Ripken gives TBS show touches of wit, insight

ON MEDIA

October 04, 2007|By RAY FRAGER

We can say this for Cal Ripken Jr.'s postseason debut on TBS: Though he wasn't Charles Barkley, at least he wasn't Frank Thomas.

Ripken had his first assignment yesterday as a studio analyst on TBS' MLB On Deck, the pre-game show for the network's initial foray into carrying the major league playoffs. He shared the desk with Ernie Johnson - one of my favorite hosts for his witty, good-natured work with Barkley and Kenny Smith on TNT's NBA show - and Toronto Blue Jays slugger Thomas.

Maybe Ripken wasn't as seamless on the air as when he used to turn double plays for the Orioles with his brother Bill, but he looked pretty comfortable at the desk. (And unlike what he used to do at the plate, Ripken used only a couple of stances.)

Unfortunately for the telecast, Thomas' performance mostly left him looking as if he had gotten a fastball while expecting a curve (more on him later).

However, Ripken showed he could grow into a baseball bantering partner for Johnson.

During a discussion of the Philadelphia Phillies, TBS flashed a graphic that compared shortstop Jimmy Rollins' statistics this year with Ripken's from his two Most Valuable Player seasons. After Johnson noted how similar Rollins' numbers were to Ripken's, the ex-Oriole said with a pleasant facetiousness: "He's the MVP then." Before TBS cut away from the graphic, the notoriously slow-footed Ripken added: "Where's my stolen bases in there?"

Self-deprecating humor from a Hall of Famer will play quite well. He added at least two more before the day was out.

When Johnson joked after Ripken's demonstration of sliding into home that he and Thomas now would run it at full speed, Ripken could be heard saying as they went to a commercial: "I don't have full speed anymore."

And during the Los Angeles Angels-Boston Red Sox game (the On Deck crew also popped up in the games), Johnson asked him how Ripken would handle facing Boston ace Josh Beckett. Ripken's reply: "Stand up really close to the plate and hope he hits me."

Some other highlights of Ripken's day:

He opened the show by saying something Baltimore fans should have heard a few times before: "I wish I was Derek Jeter and got to be in the playoffs every year."

During a discussion of whether Matt Holliday scored the Colorado Rockies' winning run in Monday's one-game playoff on a blown call, Thomas wouldn't offer anything close to a strong opinion. Ripken said to him: "You're politically correct. You've got to go to the plate next year."

Leaving the desk for a miniature field set, Ripken clearly illustrated why Holliday should have slid feetfirst and not headfirst. In a correct position - which Ripken, dark suit and all, assumed - the lead foot would kick out the catcher's attempted block of the plate.

His take on a team's taking momentum into the playoffs: "I don't really buy that argument of momentum. A pitcher can stop that momentum really quickly."

Though I can't be sure he felt Thomas' obvious lack of ease before the cameras, Ripken seemed to try to draw him out a few times. He asked Thomas a question or two and tried to engage him when they disagreed about whether off-speed pitches or fastballs were harder to hit in the shadows-across-the-diamond conditions, such as those yesterday in Philadelphia.

That was about as close as Thomas got to venturing what he really thought. Not only would he not say anything about Monday's umpiring, but he also refused to pick between Boston's Beckett and Angels starter John Lackey. As Thomas hemmed and hawed, you could almost feel Johnson longing for the mumbling of Shaquille O'Neal.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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