn said, ‘Aw, c’mon, keep doing it,’ so we just kept going.”

Being nicknamed by Glenn Brenner equals all-time cred in DC sports.

Today, DC Sports Bog has Al Koken, from the archives which features a pre-Smokin’ prior to the first Caps game.

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Vin Scully on Bryce Harper into the wall: The only good thing about it is it knocked his beard off

There has been a lot of discussion and pixels generated over Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper‘s collision into the right field wall the other night. All of this talk about toughness and such (I’m guilty of it too) has overshadowed the the actual story — a fairly inexperienced outfielder took a bad route on a fly ball and in trying to catch up to it, ran so hard he didn’t see the wall.

Prior to last night’s Nats 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Charlie Slowes of the Washington Nationals Radio Network interviewed legendary voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully and Harper’s wall collision came up. Scully reminded us all of the real story:

Charlie Slowes: Speaking of shoulders and knees and collisions, how about Bryce Harper into the wall last thing last night.

Vin Scully: The only good thing about is it knocked his beard off …and I was delighted to see…(Slowes heard laughing in the background)…I went down to the clubhouse because I admire his play and there he was clean-shaven, uh stiches under the chin…such a fine young man and an outstanding player…and it’s none of my business but I hope he stays clean shaven.

I’m sure somebody will get the audio into embeddable format, but until then MLB Gameday subscribers can here it by going to this page, clicking on the WJFK link and starting to listen around the 12:00 mark.

UPDATE: Legendary Dodgers Voice Vin Scully ‘Delighted’ Harper’s Clean-ShavenCBS DC
The audio is now available from the link above.

The interview also touches on the current Dodgers, the movie “42″ and his start on the radio at WTOP in Washington when he lived at 29th and O Street for $15 a week. Good stuff, but what else would it be? The interview, between to New Yorkers and Fordham graduates) could have been something like:

Vin: Charlie, nobody outside of New York knows how to fold a newspaper

Charlie: Can’t good hard rolls either, Vin

and it still would have been good.

OTHER NATS NEWS

Clayton Kershaw out-dueled Dan Haren (The Post), but with the lineup the Nats put out last night, how wouldn’t he?

More troubling – Harper is feeling nauseous which suggests he has a concussion.

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New MASN dugout reporter will be Julie Alexandria; Nats take Marlins series

First off, I overslept this morning so I didn’t get to blog about Ross Detwiler (more like BOSS DETWILER) pitching really well again and Bryce Harper going 4 for 5 while battling flu-like symptoms (DC Sports Bog, The Post) in a 6-1 win over the Miami Marlins. Good to get that curly W flag waving on the right side again. Now, moving on…

I half-jokingly suggested several times on twitter that the new dugout reporter for Washington Nationals telecasts on MASN would be Mike O’Connor, briefly a pitcher with the team. I said this because I had heard he was trying to get into the broadcasting business and as a former Nat with local ties (George Washington University and Howard County, Md.) he might have that going for him. So, not a blind guess, but maybe a near sighted one?

The actual choice is somebody named Julie Alexandria

I don’t think she and D.C. are related, but good name. We can only hope that Virginia Arlington and a Montgomery Rockville are someday involved with the franchise.

Nonetheless, she is on twitter at @JulieAlexandria and is already more interesting than her predecessor:

Somebody also RT’ed something she said about Star Wars.

Alexandria has worked with the Mets, Maury Povich (a NATS FAN1!!11!!1) and MTV among other things. @dcsportsbog tweeted this press release that mentioned “Julie is an avid Mets fan, with an AL West crush on the Angels.” There was also a post about her.

I don’t care too much about the dugout reporters, but it’ll be interested to see if she has to dodge as many Gatorade dumps as Kristin Akra. For the most part, I blogged about her because @SteveRep44′s excellent tweet.

Alexandria is expected to start during the next homestand.

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