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(BRIAN SNYDER)
(BRIAN SNYDER)

Usual Suspects

An embarrassment of baseball riches for Canadian viewers Add to ...

It’s an embarrassment of baseball riches. Usually Canadian TV viewers don’t have a choice between feeds of sports events on cable/satellite systems. We get a Canadian version across all platforms - an irritant when it comes to missing Super Bowl commercials. But for the World Series, most fans can sample either the Joe Buck/ Tim McCarver FOX broadcast or the Gary Thorne/ Rick Sutcliffe international feed being delivered by Sportsnet.

There are clear distinctions between the two, as the Cardinals controversial hit-and-run-that-wasn’t play in the seventh inning of Monday’s Game 5 demonstrated. Albert Pujols kept his bat on his shoulder while Allen Craig was out easily trying to steal second.

Sutcliffe immediately called it a missed signal for Pujols, “I think that was a hit-and-run...” the former Cy Young winner said as the cameras caught Pujols looking sheepish at the plate. “I know (manager) Tony LaRussa will always protect his players... but it was a hit-and-run.” It turned out Sutcliffe was right. Pujols had ordered the hit-and-run himself and then not swung at the pitch.

Meanwhile McCarver carved Craig for stealing with the prolific Pujols at bat. “Running in front of Pujols is a no-no...” McCarver scolded. When FOX viewers got the dugout conversation between Craig and LaRussa (Craig is clearly seen mouthing the words “him” when LaRussa asked him who put on the play), McCarver’s tune started to change. “There was something askew when Allen Craig ran...”

By the eighth inning McCarver got with the program, noting Pujols probably called for hit-and-run, much like his teammate, oldtimer Dick Groat, once did.

Advantage Sutcliffe. Which isn’t to knock McCarver, who got LaRussa’s notorious bullpen snafu correct in the decisive Texas eighth and who’s forgotten more insider baseball than we’ll ever know. Only to sat that if you have picture-in-picture on your TV for tonight’s Game Six, there’s some rich baseball stuff going on between the feeds.

Mr. Holland’s Opus: Sportsnet uses the international feed because FOX brands its cast with advertising and in-house graphics. FOX threw more product placement during the play than the Cards bullpen threw strikes on Monday.

One other thing - Sportsnet did not receive Rangers pitcher Derek Holland’s between-innings impersonation of legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. Even though the Caray thing has already been done to death by comedian Will Ferrell and Canadian pitcher Ryan Dempster, it was remarkable to see FOX merge the World Series with Last Comic Standing. Most managers or organizations would not have allowed Holland’s diversion.

BTW: Monday’s classic drew 14.3 million U.S. households. The flaccid Monday Night Football game between Jacksonville and Baltimore earned 7.469 million viewers. Doesn't seem right. The five-game average rating for the Series has been the worst ever so far but a Game 6/7 will help some.

Canuck Controversy: There is Canadian hockey fever, and then there is Vancouver hockey fever. If the seven-game Stanley Cup final series and riot wasn’t enough to convince you that it’s different on the Left Coast, witness the latest flap. The Province newspaper took time from its busy schedule of examining the world financial collapse, the fall of Libya and the abolition of the long-gun registry to pen an editorial urging the Canucks to trade embattled goalie Roberto Luongo to Tampa for centre Vincent Lecavalier.

The Province's suggestion made the Kyoto Accord seem a model of clarity. There is a $2-million difference between Lecavalier’s salary cap hit and that of Luongo, one that the cap-crunched Canucks couldn’t afford. Both players have no-trade clauses. Canucks are stacked at centre already. You get the drift. Not gonna’ happen.

But it wasn’t the soundness of the suggestion that rankled the Canucks and left media watchers taken aback. None could ever remember the editorial board of a major paper venturing into fantasy hockey trades before. On Twitter and Facebook, media types mocked the Province for venturing into unknown territory and usurping the purview of its own sports reporters (who’ve not made public statement of their feelings on a Luongo deal). Isn’t there something more important than a hockey goalie?, was the tone from esteemed SI columnist Michel Farber. "We’re not suggesting Roberto Luongo for Vincent Lecavalier or anything stupid like that," teased the sister paper The Sun.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis took to the team’s radio voice Team 1040 to slap the paper for a lack of accountability. When, wondered Gillis, had the unnamed editorial board ever ventured to practice to ask a question of him or back up a statement they made? For emphasis, Gillis added that, in light of the riot and Rick Rypien’s death this summer, weren’t we all supposed to keep things in perspective?

That brought Province editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarity to the fray to suggest Gillis’s main concern should be fans booing Roberto Luongo, not he and his hockey-inclined editorial board. The Team later billed the Gillis/Moriarity duel as the greatest hour in the history of the station.

For added effect, B.C. boy and National Post columnist Bruce Arthur defended his Canada.com colleague, saying Gillis was wrong to invoke Rypien. Even Tuesday the feud was still simmering as Gillis did his weekly hit with Team 1040.

Wow. It’s true. Life is more interesting in B.C.

Reid Sparkles: We’ll take a larger look at the battle between Sportsnet’s Connected and TSN’s Sportscentre in an upcoming column, but just a word about Ken Reid who’s put a little life into the sleepy backwater that used to be weekends on Sportsnet. Reid, who has served in a handful of Canadian markets, sounds like he’s actually enjoying himself. A nice add for Sportsnet as it ramps up its challenge to TSN.

No Ordinary Joe: Finally, sometimes it takes a pro, but a great call by Joe Bowen in Monday’s Philadelphia/Toronto game as Flyer Jaromir Jagr sped in alone on the Leafs’ net. “He’s got Jagr on a breakaway,” said Bowen as Jagr closed on Jonas Gustavsson. “He’s got the game on his stick... Scores!” Classic.

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