Last Night's Winner: Jim Gray, Sports ZeligS

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like Jim Gray, ubiquitous microphone toady, unlikely power broker, and apparently also something of a dick.

And so, the summer of Jim Gray rolls on. In a matter of weeks, we've seen him arrange for the nationally televised demolition of an athlete's public image and help midwife the NFL Hall of Fame candidacy of his boyhood hero, Floyd Little (on whose behalf he placed a series of late phone calls to Canton voters), to say nothing of all those moments in the past when he's found himself on the right sideline at just the right time.

And now here he is again, entering into a majestically bitchcakes to-and-fro over whether or not Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin pinky-swore that he'd pick Tiger Woods for his team. It seems Gray had quoted Pavin to that effect; Pavin later said he was misquoted. The two of them then had some words. Here's USA Today's Steve DiMeglio:

In the heated 10-minute confrontation in the media center Gray thrust his finger into Pavin's face. Pavin said Gray called hm [sic] a liar and said, "You're going down."

"He said, 'You know what was said," according to Pavin. "And I said, 'I did not say that.' That's when he called me a liar and said I was going down."

"I'm just not going to let somebody call me a liar and make up something about me. He got upset and his eyes were a little odd and he put his hand in front of my wife, Lisa, and I just took his hand and moved it away. You do not put your hand there. And he said, 'I didn't touch her. I didn't touch her.' And I said, 'I don't care. Just get your hand away from her.'"

"I've known him for a long time. I guarantee you beyond a doubt I did not say, 'I am picking Tiger Woods.' Absolutely not. No. 1, I wouldn't pick a player now. I have until Sept. 7 to do it. And of all the people I know in the media business, he would not be my first choice to tell that to. He wouldn't be my second or third or fourth, either. And you can quote me on that one."

Normally, my sympathies in such a situation would lie with the reporter, but we are speaking of Jim Gray here, and if Jim Gray is a journalist nowadays, then I'm Ed Murrow. In fact, the real wonder with Gray is that we ever thought he was a journalist. That was the mistake a lot of critics made as regards ESPN's The Decision. Gray wasn't there as a reporter, at least not in the same way that, say, Tom Rinaldi was when he stood in front of some topiary and grilled Tiger Woods on his venereal swashbuckling. Gray was a paid actor in an informercial, nothing more, and that's pretty much all he's ever been, another huckster selling shit on television — remember his "special sales relationship" with the University of Phoenix? (It should be noted that this particular huckster has grown unaccountably powerful over the years. During the hubbub over The Decision, one source familiar with the television landscape described Gray as a sort of sports media Illuminatus.) In 1998, Sports Illustrated's John Walters tailed Gray as he went about doing whatever it is he does and produced a little comic gem that finds, among other things, Gray doggedly pursuing a lead on Bryon Russell's possibly Christlike healing powers. This slapfight with Pavin is just so perfect, and I'm wiling to wager that Gray was less exercised over the questioning of his credibility as a journalist than with the possibility that a Tigerless Ryder Cup would interfere with his ability to sell shit on television. It's all very silly. The only folks who would care so deeply about a struggling Tiger's Ryder prospects that they're willing to make public asses of themselves are people who work in television and strippers, and Jim Gray's inevitable cameo here makes you wonder in which industry reside the bigger boobs.

Controversy simmers over report Pavin picks Woods [USA Today]