Adding baseball would mean more prestige for Fox stations


Rumors persist that a new baseball television contract could be announced by the end of the week, as Fox affiliates appear to warm up to the concept of adding the World Series to their plate.

Long Island, N.Y.-based Newsday reported yesterday that a $1 billion, four-year deal between baseball and Fox and CBS could be announced in the next two days.

Steve Marks, Channel 45's general manager, said Fox had sent out a telegram to its affiliates when the first rumors circulated about a baseball deal.

"They're playing it pretty close to the vest," said Marks. "They're obviously working on something, but they told us, 'You'll be the first ones to know when something happens.' "

It would appear, though, that the Fox affiliates are embracing the possibility of baseball as a vehicle to boost their profiles. Most Fox stations, like Channel 45, are former UHF independents that carry a variety of syndicated fare on Saturday afternoons. -- when the network is reportedly wants to carry baseball.

Those stations likely would lose some regular-season revenue by taking on baseball. However, the chance to present postseason games and the World Series, as well as reaping the benefit from ratings that would surpass usual Fox prime-time numbers, would make baseball palatable.

Indeed, getting baseball would give Fox the Stanley Cup playoffs, the 1997 Super Bowl and the World Series.

One thing to remember, though: Once upon a time, CBS had the "Dream Season" of sports properties, which included the World Series, NBA playoffs, Super Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament, and look what happened to that network.

Da-da-da, da-da-da

If you have seen the first two of those funny "This is SportsCenter" spots, you should know that the best is yet to come.

ESPN's ad agency, Portland-based Wieden & Kennedy, has produced a series of at least 25 promos featuring "SportsCenter" anchors and some heavyweight athletic talent, including Juwan Howard, Roger Clemens, Mary Lou Retton, Grant Hill, Roy Jones Jr., Mike Richter and Jason Kidd.

The vignettes were all shot at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and highlight the network's on-air and behind-the-scenes talent interacting with the athletes in humorous situations.

In one spot, Richter and Jones attempt to cozy up to "SportsCenter" personnel. In another, Kidd personally delivers highlights from his game.

Retton gives posture tips in a third piece, and Hill plays the piano in the ESPN lobby in another.

A star is born

Even before the World Series champion is decided, this year's Fall Classic already may have a Most Valuable Reporter.

He is Sparky Mortimer, a 9-year-old from Utah, who, armed with a press credential, a clubhouse badge and a camera crew, already has left his mark as he covers the Series for CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."

For instance, in Monday's piece, Sparky ended one group interview session with Atlanta's Fred McGriff, as he pushed his way through a crowd of reporters to ask the first baseman about his Game 1 home run. McGriff took one look at the diminutive questioner and broke up laughing.

Earlier, Sparky cornered Darius Rucker, lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, who performed the national anthem before Game 1.

The intrepid kid -- who was discovered by the Salt Lake City CBS affiliate doing play-by-play of BYU football games on the sidelines -- wanted to know of Rucker, "What kind of a name is Hootie?"

The singer shot back, "What kind of name is Sparky?"

Things weren't totally rosy for young Sparky. He attempted to line up an interview with Cleveland's designated hitter/first baseman, and was politely but firmly denied the chance. Of course, Baltimoreans won't be surprised that the name of the player in question is Eddie Murray.

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