With temper tantrum on ESPN, baseball looks pettier than ever


For a moment there, things were getting a little worrisome. It had been a few months since the Lords of Baseball, the court jesters of professional sports, had made some moronic pronouncement or done some other silly thing, making you think that maybe, just maybe, they were on the verge of getting a clue.

But then came the story in last Saturday's New York Post that major-league officials may seek to get out of their contract with ESPN immediately with a year to go on the deal if Sunday night baseball games in September are moved to ESPN2 because of ESPN's new contract with the NFL.

Suddenly, you knew it was safe to move about the cabin freely again.

Order has been restored.

The lords are idiots.

A little history lesson is in order. ESPN, which got baseball in 1990, is the only one of baseball's media partners over that period that hasn't publicly complained about the goings-on in the game (see NBC or Fox) or completely taken a walk (see ABC or CBS). The cable giant also bailed the game out when its broadcast outlets wouldn't schedule the early rounds of its newly created Division Series during any other time than prime time.

Besides all that, with "Baseball Tonight", ESPN gives the sport a veritable one-hour nightly commercial, as well as prominent placement on "SportsCenter."

So, now, when ESPN has acquired the early-season rights to NFL games, which, by the way, beat the ratings pants off September Sunday night baseball telecasts, and seeks to move three or four games from the main outlet -- seen in 74 million homes -- to ESPN2, present in over 57 million homes, baseball officials throw a hissy-fit and threaten to take their ball and run to Turner Sports.

ESPN, which needs the summertime programming, is reportedly thinking of asking cable systems that don't currently carry ESPN2 to free up spare channels for just those few games, to try to appease baseball.

Sometimes, however, it's better to let a petulant child sulk alone in its room, and baseball has rarely looked as petulant as it does on this one.

Return of Marv?

Marv Albert's stint on the broadcasting unemployment line may be coming to an end, according to reports in yesterday's Miami Herald, which have the former NBC and New York Knicks announcer talking to the Heat about doing its games on television.

Albert, who was bounced by NBC and resigned from Madison Square Garden last September after pleading guilty to biting a woman and forcing her to perform oral sex, has been rumored for a few posts since last fall, but this appears to be as solid an opportunity as has arisen.

The Heat hires and pay its announcers, and is said to be pleased with its current play-by-play man, Eric Reid, intending to work out a new deal with him.

However, the local station that picked up the rights to Heat telecasts reportedly approached Albert and his agent, Evan Bell, about taking over.

Around the dial

Tomorrow's "Media Watch" will be devoted exclusively to that little horse race that all the kids are talking about, so the weekly look at the notable weekend programming moves to today.

CBS (Channel 13) will present one of women's golf's major tournaments, the LPGA Championship from Wilmington, Del., with third- and final-round coverage on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. each day.

ABC, meanwhile, will have two days of time trials for the Indianapolis 500, but only Sunday's 1: 30 p.m. session will be seen in Baltimore, as Channel 2 will blow off Saturday's coverage for a day at Pimlico.

Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference championship series will air Saturday at 3: 30 p.m. on Channel 11, with "NBA Showtime" preceding the game at 3. The NBA losers bowl, er, draft lottery, will air at halftime of the Eastern playoff game, which tips off at 3: 30 p.m. Sunday.

The weekend's highlight, however, likely will be ESPN's presentation of the 20,000th "SportsCenter" Sunday night after the Seattle-Toronto game, with original anchors Bob Ley and Chris Berman joining Dan Patrick for the festivities.

On the radio side, former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson and former Baltimore Sun baseball writer Jim Henneman take over Friday hosting duties on Phil Wood's "Sports Final" over on WCBM (680 AM) at 10 o'clock tomorrow night.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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