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Shooting from the lip: Weekend sports on TV

Most notable debut

Former Bucs great Ronde Barber made his broadcasting debut last week, calling the Bucs-Ravens preseason game. Barber will call games for Fox this season. • It wouldn't be fair to jump on Barber after his first broadcast, but he has some work to do before the regular season. • Some of the kinks — stammering, pausing, saying "uh'' — are not a big deal. Those can be fixed. As the game went on, he sounded more and more comfortable. He now just needs to work on taking the vast information he has and passing it along to the audience. • The big thing for a player-turned-broadcaster is learning to be critical. We'll see how Barber handles that later, because you can't expect even a veteran analyst to be too critical during the early preseason. Teams are trying different things, inserting game plans and playing a slew of players who won't end up making the team. They really can't be open to that much criticism. • Beyond that, there are two mistakes an analyst can make. He can talk over the audiences' head, using technical terms and ideas fans simply don't grasp. Or he can be a little too basic, saying things that are obvious. This is the most common error, and Barber did a bit of that in the Bucs-Ravens game. • Merely repeating things we are watching on the replay or reeling off the basic cliches of the game can sabotage any analyst's work. For some reason, new analysts have a tendency to imitate vanilla analysts until they find their voice. • Barber did have flashes of solid insight, especially when he referenced things that happened last season when he was with the Bucs. • Barber's first game was wobbly, but learning how to be a broadcaster is part of what this preseason is all about. And it likely will take a while before he finds his voice. • Look, Fox has been in the sports broadcasting business a long time, and it knows what it's doing. It hired Barber for a reason and there's no reason to think a sharp guy like Barber won't get better. (Former Buc John Lynch wasn't that great in his first season, either, and he has developed into a strong analyst.) • Bottom line: Give Barber time. He'll be fine.

Best disgust

For years, golf viewers have had to put up with cement-head fans yelling, "Get in the hole!'' after a golfer hits his tee shot. Well, the latest is fans yelling the names of food. No kidding. A favorite is "Mashed potatoes!'' After Tiger Woods, left, hit a shot Saturday at the PGA Championship, some clown yelled, "Rutabaga!''

CBS analyst Nick Faldo had just about enough Saturday when Adam Scott hit a tee shot and someone screamed, "Scalloped potatoes!''

Sir Nick said, "Please. Enough of that. This is a major!''

Hey, I don't want to hear it at non-majors, either.

CBS's Gary McCord went even further than Faldo. Instead of being simply annoyed, McCord suggested that players are so cognizant that fans are about to scream that it could affect their swings. Perhaps it's time for such calls to be banned or else yelling fans be ejected.

Best, er, good coverage

Early indications are that ratings for the PGA Championship on CBS were up compared with last season. Part of that might be because last year's tournament was up against the final weekend of the London Olympics.

But this weekend did show that a network can have a good weekend even without Tiger Woods in contention. The key is having a close tournament with recognizable names in contention. Players in the hunt going into Sunday included Jim Furyk, Jason Dufner, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy.

I've always felt CBS's golf coverage is mediocre, partly because I've never been crazy about its announcers outside of Nick Faldo.

Overall, however, CBS's work over the weekend was good. Not great. Not bad. Just good.

Worst coverage

Poor job by TBS on Sunday covering Alex Rodriguez's first at-bat in its nationally televised Game of the Week between the Yankees and Tigers. Yes, it was A-Rod's second start at Yankee Stadium since Major League Baseball suspended him 211 games because of his connection to a South Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

Still, this was the first time many viewers could watch the home crowd's reaction to A-Rod, left, who is playing while he appeals the suspension. Instead, TBS centered on breaking down the pitching of Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who was beginning his second inning on the mound.

Sharp viewers were able to watch and listen to the crowd in the background and saw and heard that a majority seemed to be cheering Rodriguez. Some even gave him a standing ovation. Really? A standing ovation for that guy?

Best recovery

Fox seemed caught totally offguard — just as much as the Dodgers — Saturday when the Rays pulled a hidden-ball trick to tag out unsuspecting Juan Uribe in a nationally televised game. Announcers Chris Myers and Eric Karros thought Uribe was called out for leaving too early on a tag-up play to third base. Karros went as far as to criticize the umpires for blowing the call.

However, give the team in the production truck credit for sticking with it and coming back with a replay. It wasn't the best replay, but it did show exactly what happened. Kudos to the folks on Fox's technical side of the broadcast.

Best feature

Good job by NBC to address the issue of Russia's antigay laws with a feature on the subject during its coverage of the track and field world championships in Moscow.

This will be hot topic leading up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. President Barack Obama, right, already has said he is against an American boycott of the Olympics, but look for the athletes and NBC, which will cover the Games, to be the leading voices of protest.

However, Russia's minister of sports recently said foreign athletes would be expected to obey the laws banning "homosexual propaganda" or face criminal prosecution. A column in the New York Times suggested that all American athletes carry small rainbow flags during the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony to show their support of gay rights.

Covering the Olympics from an athletic standpoint is challenging enough for any network. Now NBC will have the additional charge of covering this sensitive issue. And don't suggest that NBC stick to sports. The Olympics have always been and always will be as much of a political event as a sporting one.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Watching the Rays on national television over the weekend (Fox on Saturday, ESPN on Sunday), I'm reminded of two things: how much respect manager Joe Maddon has among the national voices and how little respect Maddon inexplicably has among some Rays fans in Tampa Bay.

2. Does anyone out there still believe Tiger Woods has five major victories left in him, the number it would take to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18?

3. Want a bit of good news to start off your week? Only 16 more night-nights until the start of college football season.

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Shooting from the lip: Weekend sports on TV 08/11/13 [Last modified: Sunday, August 11, 2013 9:24pm]
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