Midwest Swing: Final Horn

lucas oil stadium

By Paul M. Banks

CHICAGO- 2010 has been perhaps the most exciting NCAA Tournament in recent memory. This March Madness is yet another example of why the college hoops postseason is the best postseason around. It doesn’t need fixing; college football’s pathetic excuse for a postseason does.

The run up to this Final Four featured comebacks, upsets and many incredibly close games.  And the title game may have been the grandest of all!

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Favre, Peyton bring Midwest Sports into National Focus Part 2


By Paul M. Banks

Brett Favre’s incessant media circus and Peyton Manning’s undefeated Colts have put national spotlight on the Midwest, I discuss this and the future of sports media with Midwest Sports Fans.com’s Jerod Morris.

(PMB) What do you think about this whole movement towards niche specialization?…MLB Network, NBA TV, ESPN Chicago, ESPN Dallas, ESPN Boston (even though regular ESPN is already fixated on Boston) and then on the internet too with fan-centric sites within multi-layered networks like True Hoop, SB Nation etc.

Big Ten Network host/bikini model Melanie Collins

Big Ten Network host/bikini model Melanie Collins

(JM) I love the specialization. I don’t know that I’m a big fan of ESPN’s local sites — there’s still just something about reading Chicago news from the Tribune or Sun-Times that doesn’t translate to the faceless pages of ESPN.com – but I love knowing that there is a place I can go that is devoted to the Big Ten, and then another place devoted to MLB, and so on.

ESPN gives us the cliff’s notes version of sports. Networks like the Big Ten Network and MLB Network, and websites for particular leagues and teams, give us the entire book. Sometimes you want the summary and sometimes you want to read the book. Now sports fans have the option to choose whatever they wish.

This is good; again, it comes down to who is the most forward-thinking from a business standpoint and can monetize what is, overall, a better (though more fragmented in ownership) product for consumers.

One advantage that local papers and news stations always had over the ESPNs of the world was their ability to cover the local beat with more depth, wisdom, and experience. Now that ESPN has launched ESPNChicago, ESPNBoston, ESPNDallas, and then the next 755 of them that they are planning after that, for the first time we are seeing a national sports media outlet really be able to compete for the eyeballs looking for a perspective that is grounded in local history and tradition.

(PMB) Well, it will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out. As long as guys like you and me get our piece, I’m fine with whatever. After the whole Favre soap opera, what do you think the next big Midwestern sports story will be to take over the national consciousness?

(JM) The re-emergence of Indiana basketball to a national powerhouse in Tom Crean’s second season.

Damn, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face…although I do think the Hoosiers can be a .500 team this year and I think Crean is the right guy at the right time for the job.

No, the next big Midwest sports story has to be Peyton Manning’s continued greatness. Certainly if the Colts stay undefeated it is a story that will dominate everything. But even when they ultimately lose a game or two, this is a team that has to be considered a Super Bowl favorite for one reason and one reason only: Peyton.

Growing up I used to listen to my Dad tell me about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Bill Russell and his favorite football player, Archie Manning. Someday, we’ll all be telling our kids about Michael Jordan and Albert Pujols and Peyton Manning.peytoneli

Hey, look at that. I just named off the three guys that many sports fans of our generation will look back on someday as the best of the best. And what cities did they play in? Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.

See, it all comes back to the Midwest.

(PMB) Where I’m based, Chicago is a good place to start looking for that next big thing, but there are two main obstacles in the way.

1.) We haven’t had a real winner in our history other than MJ and the Bulls.

2.) The people here are psychotically obsessed with two teams that overshadow everyone, the Bears and Cubs. They also happen to be two teams horribly mismanaged at all levels of the organization. Both clubs also treat both the media and their fans like subhuman trash. Your thoughts?

(JM) I think the city of Chicago has wasted its collective energy on the Cubs for more than a century. Sadly, I don’t see it changing, neither the city’s incongruous obsession with the “lovable losers” nor their lovable losing.

