ESPN's camera work gives us a tasty bite

"There, on the replay, you can clearly see that Tim Leary is putting something into his mouth. What do you make of that, Joe?"

"It looks like he's hiding a foreign substance, Jon. But maybe we need to call in help for some background on Leary."


"Right, Joe. Now we go to Shirley MacLaine in California for instant channeling replays. Shirley?"

"Thanks, guys. OK, working backward on Leary's past lives, a clear pattern develops.


"During the Depression, he scratched out a living on the circus circuit, working as a sword swallower. During the Civil War, he was a Confederate soldier, principally a courier. Captured by Union forces while carrying important information on Yankee sideburn technology, he ate the paper with the message.

"Earlier in the 1800s, he was a goat on a peasant farm in Ukraine. And you know goats, they'll swallow almost anything.

"This pattern holds up all the way back to the Roman Empire, when Leary was a gladiator, always among the league leaders. In close combat, he'd bite off opponents' noses, a clear violation. But the Roman umpires never found a nose on him."

Did you miss that part of Sunday night's ESPN Orioles-New York Yankees game? Too bad. It got even better when Kreskin joined Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in the booth to reveal that, in addition to sandpaper, Leary had in his mouth eight fillings, two crowns, a wad of gum he'd left on the bedpost overnight, a copy of Gaylord Perry's autobiography with several sections highlighted and a satellite dish that the pitcher uses to pirate Wrestlemania telecasts.

Hey, I'm kidding. Everybody knows it's nearly impossible to steal those Wrestlemania signals.

No, the point is (note to readers in a hurry: In general, you can find the point in each week's column by skipping the first several paragraphs) that ESPN's excellent shots of Leary's actions Sunday -- particularly the ones that apparently caught him hiding something in his mouth -- were the result of good instinct.

ESPN camera operator Steve Maynard, working the third-base side, heard Miller talking about Orioles manager Johnny Oates coming out to allege that Leary was doing something illegal to the baseballs. Maynard, without prodding from the production truck, immediately focused on Leary, finding him either hiding something or finishing a hot dog he'd sneaked onto the mound.

Back in the truck, the crew saw what Maynard had shot and soon played the taped evidence.


"It was tremendous instinct on his part," John Wildhack, ESPN vice president of remote production, said of Maynard. "When Johnny Oates came out with the scuffed ball, we knew what it was about. It's a tribute to our camera guys."

Maynard, in his second year with ESPN, is part of the regular VTC Sunday night team and also shoots other major-league games during the week.

"We always try to capture the nuances of the game," Wildhack said. "But what we caught Sunday was more than a nuance."

Here's a question to consider while you ponder whether Leary likes his sandpaper al dente: Would CBS have gotten the picture?

It says here that CBS wouldn't. (You know, I always wanted to use "it says here." It's so sports columnish. I feel this urge to stick a cigar in my mouth and yell for a copy boy to fetch me coffee.) It's not that CBS is any less instinctive than ESPN. But when you do baseball games about as often as Cal Ripken bunts, it's difficult to hone those instincts.



Pickup game: Here's another reason that the NBA is pro sports' best league: the draft. Sure, it's televised, but it's nothing like that ultra-serious affair the NFL stages.

On Wednesday night's show, TNT's Bob Neal, Doug Collins and Hubie Brown even wore headsets that made them look kind of nerdy. And though analysts Collins and Brown took the proceedings seriously, at least each surprise pick wasn't immediately branded a reach. With just two rounds and, at most, five minutes between picks, the whole program had a relaxed feeling.

My two favorite things: no basketball-shaped phones and second-round pick Darren Morningstar's mutton-chop sideburns.


Elmore or less: So here I was, all ready to work myself into a righteous froth over former Maryland center Len Elmore's conflict-of-interest jobs as an agent and a college basketball analyst. And what does Elmore do? He quits the television jobs. Some guys are no fun. . . . The U.S. basketball "Dream Team" debuts at 3 p.m. tomorrow on NBC (channels 2, 4) against Cuba.



Comfortably numb: I came into the office the other day, my mouth numb after an office visit in which my dentist filled the Steve Martin role in "Little Shop of Horrors." The boss was in a talkative mood.

"I've been meaning to give you a few suggestions," he said.

"Mmmmmmph," I said.

"I think we could use a really good retrospective piece on the career of Gary Bender," he said. "That's one talented guy."

"Arglefluf," I said.

"And let's write a profile of Bob Trumpy. He's so thought-provoking," the boss said.


"Nerndipth," I said.

"By next week, you probably could do a collection of Ben Wright bon mots," he added.

"Bugtiscorlpup," I said.

"Always nice talking with you," the boss said.

Things My Boss Wants To Know: If ABC really wants Susan Lucci to win an Emmy, why doesn't it put her on "Monday Night Football"? . . . Will heavily sideburned Darren Morningstar be represented by Colonel Parker in talks with the Boston Celtics? . . . If this weekend's Buick Classic and Southwestern Bell Senior Classic combined, would they produce a golf tournament for guys with car phones?