All of Fox's spiffy graphics can't make up for missed homer


For three-plus hours Saturday, Fox's baseball package from pre-game to main-game telecast was going about as smoothly as could be expected, but it only took one seriously botched piece of coverage to put a damper on the day's efforts.

We're speaking, of course, of the network's missing Mark Smith's sayonara home run in the ninth inning of the Orioles-Kansas City game.

As Smith's shot headed toward left-center, the camera positioned in the press box above home plate was aimed at the left-field wall, and viewers missed almost all of the ball's flight, until it plunked over the fence, giving the Orioles a 5-3 win.

A Fox spokesman said the usual home plate cameraman assigned to Saturday's production crew was absent with a pulled back muscle and the network used a local replacement cameraman, who missed the shot.

"You can't always bat 1.000. It was an unfortunate situation, and we apologize to the viewers," said the spokesman.

To that point, the day had gone well for Fox in its fourth week of baseball telecasts. Its pre-game show analysts, Dave Winfield and Steve Lyons, made forceful criticisms of the American League's reduction of Albert Belle's most recent suspension, demonstrating the network's apparent willingness to cover and comment on baseball controversies.

After three weeks of tinkering, the network introduced the full-time baseball "Fox Box," with the score and count continuously in the upper left corner screen -- as it does for football and hockey -- and the diamond with runners in the lower right.

And there are plans during this Saturday's Orioles-Yankees game for the debut of the "Hit Zone," a graphic package that will illustrate from a batter's stance where he likes to hit certain pitches.

The technological advances and strong comments are all well and good, but the simple act of following the ball is the most important thing, as Fox undoubtedly learned last weekend.

Showing Agassi the gate

Are you really surprised that former Wimbledon champion Andre Agassi was sent packing in the first round of this year's tournament by Doug Flach?

You shouldn't be. HBO analysts were calling for something like this last week, saying that Agassi looked uninterested and nowhere near as focused as he did when he won the title in 1992.

"He's going to spend a lot of his '96 recovering from his '95. By the end of the year, he may not be in the top 10," said commentator Mary Carillo.

On the women's side of the draw, the mysterious figure haunting the proceedings is Monica Seles, the No. 2 seed.

Since her return last summer, Seles has been spectacular in some tournaments and reached the finals of the U.S. Open, but has stumbled in recent weeks. Her ability to shrug off injuries is the key to her ability to knock off heavy favorite Steffi Graf.

"I don't think we [fans and the media] put the pressure on her, but I don't think her body held up the way she expected," said analyst Martina Navratilova.

Coverage of the Wimbledon fortnight continues on HBO each weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a nightly one-hour highlights show at 7 o'clock.

By the way, Carillo, Navratilova and Billie Jean King will make history tomorrow, when they become the first all-female broadcasting crew to call a men's match.

Cigar's record puff

CBS yesterday snared the broadcast rights to the July 13 race at which Cigar is expected to challenge Citation's 46-year-old record of 16 straight wins in the Arlington Citation Challenge from the Arlington International Racecourse, just outside Chicago.

'Extreme' coverage

To the meat-and-potatoes fan, the collection of sky surfing, street luge, biking and the like that make up the retitled "X Games" probably will look more like curiosities, novelties and good ways to break a limb than real sports.

But that's an image stuck in the minds of those who aren't interested in new things, says the crew from ESPN and ESPN2 that will telecast this week's second annual event from Providence, R.I.

"As long as a 45-year-old NFL fan comes into this with an open mind, he'll find something he's going to like," said Chris Fowler, who will serve as co-anchor with Suzy Kolber.

Coverage continues weeknights at 8: 30 tonight and Thursday on ESPN and on ESPN2 tomorrow and Friday. Late-night telecasts air at 12: 30 a.m. today, Thursday and Friday on ESPN and tomorrow on ESPN2.

Quick hits

Former Channel 45 sports anchor Max Morgan returns to Baltimore, albeit briefly, for tonight's Orioles pre-game show at 8 o'clock on Channel 54.

And the best nonsports sporting event, the NBA draft, takes to the airwaves tomorrow night at 7: 30 on TNT, with a one-hour preview tonight at 8 on the same network.

The 6: 30 ESPN "SportsCenter" will advance the draft over the next two nights, with a look tonight at the 1986 selection, in which four of the top seven picks ran into drug-related problems, and an examination of the rush of high school players into the draft.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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