Shooting from the lip/April 16th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Sunday's Penguins-Flyers game on NBC looked like a reel of deleted scenes from the movie Slap Shot. There were fights, sucker punches, hair-pulling and, oh yeah, a little hockey in between. Frankly, it was a rather embarrassing day for hockey. Yeah, sure, a segment of fans love fighting, but this was way beyond simple fighting. This was over-the-line junk that gives hockey, pardon the pun, a black eye.
But NBC rink-side analyst Pierre McGuire deserves major kudos for blaming the officials for a brawl that broke out with five minutes left. McGuire pointed out that officials should have kicked out Penguins star James Neal for a hit he made, which would have eliminated the spark that started a major wildfire.
"This all could have been avoided if James Neal was sent to the room,'' McGuire said.
I would have loved if McGuire and play-by-play man Doc Emrick had criticized all the nastiness that really has no place in hockey, but unfortunately, this has become part of the NHL's culture. Emrick even seemed to pay homage to "old-time hockey'' by alluding to Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s. I hate to say it, but NBC probably didn't mind all the fighting. People likely stuck around to watch the end of a game that had turned into a Flyers blowout.
What a strong weekend for Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson. Far too many analysts spend their time making excuses for the home team, but Anderson used his experience and knowledge as a former pitcher to criticize some of the decisions made by Rays pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Anderson's best moment came Saturday when Hellickson gave up a homer to the Red Sox's David Ortiz on a 3-and-2 pitch.
Hellickson threw a cut fastball that Anderson pointed out could be successful only if it was thrown for a ball. If it was thrown for a strike, Ortiz was going to hit it a mile, and Anderson was right. "A few of these pitches today,'' Anderson said, "you wonder about thought process.''
Anderson did two things there. One, he taught viewers something about pitching, and two, he criticized a Rays pitcher (and catcher and pitching coach). That's excellent analysis.
Man, do I love ABC's NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Sunday he went on another classic rant, this time ripping the league for allowing players to flop to draw fouls. Van Gundy doesn't care who he is offending, including the league, its players, even commissioner David Stern, and that's what makes him so good and entertaining.
"It just ruins the game,'' Van Gundy said of flopping. "I can’t believe with all the brilliance we have in the NBA office that we can't find a way to eliminate this part of the game. … I'm just sick of it, and I can't believe the NBA office isn't sick of it, too. They're obviously condoning it.''
Play-by-play guy Mike Breen tried to stop Van Gundy, but the former coach plowed ahead and went on to rant for another two minutes. His best line: "We're playing the commissioner like $25 million; he can come up with a solution.''
Van Gundy's three-minute tirade is worthy of an Emmy by itself. And he does this type of thing every single week.
Best teaching moment
Nice to hear Joe Buck and Tim McCarver again on Fox's Saturday baseball game of the week. Buck has had a throat problem the past couple of years, but he sounds as if he is all the way back. That's great news because he is the best baseball announcer there is.
Meantime, McCarver has his detractors, but I'm not one of them. He still teaches me things. The latest example was Saturday when talking about the Angels' Albert Pujols being in a slump. McCarver said a sure sign of a guy in a slump was Pujols, a right-handed hitter, grounding out consistently to the left side of the infield, not when he strikes out or pops up or flies out . That's good stuff.
It's time for NBC to make a decision about NHL studio analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury. They are knowledgeable hockey guys, but aside from their work with NBC, they also serve as analysts for teams. Jones does color on Flyers games, and Milbury serves as a studio analyst on Bruins games. (The same can be said for others at NBC, including Ed Olczyk, who does color on Blackhawks games).
Now it's true that the Penguins were completely to blame for all the nastiness Sunday, but I find it hard to believe that Jones would be critical of the Flyers, especially after he strongly took the Flyers’ side when the Flyers were upset this season with the Lightning's 1-3-1 defense. Milbury cannot be expected to be highly critical of the Bruins, can he?
Bottom line: NBC is a big-enough entity that it should pay enough money to have analysts who work exclusively for it. And it's not like there is a lack of hockey people out there. If Jones and Milbury don't want to give up their jobs with their teams, then NBC should go out and find analysts who don’t have ties to any teams.
Best camera work
The camera work on Saturday's Rays game showed exactly why Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz balked. It's because he lost grip on the ball. See there? Pay attention to the little details and you can tell the whole story.
Fox missed the call of a home run by the Angels' Vernon Wells on Saturday because it was running a taped interview with Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Let's just end these in-game interviews, okay? Fox does it with baseball managers. NBC does it with hockey coaches. ABC does it with NBA coaches. Nothing of interest ever comes from those things, and like we saw Saturday, they sometimes get in the way.
Three things that popped into my head
1. All the fighting and cheap shots aside, the Stanley Cup playoffs already have shown why its the best and most intense sporting event of the year.
2. On the other side, even with a shortened season, the NBA regular season has grown tiresome. I've been ready for the playoffs for about two weeks now.
3. How cool is it that NBC has asked Lightning announcer Rick Peckham to help out and call some games during the Stanley Cup playoffs? Just goes to show you how lucky we are to have this guy calling 70-some Lightning games a season.