Cerone takes the high road on way out of booth

Media Watch

November 17, 1998|By Milton Kent

There won't be any pity parties for former Home Team Sports baseball analyst Rick Cerone, because he refuses to look at his being replaced in the booth as anything but a positive.

"I'm disappointed that I'm not coming back, but I had a great time in Baltimore and it opened other doors for me. It was a great experience," said Cerone yesterday.

HTS declined to pick up Cerone's option for the final two years of his contract and he was notified last Thursday that he will not return.

"I would have lived up to my contract, but I was not surprised. They did what they had to do," said Cerone.

HTS is reportedly negotiating with former Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan, who has already done two stints in the booth, but no deal has been finalized, with the holdup presumably coming over money.

Cerone said that while his agent was talking with HTS officials, he personally never heard from anyone from the Bethesda-based channel until director of production Tim Walbert called him last week to give him the news of his departure.

And yet, even with reports leaking out that he was on the way out, Cerone refused to take shots at his former employer, saying that he gave hints that he wouldn't be terribly broken up about not returning.

"I kind of made it clear that I wasn't 100 percent about coming back. I don't want to be away from my kids for another six months," said Cerone, who lives in New Jersey.

In addition, Cerone is starting up a minor-league franchise from scratch, not to mention building a stadium for the team, so a full schedule of games would probably not be the optimum situation.

Cerone said he wants to stay in broadcasting, and industry sources indicate that he will soon sign a cable deal with Fox to do a weekly national game, assuming there's any money left there after the Keith Olbermann-Chris Myers deals.

Even with the kind face that Cerone is putting on the situation, a few things are still troubling about his departure and what happens next.

For one, if, as an HTS spokesman said last month, Cerone and his booth partners, play-by-play man Michael Reghi and fellow analyst Jim Palmer, did a "good job" and "showed improvement," what happened in the last month to change that perception, a really good question because the season ended in late September?

Second, if HTS officials (or perhaps more to the point, Orioles officials) knew that Cerone wasn't going to be back, why did they leave him hanging out to dry for more than a month? This matter should have been rectified when the first leak about his status came out, for even if Flanagan wasn't going to be the new man, the chances of Cerone's returning were seriously weakened at that point.

Finally, how seriously are viewers supposed to take anything that comes out of Flanagan's mouth, given his clear ties to the club, with not one, but two stints as pitching coach? He's going to be much more inclined, for instance, toward helping work out some mechanical flaw with a pitcher than telling the audience about it, and that's not at all what an analyst is supposed to do.

HTS general manager Jody Shapiro was in out-of-town meetings yesterday and unavailable for comment.

Viewers' choices

In the past two weeks, local ABC viewers have been left with some less-than-savory college football Saturday afternoon choices, and last weekend's was the worst, as Baltimoreans got Virginia-North Carolina, while a good chunk of the rest of the nation was watching No. 2 Kansas State meet longtime nemesis Nebraska.

Those are the breaks, ABC officials say. The network has contracts with a number of conferences, including the Big Ten, the Pac-10, the Big 12 and, most important for our area, the Atlantic Coast Conference, which ABC believes is of paramount interest in this corridor.

"We think we understand what is an attractive matchup. Our experience is that there are a lot of people in Baltimore who are ACC fans and want to see those teams," said Mark Mandel, an ABC spokesman.

Mandel said the decision to switch out of ACC games that become blowouts, as the last two have become, is made difficult fTC because the equipment needed to make the change isn't always available, though you do have to wonder how much the network's lockout of members of the technicians union comes into play.

Mandel said ABC does not want to take viewers to a game that will run past the 7 p.m. end time if the game they've been watching ends early.

Of course, the network does have a lucrative pay-per-view deal in place, where viewers can purchase out-of-market games through cable or satellite providers, but Mandel said the desire to drive viewers to buy games is not the principal consideration in selecting over-the-air games.

"Our business is based on the over-the-air ratings, and that's the thing that matters most to us," said Mandel.

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