TV networks take swing at chase for home run mark


There are two things that seem to be certain about the current home run derby: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and perhaps Ken Griffey will apparently apply the most serious challenges ever to Roger Maris' 37-year-old single-season record, and Major League Baseball will endeavor to get as many of their at-bats into a national forum as possible.

How it all will happen is up in the air.

The reason for the uncertainty is simple: Baseball is not like, for instance, the NFL, where all games are distributed nationally. Beyond the nights when particular networks have exclusivity, just about everything is up for grabs.

This much is definite: If any of the three record-chasers does the deed on a Wednesday night, ESPN has the exclusive right to show the game during which it happens nationally. If it happens on a Thursday night, Fox Sports Net has the sole national rights, and if the record falls on a Saturday, Fox, through either its broadcast window in the afternoon, or the FX cable outlet at night, will be the only national carrier.

Everything else is up for grabs, and baseball is in negotiations with Fox, ESPN and NBC, which carries the postseason, to set up coverage plans for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Friday.

"Everyone's pretty much on board. All the parties have expressed interest and we just have to work out the details," said a baseball spokesman yesterday.

Sunday nights had been the exclusive province of ESPN, but baseball considers that window open, now that the cable channel has picked up the NFL. An ESPN spokeswoman said yesterday that while ESPN officials are still reviewing their legal options about Sunday night telecasts, alternate plans for ESPN2, where ESPN officials had hoped to place the baseball games, are being made for this Sunday and the following two Sunday nights.

As for the highlights, ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" has the exclusive right to go live to a stadium for an at-bat during its 10-11 p.m. broadcast window, except for Saturday nights, when FX is on the air. Fox Sports News, CNN/SI and ESPNEWS can neither go live to a stadium nor show a taped highlight until the game ends.

Title quest

The WNBA title will be decided tonight in Game 3 of the league championship series as the reigning champion Houston Comets play host to the Phoenix Mercury at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Robin Roberts and University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma will have the call.

Four-star talk

For a variety of reasons, the quality of sports talk radio has dropped dramatically, with one very notable and pleasurable exception.

In five months, WCBM's (680 AM) "Sports Final," heard Monday-Saturday at 10 p.m., has quickly become the best sports talk show in town, with a lively pace and snappy banter among hosts who not only love sports, but respect the intelligence of their callers and listeners.

It all starts with main host Phil Wood, who, for more than 20 years has been an underappreciated jewel in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. What few things he doesn't know about a topic, Wood is willing to admit, then research to get up to speed. He is unfailingly polite to his callers, but never afraid to challenge their observations, and his recent musings on the state of talk radio -- sports or otherwise -- should be must-listening for all.

Riding shotgun with Wood are former Sun baseball writer Jim Henneman and former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson. Henneman's forgotten more baseball than most people will ever know, and is an astute observer of the sports scene.

Johnson, meanwhile, is a pleasant exception to the notion that ex-jocks can't hold their own outside a locker room. He is bright and funny, and eminently capable of hosting the show in Wood's absence, which he and Henneman do on Friday nights.

"Sports Final" is must-hear listening for after, and on some occasions, in place of, Orioles games.

Plowing old ground

It's time to revisit a couple of recently raised topics:

Charley Steiner is a gifted interviewer and story-teller, "SportsCenter" anchor and boxing maven. He is not a particularly good baseball radio play-by-play announcer.

At first, we thought that he would grow into the ESPN Radio role, but Steiner's calls remain rudimentary, at best, as he seems unable or unwilling to, for instance, bring more to his pitch description than "Upstairs. Ball one."

If ESPN is planning to turn the World Series call over to Steiner, it's making a serious mistake.

In the interest of fairness, we have to rap ESPN on the knuckles for blowing out its constant score and count box in Sunday night's St. Louis-Atlanta game whenever Mark McGwire came up to bat for a self-serving brand that would show up in other outlets' highlight packages.

If it's true for Fox, it's true for ESPN: Information should always come before self-promotion, and the brand can just as easily go in the lower right-hand corner of the screen as it can in a place where viewers look to be informed.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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