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Tom Jones’ Shooting from the Lip: Rays a broadcast challenge

Rays outfielder Denard Span stands next to a scoreboard at Fenway Park that tells a familiar story: Tampa Bay is losing. [Getty Images]
Rays outfielder Denard Span stands next to a scoreboard at Fenway Park that tells a familiar story: Tampa Bay is losing. [Getty Images]
Published Apr. 9, 2018
Updated Apr. 9, 2018

Times columnist Tom Jones look back at a weekend of televised sports.

Roughest broadcast
Man, this could be a rough year for the gang over at Fox Sports Sun showing Rays games. To be fair, the season has only just begun and the Rays (1-8) haven't had an easy schedule. But, based on this snap shot, this sure looks like a team that could lose 100 games. It will be interesting to see how far play-by-play announcer Dewayne Staats, game analyst Brian Anderson and studio analysts Orestes Destrade and Doug Waechter go in criticizing the organization.

Viewers realize how close the broadcasters are to the team. No one expects them to lay into the franchise with unfiltered criticism. At the same time, fans aren't dumb and you can't insult them by sugarcoating just how bad this team is. And once a broadcaster loses credibility, he might as well hang up the microphone.

If this team continues to slide down the drain, listening to what the broadcasters say might be more interesting than watching how the team plays.

Most unnecessary
HBO's movie Paterno made its debut over the weekend and it was disappointing, especially because it featured two film heavyweights: director Barry Levinson and actor Al Pacino, who portrayed the late Penn State football coach. The film focuses on the final week of Paterno's 46-year head coaching career, which ended abruptly when one of his longtime assistants, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of raping dozens of boys.

Perhaps if the viewer had learned anything new or was given insight into how such unspeakable crimes could happen to innocent victims at such an institution, the movie would have been worth its 1 hour and 45 minutes. Instead, it was an uncomfortable, scratch-the-surface rehash of what Paterno might or might not have known. And when the film is over, we are no closer to an answer. Pacino plays Paterno as a feeble old man who really didn't seem to grasp what Sandusky did, although he was consumed with his football program above all else.

Penn State supporters will come away feeling as if Paterno is still being unfairly judged, while others will feel that the film doesn't go far enough in blaming Paterno. Sandusky is nothing more than a bit character.

By far, the best parts of the movie were scenes featuring Riley Keough as Sara Ganim, the young reporter from the Harrisburg Patriot-News who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for her work on the Penn State story. Her interactions with one of the victims and his mother were the most mesmerizing of the film. If the movie had been about Ganim and the victims, you might have had an important film worth watching. Instead, the movie is almost all about what was going on inside the Paterno house as the story went public.

There's a scene near the end when a victim's counselor says, "A crime against children happened. Why are we talking about Joe Paterno?"

As I watched Paterno, I was thinking the same thing.

Best coverage
CBS calls it a "tradition unlike any other.'' I call it a broadcast "like all others.''

When it comes to broadcasting the Masters, CBS's coverage feels no different than it did 10 years ago, except for some technological advances. But everything else — from Jim Nantz's almost-too-smooth "hello, friends'' hosting to Nick Faldo's cold analysis to Verne Lundquist's folksy emotions — feels the same as it has always been. That's not necessarily a criticism. CBS airs what many believe is the greatest golf tournament in the world (personally, I'll take the Open Championship and the U.S. Open) and it allows the golf to be the star. Nothing wrong with that.

In fact, when you have some of the biggest names in the sport — Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler — hanging around on Sunday, you get out of the way and let the players be the story. The one nit: CBS could have done a better job pointing out how winner Patrick Reed is not everyone's cup of tea, not only among fans but fellow players. There are some interesting controversies in Reed's past and CBS mostly ignored that. Unfortunately, it's just another example of networks being just a little too chummy when they talk about the players on tour.

Best reason to get up
ESPN's new morning show, Get Up!, made its debut last week and ESPN has to be a tad concerned. The show, hosted by Mike Greenberg and co-hosted by Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose, airs from 7 to 10 a.m. The first four days of the show averaged only 246,000 viewers, which is a 24 percent drop from the same time period a year ago when SportsCenter aired during that time. Now, in fairness, the show just started and it's way too early to call it a bust.

I'm generally not a fan of Fox's Clay Travis, who is definitely not a fan of ESPN. But Travis made an interesting point last week how this one show could have a disastrous domino effect on ESPN.

To create this new show for Greenberg, ESPN broke up one of the most successful radio shows ever in Mike & Mike. Meantime, to put Get Up! on the air, ESPN had to take its signature show, SportsCenter, off ESPN in the morning. And the show on after Get Up! — the debate program First Take — saw its numbers down last week, presumably because of a poor lead-in. In addition, Travis points out that Greenberg, Beadle and Rose are being paid more than $14 million in combined salaries and are broadcasting in a swanky new New York City studio. That might not be sitting well with those employees stuck in Bristol, Conn. at a time not far removed from layoffs at ESPN.

But here's the thing, Get Up! is actually pretty entertaining. It's solid conversation among smart and likeable analysts about the most recent sports events. As soon as the cast learns to not step on each other, the show will find a better rhythm at takeoff. ESPN has a lot invested and is all in on Get Up! for the long haul.

Best line
Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update'' anchor Colin Jost when talking about golfer Tony Finau dislocating his ankle while celebrating a hole-in-one Wednesday during the Par 3 Contest at the Masters: "So, no, golfers are not athletes.''

Three things that popped into my head
1. No round in the NHL playoffs is easy, no team is easy to beat. But I thought the Lightning matched up better against the Maple Leafs than it did the Devils, who are Tampa Bay's first-round opponent. Game 1 is Thursday at Amalie Arena.

2. HBO will air the documentary about legendary professional wrestler Andre the Giant on Tuesday at 10 p.m. Do not miss! This film is terrific.

3. Native Americans protesting the Cleveland Indians' use of Chief Wahoo as a mascot were greeted with taunts, vulgarity and even threats by many Cleveland fans before the home opener. Stay classy, Cleveland.