Take this game and lighten it up!


It was supposed to be baseball's big coming-out party, the moment when all the gloom, doom and despair that has surrounded the national pastime was to melt away, and the game was to start on its long journey back.

Instead, last night's All-Star telecast on ABC came off like a convention for Roto-geeks, with numbers and strategy tossed about freely, but with little passion or amusement.

"We're having fun. That's what All-Star games are all about," said Frank Thomas, the Chicago White Sox first baseman, after hitting a two-run homer in the fourth.

Maybe the players adopted that philosophy, but viewers couldn't, because the ABC booth crew of Al Michaels, Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver insisted on turning what is ostensibly an exhibition game into the seventh game of the World Series.

That Michaels, Palmer and McCarver know the game of baseball is evident. They are among the best in the business and would be right near the top of the list of desired announcers for a postseason contest, where the stakes are higher and good analysis is at a premium.

But on a night when baseball desperately needed something inviting, the ABC threesome gave us heavy doses of analysis, though the tone did get thankfully lighter as the evening wore on.

By then, however, all those folks used to "Home Improvement" in that time slot must have gone looking for that really funny "Frasier" rerun that aired opposite the game.

Only John Saunders, who was working the American League dugout, had the right idea, asking questions designed to elicit a smile from his subjects. Producer Curt Gowdy Jr., who has won Emmys for his baseball work, ran a tight and proficient production.

The evening's funniest moment came during that beer commercial where patrons in a crowded bar launched into a chorus of "Rocky Mountain High." Who would ever believe that a bunch of people in a public place would engage in a sing-a-long to John Denver music?

The unintentionally funny moment of the evening came during former Oriole Rick Dempsey's interview with Todd Worrell of the Dodgers and Randy Myers of the Cubs. Dempsey, who inexplicably was added to the telecast team for bullpen interviews, introduced Myers as "my man over here." Way to go, Demper.

Deuce's too wild for CFL?

As CFL officials negotiate with ESPN for a new television contract, some team owners, particularly in U.S. markets, are reportedly pooh-poohing the network's offer, said to be a three-year deal for $1.5 million covering 22 games per year.

Yesterday's Toronto Globe and Mail reported that owners of the Baltimore and Shreveport franchises are concerned that the youth-oriented programming of ESPN2, which carries the bulk of the CFL package, could hurt the league's image.

"Money is not the issue here. Credibility is," Shreveport owner Bernie Glieberman told the Globe and Mail. "I don't consider ESPN2 major television. I don't think it's doing us much good. Do we want our product on the same network that covers street luge?"

The story reported that Michael Gelfand, a Stallions co-owner, supported Glieberman, who said of his league: "Right now, we have an identity crisis in the States. Americans have a distorted perception of the CFL. They look at the CFL like it's some weird sport like rugby or something like that. We certainly can't stand back and think we're helping ourselves because ESPN2 does someof our games."

Gelfand could not be reached for comment.

Josh Krulewitz, an ESPN spokesman, said Glieberman's comments come as a surprise to network officials.

"The league has never communicated anything like that to us, and that's who we're negotiating with-- the league," said Krulewitz yesterday. "The network [ESPN2] is here to stay, and it's going to continue to grow."

Glieberman's remarks, at least about ESPN2, show him to be ignorant of some important facts.

First, the network, which reaches 23 million homes but does not yet get into the city of Baltimore, appeals to young viewers, the most sought-after demographic group and the very people the NFL and NHL were looking for when they awarded broadcast rights to Fox last year.

While it is true that ESPN2 airs sports that are a bit out of the mainstream, like roller hockey and arena football, it's worth noting that "the Deuce" also carries mainstream fare like college basketball, NHL hockey and minor-league baseball.

Finally, CFL and team officials shouldn't get caught up in delusions of grandeur. The fact is that the Canadian game has not been embraced in the United States, either in person or on television, save for Baltimore, where the results are still mixed.

It would be hard to imagine any American network other than ESPN, which is finishing a two-year deal, giving the CFL serious attention, and the league's owners would do well not to bite the hand that feeds it.

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