Having nothing better to do, ESPN decides to make sport of Baltimore

Game Face

August 05, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

ESPN APPARENTLY has declared war on Baltimore.

In the space of two weeks, the sports network's Internet site (ESPN.com) has taken back-to-back cheap shots at Charm City, first in an anti-Baltimore screed by Tom Friend that already has created a buzz on the local talk-show circuit and more recently in an attack on Cal Ripken by Page 2 columnist Eric Neel.

Friend, who used to be a friend of mine, employed recollections of his childhood in Washington to build a shaky case that the nation's capital is a better sports town than Baltimore and that Peter Angelos should be ashamed of himself for opposing the relocation of the Expos to Washington or Northern Virginia.

Here's a quick excerpt: "When I was growing up in Washington, D.C., during the late '60s-early '70s, my folks would drive us through Baltimore on our way to New York City.

"And I'd hold my nose.

"I don't know if it was the factories or the smokestacks or the Chesapeake Bay, but Baltimore literally smelled back then. And, based on what I'm hearing now, it still smells."

He goes on to relate how Memorial Stadium was not sold out for the 1969 playoffs and World Series and how the Colts failed to sell out a playoff game against the Raiders in 1977 in time to lift the local television blackout.

"Let me tell you something," Friend wrote. "If my Senators had been in the World Series, there wouldn't have been any ducats to be had."

Of course, we'll never know, because the Senators were too busy jumping town - twice - to worry about playing competitive baseball. Friend goes on to revise history by stating that Washington did not stand in the way of the Cleveland Browns' moving to Baltimore, while disregarding all those years Jack Kent Cooke was making sure no NFL expansion team landed here.

Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but it's hard to see where Friend suddenly comes by all this civic loyalty. I knew him when we were both young sportswriters in Southern California, and the guy has worked more towns than Xaviera Hollander.

Neel made it personal. He went after our favorite son, claiming Ripken was a selfish, calculating player and The Streak is one of the most overrated sports achievements in history.

"I don't see it," Neel wrote. "I see a guy who was selfish and dishonest about the reasons for it. I see a guy on separate flights in separate hotels. I see a prima donna fronting humble.

"And I know it's heresy to say so ... But I swear, I see something other people could have done if they'd been focused on it, if it mattered to them as much as it seemed to matter to Ripken."

Well, there was one other guy.

His name was Lou Gehrig.

He was probably a fraud, too.

News item: Roger Clemens reportedly was ejected from his 10-year-old son's youth baseball game Saturday for allegedly spitting a sunflower seed at an umpire.

Initial reaction: It could happen to anyone.

The incident reminded me of my worst day as a Little League dad. My kid the catcher double-clutched on a throw in an extra-inning game and his idiot father - who must have had one too many Jolt colas that day - shouted (OK, screamed), "Throw the [bleeping] ball!!!"

True story. It has been seven years and there still are neighbors who won't allow me in their homes. The boy, so far, has avoided therapy.

I hear only 18 new episodes are going to be filmed for the final season of Everybody Loves Raymond, the sitcom about a lovable sports columnist who is dominated by his strong-willed wife and mother. No complaint here. If I want reality television, I'll watch Survivor 14.

Final word: Radio-TV columnist Ray Frager returns in this space tomorrow after spending the past decade or so over-editing my baseball copy. Ray wrote a similar column in the 1990s and has graciously agreed to resume surveying the Baltimore broadcast landscape. Please join me in welcoming him back.

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