Back talk: Ripken story reveals close ties of team, broadcasters

Media Watch

September 23, 1997|By Milton Kent

Last Thursday's pre-game show appearances by Cal Ripken on the Orioles' radio and television outlets no doubt seemed like your garden-variety discussions with a future Hall of Famer, and in the grand scheme of things, no harm was done to the republic.

But Ripken's tour of Home Team Sports and the radio network served as another example of the cozy relationship that exists between just about any club and its broadcasting partners.

After a story and column appeared on these pages last Thursday questioning whether Ripken's back injury was hampering his ability to play, the third baseman, who was quoted extensively in both pieces, sought a forum to air his side of the story.

"He wasn't happy [with newspaper coverage]. He wanted to talk with the fans," said John Maroon, the Orioles' public relations director.

Maroon said he suggested the pre-game shows on HTS and on the radio network as the best vehicles to do that, and Ripken left the arrangement of the interviews to Maroon.

Maroon said he approached radio announcer Jim Hunter and HTS analyst Mike Flanagan about talking with Ripken. Hunter talked with Ripken for radio, and Tom Davis, host of the HTS pre-game session, spoke with him on television.

Hunter and Davis said Maroon did not pressure them to talk with Ripken, and both felt free to ask whatever they wanted, although, in the case of the radio interview, Ripken made a fairly long introductory statement, during which he admitted "rambling."

"They [club officials] didn't tell me, 'You can't ask him anything,' " said Hunter. "It was a natural discussion. I felt he wanted to say some things, and the fan wanted to know things from his standpoint."

The men who man the Orioles broadcasting posts are professionals who know how the game is played, but many listeners and viewers may not. Many tune into the radio and television broadcasts expecting the unvarnished truth about their teams, but that's not necessarily what they get.

And there's a perfectly sound reason why they won't hear some of the negative things that sometimes have to be said about a team, its management or the players.

Those broadcast outlets have millions of dollars invested in the telecast and radio rights of those teams. To do probing, in-depth pieces on the teams they carry would be, in some situations, akin to publicly criticizing the very product they're trying to get you to take in.

Don't think for a moment that newspapers like this one don't have an interest in the well-being of the local teams. It's not by accident that Sun logos are posted all over Oriole Park and Memorial Stadium, and that Oriole player posters, including that of Ripken, are inserted in these pages from time to time. The success of a sports team can often have a remarkable impact on a newspaper's bottom line.

The difference, though, is that most newspapers make a serious attempt to separate marketing and sales from the editorial division, so that boosterism and civic pride don't find their way into the news pages.

By the way, we generally respect the work of Channel 2's Scott Garceau, and certainly respect his right to believe that the picture of Ripken on the front of last Thursday's sports section was "New York tabloid journalism," as he did on his sportscast that night.

But Garceau was dead wrong with his next statement that "Cal deserves better at home, I would think," the inference being that the Baltimore newspaper, and by extension, the entire local media, should somehow cut Ripken a break.

The media's job, that of Garceau included, is to praise and criticize, as the case may be, regardless of who the player or coach or owner is. Otherwise, the reporter might as well don the team's colors, which brings us to

Pronoun trouble again

It's way past time for someone involved in the Ravens' radio operation to rein in the relentless cheering that goes on each week before, during and after game broadcasts.

It seems that only Garceau, sideline analyst Bruce Cunningham, commentator and Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal and update and pre-game host Gary Stein seem to understand the nuance between being excited for a team's performance, and rooting on the air for the team.

Pre- and post-game host Stan "The Fan" Charles and co-hort Paul Mittermier have engaged in some bandwagoning, but certainly not to the extent of so-called analysts Bruce Laird and Tom Matte.

Between Laird's incessant use of "we, us" and "our" Sunday and Matte's audible expression of glee as receiver Jermaine Lewis caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, the two former Colts came across as even bigger cartoonish homers than the guy on "The Simpsons."

Listeners certainly expect a hometown slant on their local broadcasts, but they also expect professionalism from their announcers. Art Modell, who is one of the NFL's more broadcast-savvy owners, can't be pleased with this. Unfortunately, with the team playing so well, the bandwagon may only get worse.

A 'Real' winner

Tonight's "Real Sports" HBO magazine (9: 30) features a devastating look at a five-month investigation into the handicapping and tout services that promise to give inside information, but more often than not are barely concealed shams, as well as an examination of racial discrimination at country clubs that apparently goes on with taxpayer support. It's one of the best "Real Sports" ever, and, given its Emmy Award track record, that's saying a lot.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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