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Best and worst from weekend's televised sports

Best news

Rays fans should be happy that former big-league manager Kevin Kennedy is replacing Joe Magrane on Rays television broadcasts this season. Kennedy, who had been with Fox's now-defunct pregame show, brings a ton of knowledge, personality and humor, and might have been the best analyst available. Magrane, with his insight and offbeat sense of humor, did a magnificent job with the Rays, but look for Kennedy to be a bit more personable. And Kennedy showed on Fox that he will give an honest assessment, even if it ruffles a few feathers.

All in all, a great hire by the Rays.

The only problem is Kennedy will not do every game. Brian Anderson, who filled in when Magrane worked the Olympics last summer, will do some games. From the start, the Rays' plan did not require the new analyst to do every single TV game. That might be a mistake. Baseball is about consistency and familiarity. Most fans don't watch every inning of every game. They tune in for a few innings here and a couple of innings there. And it's key to have the same two voices — play-by-play and analyst — every time they tune in.

Unlike other sports, baseball is a long novel told in daily chapters. You want the same two authors telling that story by tying those chapters together through trends and cycles. Sprinkling a third person into the mix just doesn't seem like a good idea, though Anderson was solid during his cup of coffee with the Rays last season.

Biggest embarrassment

So the Tampa Bay market has three 24-hour sports radio stations and not one of them broadcast the Daytona 500 on Sunday? Seriously, how does one of the biggest racing markets in the country not carry the biggest race in the world being held three hours away?

Best line

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said he wished reporters would ask just about baseball when Yankees players were besieged with questions about Alex Rodriguez and steroids last week. On ESPN's Sports Reporters, Detroit Free-Press columnist Mitch Albom said, "Derek, it would be nice to talk about baseball if you guys were just playing baseball.''

Best analyst

NBC studio hockey analyst Mike Milbury, left, is quickly becoming a television star because of his no-holds-barred opinions. During the first intermission of Sunday's Rangers-Flyers game, Milbury went on a heated rant, blasting the lethargic Rangers. He questioned the passion and heart of the Rangers, who were on their way to losing 5-2, and demanded the players "look at themselves in the mirror'' before calling them "an embarrassment.'' He even called out specific players, such as stars Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.

Then analyst Pierre McGuire, who stations himself between the benches, earned his money when he asked Rangers coach Tom Renney, "How come your team is flat to start?''

Renney said, "We're tentative, Pierre. We don't want to win a hockey game.''

A great question, and an even better answer.

Biggest gripe

Have you seen the NBA on ESPN commercial with Shaquille O'Neal, right, playing Scrabble on a bus with ESPN's Stuart Scott and Mike Breen? In it, Shaq spells every word using the letter "Q'' to the point that Scott asks him, "How did you have so many Q's?'' An intimidating O'Neal says, "Don't worry about it!''

It's quite humorous, as are many of ESPN's commercials.

The problem is, this is a current NBA player teaming up with announcers who call some of his games to do promotion for a network that airs his games. Viewers are left to wonder if Shaq would get a pass on criticism from Scott, who hosts ABC-ESPN's studio show, and Breen, who is ABC-ESPN's lead announcer. This isn't meant to question Scott or Breen, but the appearance of a conflict of interest is there. It doesn't seem proper for announcers to do commercials with players.

Best reason for replay

HBO's Boxing After Dark on Saturday showed why the sport should think about using instant replay. On one occasion, a head butt was ruled a punch, but replays showed it was a head butt. In another fight, a punch was ruled a head butt, but replays showed it was a punch. Both incidents resulted in bad cuts, and the determination of whether they were head butts or punches would have affected the outcomes had the fights been stopped because of the cuts. Also, there was a question of whether a fighter who had been knocked down got to his feet by the count of 10, and that could've been resolved by replay.

In all three instances, replays were shown seconds after the rounds ended. Then again, HBO was cuing them up, and most fights aren't on TV, let alone on well-produced HBO. Still, in major fights shown by, say, HBO or Showtime, why not use replay if it's available?

Best show

By far the best thing on TV over the weekend was ESPN's riveting hour documentary Return to Mexico City, about 1968 Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, whose lives changed dramatically after their protest at the Olympics in Mexico City. They raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand during the national anthem for track's 200 meters to show black pride and demonstrate against the social injustices in the United States at that time.

The documentary, narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, covers the event and follows Smith and Carlos back to Mexico City, where they tell stories of how difficult their lives became. It's hard to watch at times because of how much hatred they faced, but it is ultimately inspiring because of the courage they showed. It's on again at 10:30 tonight on ESPN2 and will be followed at 11:30 by the ESPN series Top Five Reasons You Can't Blame …, which also looks at the protest.

Times staff writer Tom Jones looks at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best coverage

Fox continues to dominate all sports event coverage, whether it's baseball, football or, as was the case Sunday, NASCAR. The best graphics, toys, production and storytelling, as well as enthusiastic, hustling, insightful broadcasters make Fox's NASCAR coverage the gold standard, and that was evident again during the Daytona 500. The defining moment was the dramatic crash on Lap 124 that took out leader Kyle Busch. Analyst Larry McReynolds immediately jumped on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who McReynolds believed caused the pileup for tapping the rear end of Brian Vickers' car. "Totally uncalled for!'' McReynolds said. Partner Darrell Waltrip agreed, saying "That's just wrong.'' A barrage of replays, followed by quick interviews with several drivers, including Busch and Vickers, made for compelling television.

Best rumor

ESPN NFL insider John Clayton predicted that free agent Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia could end up playing for the Vikings this coming season.

RobbY Gordon

reed sorenson

Brian vickers

Scott speed

Dale earnhardt jr.

Kevin Kennedy

Best and worst from weekend's televised sports 02/15/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 15, 2009 11:38pm]

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