As for the Bears, their lack of success should not be surprising. If we’ve learned anything over 40 years of NFL football it is that stability at the top of an organization and in the head coach/QB relationship breeds winning. One-year wonders can emerge (like the Bears’ recent Super Bowl participant) but they won’t be built to last.

For a prime example of how to build a consistent winner, shoot down I-65 to Indy. They’ve got the blueprint…you just need to find a Peyton Manning.CT 00294379E_Sox0628_23.JPG

The city of Chicago has long baffled me. I think I am a White Sox fan in part because of my contrarian nature. All of my friends growing up were Cubs fans and I couldn’t understand it. What has this team done to deserve such adoration? It is immensely fitting and appropriate to me that the White Sox were the team to finally break the city’s baseball curse.

Unfortunately for Chicago football fans, there is no alternative to the Bears.

(PMB) Couldn’t have said it any better myself, about both of Chicago’s lovable losers. I think you might have articulated why I’m a White Sox fan as well.

Readers, be sure to check out Midwest Sports Fans.com early and often!

Favre, Peyton bring Midwest Sports into National Focus Part 1


By Paul M. Banks

Brett Favre’s incessant media circus and Peyton Manning’s undefeated Colts have put national spotlight on the Midwest, I discuss this and the future of sports media with Midwest Sports Fans.com’s Jerod Morris.

(PMB) Last weekend, I was at a party and referred to ESPN as Eastern Seaboard Programming Network, as I always do. Someone said to me non-jokingly, “Is that what it really stands for?” And with the non-stop emphasis on New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox, Duke-North Carolina and the unhealthy man-crush that they (along with seemingly every other journalist in this country) seems to have on Florida QB Tim Tebow, I do wonder if it’s literally true.

Of course, they also unjustifiably blanket teams like USC and Notre Dame which appeal to large numbers of frat boy front-runner types who don’t really like sports, but pretend to. Your thoughts on bias, East Coast or otherwise?duke_vitale

(JM) By now I think it is pretty clear to everyone that a strong bias exists not just at ESPN but at all major television networks; and the bias can be boiled down into one nice, neat, tidy word: ratings.

ESPN is no longer just the upstart underdog from Bristol. They are now a Disney-owned, worldwide conglomerate with serious stakeholders to answer to. No longer can they be “every sports persons’ network”; rather, they must be “every sports plurality’s network”, and by this I mean that they must, in the majority of cases, broadcast whatever they can get their hands on in each time slot that will drive the highest ratings.

We can bitch about it all we want (and we do!) but Yankees-Red Sox will always drive more viewers than White Sox-Twins, no matter how good the teams are. Duke-North Carolina will always drive more visitors than a game for first place in the Big Ten between Michigan State and Purdue. It is what it is. And it just so happens that most of the ratings drivers are East Coast-based teams and the majority of the country is on Central or Eastern time.

I would think that by now sports fans would be conditioned to the reality that sports is a business. We hear the athletes say it all the time, and I think that despite our frustrations we have to understand that the same is true for those who broadcast them.

And if we don’t like it, there’s always the Big Ten Network!erinandrewswis

(PMB) As polarizing a figure as Brett Favre is, and he’s certainly done a few things to warrant that hatred people have of him, he made the 1600lb. gorilla in the sports media room ESPN focus on the upper midwest, Wisconsin and Minnesota particularly, and that never happens. Was this a good thing for Midwestern sports fans? Not just for your site, but also actual people who can legitimately be described with this designation?

(JM) I guess it depends on whether you were in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

It has been great for Minnesota. Not only has Brett Favre’s arrival created more excitement in the city, but the team has a serious shot to be playing playoff games at home and possibly even go to a Super Bowl. And think about how much revenue was generated just from the reporters being dispatched to the Twin Cities to cover the Favre saga. I may stereotyping here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most sports reporters can eat; the restaurants were no doubt pleased.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, lost one of their favorite sports idols to a rival. So they couldn’t be too happy and it’s doubtful they see it as a “good thing”.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure what the Favre story really does for the Midwest per se because anything involving Favre is such a national story now. I’m sure that Vikings and Packers blogs, plus the papers that cover the two teams, enjoyed a nice spike in eyeballs but the real winner was the NFL. Favre = ratings, jersey sales, and ticket sales. Cha-ching.

