ESPN would be wise to bench Berman, Sutcliffe

The essential rule in baseball broadcasting, observed by Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell and all the greats, is that the game and not the announcer is the thing.

But here we are less than a third of the way through the major league season and I’m close to turning off the set when I hear ESPN’s Chris Berman or Rick Sutcliffe. Listening to them is like getting a root canal. It’s torture, friends.

Berman is like the guy in the used car ads — yelling, huffing, puffing and offering the best deal in town. Enough already! He’s not that keen an observer of the game, yet he constantly comes close to putting his shtick before it. Sorry, but there’s an old-fashioned term for his kind: windbag.

On a Yankees-Red Sox game on Wednesday, “Boomer,” as he is nicknamed, worked with two outstanding commentators, Orel Hershiser and Steve Phillips. He all but elbowed them out of the booth. It was as if he were Jupiter and they were mere satellites orbiting around him.

As for his call, he’s often sloppy. In the Yankees’ first, he said Boston’s Wily Mo Pena’s “indecision” on a ball into right field gave New York its first run. Phillips had to correct him, noting that the run scored when second baseman Dustin Pedroia deflected the ball.

Sutcliffe, the former pitcher, is right up there with Berman on the Exasperate-O-Meter. I avoid games he broadcasts unless they’re an essential watch.

Why? Because he’s overbearing and smothering. He abhors a vacuum. Any pause by the play-by-play man — honestly, any pause — is an invitation for him to pontificate in a manner that is frequently condescending to the listener.

If I were the producer for baseball at ESPN, I’d switch the personable, intelligent Hershiser into Sutcliffe’s chair tomorrow and give Sutcliffe a seat on the baseball studio show. That is, if the insufferable 171-game winner couldn’t find a job selling hot dogs.

NBA PLAYOFFS — The conference finals are midway through, but the TV decision is final. TNT rules the roost over ESPN in production values and incisive commentary. ESPN, which produces both its own and ABC’s games, wins only when it comes to the Pussycat Dolls singing their NBA theme song “Right Now.”

TNT’s announce team of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Doug Collins have been running rings around ESPN’s and ABC’s Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy.

Albert is peerless in basketball play-by-play. But Kerr, TNT’s main analyst, and Charles Barkley, the star on the wrap-around set, have emerged as unusually sharp commentators.

Kerr on Sunday put his finger on why the Cavaliers were down in their series with the Pistons 2-0 and probably won’t recover even after Sunday’s Game 3 victory. LeBron James at the time had a total of five points over three third quarters, Kerr said. The problem, he explained, was that James was trying to get his teammates Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Sasha Pavlovic involved when he should have taken charge.

Barkley was even more critical of James’ attempts to involve Ilgauskas. “That was the difference” in Cleveland’s first two losses, he said. “Let me tell you something. Do you think Phil Jackson ever said, ‘Let me use Michael Jordan as a decoy?’ “

INDIANAPOLIS 500 — To its credit, ABC and its ESPN producers this year did not over-obsess with Danica Patrick (perhaps because there were two other women in the race).

Highlights of the rain-delayed race:

— At one point when officials were considering red-flagging it because of rain, microphones caught Marco Andretti, Mario Andretti’s grandson and a hotfoot in his own right, saying, “When they red-flag it, it’s over, right?”

An adviser could be heard saying: “No, no. When they red-flag it they’re gonna pull you in the pits and let you sit there for awhile. It’s only 3 o’clock.”

It was a humanizing moment. Even 20-year-old racers don’t know everything.

— ABC ran a number of commercials on a split screen, allowing action and graphics to be to shown simultaneously. This is a major breakthrough for racing.

LINE OF THE WEEK — Retiring NFL star Keyshawn Johnson after being signed by ESPN for studio analysis this fall with, among others, his former coach Bill Parcells: “We’re weird like that. We always do things together.” He added, laughing: “I don’t know if it’s my real father or not.”

Bill Taaffe is a former award-winning TV-radio sports columnist for Sports Illustrated. His “Remote Control” column is published Tuesday. He can be reached at taaffe-reviewjournal@earthlink.net.

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