1. Sports

Shooting from the lip: The best and worst from a weekend of televised sports

The Rangers’ Dan Girardi scores a surprising — at least to NBC viewers — goal against the Devils on Saturday.
The Rangers’ Dan Girardi scores a surprising — at least to NBC viewers — goal against the Devils on Saturday.
Published May 21, 2012

Best coverage, with one complaint

Sun Sports gets credit for trying something a little different for Sunday's broadcast of the Rays-Braves game. The broadcast was dubbed "Sabermetrics Sunday.'' The network spent most of the pregame show and game teaching fans about sabermetrics, the use of formulas and numbers to measure and, perhaps, predict what happens in a game. Many teams such as the Rays use these numbers to form lineups and rosters that they believe give them the best chance to compete.

Elaborate statistics such as OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), WAR (wins above replacement) and FIP (fielding independent pitching) were defined and explained. Injured Rays outfielder Sam Fuld, who studied economics at Stanford, joined announcers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson in the booth to help put sabermetrics into perspective, and he had an absolutely great line about how it all works.

"It doesn't tell the whole story, but it helps to tell the story better,'' Fuld said. "There will always be a human element to the game.''

Many fans surely grew weary of all the complicated formulas and definitions during the broadcast, and even Anderson at one point joked that he needed a couple of aspirin. But dedicating one out of 150-odd broadcasts to this topic was a worthy idea.

However, there are times sabermetrics can get in the way of the game, and they briefly got in the way of Sunday's broadcast. During the sixth inning, while the announcers were sticking to the sabermetrics script, they didn't pay enough attention to some of the game's more critical moments.

Rays catcher Jose Molina had a costly passed ball that needed to be discussed, and calls on two borderline pitches went against the Rays. Those events happened just before a hit helped the Braves extend their lead from 1-0 to 2-0. A missed cutoff also allowed a runner to move into scoring position, another play that needed to be examined but wasn't because the announcers were knee-deep into sabermetrics.

It's hard to complain about anything on the Rays broadcasts because they are so solid, and overall, I liked Sunday's outside-the-box thinking. However, adding a twist to a broadcast — no matter how entertaining or informative — can never take precedent over what is happening in the game.

Best video

NBC showed some cool time-lapse video of how the Staples Center in Los Angeles kept changing the floor to host a Kings hockey game Thursday, a Lakers basketball game Friday, a Clippers basketball game Saturday afternoon, a Lakers game Saturday night and a Kings game Sunday afternoon. The floor then was changed again for a Clippers game Sunday night.

Worst anticipation

A cardinal rule in broadcasting: never miss live action because of a replay. NBC broke that rule Saturday and put a smudge on the Game 3 coverage of the Rangers-Devils series. During a scoreless game in the third period, when it appeared as if one goal was going to win the game, NBC was showing not one, but two replays of what was a fairly routine save by Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.

Because of it, NBC missed the Rangers winning a faceoff that led to a goal by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. The shot and goal was seen, but because viewers did not see the shot develop, they were caught offguard. Not a good moment for NBC.

Most complete coverage

NBC's Preakness coverage on Saturday, as expected, was outstanding even though normal host Bob Costas was absent to attend his daughter's graduation from college. The highly capable Tom Hammond filled in admirably, and NBC again showed that, to borrow a phrase from another sport, it covers all the bases.

The highlight of the broadcast, aside from the thrilling race, was Randy Moss' interview with I'll Have Another trainer Doug O'Neill (left). Moss pressed O'Neill on allegations of giving his horses improper drugs and injuries to his horses. O'Neill said, "Have I run some horses in spots I shouldn't have? Yes. But I am going to do better.'' Another highlight was replays of O'Neill and then Bodemeister trainer Bob Baffert as they watched the dramatic end of the race in which O'Neill's horse edged Baffert's.

Even if you're not a racing fan, check out NBC's coverage of the Belmont on June 9. You'll be glad you did.

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tom Jones offers up the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best feature

Most enjoyable and surprising feature of the weekend? A CBS Evening News report on 16-year-old American table tennis star Ariel Hsing (left) who not only is a heck of a player but has become close friends with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, or, as she calls them, "Uncle Warren'' and "Uncle Bill.''

Second-best coverage

You didn't have to be a soccer fan to appreciate how good Fox's coverage was of Saturday's European Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, which won on penalty kicks (left). Fox has learned the secret to showing soccer in this country: show it like everyone watching is a diehard fan, just like networks do for baseball and football. That way, you don't insult the avid fans. The rest will catch up. After all, we're talking about sports, not brain surgery.

Best moments

Thumbs-up to Sun Sports for showing the crowd giving Braves star Chipper Jones a standing ovation before his first at-bat against the Rays on Friday and his reaction to a video montage shown on the big screen at the Trop on Sunday. Jones, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, has said he will retire after this season.

Best anticipation

Great work by ABC to have cameras on the ready as the Heat and Pacers went out to warm up some 90 minutes before Sunday's Game 4 of their playoff series. Turns out, Heat veteran Juwan Howard approached and exchanged heated words with Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (left), who flashed a choke sign to Heat star LeBron James during Game 3. Howard is a respected 18-year veteran and had every right to scold a 21-year-old kid who played all of one minute in the first three games of the series. Stephenson, however, could have told Howard the Heat brought this on itself, going back to that silly dance routine James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh performed prior to last season. Stephenson, for the record, did a apologize after Game 3 for his choke sign.

Biggest complaint

Fox kicked off this season's baseball game of the week in prime time Saturday with a slew of regional games. I understand why it would show the Phillies and Red Sox interleague game to most of the country, including Tampa Bay. Those are big-market teams with large followings all over. However, wouldn't you like to have seen Fox make the decision to show the Orioles-Nationals game, a matchup between two up-and-coming teams? Meantime, TBS also showed Phillies-Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Didn't the four-game suspension given to the Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie (left) for throwing a helmet that bounced up and hit umpire Bill Miller seem awfully light? Makes you wonder if Major League Baseball was cutting Lawrie some slack because Miller's calls were so terrible.

2. With the Braves in town this past weekend, it reminded me: Does anyone else miss the old days when the Braves were on the Superstation every night with Skip Caray on the play-by-play and, like, 7,000 people in the stands? I didn't even watch them every night, but I liked knowing they were there.

3. Does Spurs star Tim Duncan realize he's 36 years old?