Adam Wainwright could be John Smoltz successor on Fox MLB coverage


Fox Sports announced Adam Wainwright will join their MLB game broadcasts this season.

It is an unsurprising development. I profiled Wainwright three-and-a-half years ago, covering his interest in becoming a baseball TV analyst.

He has been a part of Fox’s playoffs coverage, teaming with Adam Amin and A.J. Pierzynski, so this seems like a natural progression.

Let’s go through the move:

1️⃣ It creates competition for Fox Sports’ No. 1 MLB game analyst John Smoltz, who is a lightning rod among baseball fans. The main criticism of Smoltz is the perception he criticizes the game.

John Smoltz (right, with play-by-player Joe Davis) is a lightning rod, but Fox is happy with his work as the network’s No. 1 MLB analyst. FOX Sports

Fox always has been very happy with Smoltz, which has continued the past two years during the transition from Joe Buck to Joe Davis as the lead play-by-player. There is no indication that Smoltz is in trouble.

2️⃣ If Wainwright keeps growing, he could develop into an option akin to what Greg Olsen has become on football as a No. 1 analyst the network developed. Olsen started doing some random NFL and USFL games while he was still active as a player before landing on Fox’s No. 2 team with Kevin Burkhardt. The duo elevated a little quicker than Fox wanted after Joe Buck and Troy Aikman left for ESPN. But it has worked out very well for Fox. Wainwright is in a similar position.

3️⃣ The move to bring in Wainwright furthers Fox’s investment in baseball. Last year, they brought in Derek Jeter for their studio. The year prior, Jason Benetti joined as another top-tier, young play-by-player.

Max Scherzer is among those who could emerge as a bigger-name TV analyst in the future. Getty Images

4️⃣ Wainwright could emerge as the next World Series TV analyst after Smoltz, or Fox one day could eye either Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander. Scherzer and Verlander are not on Tom Brady’s level, but they would be seen in that vein in terms of more star power.

Quick Clicks

Of all the Hall of Fames, baseball’s is the most special — and it’s not close. MLB Network will give it the correct shine Tuesday with eight hours of Hall of Fame coverage beginning at 9 a.m. ET. Brian Kenny hosts from Cooperstown, joined by our own Joel Sherman, along with Jayson Stark and Jon Morosi. The Mets’ David Wright, eligible for the first time, will join the network during the 2 p.m. hour. The official announcement of this year’s Hall class will occur at 6 p.m. ET.

…The documentary “Sue Bird: In the Clutch” premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival. Bird’s doc was one of 91 selected out of 17,500 submissions, according to the organization. Bird was followed around for two seasons by the producers. Of note, the voice of the WNBA, ESPN/YES’ Ryan Ruocco, is one of the executive producers.

Sports Illustrated may not be done just yet. Sports Illustrated

…This is probably not the end of Sports Illustrated, but Friday was another awful day for the illustrious magazine. There are no words, though I thought The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis did a nice job summing up the latest near-death of SI.

The ESPN moat

ESPN is the favorite to extend its agreement with the College Football Playoff, which was reported by ESPN. The potential six-year deal would take the network into the 2030s as the home of the playoffs, most importantly including the semifinals and the championship game.

And this leads me to the hand that ESPN has as it goes into the next decade. They have spent tens of billions of dollars to essentially box out the competition — especially the new deep-pocketed digital players such as Amazon and Apple — as much as possible.

We first wrote about it in our initial newsletter in Sept. 2021.

Going on the assumption — and it is a good assumption — that ESPN re-ups with the NBA, it will have long-term deals with the NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football Playoff, SEC, NHL, Wimbledon, PGA Tour, among others.

ESPN is likely to win the rights to the next batch of college football national championship games after broadcasting Michigan’s win earlier this month. AP

ESPN is in nearly everything, though they passed on a lot of things, including NFL Sunday Ticket, Big Ten, Premier League and MLS.

Beside the College Football Playoff, ESPN remains in deal mode. Their potential equity swap with the NFL would give ESPN further assets and have its business more deeply aligned with the most important league on TV as the network looks to launch its direct-to-consumer product next year.

This Saturday, it had its first Divisional round playoff game. It will broadcast its first two Super Bowls as part of its 11-year agreement.

Still, someone I trust very much in the business equated ESPN to a “melting iceberg,” which may be true with the decline of the cable bundle.

However, it is a very big iceberg. Will it be as profitable as it once was when it fueled Disney profits? Probably not. But the idea that ESPN will not be dominant in sports fans’ lives is crazy.

ESPN is working on deepening its ties to the NFL as the company seeks to remain indispensable to sports fans. Getty Images

Fox, NBC, CBS, TNT Sports and the emerging Amazon Prime Video have a lot of great assets.

But who has the best hand in terms of overall portfolio? It is ESPN, and with the potential extension of the CFP, this moat is growing, in part to outlast the competition with the hope that they lose interest or show their sports rights business models are not better than ESPN’s.

So I doubt ESPN is going anywhere.

The YouTube effect on WFAN

The reaction to Spike Eskin leaving WFAN as its program director to co-host afternoon drive for WIP Philadelphia was vast. I wrote a column about it this week.

Part of the essence of what I wrote is that it is a different era for FAN. While FAN has changed, the landscape around the station has as well. This is important.

When Don Imus’ show was simulcast on TV, the worst of his words were recorded for posterity.

I think I can point to the exact moment at FAN that signaled the world was no longer the same.

The firing of the late Don Imus in 2007 was a YouTube firing. Let’s be clear: Imus made racist comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. That is why he was let go. What he said has not aged well. It was disgusting.

His fans would argue the comments were in jest and that he said terrible things about many groups for decades so these offensive comments were no different.

But the difference by 2007 was the advent of YouTube. Back in the day, as my colleague Phil Mushnick has chronicled for years, WFAN would say there were no archived tapes if someone wanted to double-check what was said. So everything would go into thin air.

By the time Imus made his comments about the Rutgers women, his show was simulcast on MSNBC and YouTube had emerged. So Imus’ comments were played over and over for everyone to hear. Fans and non-fans heard them. If there were no YouTube, there merely would have been accounts of Imus’ words and Imus and FAN likely would have disputed the context. But there were tapes!

Imus is an extreme example, but it takes us to current-day WFAN and the perception around it. I would agree with vocal critics that the current station could use more expertise.

Mad Dog’s shtick fared better in the social media era than Mike Francesa’s. Getty Images for SiriusXM

But what sells on social media is outrageous. No better example is the popularity of Chris (Mad Dog) Russo’s bits on ESPN. Russo’s act is genuine and he may be the best sports talk show host in history, but it is being a little nutty that makes him stand out. Conversely, while Mike Francesa’s legacy is secure, the emergence of YouTube and social media resulted in his arrogance being exposed to a larger audience beyond FAN listeners.

So the current state of media, especially social media and podcasts, does not allow FAN to be your father’s FAN. And, if social media were around back in the day and there were tapes, I’m not sure everything the hosts said then would stand up. It is a different world now when everything doesn’t just vanish into the ether. Everything is a performance for the social media world, not just the callers.

Clicker Book Club

Papa Clicker writes that Roland Lazenby’s latest book, “Magic: The Life of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson,” is a detailed review of the superstar’s successes and challenges. The author takes the reader from Magic’s childhood through his NBA greatness into his post-playing life. Lazenby details Johnson’s on-the-court battles with Larry Bird’s Celtics, Isiah Thomas’s Pistons and Michael Jordan’s Bulls. He describes Johnson’s HIV fight and how he became a prominent corporate executive. Lazenby’s work earns 4.25 out of 5 clickers.

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