Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Catching Up With Harold Reynolds

Now that his lawsuit against ESPN is in the rear view mirror, Harold Reynolds is on SNY and he seems pretty happy about it. This part struck me:
He sued ESPN in state court in Hartford for wrongful termination, refusing to let the Bristol empire halt his career — he had just signed a six-year, $4.9 million deal — without challenging the accusations. Now he is certain that he would not have the SNY job, or one at, which hired him last year while the case was in litigation, if he had not sued.

“A lot of people said, ‘You might be putting your career at risk,’ ” he said Friday night. “I felt I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t think it would fade away. I had to stand up and fight. I calculated the costs and I did what I had to do . . . I felt like I had to do what I was doing. After a while, litigation becomes a part of your life.”
I often tell prospective clients that it's never a good move to bank everything on a lawsuit panning out. Don't plan around it. Don't count on it. Litigation is a means of redressing past wrongs, and if you view it as a means of improving the future, you're very likely to be disappointed. Lawsuits -- even the righteous ones -- are no fun, and they almost always end on an ambivalent note. That's mostly because the vast majority of them settle, and as any lawyer can tell you, the definition of a fair settlement is one in which both parties walk away unhappy.

But in this case I think Reynolds is on to something. Not on the merits of the suit -- I don't know a thing about them and have no desire to pass on them here -- but on what the suit meant for his profile and professional future.

I've always liked Reynolds, but it struck me that he received a bit more praise than he probably deserved following his termination from ESPN. Like one of those Veterans Committee Hall of Famers, I got the sense that people were saying things about him once he was gone that they never said about him when he was still on the air. In some circles he was cited as the only reason people watched Baseball Tonight, which seemed ridiculous to me given how much Gammons and Ravech brought to the table.

I believe that Reynolds was credited with insight and analytical abilities that, with all due respect to him, weren't really all that special. Don't get me wrong: Reynolds was a net positive for the show, but in my mind, most of his value came from not having a shtick and generally seeming likable, honest, and humble. Those things are great and in shorter supply than we'd all like, but they didn't make him a transcendent analyst. Chris Singleton seems to be doing that now. There are others who, if given the chance, could probably do that just as well.

I think the uber-praise for Reynolds was mostly a function of choosing his litigation targets wisely. As the recent support for Bill Simmons' sit-down-strike over at Deadspin indicates, there are folks out there who are always willing to take the the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend position. Simmons' name was mud among Deadspin commenters for years, and now that he's seen as "taking on" ESPN the sympathy, while clothed in the commenters' typical snark, is palpable.

When Reynolds took on ESPN, people flocked to his corner and, in my mind at least, overstated his talents. If he hadn't sued tWWL, that wouldn't have occurred, and it is not unreasonable to assume that he wouldn't have a job on TV now. Not because people would have given credence to the sexual harassment rumors had he stayed quiet, but because, in all honesty, they wouldn't have thought about Reynolds much at all.


Peter said...

I remember a lot of people saying "good riddance" when Reynolds got the boot. I don't think taking on ESPN made people remember him more fondly -- he can thank guys like John Kruk and Eric Young for that.

I'm not a Deadspin commenter, but honestly I find ESPN mostly unwatchable outside of the sporting events themselves. The endless countdowns, the forced pop culture references, the shtick...there's just not enough meat or intelligence.

Jason said...

So, CC, don't you think the same thought patterns ran thru Clemens' skull?

the “I felt I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t think it would fade away. I had to stand up and fight" aspect of it...

Maybe Clemens' mind BELIEVED he was innocent, just as HR thought about his case. Maybe they both are indeed innocent. But Clemens fought back just the way HR did.

I know there are grand differences between the two, but don't we generally like the wrongfully accused to fight back, as a culture?

I'll stop my rambling now.

Osmodious said...

Boy does Baseball Tonight suck since Harold is gone. Actually, the best crew was Harold, Ravech, Bobby Valentine and the tag team of Peter Gammons/Tim Kurkjian (with the occasional interesting weekend fill-ins, like Jeff Brantley...who would tell 'great' stories about beaning guys). They were always informative and always entertaining.

The crew over the last couple of years is, well, occasionally tolerable. Too much opinion, not enough fact, and an excess of 'personality' (could Kruk go away, please?). Add to that the fact that some of the seemingly endless rotation is unintelligible (ahem, EY, ahem), and that makes the show no longer a 'must watch'. Plus, the resident ESPN guy is rarely Ravech any more, usually it's that jackass that screams "Say hello to my little friend" for every homerun (well, half...the other half he says "Fill thy horn with oil, and go"...both are overused and annoying).

Sorry, didn't mean to go off on a rant there, but I was very, very disappointed when Harold was kicked off ESPN. It moved BT from 'must watch' to 'try to watch'. I was so pleased the other night when I turned on SNY and he was covering the Mets (first time I turn on their post-game and it's Harold's first night!). It's yet another reason to watch the Mets...

Anonymous said...


I think we all had/have our favorites on BBTN. My favorite host was Gary Miller, from way back. Harold was ok, I liked him better on the Little League World Series.

But the increase in the suck-factor on BBTN parallels the overall emphasis on schtick that trickles down from the entirely unwatchable Sports Center.

