The world of sports websites is a fairly crowded one. In addition to ESPN.com and the other network-branded mega-sites, there are newspaper and magazine outlets, fantasy stops, up-and-comers like SB Nation and Bleacher Report, not to mention Deadspin, The Big Lead and many others.
Back in August, another new sports outlet quietly entered the scene. SportsOnEarth.com, a joint venture between USA Today and Major League Baseball's digital division, is headed by Joe Posnanski, the sports columnist who until recently was writing for Sports Illustrated.
Can yet another site find a following in the thickly settled neighborhood of online sports?
Sports On Earth's all-star roster of contributors suggests that it can. In addition to Posnanski, the list of writers and columnists includes Dave Kindred, Gwen Knapp, Selena Roberts, Shaun Powell, Chuck Culpepper and Patrick Hruby, all seasoned veterans from print journalism. Another big name on the masthead is Will Leitch, the editor emeritus and co-founder of Deadspin.
Comparisons to Grantland, the ESPN-funded site that is run by Bill Simmons, are inevitable. Both sites are written by very talented people. Grantland is a somewhat hipper site, with a mix of articles about sports and pop culture that reflect Simmons' sensibilities.
Sports On Earth is a bit more traditional, and seldom strays outside the lines of sports-related content, all conveyed with wit and intelligence.
A column this past week by Leitch surely attracted a lot of eyeballs. Leitch wrote about the career of Rick Reilly, the former SI columnist whose reputation has been in decline a bit since he signed a $17 million contract four years ago to work for ESPN.
Reilly last week suffered an embarrassing moment when, during an ESPN broadcast, he was caught on tape lobbying Stuart Scott to be sure to give Reilly credit for being the first to tweet about a development involving Ben Roethlisberger's injury. Once the sports blogosphere got hold of the video, it metastasized into an embarrassment for the ex-All-World columnist.
Wrote Leitch: “Reilly's signature default schtick – basically, 'Hey, fellas, we've all been there, right? Women! Beer! Viagra joke!' – suddenly felt rote and tired at an organization stocked with other middle-aged, divorced white guys who love golf.
“His writing has gotten sloppy too, from repeating himself incessantly to embarrassingly shoddy research results in not being able to tell the difference between satire and reality to falling asleep at the Ryder Cup.”
Leitch pointed out that Simmons, by comparison, “has made Reilly look lazier and older than he actually is; his limitless ambition made it that much more apparent that Reilly seems to have seen his ESPN gig as a sort of lifetime achievement award. And the sad thing is, we'll probably never look at Reilly the same way again.”
Posnanski last week took some more conventional turns in reacting to the huge payroll clearance sale held by the Florida Marlins. Posnanski used his Twitter feed to ask, “Why would anybody go to a single Marlins game next year?” C.J. Nitkowski, the veteran relief pitcher who finished last year with the Buffalo Bisons, answered Posnanski's query on Twitter with: “To see the Braves and Nats.”
Posnanski printed several other tweets he got in response, some of them joking that any fan attending a game could end up in the game as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Jorge Arangure Jr., formerly of ESPN and the Washington Post, is another Sports on Earth writer and he had a fresher take on the Marlins. Arangure wrote that it's wrong to think that Miami fans got duped by the team.
“To imply they have been betrayed implies they were respected in the first place, and there's little evidence that owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson, Loria's son-in-law, ever had much regard for their constituents,” Arangure wrote.
This corner is a fan of Grantland (and I often skip the pop culture pieces that are in a language I don't speak). Now, it's time to make another bookmark for Sports On Earth, a good addition to the landscape.
Rome goes Hollywood
Speaking of pop culture mixed with sports, on Wednesday we will find out what Jim Rome can do with that combination on TV. Rome's new weekly one-hour series, “Jim Rome on Showtime,” will premiere the night before Thanksgiving on the cable network at 10 p.m.
The guests for the first episode include Kobe Bryant, Aaron Rodgers, former “Friends” actor Matthew Perry, and the Hollywood producer and sports franchise owner Peter Guber.
The show could be fascinating if Rome can lure Bryant and Rodgers into some free-wheeling conversations about being at the top of their professions.