When The Moment came, there were no words.
How could any words adequately place into perspective the flood of emotion that washed over Camden Yards, when the number on the side of the B&O; warehouse moved Cal Ripken into immortality?
And so ESPN's Chris Berman beautifully let The Moment -- when last night's game became official, and Ripken's consecutive games streak of 2,131 became the longest in baseball history -- speak for itself by remaining silent through almost all of the 22:15 ovation that carried Ripken around the perimeter of the playing field.
It was, to be sure, a gutsy decision, and not a move that many announcers would feel comfortable making. Yes, television is a visual medium, but its audio component often draws play-by-play men, mistakenly, into the trap of feeling the need to tell viewers what they've seen.
And some would say it was an especially unusual move from Berman, whom some have accused of being too chatty, too excitable in both the booth and the studio.
But from the time John Tesh's "Day One" began to swell through the Yards, through Ripken's impromptu lap around the stadium, Berman courageously stayed quiet, breaking the silence to say, "A moment that will live for 2,131 years."
That's not to say that Home Team Sports' Mel Proctor made a bad call in talking about seven minutes into the ovation. To the contrary, Proctor used the bare minimum of words, all appropriate, to describe the situation. It was interesting, though, that Berman, who was working for a mostly national audience, stayed quiet, while Proctor, the local voice, narrated for viewers who presumably had a better sense.
And HTS' pictures, the strength of their nightly baseball telecasts, were nothing short of brilliant in bringing to the home viewers the power of The Moment. Quite likely, you haven't seen any more powerful sights than the reflections of the thousands of flashes off Ripken's helmet each time he came to the plate or of the normally stoic Cal Ripken Sr. being gripped tightly about the waist by his wife, Vi, in their sky box as they took in the joy that bathed their son.
In general, HTS opted to stick to the baseball end of things, with an obvious heavy emphasis on Ripken and few extraneous elements beyond the contest itself.
In short, HTS did what it normally does, and well -- save for Proctor's first-inning bobble when he mistakenly said that Brady Anderson had caught a drive off the bat of Tim Salmon that actually was a home run.
ESPN, meanwhile, with a broader view, examined the game as an event. It had a host of visitors, including a witty Earl Weaver, Ripken's first manager; Brooks Robinson, Orioles radio announcer Jon Miller and President Clinton.
During his half-inning with Berman, Clinton ruminated on the effect of Ripken's achievements on the game of baseball and on the country at large, saying "These stands here tonight are full of people who never get recognized but show up every day. These are the people who make America. Cal Ripken, in a funny way, has made heroes of all of them."
A few minutes later, the president, who declared himself a "big ESPN fan," chastised Berman for his failure to bestow one of his trademark nicknames on him.
Just after the president left the booth, Berman gave him "In like" Clinton," a bit late, admittedly, but a good comeback.
Moments later, Clinton stepped into the WBAL booth and chatted up Miller and Fred Manfra. The president told Miller that "he was a better announcer" than Clinton, adding "The White House staff has nominated you for best announcer. Do you accept?" an honor the playful Miller gleefully accepted.
The only place Clinton didn't stop was the HTS booth, and Proctor and John Lowenstein made much hay of it through the night.
Lowenstein apparently made a -- into the hallway to try to corral the Chief Executive, but noted that "there were a lot of funny-looking guys with short hair," referring to the Secret Service.
Proctor, who said the HTS crew would be inviting Republican presidential candidate Senator Bob Dole to the booth next week, finally took up the issue with the president's daughter, Chelsea, and Tipper Gore, the wife of the vice president, who were also in attendance.
"Tell your dad we're angry," said Proctor to Chelsea, adding, "If we pull the HTS plug on your house, the White House, tomorrow, you'll know why."
We think he was kidding.