Palmeiro's first game back leaves telecasts grasping for news, views


August 12, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

JIM PALMER was engaging in absolutely no equivocation during last night's Orioles game on Comcast SportsNet. He stated his point of view clearly and forcefully.

The subject wasn't Rafael Palmeiro, however.

Though Palmer let everyone know he thought the umpires blew the call in giving the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Eduardo Perez a homer on a ball that replays showed hit off the wall, the Orioles analyst more mildly took a position on the story of the day.

His strongest comment during the game? In the fifth inning - shortly before Perez's non-homer homer - Palmer was discussing how everyone was waiting to hear Palmeiro's side of the story on his steroids-related suspension that ended last night.

"Whether you'll buy it - I hope so," Palmer said.

Earlier in the game, Palmer took what could be considered a piece of Palmeiro's side, alluding to leaked information on the specific steroid Palmeiro allegedly used by saying Major League Baseball had violated the confidentiality agreement with the players union on drug testing.

It's not as if there were a whole lot of Palmeiro news for the Comcast SportsNet crew to work with. Yes, he was at the ballpark. Yes, he addressed the media (though not the steroid issue). Yes, he was on the bench.

But he wasn't in the game - and his image didn't dominate the telecast.

We saw relatively few shots of Palmeiro in the dugout. He apparently didn't come out until the second inning, right after reporter Russ Thaler had said Palmeiro wasn't there. We did get a slow-motion replay of Palmeiro talking to his replacement at first base, Alejandro Freire. In the seventh, the telecast showed Palmeiro strolling in the dugout, bat in hand, his presence un-remarked upon - though you wonder what more Palmer or play-by-play man Fred Manfra would have said.

Manfra had injected a light note into the proceedings by relating a conversation he'd had with Orioles starter Bruce Chen. With 100-plus extra media credentials issued for Palmeiro's first game back, Manfra said he had told Chen: "Look at these guys here to watch you pitch."

The game opened with Palmer saying the consensus in baseball was people "want Raffy to come out and explain what happened." But, for now, Palmer said: "The verdict is out. The jury is out."

Later, Palmer did offer that Palmeiro looked "shaken" and "thin" when they had spoken earlier. Palmeiro had told him, Palmer said, "he hasn't eaten much in 10 days."

"We know very well he would like to say something. ... Everybody in the game respects him enough, they want to hear his side."

After the Orioles' victory, Palmer sounded as if he was about to launch into an even stronger defense of Palmeiro, saying the media had been batting the Oriole around "like a piM-qata" and "you got to give him the benefit of the doubt."

But then Palmer stopped short of a wholehearted endorsement: "I still don't have enough information."

Comcast SportsNet had the most coverage, but it wasn't the only one on the story, of course. All three local 6 p.m. newscasts led with reports from Oriole Park, talking to fans and playing snippets of his surprise meet-the-press session. WJZ anchor Sally Thorner looked concerned.

Earlier in the afternoon, Comcast SportsNet broke in several times to play and replay footage of Palmeiro riding to the clubhouse in a golf cart and then briefly meeting the media.

He didn't really say much, but it's not as if viewers were losing out - unless you were upset by the minutes away from canned volleyball and poker programs.

We saw the same footage again early in the 6:30 SportsNite on Comcast SportsNet. Thaler reported that none of Palmeiro's teammates would speak on-camera.

Leading up to the 6 p.m. SportsCenter on ESPN, during Pardon The Interruption, neither of the opinion-ators, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan nor The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon, offered words of support. Ryan called Palmeiro a "distraction" to the Orioles, and Wilbon asked, "Why not just cut him?"

Perhaps Palmeiro supporters could take solace in the fact that the PTI segment on him ran only a little more than a minute.

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