At playoff time, jokesters dog O's

ON MEDIA

The Kickoff

September 29, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

A guy walks into a bar carrying a little dog under his arm. The bartender says: "Hey, no dogs in here." Guy says: "This is a special playoffs dog. Just watch what he can do."

Guy places the dog on the bar and asks the bartender to put baseball's Division Series on the television. The New York Yankees are on the screen. Guy says, "Yankees!" and the dog lies down on the bar and covers his eyes with his paws.

"Pretty good," bartender says. "Can he do anything else?"

"Put on the other game," guy says.

The New York Mets are playing on the other channel. "Mets!" the guy says, and dog rolls onto his back and starts writhing as if in pain.

"Hey, what's the dog do when the Orioles are on?" the bartender says.

"I don't know," guy says. "I've only had him nine years."

(A brief pause for laughter or groans.)

The major league Division Series begin Tuesday, televised by ESPN and Fox. ESPN has augmented its Baseball Tonight studio crew with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells. Regular analysts John Kruk and Steve Phillips also will be in studio, and yesterday they spoke to the media via conference call.

Phillips on the postseason favorites: "I think the Mets are the team to beat. ... If [other American League teams] want to get the Yankees out, the best matchup is with the Twins."

Kruk on two teams fighting to make the playoffs: "The Padres are going to be very dangerous if they can get their pitching set up, [but] they have trouble scoring runs. ... The team that scores more than anyone is the Phillies."

Kruk on whether the stumbling St. Louis Cardinals would enter the playoffs with a damaged psyche: "To me, their psyche was damaged when they couldn't figure out who was going to pitch. ... Never count out the best player in baseball, and that's Albert Pujols. ... Once you get in, that's all you care about. Once you start, your record is 0-0."

Phillips on suggestions that instant replay be used to review umpires' calls: "Every year at the general managers' meetings, it would come up. [Phillips is a former Mets GM] ... You now have a majority of general managers who would favor it, but I'd be surprised if it got added in." He cited how opposed umpires are to instant replay and how it could increase the length of games.

Something he said?

Be critical of just about anyone in the jock world and you can have your place on ESPN. But if you have harsh words about the ESPN critics themselves, you could find yourself no longer among their ranks.

That's what The Kansas City Star's fine columnist, Jason Whitlock, discovered this week. Whitlock, a regular presence on ESPN's Sports Reporters and Pardon The Interruption, was told his comments about two other ESPNites on a Web site have gotten him the boot.

In his Tuesday column in the Star, Whitlock said the news didn't come as a shock: "ESPN, a terrific network, has always been hypersensitive to criticism, especially when it comes from its independent-contract employees. Over the six years I've worked for ESPN, I've received complaining phone calls from its executives almost every time I've written a critical word about the network."

In an interview with TheBigLead.com, Whitlock had this to say about fellow Sports Reporters regular Mike Lupica, a columnist at the New York Daily News, and Scoop Jackson, who writes for ESPN.com (which Whitlock did, too, until recently moving to AOL):

"Lupica is an insecure, mean-spirited busybody. He's upset because I put a clown suit on him on that show and in a follow-up column I wrote for ESPN."

"Scoop is a clown. And the publishing of his fake ghetto posturing is an insult to black intelligence, and it interferes with intelligent discussion of important racial issues." (Like Whitlock, Jackson is black.)

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz told USA Today: "There are numerous examples of allowing people to voice diverse critical opinions of our company, including Jason himself. These are personal attacks that went too far."

Personal attacks on those outside the company, though, are just fine.

T.O. TV

As the Terrell Owens saga unfolded on TV - mainly on ESPN - Wednesday, I was reminded of the time Owens celebrated a touchdown by grabbing a pair of pompoms from a cheerleader. Let's hear it: 2-4-6-8, time for us to speculate!

Combine a dearth of information with a potentially explosive story of a star athlete's attempted suicide and you get what we had - repetition of a few facts, lots of background and talking heads trying their best to sound like they know what they're talking about. Remember when Ben Roethlisberger got hurt in a motorcycle accident? Same thing, smaller scale.

So what's a sports fan to do? Consume in limited doses.

Not yet

Ravens fans with high-definition TVs frustrated by CBS' failure to show your favorite team in HD will have to wait one more week. Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers is not in HD. However, on Oct. 9, you'll be able to count the grass stains on Bart Scott's pants when the Ravens appear on ESPN's Monday Night Football in glorious HD.

And just in case you need to make contingency plans, Sunday's game is being called by Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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