Sports Center has gone from must watch (The Big Show, with Olbermann and Dan Patrick) to Must Avoid at All Costs. Every painful catch phrase on BBTN is derived from an imitation of SC. None are good. Fill thine horn and go. Please go.

Jason said...


I completely agree. It was about the game, not the schtick.

Ravech, even with the bad hairpiece, is a solid host. Singleton and some of the others former players (Vina, EY, Orestes) are just boring and don't contribute much.

And lordy, Kruk is a reason to watch it on analog since HD is a scary sight.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Jason -- from everything I've seen, Reynolds believes he was in the right, and from everything I've seen ESPN did too. Unlike the Clemens-McNamee fiasco, however, the parties here kept the proceedings out of the press for the most part (good for them for doing so) so handicapping is pretty much impossible. Not that I care to handicap this one.

Re: the other comments, my point here is not to say what version of BBTN is best, or what has happened to ESPN or what have you. There is so much of that on the web already, and frankly I find it kind of tired. It's so easy to get your information from wherever you want anymore that railing against one outlet seems kind of pointless.

Overall, my point was simply to note that Reynolds' stature (though probably not his paycheck) actually improved as a result of the lawsuit and controversy, and that almost never, ever happens in situations like these.

Ron Rollins said...

Why does everyone always have to go to the hair?

Can't you just let us be who we are?

Mr Lomez said...

I know I'm late on this but I can tell you that Reynolds' departure ended Baseball Tonight for me, and I know for some of my friends as well.

Though Reynold's insights were never revelatory, his presence perfectly matched the tenor of the show as a whole. He spoke to a broad audience without lowering himself to the faux-everyman schtick used by someone like Kruk, and his insider knowledge never came off as condescending. As Shyster said, Reynolds was palatable. But that shouldn't be underestimated. I think palatability is what the whole thing is about.

And without intending to offend anyone, there is a racial component to Harold Reynolds' ESPN legacy. Obviously no one wants to bring it up, but ESPN remains in need of highly visible and competent black commentators. They lost a real good one in Reynolds. (And sorry, but Eric Young, who is so bad at his job that it makes you wonder what motives are behind his hiring, does not fill that vacancy.)

Osmodious said...

Craig, I understand your point but I'm not positive it is the case. I didn't articulate this at all in my earlier post, but I had meant to say that many of my acquaintances thought very highly of Harold *before* his removal from the show. I'm not familiar with the blogosphere's take on his dismissal, so can't speak intelligently on whether his esteem rose or fell after his dismissal.

I *can* say that, of all the family and friends and coworkers with whom I talk baseball, the opinions split down the middle after his firing. While 80-something percent really liked him while he was on the show, some changed their opinion after the firing...citing the 'jocks think they can do anything to women' mantra.

Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but I think it's safe to say that there are a lot of people who would feel similar out there. I know some people who were defending Clemens pretty well until the Mindygate thing broke, and then they dropped him like a pair of scorpions...that were on fire. Obviously the Reynolds thing is a bit different (and without corroboration), but people are fickle and seem to prefer their minor celebrities to be fairly pure.

So, what I'm trying to say is, it's possible that the firing strengthened his regard AND weakened it at the same time. He gained some supporters (those who look for reasons to dis ESPN and others) and lost some (those who look for reasons to dis athletes for their poor treatment of women).

Daniel said...

For me, I didn't notice how good HR was until he left. It's true that he didn't provide earth-shattering analysis, but his personality and articulation were very good. There seemed to be good chemistry (intangible alert!) among the analysts when he was there. I honestly had no idea why he left and didn't know anything about a lawsuit until recently. I just know that BBTN became a shadow of its former self once he left.

I realize that I'm only one person, and maybe there are a lot of others who appreciated him more for the lawsuit, but I appreciated him because he was good at what he did and the show wasn't the same without him.

Anonymous said...

i, too, have watched much less BBTN since reynolds left. kruk's the best ex-player they've got left (not including hershiser who appears so infrequently that i don't count him in the rotation) and that's not saying much.

young, vina, destrade, et. al. are token hires to appeal to certain demographics. it's incredible that they even passed a screen test. they add nothing.

osmodius nailed it when he wrote: "Actually, the best crew was Harold, Ravech, Bobby Valentine and the tag team of Peter Gammons/Tim Kurkjian"

valentine was underrated and i was surprised after he left that the show suffered.

steve phillips is also solid because he lends a unique perspective but, like hershiser, he's too busy broadcasting so he shows up only rarely.


Sean said...

On HR's ability...

I think Harold's humbleness was a benefit that cannot be understated. Unlike most former players, HR never seemed to assume that he new everything about the game just because he played it (*cough*Joe Morgan*cough*). He seemed to approach baseball issues as though he was looking for answers, and offering up his opinion, but never forcing his opinion down viewer throats.

On HR vs. ESPN...

I have a female acquaintance who did some TV production with ESPN during HR's tenure. She said he always seemed very polite. She also said that if they needed to fire people for sexual harassment they'd need to let go of nearly every former athlete that works there. The scuttlebut at the time was that HR had signed that big deal right before new management took over, and that the accusations against him were a good excuse to get what they considered a "mistake" off their books.