Overstated pre-game shows clash with understated Ripken style

October 07, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Television nicely conveyed the sports history and high hokum of last night's heavily staged festivities in front of a sellout crowd at Camden Yards.

Viewers could tell which moments meant a lot to retiring Orioles stalwart Cal Ripken, such as when the members of his first lineup - including Eddie Murray, Al Bumbry, Scott McGregor and a lot of other familiar names - trotted out to the field to join him at the start of the game.

The tension in his clenched jaw was evident as Ripken, ever the professional, attempted to contain the emotion while the tributes piled up to him and to his late father, a longtime Oriole coach and manager. On TV, you could see Ripken tenderly talk to his mother as he led her toward a new plaque commemorating the older Ripken in the Orioles dugout. It was a classier recognition for Cal Sr. than the team ever gave during his life.

And they could also see him sitting impassively during the oddball interludes, including an embrace from the team mascot and the heartfelt but rambling remarks of beloved former team broadcaster Chuck Thompson.

Locally, fans could see the game on Comcast SportsNet, whether on the cable sports network itself or its simulcast on WNUV. Outside the Baltimore area, viewers could catch the game on FX, a Fox cable station.

On Comcast, which features former teammates Mike Flanagan and Jim Palmer as well as Michael Reghi, there was a certain clubbiness that marks the sentiments of the broadcasters toward the team. Palmer's voice seemed to tremble while making his remarks about Ripken to the crowd from the field before the game. Other than the singing of "America the Beautiful," and a brief reference by former President Bill Clinton, there was no notice of the crisis facing the nation.

Before the game, there were tribute shows from Comcast, WNUV (featuring the crew of sister station WBFF) and WJZ, all of which blended interviews with file footage of the great moments of Ripken's career. WBAL-TV showed its program during the game itself. To varying degrees, each station tried to draw emotions out of the viewer and wrap itself in Ripken's mantle.

WJZ sports director John Buren kept referring to the honoree as "Rip," which he's called by some close friends but not by sports journalists. That station, like its peers, did their best when they got out of the way, and played the highlight tapes fans most wanted to see. Those who turned the sound off to avoid the cloying music saw some magical montages.

To the fan on the couch, the game itself lacked excitement, no matter what the tack the announcers took. It was an understated Ripken who demanded the viewer's attention last night, on TV as much as at the ballpark.

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