Some final TV thoughts on TBS, Orioles, Yankees, Ripken, Johnson, Smoltz

Here are some final thoughts from a very tired TV/media critic who didn't miss an inning of Orioles playoff baseball while covering the rest of a huge and sprawling beat.

This week, it ranged from the debut of ABC's "Nashville," to  Joe Biden  smirking his way through the vice-presidential debate with Paul Ryan.

First, I loved every TV minute of Orioles playoff baseball the last week. It started last Friday night with the euphoria of winning the wildcard showdown in Texas, and for a week, it was like the first Friday of the NCAA basketball tournament for TV baseball addicts like me. I never clicked the set off of TBS, except to go to TNT when the backup channel was used for an inning or two of the Orioles or the Nationals.

Let me say it again: The TBS team of Ernie Johnson, Cal Ripken and John Smoltz was outstanding. Johnson, the play by play guy, sets a table as well as anyone this side of Al Michaels. And he was superb all series long at drawing the best out of Ripken and Smoltz, who provided original and insightful analysis.

Smoltz breaks down pitching better than anyone who isn't named Jim Palmer. But his analysis covered the whole field. In the last inning of Friday's finale, he followed a play by Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds with this: "I didn't think anybody could cover as much ground over there as Albert Pujols, but Reynolds could give him a run for his money."

Ripken agreed talking about how Reynolds uses his "third basemen's legs" so well "over there" to have that kind of range at first.

I wasn't that big a fan of Ripken as a player in the 1990s. Oh, I appreciated all the things that made him one of the most important players in the history of the game. But there were several players on those Orioles teams that I felt more of a connection to.

But I truly came to admire him after listening closely to his work in the booth for TBS this week. As I previously wrote, I came to understand what a great student he is. He is constantly asking questions and trying to figure things out -- like what makes Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez so effective. Ripken would not rest until he got answers -- from Smoltz, Showalter, anyone he thought might know.

I came to appreciate Ripken in a new way, and came to believe it was his mind as much as his physical skills and work ethic that made him the legendary ball player he was.

I also want to stress what fine work the production crew at TBS did in making viewers feel as if they were part of what was happening at Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium. The shots of Manhattan at sunset and twilight that the producers used as they came back from commercials were fantastic. God, I wish MASN would make some effort at offering such ambiance to its barebones, PR-drenched telecasts during the regular season. I hope MASN understood how limited its production values are compared to TBS.

Finally, a note to local media: Please no conspiracy talk about Major League Baseball and TBS wanting a big market team that would presumably bring higher ratings. Forget any crazy innuendo that the powers that be somehow conspired to let the Yankees advance.

Really, thinking you can explain anything with the one piece of so-called knowledge that big market teams mean higher ratings is, well, Exhibit A for a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. And while TBS prematurely posted a promo for the Yankees-Tigers ALCS online today, I suspect there was also one made up for an Orioles-Tigers series as well. Channels and networks have them ready to go so they can hit the target audience with the promo right after the ALDS ends.

Just let go of the conspiracy stuff. Start by dropping any dark, Oliver-Stone thoughts about the ruling on the rightfield foul pole "home run." Buck Showalter himself said in the postgame that wasn't why the Orioles lost.

And by the way, if you were one of the locals complaining about TBS not being pro-Orioles enough all week, you don't get to cite the channel's on-field reporter, Craig Sager, reporting that he interviewed an usher in the right field stands who said the ball nicked the pole.

And while we're talking about Sager's reporting, did any Baltimore broadcast reporters scramble out there to right field to interview fans and ushers the way Sager did? If you did get up from the press box buffet to make your way out there and do some real work, I salute you. If you didn't, you should probably keep your amateur media critique of the TBS team to yourself. Really, I mean it.

Yes, I am tired and cranky, because I am not going to be able to turn on TBS Saturday and see the Orioles playing the Detroit Tigers. Instead it's going to be the smug Yankees on the field against Detroit.

Already I miss having the Orioles on my TV.

But what an epic week of TV sports it has been. Yes, epic. What Raul Ibanez did was epic. Who cares if I got no sleep?

The TV-baseball-and-madness trip ended past midnight again Friday with me staring in wonderment at the screen as the Nationals melted down in the ninth inning against the Cardinals. And I had been feeling only envy for my media friends in Washington earlier in the evening.

The only scrap of sports media happiness I have left is the knowledge that CBS and the team of Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel won't be doing the Ravens Sunday.



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