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Is ESPN Biased Against the Padres?

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Sports needs a non-profit research center, like those groups that publish studies on the biases in television coverage of political campaigns, to spend a month logging the total time ESPN devotes to every Major League Baseball franchise. And then we can all see the numbers, and judge for ourselves just how pervasive or fictional the much-alleged East Coast, big-market bias is in reality. ↵

↵Because until then, random players will come up with heartfelt allegations of bias, and it will be pretty much impossible to know whether they're brave challengers to the Disney status quo, or whether they've just been overcome by excessive Big League Chew fumes. ↵

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↵Earlier this year, Padres all-star closer Heath Bell earned headlines for saying that ESPN "only cares about promoting the Red Sox and Yankees and Mets – and nobody else." He hasn't shied away from that opinion, and revisited the topic this week in a local radio appearance, arguing that other major leaguers are scared of publicly calling out ESPN's bias and then landing on some sort of coverage blacklist. ↵

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↵⇥"I told guys here in '07 and '08, I said if I stick around in San Diego long enough, I'm gonna make sure everybody knows the San Diego Padres," he told XX 1090 (MP3 link). "I never wanted to go out there and promote myself, I just wanted to promote the team and try to get the San Diego Padres some recognition and get us some highlights here and there. That’s all I’m trying to do. We’re kind of in the entertainment business a little bit, you could say. I’m just going to go out there and try not to tick anybody off, but just get to that fine line. ↵⇥

↵⇥"A lot of people don’t say that, 'Hey, well, ESPN doesn’t show any of our highlights, this and that.' Well, you know what? It’s true. But a lot of people don’t want to do that, because ESPN will be negative and they won’t talk to them." ↵⇥

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↵It's actually an explosive allegation; that a massively important news organization would slant its coverage against its critics. And unlike in April, Bell is not saying this is an East Coast thing, because he also criticized "the TV media" for its recent Manny overload. ↵

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↵For as many arguments as we can have about Manny Ramirez, I'm not sure anyone disputes the fact that he doesn't play on the East Coast. ↵

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↵⇥"You didn’t really see any highlights when we were playing the Dodgers last weekend, you basically just saw Manny and his highlights and you didn’t see any of ours," Bell said. "That’s basically the press’s doing right there, that's the TV media going out there and not promoting everybody, that’s just promoting who they want." ↵
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↵Well, sure. It's also the press covering stories that it believes the most fans and viewers are interested in hearing about. Just the way the press also believes people are interested in hearing major league ballplayers slam the heck out of ESPN for its biases. And in seeing news about blond Russian tennis players. ↵

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↵If Heath Bell grew some massive dreads, flopped his way across the outfield, used stadium restrooms during the course of play, malcontented his way into a trade, and then earned a 50-game suspension, the press would cover him until he had boom mics sticking out of his ears. (Or, if he became a hot blond tennis player.) Cleveland isn't a major market and LeBron gets a fair amount of media attention. Same with Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby, or, say, some quarterback who spent most of his career in the land of cheese. ↵

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↵Anyhow, the hosts attempted to explain to Bell that winning will always draw media attention -- and yes, I just wrote that local California radio hosts were hesitating to go along with an allegation of East Coast bias. Still, Bell was unconvinced. ↵

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↵⇥"I understand that," he said, "but in '07, we were winning games, this and that, and I don’t remember anybody talking about us. I remember when I was a New York Met, I never knew the San Diego Padres were, like, heading towards the playoffs." ↵
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↵The Padres, with the third-worst record in the majors, won't be a very good test case this year. And most of the teams Bell has signaled out for excessive coverage -- the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers -- are among MLB's best. So what we really need is an examination of his old team, the 40-43 Mets, and how their national media coverage compares to the 41-42 Cincinnati Reds. Surely there's gotta be some non-profit, or a Sporting News intern, with a bit of time on their hands, right? ↵

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↵(H/T to Sports Radio Interviews) ↵

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↵For more of Dan Steinberg, visit his blog with The Washington Post, D.C. Sports Bog. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.