(PMB) You became somewhat of a sports media star this past summer, even appearing on ESPN Outside the Lines. I know you’ve likely told the story a million times, so I apologize, but please tell us what you learned from the experience and how you use those lessons today…

(JM) I learned more than anything that I’m not just writing in my own little personal sports diary at MSF. Every word I write is open to be consumed by anyone on the web, and that includes the possibility that my meaning could be misunderstood as well as the chance that real lives can be affected by what I write.

Bloggers may not be journalists, nor ever aspire to be, but the platform – especially if you are actively promoting yourself to drive traffic – should compel us all to be accountable for what we say. I don’t believe that means that bloggers should necessarily be held to the same standards and “rules” as the mainstream media, but I do believe that there is a minimum level of accountability that any person publishing work for public consumption should adhere to.favre02_600

Fortunately, I felt no need to back down from or apologize for the spirit of my post, and that is one thing I always make sure of now before I hit “publish”: am I prepared to defend these words if necessary? If I believe in what I am saying and am writing without malice, I am confident in the final result.

The whole Ibanez situation helped me to realize this.

(PMB) One thing that was sort of lost in the experience was your personal story, as well as that of your site, Midwest Sports Fans

(JM) It’s pretty simple really. I grew up in Indiana, lived in the Midwest my entire life save for a few years down in Miami after graduating college, and am a devoted fan of the Hoosiers, White Sox, and Browns…an eclectic mix to be sure.

Once I moved to Dallas in April in 2008, I wanted a way to stay connected to my Midwestern roots. I started working for a social media and online reputation management firm and starting MSF ended up being a great way to get hands-on experience with what we were doing.

It’s been a labor of love that I’ve truly enjoyed ever since.

(PMB) So you must truly know a lot about SEO then. Everyone has been beaten over the head with the story of newspapers dying out. But what do you see as the future of sports media? What might the next apparatus to die out after print? And also, no a brighter note, what do you envision as the future of the industry to be? Beyond “blogging” of course.

(JM) The future is that we are going to continue to see the lines blurred…between everything.

National writers put things into national perspectives. Local writers obviously localize the perspective. The local papers are already on thin ice as it is; if the ESPNs continue stealing their readers, how will they survive?

And, of course, blogs are a part of that. But I don’t see it as a zero sum game. If the MSM sees blogs as a threat, rather than an opportunity, they will get killed. The same is true for blogs with the MSM and other blogs. More synergy will lead to better, more intertwined, richer content. If the user experience is enhanced, the time spent will increase.benetton

I think this is a formula still to be unlocked.

In general, I think we are going to continue to see fragmentation of coverage with more and more specialization, which I think will ultimately lead to a better product for consumers. Those who are forward-thinking and strategic enough to build strong revenue models around the content will prosper. Others will fall by the wayside, and it should be clear by now to everyone that clinging to the status quo is a recipe for doom.

(PMB) Very true, less than 100% of sportswriters today have the luxury of making a living with the old “just write your story and send it in” approach that I was trained with in the newspaper industry. Those days are dinosaur.

Readers, be sure to check out Midwest Sports Fans.com early and often!

Chicago Sox Exchange


Soxman and Paul M. Banks
Alas the dynamic duo of White Sox blogging returns.  With the NBA draft complete and the Chicago Blackhawks on ice for the summer, “Sports Ace,” Paul M. Banks returns to wrap up the Cross-town Classic, discuss the White Sox chances in the AL Central, and to dive into the latest MLB trade rumors involving the southsiders.

(SM) Welcome back, Sports Ace.  Since you’ve been gone, we’ve seen the White Sox rise and fall several times.  Winning 10 of our last 12 games, we are creeping back into contention.  I think our dramatic win on Saturday, followed by the thrashing of the Cubs on Sunday may have been the spark we’ve been waiting for from this team.  Gordon Beckham has been on fire since delivering the game winning hit on Saturday (hitting .350 in his last 20 Abs), and the team appears to be playing with a little more passion albeit still playing sloppy defense.  Your thoughts?

