Most interesting replacement
Interesting decision by Fox to use Terry Francona, top, as a replacement for Tim McCarver for the first two games of the American League Championship Series. McCarver is expected to return for Game 3 on Tuesday after missing time for a minor medical procedure.
As far as Francona's performance, it's hard to critique someone whose broadcasting career had consisted of one Arizona Fall League game more than 10 years ago. Nevertheless, Francona did fine Saturday night. It felt like announcer Joe Buck was interviewing Francona to get him to talk early, but Francona relaxed and eventually eased into offering solid analysis. He was best when giving insight into the strengths and weaknesses of pitchers and hitters and, of course, when dissecting and predicting the strategies of the managers.
What's more interesting is why Fox would turn to a novice for some of the biggest games of the year. Obviously, it was a way to drum up interest for its broadcasts. By doing so, it passed over Eric Karros and Mark Grace, each of whom worked regional games during the season. Karros did work the pregame show, but Fox's turning to Francona must have felt like a slap in the face to Karros and Grace.
It does make you wonder what Fox will do when McCarver, who turns 70 on Sunday, ultimately retires. It seems like using Francona wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for anyone in Fox's baseball broadcasting stable.
T he passing of legendary Raiders owner Al Davis was the major story on all the NFL pregame shows Sunday. All handled it well, appropriately pointing out that Davis' impact was overwhelming and should not be measured by the past 10 years or so when he was portrayed as a kook. • Former Raider Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw had touching stories on Fox NFL Sunday, but ESPN and NFL Network had the best tributes, partly because they have longer pregame shows. • When news broke Saturday that Davis had died, ESPNews became must-see television with interviews, analysis and highlights of Davis' career. Sunday NFL Countdown analyst Tom Jackson correctly pointed out that Davis' career will now be revisited and younger generations will get to see how much Davis meant to pro football. • NFL Network's Steve Mariucci said it best about Davis: "If there's a Mount Rushmore for football, he's on it." • Agreed. Davis would be on my NFL Mount Rushmore with Pete Rozelle, George Halas and John Madden. Surprised by Madden? He makes it because of groundbreaking broadcasting.
CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esiason, below, grew up on Long Island as a Jets fan. He spent three seasons with the Jets. He hosts a talk-radio show in New York. Yet all of those things didn't stop him from asking Jets coach Rex Ryan tough questions during Sunday's NFL Today. It wasn't exactly Mike Wallace grilling someone on 60 Minutes, but Esiason showed that an interviewer can ask good questions and get good answers without being confrontational. Give Ryan credit, too, for answering Esiason.
Speaking of Ryan and his shenanigans in the media, Fox NFL Sunday analyst Terry Bradshaw said, "He is getting ready for television. He does stupid stuff like that so that when he gets fired, someone will say 'Wow, he's a colorful guy.' " And you know what? If Ryan were fired today, it would take 10 minutes before he had offers from every network that carries the NFL.
Usually when you know what an announcer is trying to say, fair-minded media critics won't nitpick over a slight stumble. But this was too funny to let slide. The New York Post's Phil Mushnick pointed out that TBS baseball analyst Ron Darling said, "Victor Martinez is hitting .343 after Miguel Cabrera walks, so he comes through more often than not." Darling's point was Martinez is a good hitter in those situations, but technically hitting better than .500 would be coming through more often than not, right? Mushnick also pointed out that Darling went to Yale. We're poking fun at Darling, but the fact is Darling and fellow analyst John Smoltz have been nothing short of outstanding on TBS's coverage of the baseball playoffs. In fact, the two might be the best in baseball.
Most backward statement
Tony Romo's problems prompted Fox NFL Sunday analyst Jimmy Johnson to suggest that the Cowboys quarterback should be benched if he continued to turn over the ball. But Johnson changed his stance Sunday.
"I wouldn't bench him, but I'd have him study a third-year quarterback in this league — Josh Freeman," Johnson said of the Bucs quarterback. "Josh Freeman is a smart quarterback, he knows how to play situational football, and he knows how to protect the lead. He's come from behind eight different times to win the game. Study Josh Freeman, you'll learn how to play the game."
After Sunday's Bucs-49ers game, one has to wonder if Freeman has been studying Romo.
Sad, but true
Yikes, not a good weekend for Florida football. The Gators were pounded. The Hurricanes lost a heartbreaker. The Seminoles lost their third straight. The best news? USF was off. And it's hard to disagree with CBS's Gary Danielson, who said, "Florida State takes the mantle of the most disappointing team of the season."
Most of you probably never heard of Joe Aceti, but you know his work. Aceti, who died last week at age 76, was one of the most prominent sports television directors of all time. He was a part of five Olympics, three World Series, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and countless NBA and NCAA games. He was a coordinating director of ABC's Wide World of Sports for 10 years. But he was best remembered for his boxing work. He directed 80 boxing broadcasts, including the classic "Thrilla in Manila" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Three things that popped into my head
1 I'm guessing lots of folks out there feel terrible for those nice Philadelphia fans now that the dream-team Eagles are 1-4 and the 102-win Phillies have started their winter vacation.
2 Boy, the Brewers sure are a mouthy bunch for a team that hasn't won much of anything. Ever.
3 Small-market baseball franchises should be dismayed that big spenders such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels, Cubs and White Sox are out of the hunt this season because it only adds credence to the argument that payrolls aren't a major factor in producing a winning team.
Biggest local news
The big news in local broadcasting over the weekend was the announcement that Rich Herrera will not return next season as the Rays' pregame and postgame host. Some think this is great news, while others are saddened. Herrera was a polarizing figure. Many didn't care for his rude dismissal of those who criticized the Rays during the postgame call-in show. Others liked Herrera's passion for baseball and support of the Rays.
I tended to agree with those who became frustrated with Herrera consistently belittling the voices of those who wanted to vent when the Rays were playing poorly. I've always believed that postgame call-in shows are for the fans, not the host. Hopefully whomever the Rays hire will think that way, too, and allow fans to criticize the team if they want.
tom jones' two cents
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.