Fox hands ball off to Baldinger, promoting him full time to NFL


It's safe to pencil television analyst Brian Baldinger in on what seems to be a growing list of football people who are impressed with new Ravens coach Brian Billick.

Baldinger, who will do color for today's Ravens exhibition season closer against the New York Giants (Channel 13, 1: 30 p.m.), said Billick can be the man to move the Ravens in among the NFL's elite, though probably not this year.

"He thinks he can get nine wins out of this team, and that might get them on the cusp of the playoffs," Baldinger said. "I'm not sure about that, but I have a lot of confidence in him. The guy has an intelligence and a belief that he's going to get the job done, and the players really respond to that.

"He knows what's going on everywhere in this league. He's not some slick salesman. He really knows the talent level in the league, and he's got a good handle on what he has and what he can do to make it better."

Like Billick, Baldinger is getting his first shot at the big time, as he will graduate to a weekly NFL assignment with Fox this fall, after doing eight pro games and some college games for Fox Sports Net.

Baldinger, a former offensive lineman with the Cowboys, Eagles and Colts (the Indianapolis incarnation) has a blunt but entertaining style that reminds many of Matt Millen, Fox's No. 2 football analyst and presumed heir apparent to John Madden.

"If somebody says that I remind them of Matt Millen, it's flattering and a total compliment. Matt, to me, is really the best," Baldinger said. "But Matt's Matt, and I have a different perspective. I see the game differently than he does. But I work just as hard, if not harder."

Speaking of Billick, the Ravens' coach will be the subject of a feature of CNN's "NFL Preview" at 10 a.m. Sunday. Within the piece is footage of Billick as a contestant on "Match Game '77," and let's just say the coach didn't do such a good job of filling in the blank.

Not done yet

Don't count WBAL radio out of the sports business quite yet.

Amid pending changes in its weekday schedule that will slice into the airing of ESPN radio programs, and the uncertainty of whether the station will retain the rights to Orioles broadcasts, whispers have floated through the Baltimore broadcast community that WBAL (1090) might be curtailing its sports commitment.

Don't believe them, said Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL vice president and station manager.

"I can understand why people might think that, but there is no thought to lessen our desire to carry sports," Beauchamp said.

Indeed, Beauchamp said the station, which has held the Orioles' rights for 34 of the 46 seasons the team has played here, contacted team management earlier this year about renewing the pact, which expires after this season.

A new Orioles deal is expected to cost in excess of $4 million a year in rights fees, with production and talent costs likely to drive the figure closer to $4.5 million and $5 million in total outlay for whatever entity wins.

Beauchamp added that while the move of midmorning talk host Allan Prell to the 8-11 p.m. slot, now occupied by ESPN programming, will cut into some sports offerings, the station will still carry "Monday Night Football" and produce a three-hour lead-in show each Monday night, hosted by Stan White.

In addition, "Hot Stove League," the weekly Friday night off-season baseball program, hosted by play-by-play man Jim Hunter, will expand to three hours. And the station will continue to carry Maryland basketball and football, thanks to a new contract extension reached with the school.

Three the hard way

Count NBC's Ann Meyers-Drysdale among those who scoff that a third straight WNBA title for the Houston Comets would be bad for the nascent league.

"Is that what they said about the Green Bay Packers, or UCLA basketball or the Chicago Bulls when they were winning all those titles?" Meyers-Drysdale said. "That's just human nature. I tip my hat to [Houston coach] Van Chancellor and to the players and what they've put together."

The Comets, led by two-time league MVP Cynthia Cooper and this year's MVP runner-up, Sheryl Swoopes, are heavy favorites to beat the New York Liberty and grab that third championship.

"I think it's wonderful for the sport and for the game. Houston's the measuring stick, and everyone has to raise their game to meet the standard they've set," Meyers-Drysdale said.

NBC (Channel 11) will have Game 2 of the three-game title series at 3: 30 p.m. tomorrow, with a third game, if necessary, coming Sunday, same time, same station.

Around the dial

The early departures of Pete Sampras and Patrick Rafter from the U.S. Open haven't exactly sent CBS executives scurrying for the exit pods, but it's not the most positive development to come down the pike either. Rest assured that Andre Agassi's every move this weekend will be documented, even if he goes for popcorn.

The network's annual Labor Day telethon of coverage begins at 11 a.m. tomorrow, marking the first of three days of seven-hour telecasts, continuing through Monday.

Fox's No. 2 baseball team of Thom Brennaman and Bob Brenly drops in for tomorrow's telecast of the Orioles-Cleveland game (Channel 45, 1 p.m.), which follows a pre-game show segment on former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

On the college football front, Home Team Sports will have the Georgia Tech-Navy game at noon tomorrow, with North Carolina State providing the opposition for Lou Holtz's return to the sideline at South Carolina at 7: 30 p.m. (ESPN).

Finally, after doing a diatribe on Baltimore, its mayoral race and the incidents of sexually transmitted diseases, Jim Rome and his syndicated radio show have been lifted from WNST (1570 AM) through the end of the station's all-sports format at the end of this month.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event, Day, Ch., R/S

Ravens-Panthers, Sat,. 13, 10.5/19

O's-Devil Rays, Tue., 13, 9.5/16

Orioles-Tigers, Fri., 13, 8.8/16

49ers-Raiders, Mon., 2, 8.2/13

Orioles-Tigers, Sun., 13, 6.6/16

Bronc.-Cowboys, Sun., 45, 5.2/8

Golf, Sun., 13, 5.1/11

"Ravens Kickoff" Sat., 13 , 4.6/10

Chiefs-Chargers, Thu., 13, 4.4/8

Ravens special, Sat., 13, 4.0/10

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