Shooting from the lip/April 25th edition

24

April

Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...

peckham.Best announcers
It's said that NHL teams raise their level of play during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The same can be said for Sun Sports Lightning announcers Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor, both of whom have brought their A-games for the postseason.
Peckham always has been easy to listen to. He calls a clean game and never gets in the way of the action. During the Lightning-Penguins series, Peckham has saved emotional calls for the truly important moments of the game. He never yells just for the sake of yelling, as many announcers tend to do. When Peckham's voice rises, the viewer can trust that something critical is happening.

taylor.Taylor, meantime, continues to bring excellent X-and-O analysis and hasn't shied from being critical when the situation calls for it. He occasionally harps on the officiating a little too much for some viewers, but when he avoids that, he's superb because of his feel for the game. Take Saturday when the Lightning built a 7-0 lead early in the third period. Taylor then noticed the Lightning becoming sloppy and predicted something bad could happen. Sure enough, the Penguins scored two goals, and Taylor adeptly pointed out that the Lightning's sloppiness would not cost it in Game 5, but it could carry into Game 6. It was spot-on commentary that many analysts would've excused or ignored in favor of celebrating a big victory. But that's what makes Taylor so good.\

Best and worst replay
Saturday's Rays game on FSN featured something good and something not so good when it comes to replays.

Let's start with the not so good. In the top of the ninth, announcers Dwayne Staats and Brian Anderson spent more than a passing moment discussing how Rays shortstop Reid Brignac should have been given credit for a single on a bunt in an earlier at-bat. (The play was ruled a sacrifice and an error.) Staats talked about how the bunt was put in a perfect spot and it took more than reasonable effort for the defense. Staats and Anderson explained in detail how they saw the play, and it would have been nice if the production crew had dialed up a replay for the fans to see what the two were talking about. But the replay never came.

The crew made some amends in the bottom half of the inning when the Blue Jays cut the Rays' lead to 6-4 and then the Jays' Travis Snider bunted runners to second and third. It looked as if Snider might have beaten the throw to first, but he was called out. The FSN crew immediately showed four replays, each showing that Snider did beat the throw. Even Anderson said the umpire missed the call. It was a call that went against the Rays' opponent, yet the Rays TV crew did the right thing by showing the replays . That's not something every hometown TV crew would have done. Nice work.

green.Best coverage
NBC's hockey coverage was the highlight of the weekend, especially a moment during Saturday's broadcast of Game 5 of the Capitals-Rangers series. Washington's Mike Green blocked a slap shot near his shoulder-head area and did not get up. It was frightening, particularly because Green missed a good chunk of the season with head problems. But not only did NBC tell us that, it showed us. While Green was still being tended to on the ice, NBC showed replays of two incidents that happened this year -- one of Green getting hit with a similar shot and another of him taking an elbow to the head. Then, in the most fascinating replay of the week, NBC showed a super-slow-motion shot of the screws coming out of Green's helmet as he blocked the shot against the Rangers.  Excellent storytelling and television are what happens when the people in charge are prepared like NBC's hockey crew was Saturday. 

 Meantime, Sunday, intermission analyst Mike Milbury absolutely carved Flyers goalie Michael Leighton for allowing two soft goals in Game 6 against the Sabres. He even compared him to a "pee-wee'' goalie. Surely he didn't win many points with Leighton or Flyers fans, but he did with the rest of us for his frank commentary.

barkley.Biggest apology
Last week, TNT's ever-controversial NBA analyst Charles Barkley was a little too controversial for even his own taste. After the Knicks lost Game 2 of their series against the Celtics, Barkley, ripped into Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni and said, "That's why they’ll have a new coach next season.''
But two days later, Barkley went on the air and said: "I have a rule, I try to always be honest and fair on TV. I screwed up the other night when I said something about Mike D'Antoni that wasn't cool. I want to apologize to Mike D'Antoni and (Knicks president of basketball operations) Donnie Walsh. When you're on television you should never talk about someone getting hired and fired. That's inappropriate. I made that mistake. I want to apologize personally to Mike D’'ntoni and Donnie Walsh. I've got great respect for Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni. I want to apologize. That's all I can do.''

