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Shooting from the lip

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



Best compliment

A ll in all, most Rays fans would prefer to watch the Rays on Sun Sports with the hometown broadcasters as opposed to watching them on a network's national game of the week. But one perk of having the Rays on national television is hearing what the national announcers think of the Rays. The one consistent theme is how much manager Joe Maddon is respected nationally. During Saturday's Rays-Mariners game on Fox, analyst Mark Grace said, "You don't hear me say this very often, but 'intelligent baseball man.' You rarely hear me call (ballplayers) intelligent. I know I never got called that. But, boy, that is one intelligent man in the dugout for the Tampa Bay Rays.'' What's odd is how much criticism Maddon takes locally from a good portion of Rays fans. To those people, apparently winning two American League East Division titles in three years with a handicapped payroll just isn't that impressive.

Most disappointing documentary

HBO Sports almost never swings and misses on a documentary. In fact, it's hard to remember them putting out a dud. Until now.

Derek Jeter 3K, the HBO and MLB Productions' behind-the-scenes look at the Yankees great going for his 3,000th hit, is a snoozer. HBO isn't totally to blame. Jeter, reportedly, had authority over the final cut. That explains a lot.

Jeter, as is his right, always has been private about his public life, so it's no surprise there wasn't anything juicy, mildly interesting or even revealing in the documentary, save for the fact that Jeter has a private chef, which, come to think of it, really isn't surprising.

He wore a microphone on the field, but even the scenes that included brief chats with opposing players or umpires were disappointing because nothing humorous or intriguing happened. For the first time, he allowed cameras into his New York apartment and agreed to let filmmakers interview his girlfriend, actor Minka Kelly.

Still, in the end, fans don't know Jeter any more now than they did before the film, which is too bad because he is one of the most likable and admirable athletes we have. When you think about it, maybe it's his humility and privacy that make him such a good guy.

But it doesn't make for good filmmaking. Yankees diehards might appreciate the footage of Jeter's 3,000th hit, but Jeter even admits that he agreed to do the film so his future children could relive his steps into baseball history. Because we are not one of Jeter's future kids, the film, unfortunately, holds little interest.

Best line

New York Post sports media critic Phil Mushnick was the one who originally reported this excellent line from Bob Costas, who called the Giants-Phillies game on MLB Network on Thursday night.

Analyst Jim Kaat was explaining why pitching is better these days and suggested it's because of such things as good arms and undisciplined hitters.

Then Costas added, "And the hitters aren't as juiced."

He's right, but not many analysts would have the guts, especially on a network run by Major League Baseball, to say that.

Worst news

Well, there was a casualty of the NFL lockout after all. HBO was left with too little time to round up a team for its Hard Knocks series, which follows one team during training camp. For football fans and viewers of really good television, this is devastating news. Hard Knocks has become one of the best and most anticipated sports shows of the year.

However, there is a sliver of good news. HBO will air a special 90-minute edition of Hard Knocks, celebrating the 10 years of the show. The debut will be Aug. 31 at 10 p.m. and include where-are-they-now updates of some of the players of past shows, as well as never-before-seen outtakes and new interviews.

Best network

It's never a bad idea to run your remote by the MLB Network at any time. You never know what you're going to stumble upon when you get there. Example: Sunday, when the network, which was counting down the minutes to the trade deadline, deftly switched gears to show Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander working on a potential no-hitter.

Viewers could watch each pitch of Verlander's bid, which was broken up in the eighth inning, and still get the latest on all the trade rumors from the network's slew of reporters and analysts.

And when it comes to the day's news, highlights and analysis, I'll take the MLB Network's Quick Pitch over ESPN's Baseball Tonight, which has become stale and a tad full of itself.

Second-best network

Give the NFL Network kudos for, if nothing else, endurance. After the lockout ended, the network aired more than 90 hours of live coverage of the wild week in free agency.

The move paid off. The NFL Network's coverage of free agency, trades and roster cuts from Tuesday to Thursday drew an average of 186,000 viewers per day, a 288 percent increase over the same time period last year. During prime time, the network averaged 290,000 viewers over the three days, including 427,000 Thursday night, the best-ever prime-time viewership not counting the NFL draft and game coverage.

Three things I liked on television this weekend

1 ESPN's NASCAR coverage, which kicked off with Sunday's Brickyard 400, had a few new bells and whistles, and set up what should be an enjoyable stretch run for fans of the good ol' boys.

2 Kenny Albert, who called Saturday's Rays-Mariners game on Fox, is one of the most underrated broadcasters in the business. He doesn't rely on catchphrases, he doesn't try to be funny, he doesn't have a schtick. He is confident enough to say nothing when there is nothing to say. Add it all up and you have a first-rate pro.

3 ESPN/ABC's coverage of the 17th X Games has evolved into excellent broadcasting. The networks smartly don't dummy down the coverage and instead speak directly, lingo and all, to those who follow and like extreme sports. That's the right way to do it.

Three things that popped into my head

1 Baseball is full of guys who had one great week in the majors, but if the past week is any indication, the Rays might have a new best player next season, and his name is Desmond Jennings.

2 For all those who have wanted to run linebacker Barrett Ruud out of town the past couple of years, you're not allowed to say a word in the fall about how much the Bucs miss him. And they will.

3 As if people needed another reason to hate Philadelphia teams, now newly acquired backup QB Vince Young calls the Eagles a "dream team." Sounds like something a Miami Heat player would say.

Shooting from the lip 07/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 7:26am]
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