Listening to 'Old No. 5' remains easy delight for Orioles watchers

The TV Repairman:

There's a knack to listening to Brooks Robinson do an Orioles game on television.

You want clubhouse chatter, full disclosure of what Cal Ripken had for breakfast or a bunch of tiresome and meaningless statistics, "Old No. 5," as partner Jon Miller calls him, isn't your man.

If you're looking for some relaxed fun, commentary with some bite every so often and a game treated like a game, not high mass, B. Robby delivers handsomely quite often.

Brooks was on a roll last weekend in Kansas City, tilting at windmills, taking some shots here and there while always staying in character, which has as one of its features easy, not blood-letting, spontaneous humor.

Talk got around to a pitcher, throwing quite well for the Royals after the Detroit Tigers had given up on him. "[Manager] Sparky Anderson knew what he was doing getting rid of this guy. They've got a lot of pitching over there [Detroit]," quipped Brooks.

A replay showed Joe Orsulak resembling a runner finishing the Boston Marathon as he chugged in from first base. "And here comes Smokin' Joe streaking for home," Robinson squealed, barely able to keep his feigned excitement in check.

After the O's blew a ninth inning lead for a tough loss Saturday night, Brooks opened Sunday by saying, "good teams put those games out of their minds . . . at the same time, good teams win those games."

He characterized the team's Sunday effort for what it was, "an embarrassment, going through the motions," and didn't soften noticeably by adding, "with all the money these guys are making, let 'em take a little abuse now and then." With the next breath, he pointed out, "the good thing about these guys is they stick together, and that makes it so much better when you stick it out together and finally win."

Asked how he tried to stay interested while being blown out during his playing days, Robinson answered, "you hope to get taken out, so you can go take a shower."

Consistently, "Old No. 5" provided good, balanced commentary delivered in a manner that has worked well in these parts since the late '50s.

* The exhibition game between the Bills and Lions started shortly after 8 p.m. on ESPN the other night. By 11:45, the end was in sight. Quick show of hands: Who can't wait for pro football's regular season to begin its five-month hold on our interest?

It's difficult to ascertain what effect awful preseason offerings have on viewers, there of course being no other kind. The Buffalo-Detroit aberration was marked by about 35 penalties and a bunch of lousy jokes by announcers Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann about how long the game was. Last weekend, the Giants and Browns played a contest that, on merit, should have been called off after no more than 15 minutes.

Is the league purposely whetting our appetite for the real thing by subjecting us to this rot? Or, has the pro game become so stereotyped, so slow-moving, so over-officiated that it may never return to the once-exciting spectacle it once was?

Sure, Theismann has a tendency to use a thousand words when a hundred would do but, consistently, he provides the best explanations for what's going on on the field and he's loaded with good ideas. For instance, the other night he said the way to end the raft of holdouts plaguing teams is to "cut the preseason. Guys will come in and get ready once the games begin to count."

* When Jim Lampley left ABC a few years ago, what followed were college football studio shows that didn't inform, entertain or do much of anything except kill time. Recall, host Roger Twibell would look at analyst Bo Schembechler and ask, "Bo, what do you think about the second half?" Then the ex-Michigan coach would answer, "It's going to be a heckuva second half" even if the score was 35-3 at the time.

Forget 'em. These guys are gone and John Saunders is moving over from ESPN to give the show the distinctive look of all the sports information shows the cable grinds out day after day. More scores, more updates and cutaways to all the games the net will be doing under its pay-per-view experiment and far more interesting talk will be the result.

So what took ABC so long?

* CBS pro football analyst Randy Cross has a great piece of advice listeners can only hope his colleagues take to heart. "I keep reminding myself it's a game, not a speaking engagement," says the former 49ers center . . . Randy says, "I spent the summer golfing, and I managed to squeeze in 20 credits at the LTC Jack Clark School of Home Finance." P.S. -- The Red Sox designated hitter just filed for bankruptcy, citing debts of about $7 million.

* The pro football games tomorrow include the Saints vs. Oilers at 12:30 p.m. on CBS and the Redskins vs. Raiders at 4 and at 8 p.m. on Channel 5. Yeah, like once isn't enough? The Saints come here next Thursday to play the Dolphins on 33rd Street . . . Sunday, the Eagles and the Falcons are on ABC at 1:30 p.m. and, on TNT at 8 p.m., it'll be the Steelers vs. the Bears.

* USA Network has no less than a dozen voices, including Elise Burgin, lined up for its the upcoming U.S. Open tennis tourney coverage Aug. 31-Sept. 13. This sounds excessive until you stop and consider the cable is doing more than 90 hours of programming.

Lots of tennis kicking around this weekend, preparatory to the two weeks at Flushing Meadow. ESPN has a Volvo tourney from New Haven tomorrow (2 p.m.) and Sunday (4:30) while Home Team Sports will do the U.S. Hardcourt semis tomorrow (1) before NBC sends along the final Sunday (4).

* HBO's next boxing card arrives Aug. 29 (10 p.m.) with what figures to be a goodie: Mike McCallum vs. James Toney for the IBF middleweight title. Former WBA champ McCallum is 42-1) while Toney is still unbeaten after 32 fights, thanks to a gift decision.

* BET (Black Entertainment Network) has cut its college football slate from 10 to four games due to a weak ad market, but is jumping into the fight business, carrying the Maurice Blocker-Luis Garcia IBF welterweight title scrap Aug. 28 at 8:30 p.m.

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