Shooting from the lip
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Just a couple of years ago, it seemed the Indianapolis 500 had lost its mojo, that it was no longer the special event it was back in the glory days of the 1970s. But, welcome back, big fella. The event matters once again and give ABC partial credit for that. The network's coverage Sunday was a blue-ribbon effort. Despite eight cautions that chewed up 69 laps and the early exits of marquee names such as Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan, the four hours zipped by because of a tightly paced, well-directed, well-produced and focalized show. Here are some of the highlights:
* Listening to anything said by analyst Eddie Cheever Jr., who was succinct and honest — the two best qualities of any good analyst.
* Eavesdropping on Patrick's radio conversation with her crew, saying, "I can't do anything. I am sooooooo slow. I am damn slow.''
* Interviews with Patrick and Kanaan after their crashes. Patrick, who was spun out in the pit by Ryan Briscoe and unsuccessfully tried talk to him later, angrily said, "Probably best I didn't get down there anyway.’’ Kanaan crashed with Sara Fisher in part because he was given no room to maneuver by teammate Marco Andretti. When told Andretti said he was sorry over the radio, Kanaan said. "He'd better be. That was a very stupid move.''
* ABC followed that story well, telling Andretti exactly what Kanaan said and not letting him get away without asking him about it. Andretti: "Stupid? I don't know about stupid. Last minute, maybe. I had an awesome run on him. Maybe I dive-bombed him too late. I don't know. I'll have to look at the tape. If so, I completely apologize.''
* Then ABC caught up with an emotional Fisher in another riveting interview.
This is the type of stuff race fans eat up. Heck, it's the type of stuff everyone eats up. ABC kept its eye on the ball, so to speak, all day, never missed giving viewers exactly what we were looking for next. With a first-rate broadcasting crew executing the thorough game plan, the result was as good of a sports event coverage as we've seen this year.
Most ordinary coverage
Versus didn't do anything special or different for its Stanley Cup finals broadcast Saturday night. That's not necessarily bad because Versus does a slightly-better-than adequate job of covering the NHL. It's just that it felt like an ordinary game, not the finals. No bells. No whistles. It just didn't feel special, not like the final should. Well, Versus did add one thing — Mark Messier joined the studio show and was solid. In fact, Mess had the line of the night when, after the Red Wings beat the Penguins 4-0, he said, "(The Penguins) have to get emotionally involved.'' He's right. Not only did Versus act as if it was just another game, so did Pittsburgh.
I almost jumped into the screen, ready to make an argument for Yogi Berra, but it's hard to disagree. Berra drove in almost 100 more runs (1,430 to 1,335), but Piazza had a higher average (.308 to .285), more homers (427 to 358), a better slugging percentage (.545 to .483) and a better on-base percentage (.377 to .348). Yeah, you have to go with Piazza.
Speaking of Fox baseball, I had always been ambivalent about pregame show host Jeanne Zelasko, but it would be completely unfair to judge her on anything she has done the past year or so because of what she has gone through. Check out this nice update by Larry Stewart of the L.A. Times.
Her father, Stanley, died of a heart attack at age 71 on the day her son started kindergarten in August. In December, she learned she had thyroid cancer. Over the next few months, she underwent surgery and radiation; her sister had a brain aneurysm; her nephew developed a spinal problem that might require risky surgery ; and her California home was threatened by wildfire. The good news is she is cancer-free.
Considering all this, not only do you root for someone like that, but you think back and realize what an amazing job she has done enthusiastically talking about pennant chases and trades and free agents when baseball surely must have been the last thing on her mind.
Best baseball analysts
Two men are setting themselves apart as analysts on national baseball broadcasts — Fox's Mark Grace and TBS’s Ron Darling. Both are more entertaining and less wordy than the two men often credited for being tops in the game right now — Fox’s Tim McCarver and ESPN’s Joe Morgan. Give me Grace and Darling over those two any day.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Regardless of what commissioner Gary Bettman said about being locked into dates, he should’ve figured out some way to make sure the Red Wings weren't playing at the same times as the Pistons last Saturday, Monday and Wednesday.
2. If the WNBA's plan is to attract more traditional NBA fans (read: men), why not wait until the NBA playoffs are over to start its season? I realize the games aren't on at the same time, but after watching the intensity of the NBA playoffs, isn't it hard to enjoy regular-season basketball of any kind?
3. Anyone who even thinks of booing Josh Hamilton this week at the Trop is an idiot. In fact, there's something wrong if you don't stand on your feet while applauding.