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The history of ESPN excavated

When tell-all books are written about a celebrity, the juiciest details usually show up in media stories or published excerpts that can make it seem unnecessary to buy the book.

The same can't be said for a new history of cable television's sports behemoth. "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN" is a whopping 763 pages and it contains just about anything you'd ever wanted to know about the network. Some of the book's juicy details about Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Chris Berman and others have already made their way into print and the Web, but the book is practically a bottomless well of insights and information.

I'll bet you've suspected that Olbermann was not universally loved at ESPN. But hearing it from veteran anchor Bob Ley is an eye-opener:

"When [Olbermann's] contract wasn't renewed, I saw [ESPN executive John Walsh] and I said, 'Our long national nightmare is over, huh?' We felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained [expletive] joy."

There's a blog called Kissing Suzy Kolber, named for the famous exchange on air between a tipsy Joe Namath and the ESPN broadcaster in which Namath said, "I want to kiss you." Ever wonder what Kolber's take on that evening was?

"He called me and said it was the most humiliating moment of his life and that he was sorry for my family," Kolber tells the book's authors, Tom Shales and Andrew Miller. "He didn't drink after that. He got his daughters back. It changed his whole life."

Berman comes across pretty much the way he does on the air, but with an even bigger ego. Berman talks about his baseball telecast on Sept. 6, 1995, the night that Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's Ironman record. Berman says he did some research by reading a book about Gehrig, adding, "Nobody told me to do it; that was my contribution, all by myself."

You go, Boomer!

"Two weeks before the game," Berman says, "I told Howard Katz, 'I view this game as a semi-announcer-less game. I actually didn't know exactly what I meant, but I gotta give myself a little credit. Knowing ahead of time that would be the best strategy was pretty cool."

The only complaint I can register about this book is that far too much of it is spent hearing from the "suits" in the executive offices. They were no doubt the founding fathers of the network, but as a reader I want more Patrick and Olbermann, less Walsh and Mark Shapiro.

Still, it's relatively easy to skim past the less interesting parts while mining the book's many treasures.

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Gauging Grantland

Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy from ESPN.com, details some of the turf battles he fought over the years at the company in "These Guys Have All the Fun." Now, as the editor/driving force of ESPN's new boutique website, Grantland.com, it appears he is on firm ground.

Grantland is a showcase for writing about sports and pop culture, a combination that has made Simmons into a bestselling author and magnet for page views.

His lineup of contributors might not be the equivalent of the '27 Yankees yet, but it's not too far off to liken it to the Big Red Machine. Rafe Bartholomew, Bryan Curtis, Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Jane Leavy, Brian Phillips and Chris Ryan are some of the writers who have been published on Grantland.

An article this week by Klosterman was perhaps a quintessential Grantland piece. Klosterman took a baseball statistic, VORP (value over replacement player), and applied it to rock music VORM (value over replacement musician). Klosterman broke down the value of guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. to the group the Strokes. He came up with a figure of 2.958 for Hammond's VORM. However, the article gave no other figures to compare that to. Is Hammond in Freddy Mercury or Ringo Starr territory when it comes to value to his group?

Klosterman's piece had some laugh-out-loud passages, but it had a meandering start and an unsatisfying ending. A good editor would have helped.

Simmons has been known to write some columns that could also benefit from a red pen. With him in charge, Grantland is no doubt trying to define itself as a "writer's shop," where editing is a necessary evil. Here's hoping they also see the benefits of exposing their high-profile writers to the rigors of peer review.

e-mail: gconnors@buffnews.com

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