In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on July 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm

The game has changed,” Keith Hernandez said on a recent New York Mets’ broadcast.

This after the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez took about an hour to return to the dugout after grounding out. He was steps away from his dugout when Met pitcher Chris Capuano pitched to the next batter.

After a commercial break, Hernandez was still peeved. “Look at this, he’s practicing his swing in the dugout. Save that for after the game. The Marlins’ first baseman is throwing grounders to the infield. Every Marlin is on the field and Ramirez is still in the dugout.”

Broadcast partner Gary Cohen offered, “I guess you have to pick your battles,” as an SNY camera fixed on Marlin manager Jack McKeon, who stood at the dugout railing, staring through black-rimmed bifocals. So much for the moxie the managerial switch was supposed to provide the last place team in the NL East.

An inning later, when Marlin reliever Edward Mujica took the mound, Hernandez ripped off another beauty, “I see he’s up from his nap,” referring to a game last week when FOX cameras caught the pitcher sleeping in the bullpen. The next night, Mujica hung a sign around his neck which said, “Keep the camera off me when I’m in the bullpen.” Cohen lamely added, “Well, at least he made the situation humorous.”

Humorous? Like Hernandez said, the game has changed. Millionaires doing what they love and they can’t stay awake on the job? Taking their time to the point they personally delay the game. And nobody – not even an umpire – says anything?

Baseball proclaims to be fan-friendly with ball-tosses into the stands, swimming pools in the outfield, Hard Rock Cafe patio bars that look onto the field, box seats that are practically in play, kids running the bases as frequently as Jose Reyes, teenagers singing the National Anthem and children officially starting games, screaming “Play Ball” over the stadium loudspeakers.

But a lot is missing.

Twenty-three years ago, World Series viewers – especially Dodgers fans – were treated to sheer drama when a nearly lame Kirk Gibson limped to the plate and then jacked a home run off one of the game’s best — Dennis Eckersley. However, this week Carlos Beltran couldn’t grab a bat and help his team rally due to “flu-like” symptoms. He sat there in uniform while his Triple-A teammates whiffed at air in losing to the futile Marlins. Grab a Kleenex and get in the batter’s box. Think the sniffles ever kept Cal Ripken on the bench?

A day after the All-Star game, co-hosts at the ESPYs embarrassed themselves wearing fake beards while interviewing Giants’ closer Brian Wilson during a silly interview. On and on it went as the female host struggled to read her notes while pulling away the cape of a prop. Wilson is good but he’s no Dennis Eckersley. Or Rollie Fingers. Or Lee Smith. Or Trevor Hoffman.

Since it was All-Star Week, why couldn’t the ESPYs invite Hank Aaron or Willie Mays to reflect on their 50-something All-Star appearances? After all, the event needs juice with so many “stars” begging out to steal a vacation in the Caribbean.

At least Aaron and Mays would honor the game without a stunt. But why interview Hall of Famers when you can fool around on the set and bring attention to yourselves? Next broadcast, look for a segment on tattoos or earrings.

Which brings me to Justin Timberlake. During the All-Star game, Mark Grace was so excited, he forgot whom he was interviewing. Timberlake has as much to do with baseball as does Albert Einstein. Yet, we had to listen to this Gen-Xer wax on about the national pastime, gushing over Joe Buck’s “calling of the game.” Buck is good and he should be, growing up in a baseball family. But we didn’t need a reminder from a brake dancer.

Who knows, maybe MLB is trying to grab the young viewer. But what about older viewers? Or those who just wanted to watch a baseball game?

Think of how Mickey Mantle ran the bases on bad knees. Or how Jim Abbot had to flip his glove from a limb to an arm with a hand just to play defense. Or Ripken and Lou Gehrig, who played through muscle pulls, sickness and headaches because they loved the game. Or Sandy Koufax, who probably pitched through intense pain trying to extend his career. Or Carlton Fisk, who squatted for three hours every game at age 46 because he respected the sport.

Ah, respect. That’s what’s missing.



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