(PMB) Thanks man, it’s great to finally be back. I’m glad you brought up “Bacon” because he’s just been a joy to watch lately, going 3 for 3 last night and playing a key role in the win that finally brought the Sox back to .500. I understand why people compared him to Robin Ventura early on, as they played the same position and both were highly touted first-round draft picks who struggled mightily at the plate and with the glove when their careers first began.

However, I don’t see Beckham as a guy who will ever hit 30-35 HRs in a season. He will be an excellent spray and slap hitter who could regularly see his average in the .310s and .320s each year. He may not have Ventura’s power, but he has way more speed. And as we’re learning now, the steroid era of earlier this decade is over and “grinderball” or “smallball” is the new home run.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this last weekend, before the current winning streak and when the Sox were 6 games out, things have changed.

“After completing a sweep of the Indians last night, the White Sox are 3.0 games back and two games over .500.  It’s been an up and down season, but the White Sox are finally providing legitimate reasons to believe that they can repeat as AL Central champions…40 of them in fact.” See our friends at Midwest Sports Fans.com for more

(SM) After winning 10 of our last 12 games, even the most pessimistic of Sox fans are starting to believe we can overtake the AL Central.  You once said, “the Sox will go as far as Gavin Floyd takes them.”  Well, he improved to 3-0 in June, is 4-1 since May 22 and has a 1.39 ERA in his last eight starts.  As a matter of fact, the Sox now have the 2nd best team ERA in the AL (4.00), second only to Seattle (3.64).  Care to comment on whether or not our pitching can continue to hold the line?gavinfloyd

(PMB) Yes, as far as Floyd (and Danks) will take them. Contreras seems to be young and talented again (or at least very much improved) since his rehab stint at AAA Charlottle, but Floyd is the man truly writing “a tale of two seasons.” You brought up Floyd’s numbers since May 22nd.  Here’s more statistics from that before and after date. In his first 8 starts “Pink Floyd” was 2-4 with a 7.71 ERA with a K/BB walk ratio of 35/23. In his last 8 starts since then, “Pretty Boy Floyd” has an opponents’ batting average of less than .200 and he’s improved his strikeout to walk ratio to 46/15.

(SM) While the pitching has been a bright spot, there is a reason we continue to flirt with mediocrity as a team.  Monday’s game against the Indians was the first time in six games, the White Sox did not make an error.  They have made 17 errors in their previous 11 games.  As we have three players with less than 2 full years combined experience playing 2B, 3B, and SS- this has to be expected.  This is a key area the White Sox must improve if they are to compete in the AL Central as the season presses on.

Other things to consider:  they also have the 3rd worst team batting average in the AL (.254), and are 4th worst in scoring runs (332).  The Sox have the worst team batting average at home (.231), in a hitter’s park, and still have several questions in our line-up, including the perpetual “double-play-in-waiting” with Thome, Konerko, and AJ batting in the 4-6 spots.  How can we fix these things and what are your keys to our successfully repeating as division champions.

(PMB) First A.J. HAS TO THROW SOMEBODY OUT ON THE BASEPATHS FOR ONCE! Of course, it’s not all his fault as Sox pitchers are ludicrously bad and trying to hold runners on base.

Also, prior to this homestand the Sox were hitting a horrific .221 at home this season. This team of slow-moving sluggers were not hitting home runs; in a power hitter’s dream ballpark. How is this worst of both worlds possible? It’s like encountering some dude who’s both an arrogant jerk and a soft, pansy man at the same time. And if it weren’t for singer-songwriter John Mayer, I didn’t think such a man could exist. Also, if weren’t for Josh Fields, I didn’t think you could have an MLB regular who lacked power, ability to hit for average and be atrocious at fielding. Re: Fields, this offseason: HE GONE!

