Even if we were to grade on the easiest curve imaginable, what happened on First Take yesterday would get a failing grade. Even if the bar was set impossibly low and built with two pretty attainable elements -- carrying about the subject matter being discussed and not openly insulting an organization for merely existing or fans who support them -- Stephen A. Smith would have repeatedly knocked his head on it.
The program deigned to briefly discuss the Los Angeles Angels' string of luck over the holiday weekend, a stretch that saw Mike Trout fracture his wrist, Shohei Ohtani leave a start with a blister on his middle finger, and Anthony Rendon hobble himself with a foul ball off his leg. Everyone knows that despite having Trout and Ohtani, the team has not sniffed the postseason in forever. It's exasperating to those who root for the Halos and objectively darkly humorous to those who don't. But this year they are 45-44 and four games outside of the final Wild Card spot, so a chance to change all that exists.
As the conversation was wrapping up, someone mentioned the Rendon injury, which drew a dismissive response from Smith.
"Oh, who cares?" he said. "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, no one cares about you. No one. I don't even know. I've been L.A. quite often, I never hear anyone talking about the Angels. We love driving by the stadium, it looks really nice. No one cares. You're irrelevant. Period."
There's probably a more eloquent way to put this but I am going to put it this way: what the hell, man? Is that really where the state of this discourse has arrived? There's absolutely no content in there. It's just performance and condescension, even if it's a bit clever and makes for a good social video. And mission accomplished there as the Awful Announcing tweet now been viewed over a half-million times.
Smith is probably the most talented person at the company given the way talent translates to interest and monetization. It's an interesting show because he's so goddamn entertaining. But is it really too much to ask that the person on the television is slightly interested in what they're talking about? Especially when it's the premier property amid the daytime lineup. And airing against the backdrop of the most painful job cuts at the network?
Maybe it is.
This isn't about feeling like one's intellect is being insulted by the sludge necessary to grease the wheels of doing 10 hours of content during the slowest week of the year. This is about wondering about the long game of openly insulting a thing people in the second-biggest media market in the country do care about. At the end of the day, why would any Angels fan subject themselves to First Take again?
Sure, maybe they collectively have thick skin but why in the world would you need to have a hard exterior just to make it through whatever is playing in the background of your local Pennzoil waiting room?
None of this is going to bother Smith, who is a generational superstar who has maximized and, honestly, deserves all the power he's accrued. He deserves to be in that chair and in front of cameras 20 hours a day because no one can move the needle like he does. It'd also be an interesting experiment to get some truth serum into those who cover baseball or hockey at ESPN and hear what they really think when he bends over backwards to show his indifference toward the topics.
Perhaps it's an overstatement to say there's some general Stockholm Syndrome going on for viewers who are watching these shows with hosts that are openly antagonizing and indifferent to the topics but it's not a terrible idea to occasionally remind one's self that you don't have to sit there and take it as there's never been more options elsewhere.