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Fox Makes Baseball Debut, No Fatalities

June 1, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ It looked just like baseball, right down to the dead guys.

Major league baseball made its debut on Fox Saturday, and Fox Sports president David Hill wasted no time in poking a little fun at himself.

The first images seen on Fox’s half-hour pregame show were those of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, culled from old Fox Movietone newsreel film. In case you’re a hockey fan, Ruth and Gehrig are both dead.

``I thought everyone might notice that,″ Hill said from the studio in Los Angeles. ``Those folks are no longer with us.″


On Sunday, May 5, Hill was quoted as saying he would fire any announcer who talked about dead guys on a broadcast, sending baseball purists on a major league witch hunt. Hill later explained, however, that he was exaggerating in order to emphasize that he wanted the spotlight on ``now,″ not ``way back when.″

The first actual mention on a game of a dead person came at about 1:25 p.m. EDT when play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman, doing the Atlanta-Cincinnati game, invoked the name of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.

Brennaman still works for Fox.

So does pregame host Chip Caray, who mentioned the name of Stan Musial, an old-timer who’s still a live. And a job will still be waiting next week for analyst Jeff Torborg, who, while working on the Brewers-Indians game, muttered the name Kent Hrbek, who retired at the end of the 1994 season.

Fox showed four games Saturday, Atlanta-Cincinnati and Cleveland-Milwaukee at 1 p.m. and Los Angeles-New York Mets and Boston-Seattle at 4 p.m. The lineup included the first woman to produce a national network game, Carol Langley on the Indians-Brewers.

``I was pretty pleased,″ said Hill, who presided as Fox first joined the sports scene two years ago with the NFL, then added the NHL last year. ``We got out of the box again. Everyone’s doing a real good job. I’m really thrilled with `In The Zone.‴

Under terms of its contract with major league baseball, Fox has exclusive broadcast rights on Saturday afternoons, when no other games can be shown on local cable or over-the-air stations. It was the condition Fox demanded to revitalize the Saturday ``Game of the Week″ format, last used by NBC in 1989.

The hit of the day might have been Fox’s half-hour kids’ pregame show, ``In The Zone,″ a hip, fast-paced collage of features, technical tidbits and highjinx, hosted by a quartet of teenagers. It included features on Ken Griffey Jr., and 20-year-old Mariners rookie Alex Rodriguez got some tips from Jay Buhner on how to organize his locker.

``In The Zone″ was followed by a more conventional, half-hour pregame show with Chip Caray as host and Dave Winfield and Steve Lyons as analysts. They’re no threat to Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long, Fox’s NFL pregame guys.

``The next three or four weeks we’ll look at it, and we’ll be so much stronger. Right now, we’re just doing laps,″ Hill said.

In the pregame show that preceded the 1 p.m. games, Fox took a look at a violent collision between the Indians’ Albert Belle and Milwaukee’s Fernando Vino at second base the previous night. That was a little disappointing.

Torborg, Winfield and even the iconoclastic Lyons, nicknamed ``Psycho″ during his playing days, all agreed there was no call to eject Belle for the collision, originally thought to have broken Vina’s nose.

Right or wrong, show business would have been better served by a little disagreement, even a lot of disagreement. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of analysts sitting around agreeing with each other.

Lyons, a wacky journeyman catcher-infielder who once dropped his drawers on the field, is Fox’s best bet to emerge as a studio star, although Caray looks like good host material, as well. Winfield needs work. He’s too wooden.

The graphics were a little different, reminiscent of the Fox video-game look. The balls-and-strikes graphic, for example, included a diamond on which baserunners could be marked with lights, and the lineup featured slide-in, slide-out names with accompanying sound effects.

Fox also had microphones on managers Lou Piniella of Seattle, Phil Garner of Milwaukee and Ray Knight of Cincinnati. Tom Lasorda had agreed to be miked for the Dodgers-Mets game, but the Dodgers wouldn’t allow it, Fox said.

At one point, Knight was heard to say: ``Dad gum it.″

Otherwise, it looked and sounded pretty much like baseball.

``All in all, I think we’ve got a real strong foundation to build on for the remainder of this season and seasons to come,″ Hill said.

While Hill already has named Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to do the World Series for Fox this year, Brennaman and Bob Brenly might wind up being his best broadcast team.

Brennaman, former voice of the Chicago Cubs, is classy, smooth and sounds a little like Al Michaels. Brenly, a former Giants catcher who worked with Brennaman on Cubs games, already proved he’s ready to tackle any topic.

When Braves pitcher Greg Maddux argued with the umpire after he was struck out, Brenly said: ``Don’t make the umpire mad. Take your 0-for and sit down and shut up.″