Luckily, the changes Ozzie made to the lineup a few weeks ago have improved the team dramatically, but I still think the AL Central is nowhere near as weak as people make it out to be. It’s going to take at least 90 wins to capture this division, and the American League is light years ahead of the National, so the playoffs are going to be even tougher than last season, if our boys are lucky enough to get there. As good as the Sox have been playing lately, they really didn’t make up much ground and didn’t even reach .500 until yesterday. Detroit and Minnesota are much better than people give them credit for.

(SM) Many fans are questioning whether or not the Sox will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.  “Armchair” GMs continue to name Paul Konerko and Jim Thome as the two players the Sox should get rid of in order to become faster.  It’s not easier said than done.  Konerko has 10-5 player trade rights and Thome is too expensive and streaky for anyone to take a chance on him at this point in his career.  Jermaine Dye and Bobby Jenks names have come up all season long as the most tradable commodities.

While we might not agree with unloading any player, let’s look at the latest trade rumblings involving the White Sox and possible impacts of the move:

Jermaine Dye to the San Francisco Giantssox-harmony

The 2005 World Series MVP is hitting .287 with 18 HR and 46 RBI through June 29th.  He’s from the Bay area and has been scouted by he Giants in the last week, who are 7 games back in the NL West but right in the thick of the wild card race.

The move would take away our most consistent bat from the line-up and would move Carlos Quentin to RF, assuming he’s healthy enough to return, leaving us with the continued platoon of Brian Anderson and DeWayne Wise in CF.

If the move were made, the Sox should command nothing less than top pitching prospect Madison Bumgarner.  The 20-year old lefty is 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 12 starts between single A and double A this year.
Omar Vizquel

This one was floated on 670 the Score this morning and is unlikely to happen.  The move would result in Alexei Ramirez shifting back to 2B in the hopes that Vizquel would continue to hit .300 and most importantly stabilize the defense.

This is not likely to happen as it contradicts the Sox underlying plan of getting younger.  The Sox remain committed to Alexei Ramirez at shortstop.

Juan Pierre

The rumor that refuses to die would likely be dependent on moving Dye and the Dodgers eating salary.  L.A. claims they are content with keeping him as a bench player, but a young arm like Aaron Porerda or Clayton Richard could change their perspective.

Assuming Dye is traded, your outfield would be Podsednik, Pierre, Quentin and your line-up would have two table setters at the top.  Pierre is hitting .329 with 21 SB in 239 Abs this season.

Bobby Jenks

This move would only occur if the Sox raised the White Flag.  While his name keeps coming up, the only contenders that have a need at closer are the Devil Rays.  I highly doubt anyone would pay top dollar to use him as a set-up man.

As this exchange is approaching extra innings let’s close with Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly?  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball…

The White Sox will always be a second class team to the Cubs.soxmanbooth

(SM) Mirage, I don’t count fan-base or attendance, I count championships.  101 years and counting is second class.

(PMB) I’ll have to break the word count rules here, but it’s worth it as I let Ozzie answer this question

Guillen was asked why attendance was so low at the Sox-Dodgers series, and said: “Because our fans are not stupid like Cubs fans. They know we’re horses***.” Ozzie also said Cubs fans will go watch any home game because “Wrigley Field is just a bar.”

Jermaine Dye will still be with the White Sox in August.

(SM), Maybe.  This is truly anyone’s guess, influenced strongly by the Sox play.

(PMB) Mirage. I still think Sox will be sellers come July 31. Like any good GM though, Kenny is keeping this fact close to his vest.

SoxGirl brought the Sox good luck on Sunday.

(SM) Maybe.  I promised a secret weapon and we won 6-0.soxmanonfield

(PMB) Maybe. Superstitions and baseball go together like celebrity deaths and mainstream media overkill.

The Sox should investigate “leaked clubhouse secrets” alleged by the Cubs.

(SM) Mirage.  Moises Alou’s leaking secret was enough for me.

(PMB) Mirage. Cubs seem to think this is a slow sports news time of year…actually it is!

Bobby Jenks will be the Sox closer in August.
(SM) Maybe.  As long as he does not inch closer to 300lbs.

(PMB) Maybe. Who else do we have, Wes Whisler?