As is tradition here at Sports On Earth -- we're just more than a year old now, so basically anything we did last year at this time is now "tradition" -- we spend one of the last weeks of the year reviewing the best and worst in sports media people in 2013. (Here's 2012's list.) We start with the 10 sports media people who had excellent 2013s; tomorrow, Santa's not-so-nice list, the 10 who had a poor 2013 (or just made 2013 worse for the rest of us). I'm omitting Sports On Earth people from this list for professional reasons, but all told, we've done some good stuff this year too (more on that later in the week).
Let's get to it:
"John Allen." Don't recognize the name? John Allen is a Bay Area baseball reporter at KCNBC who briefly was a must-follow during the baseball Hot Stove season. According to Jon Heyman, he's the first person who reported that Tim Hudson was about to sign with the San Francisco Giants. Except … John Allen doesn't exist. He's an invention -- the call letters of his station probably should have been a clue -- created as a project to point out the silliness and unreliability of baseball rumors on Twitter. The still-unknown perpetrator made it sound like this was some difficult project to put together, but the glory of John Allen is that it wasn't hard at all. We're so desperate for information that we'll even gobble it from people who are completely fictional.
Jay Bilas. Bilas' relentless hammering of the NCAA this year was effective and entertaining, even if sometimes one questions his end goal (which is more haves-vs-have-nots than you might think). But nothing was better than the Tuesday in August he spent typing the names of amateur athletes into the NCAA search engine to show how the organization profited off players it refuses to pay or even acknowledge, really. It was a genius idea that every sports blogger on the planet wishes they would have come up with, and he did it in his spare time.
Mike Breen. The best play-by-play broadcaster working today. (And a fun podcast guest too.) Plus, when he's not doing games for ESPN, he works for MSG calling Knicks games, which is its own special brand of torture. That he's able to remain cheery and energetic after watching that team all week is a miracle.
Mark Lazarus. When you're a brand-new network, your first priority needs to be to make your core audience happy. It'd be tough to do a better job at this than NBC Sports Network's coverage of the English Premier League, which was so fan-friendly that British fans have been pirating the American feeds to watch. Lazarus, the chairman of NBC Sports Group, made sure the network got soccer right, and while it hasn't crossed over to the other network programming yet, this is precisely why this spate of ESPN challengers was needed so badly. NBC Sports Network is excelling at EPL coverage by catering to its most loyal followers. What a concept.
Pedro Martinez. The TBS pregame show for the baseball playoffs was outstanding in a surprising, instructive way: Don't worry too much about big names or big personalities, instead just focus on tossing a bunch of smart, charismatic people together and see what happens. Gary Sheffield and Dirk Hayhurst were excellent additions, but the real revelation was Pedro Martinez, who was frank, intelligent and hilarious every second he was on screen. He might have a few TV quirks to iron out, but then again, the rawness was a big part of what made him so entertaining. (My favorite was how he seemed constitutionally incapable of not saying "Wacha Wacha" on every Michael Wacha reference.)
Brandon McCarthy. Speaking of pitchers who will make terrific analysts someday, the Diamondbacks righthander started out just as an enjoyable Twitter presence, but has grown into something more. He has become, essentially, the accessible athlete, the one living the life of a Major Leaguer but who has a similar mindset to the rest of us. No one is better at giving a glimpse of what it's like to be a ballplayer in such an upfront, thoughtful way. And now he's even providing scoops on how the game will be played in the future. McCarthy is both one of us and one of them, which makes him invaluable.
Keith Olbermann. And about that TNT show … Olbermann made a triumphant, giddy return to the world of sports this year. Clearly rejuvenated after being worn down by the world of politics, Olbermann has re-found his mojo as a broadcaster, having the time of his life with his ESPN2 show. I worried initially that Olbermann would be defanged at ESPN, and while you still wonder how many punches he pulls because of his employer, the show is endlessly entertaining and unlike anything else on television -- sports or otherwise -- right now. It's wonderful to have him back.
Andy Roddick. Confession: I always sort of assume tennis players are the dumbest of all athletes. (It's probably the "pulled out of school when you're eight years old" thing.) But of all the analysts on "Fox Sports Live" on Fox Sports One, Roddick has proven to be the smartest, most clever and most insightful. You can also tell he's actively attempting to improve -- the difference between when the channel launched and now is dramatic. I've been slowly transitioning to "Fox Sports Live" as my morning highlights show, and Roddick (along with those wacky Canadian anchors) is a large reason why. (Full disclosure: I'll be appearing on "Fox Sports Live" semi-regularly in 2014, which will go a long way toward removing it from my morning highlight show rotation.)
Tom Scocca. The former Deadspin managing editor teamed with editor Tommy Craggs and writers Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke to put together the story of the year, the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend madness. But Scocca makes this list for two other reasons. One is his already infamous paradigm-shifting "Smarm" essay for Gawker -- which wasn't directly about sports media but got it exactly right regardless -- and the other is for inspiring this Deadspin Tweet to Donald Trump, which might be my favorite thing that happened in sports this year.
Wright Thompson. While everyone else is obsessing about #longreads and "Snowfall" and everything else, Wright sits there in Oxford, Mississippi, kicking everybody's ass. He destroyed it on Johnny Manziel, Michael Jordan, Brazil and, my favorite piece, on racism in Italian soccer. Showoff.
Who did I miss? We'll get to the negative 10 tomorrow. Hit me with your nominees --please don't everybody say "Will Leitch" -- at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow me @williamfleitch or just shout out your window real loud, I'll hear you. Point is, let's talk.