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Sports Media

Messy Phillips tale tangled more by Web

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / October 23, 2009

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Until Wednesday, Steve Phillips’s biggest known blunder might have been trading for a declining and expanding Mo Vaughn before the 2002 season.

Such personnel flops must feel like the good ol’ days compared with the personal disaster the former Mets general manager-turned-ESPN baseball analyst is embroiled in.

Phillips, 46, found himself at the center of a salacious story Wednesday when the New York Post reported that he acknowledged having an affair with a 22-year-old ESPN production assistant.

When Phillips broke off the relationship in August with the assistant, Brooke Hundley, according to a police report, she didn’t accept the parting amicably; Hundley began sending “harassing phone calls and [text messages]’’ to Phillips’s wife, Marni. The report also said she contacted the couples’ children via Facebook and even crashed her car into a stone column and drove across a yard after crossing paths with Marni Phillips while leaving an ominous note on the family’s door.

It was almost a surprise that there was no mention of a boiled bunny.

Phillips said in a statement that he has taken a leave of absence through the baseball postseason. ESPN confirmed that it knew of the situation in August and took what it termed “appropriate disciplinary action.’’ Through a spokesman, the network declined further comment yesterday.

This may not be the most obvious question regarding the scandal, but it’s one of many worth considering: Does Phillips have any credibility remaining once he returns to the ESPN airwaves?

Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, who, with tactics that might have pushed the boundaries of journalism and good taste, helped drive the Phillips story as it blew up Wednesday, said he believes the answer is yes.

“I think he could, sure,’’ Daulerio said. “I mean, it’s not going to happen during this baseball season, but what happened yesterday, admitting he was wrong and taking a leave of absence, that was a good first step. Now he just needs to move on, go away for a while, come back next year, and people will probably forget about it as soon as the next scandal comes along.’’

Both Daulerio and Jason McIntyre, editor of the well-trafficked sports and pop-culture blog “The Big Lead,’’ played significant roles in driving the story Wednesday, with the popular and influential Deadspin perhaps pushing it too far. Under such headings as “ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sexual Depravity,’’ Daulerio, a gifted writer who has a watchdog/antagonist’s knack for tweaking ESPN, chose to publish unsourced rumors and allegations regarding other ESPN personalities and personnel. That seemed driven in part by pettiness; he admitted he was annoyed that the network had shot down a previous inquiry regarding a tip he received concerning Phillips.

This isn’t Phillips’s first such scandal. In 1998, as Mets GM, he was sued for sexual harassment by a team employee. He admitted having sex with the woman, and the case was settled out of court.

It isn’t ESPN’s first, either.

Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds was dismissed by the network after a female intern complained about his conduct. Reynolds, now with the MLB Network, sued ESPN and settled the case in 2008.

While Phillips is telegenic and articulate, his history should have raised a red flag. Then again, maybe they knew he’d fit in. As documented in, among other places, Michael Freeman’s book “ESPN: The Uncensored History,’’ ESPN is notorious for its frat-house star culture. The reason should be obvious, said McIntyre.

“Let me put it this way,’’ said McIntyre. “Can you name more members of the Milwaukee Brewers or more ESPN talking heads? These guys are famous, they are celebrities, and some of them struggle to deal with it.

“If ESPN wanted to put a stop to this sort of stuff, especially knowing the history of someone like Phillips, who had a similar situation with the Mets, they’d put clauses in people’s contracts telling them if this sort of thing happens, you’re gone.’’

Said Daulerio, “ESPN has hired a lot of ex-athletes, and they’re used to acting a certain way and getting away with that. I think others at ESPN see that and take on a ‘we can be like that’ attitude.’’

Daulerio’s approach may have set back the progress mainstream blogs have made as credible news entities: As the Sporting News’s “Sporting Blog’’ put it, this “became about trashing ESPN because their PR folks wouldn’t confirm a rumor. It isn’t an appropriate reason to empty out your e-mail inbox with everything you’ve ever been told about ESPN.’’

Coincidentally, Deadspin’s slogan is sports “without access, favor or discretion.’’

Phillips would have been served well by using more of the last.

Perhaps some of those writing about his scandal would have as well.

An NBA dream team

Just how long have Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn been calling Celtics games together?

■ In 1980-81, their inaugural season paired on telecasts, Kevin Garnett was 5 years old and presumably frightening his fellow kindergartners with his intensity during recess kickball games.

■ And Rajon Rondo wouldn’t be born for another five years.

“Yeah, this will be the 29th year,’’ said Gorman, 61, who with his measured but affable style remains as good as it gets on basketball play-by-play. “It sound strange to say, but sometimes it’s almost embarrassing how easy, or maybe I should say enjoyable, this job is. In large part, that’s because of the comfort level between me and Tommy, but also because we’ve been really fortunate with the comfort level people have for us.’’

According to Comcast SportsNet New England, Gorman and Heinsohn are the longest-running continuous broadcast pairing in pro sports. And their partnership actually began before they called Celtics games; they first worked together on Providence College broadcasts in the late ’70s.

Given their longevity and mutual respect, it’s no wonder the chemistry and camaraderie between Heinsohn and Gorman remains so seamless.

“He starts a sentence, I finish it, and vice-versa,’’ said Heinsohn, who at 75 will work all but 17 games this season, with Donny Marshall filling in on longer trips “Our styles complement each other, and we both take the approach that we should leave room for the game to breathe. Neither one of us is enamored with hearing ourselves talk.

“And Mike’s been a friend for a long time. We get along really, really well, during the games, but also after and before the games.’’

This season, CSN has 57 exclusive regular-season Celtics telecasts, as well as 13 that will be shared with networks. Twelve Celtics games will air exclusively on national television (six on ESPN, six on TNT, including Tuesday’s opener at Cleveland). CSN, which will air its first game Wednesday when the Celtics host Charlotte, will carry pregame and postgame programming for all 82 games.

Gorman and Heinsohn agreed that the Celtics, with the return to health of Garnett and the addition of Rasheed Wallace, have a cast capable of hanging an 18th banner in the Garden.

“You hate to put a ton of pressure on ’em, but barring a major injury, they’re a pick ’em to win the whole thing,’’ Gorman said.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com.

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