Miller, Morgan, supporting cast do themselves, ESPN proud

Media Watch

October 03, 1997|By Milton Kent

The pundits say that good teams, in pressure situations, take their game to "another level," and that maxim is just as true for broadcasters as it is for athletes.

For ESPN, this week's Division Series are the equivalent of a World Series, and the all-sports channel is televising these games, and especially yesterday's Orioles-Mariners game, at a world-championship pace.

With all due respect to Fox, which does a pretty good job in its own right, no one can bring to the table the intensity and passion for baseball that ESPN can and has this week.

The reason is simple: While Fox and NBC must keep a mass audience in mind, ESPN can concentrate on true baseball fans, appealing to their sensibilities with a broadcast that is heavy on detail.

To be certain, ESPN's coverage isn't for everyone, because it demands that the viewer bring some knowledge and understanding to the table, but a casual baseball fan who is willing to learn and pay attention can come away sounding like a roto geek at worse, or at least a whole lot smarter about the game.

It starts, of course, in the booth, where Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are without peer as a team, except perhaps when Morgan is teamed with Bob Costas on NBC telecasts.

Miller and Morgan have been together for seven seasons now, and know each other's pacings and rhythms perfectly. They don't step on each other and Miller, who is as accomplished a television play-by-play man as he is on the radio, has an innate sense of how to build a moment and how to back off.

As we said yesterday, Morgan is the best sports analyst in all of television, not just because he spots everything, but because he knows how to demonstrate what he's showing and its significance.

Morgan saw that Scott Erickson not only had his sinker working, but was getting his breaking ball over, keeping the mighty Seattle lineup in check through most of the contest.

Need further proof of Morgan's touch? Think back to the Baltimore sixth and Cal Ripken's double off the wall, which resulted in Geronimo Berroa being thrown out at the plate. Morgan dissected the play beautifully, pointing out that second baseman Joey Cora's perfect throw to the plate was the key element.

The production crew was led yesterday by producer Jeff Kibler and director Jimmy Moore, who work a lot of ESPN's Wednesday night West Coast games. They came up with great shots and replays.

For instance, on the above-mentioned play, a telling replay from the camera positioned above third base laid out the entire sequence, even down to Cora raising his hand to right fielder Jay Buhner, calling for the ball.

Later, in the Seattle seventh, Kibler called up a replay of B. J. Surhoff throwing out pinch hitter Rob Ducey trying to stretch a single that included Ripken pointing to second, directing Surhoff to throw there, not to the plate.

Former Boston/Texas manager Kevin Kennedy also had a nice day in the "spotlight" role, taking note, for instance, of Ripken's footwork on a couple of tough chances, as well as spotting the timing of a pickoff play the Orioles used in the sixth where the catcher drops his glove to signal Erickson to throw to second.

The crew also made good use of "SportsCenter" reporter Mark Schwarz, who got a solid interview out of ESPN basketball analyst Digger Phelps about an injury to pitcher Jamie Moyer, Phelps' son-in-law.

Truth Squad, Week 5

It took four weeks, but we have our first major gaffe of the season from the NFL pre-game show rumor peddlers.

Earlier this week, the New England Patriots put the kibosh on reports floated last week by NBC's Will McDonough and Fox's John Czarnecki the week before that the franchise would be moving to Providence when it announced that talks between the team and the state of Rhode Island had ended.

There's no question that the Patriots discussed relocation with Rhode Island officials, and the discussions were probably substantive. But savvy reporters should know the difference between when there are true nuggets of news and when a source(s) is using them to float a trial balloon, as appears to have been the case here.

Around the dial

Because CNN is a news network, its sports personnel don't get the notice they deserve, and the vastly underrated, but CableAce-nominated Jim Huber, whose monthly "Sporting Life" airs tomorrow at 10: 30 p.m., is one of the uncredited.

This month's program, delayed from September when the network was covering the death of Princess Diana, is a look behind the scenes with an American League umpiring crew, headed by Rich Garcia, whose name is quite familiar to Baltimore baseball fans.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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