If Barkley said something he didn't mean or didn't express his true feelings, then, yes, he should apologize. But if he believes D'Antoni should or will be fired, his job as an analyst is to say so. And for that, he doesn't need to apologize.

rays.jpgRatings of the day
The Lightning played its first two home playoff games in four years last week. The Rays played a run-of-the-mill home series against a White Sox team that really can't be considered one of the marquee teams in the majors. So you might think the Tampa Bay area was more interested in watching the Lightning on television. You would be wrong. Ratings show the Rays trounced the Lightning on Monday and Wednesday nights, the nights the Lightning hosted the Penguins while the Rays hosted the White Sox.

Monday, the Lightning averaged a 2.0 rating, meaning 2 percent of all Tampa Bay area households with televisions were tuned in. (One rating point equals about 17,950 households). The Rays that night drew an average rating of 3.2. The Rays' broadcast on FSN started at 6:30 p.m.; the Lightning game on Sun Sports started at 7:30. While the games were on simultaneously (meaning from 7:30 until a little after 9), the Rays drew a 3.9, the Lightning a 1.7. Wednesday produced similar numbers. The Rays averaged a 3.7 for the night, the Lightning a 2.3. While the games were on at the same time, the Rays held a substantial advantage over the Lightning: 4.06 to 1.45. After the Rays game ended, the Lightning numbers spiked at 4.0 and stayed in the 3.5 range during the one-plus overtimes.

bolts.pngThis also should be noted: The Lightning sold out both games, drawing 20,545 on Monday and 20,326 on Wednesday.The Rays drew weak crowds of 12,016 on Monday and 13,214 on Wednesday. In the end, the Rays drew nearly twice as many television viewers, but the Lightning drew nearly twice as much of a crowd in its arena. What does it all mean?

For starters, the numbers say the Rays continue to be a draw on television. Fans still aren't showing up for games, but they do appear to be interested in and involved with the team. That supports last year’s numbers: The Rays were among the major leagues' top five in local television ratings but ninth from the bottom in attendance. It could be suggested that most Rays fans prefer to watch the games on television as opposed to going to Tropicana Field.

Why? Maybe it's the stadium location, maybe it's the economy, maybe it's Tropicana Field, maybe it's simply easier to stay home and watch on a nice HD television while sitting in a recliner. Maybe it's all the above. Meantime, the numbers from this week also suggest that the majority of Lightning fans go to the games. Finally, the numbers indicate that the Rays have a bigger local following than the Lightning.

Worst praise
During Saturday's Fox baseball Game of the Week between the Giants and Braves, announcer Josh Lewin and Eric Karros spent a few moments praising the Braves for consistently starting rookies at the beginning of the season as opposed to waiting until after the season starts so as not to start the clock on the player’s big-league service. Lewin and Karros also said the Braves are one of the few teams that place the players ahead of their own interests, suggesting that other teams don't care about their players like the Braves do.

Maybe. But it was irresponsible of Lewin and Karros to praise a team that is traditionally in the upper half of the league in payroll and doesn't have the financial concerns that small-market teams have. Small-market teams don't wait to call rookies up because they want to. They do it because they have to. Lewin and Karros should know that.

lightning.Three things that popped into my head
1. If the Lightning had lost quietly in Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Saturday, it really would've been a disappointing and bitter end to a surprisingly good season.
2. It's a shame that the New York Rangers and Knicks couldn't do more in the NHL and NBA postseasons. There isn't anything much cooler in sports than playoff games at Madison Square Garden. The good news is, it appears as if there could be plenty of postseason at MSG in the coming years.
3. Sports rule No. 1: No matter how late it is, no matter how early you have to get up in the morning, no matter how late you are running for an appointment and regardless of whether you team is playing or not, you must watch an overtime game in the Stanley Cup playoffs until someone scores.

[Last modified: Sunday, April 24, 2011 10:20pm]

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