Like Ruth, HBO documentary on slugger is something special


Call it charisma, call it flair, or to borrow the phrase of Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, call it duende, but athletes who make the leap from super-stardom to legendary status all possess something special that takes them past even the extraordinary.

Sunday's brilliant HBO documentary on Babe Ruth (8 p.m.) proves that the Baltimore native had whatever that quality is in a greater quantity than perhaps any other athlete in U.S. history.

More than just a recitation of Ruth's prodigious stats, the hourlong piece examines the man and the myth, the good and the bad. The exploration of his insatiable zest for food and women gets equal time with his love for children and his desperate need to get back into baseball after retiring in 1935.

Ruth's adopted daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, two of his teammates and a host of journalists and observers spin yarns and tell truths about the legend, backed by archival films, including a home movie of the Sultan of Swat's mythical plate appearance in the 1932 World Series, in which he is said to have called a home run.

It's not surprising that HBO is behind such a successful telecast. Over the years, the cable power has proved itself to be the best sports documentary house in the business.

And with producers George Roy and Steve Stern of Black Canyon Productions, which did the "When It Was a Game" films, at the helm, Sunday's production is yet another award-worthy effort.

Family ties

ABC and ESPN have been relatives for more than 15 years, and both have carried NFL games for at least a decade, but the bonds between them have never really been emphasized.

With the broadcast and cable entities' parent, Disney, on the hook for $1.15 billion in combined rights fees annually, those family ties going to get exploited to the hilt.

For instance, ESPN announced yesterday that country singer Hank Williams Jr., who has warmed up "Monday Night Football" with his "Are You Ready For Some Football?" for eight years, will do the same for ESPN's "Sunday Night Football."

ABC and ESPN also will share graphics and music to solidify their identities as the home of prime-time NFL games.

Numbers up

Fox is giddily reporting that Saturday's regional baseball telecasts, which included appearances by home run titans Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, garnered the highest regular-season ratings in the three years Fox has carried baseball.

The 3.9/12 national Nielsen rating and share beat the 3.7/13 for games played last July 12, and was the highest Saturday afternoon rating since CBS got a 5.8/17 back on Oct. 2, 1993. Even the kid-oriented pre-game show, "In the Zone," got a record-high rating.

For the year, Fox's ratings are even with the same numbers through this point last year but higher than last year's final average.

Around the dial

Turner's Jack Whitaker will lead into today's PGA Championship coverage (2: 05 p.m.) with an interview with seven of the eight men who founded the Sahalee Country Club, site of this year's tournament. CBS continues coverage tomorrow and Sunday at 2 p.m., but don't forget that Channel 13 will duck out tomorrow at 4: 30 to prepare for football.

Speaking of which, Gus Johnson takes over the play-by-play for tomorrow's Ravens-New York Jets telecast, which airs after the pre-game show at 4: 30 p.m. The radio call comes from WJFK (1300 AM) and WLIF (101.9 FM), with their pre-game show at 3 p.m.

Green Bay is host to Oakland on Sunday on Fox (Channel 45, 4 p.m.), and former Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason makes his debut in the "Monday Night Football" booth as New England plays host to Dallas (Channel 2, 8 p.m.)

The Orioles and Indians get two doses of nationally televised exposure this weekend, each with expatriated announcers behind the microphones. Tomorrow's Fox's Game of the Week (Channel 45, 1 p.m.) has former home-boy Josh Lewin on the call, while former home-boy Jon Miller will be the voice of the ESPN Sunday night affair at 8 o'clock.

Local heroine Jenny Chuasiriporn vies for the U.S. Women's Amateur golf championship from Ann Arbor, Mich., at 2 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN and at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.

The WNBA regular season heads to a climax with the New York Liberty fighting for a postseason berth against the visiting Houston Comets tomorrow (Channel 11, 4 p.m.) and the Cleveland Rockers Monday (ESPN, 8 p.m.).

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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