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No, not that Scooter

FOX to unveil wacky new gadgets for Yankees-Red Sox

Posted: Friday April 16, 2004 1:10PM
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Javier Vazquez
It's up to Scooter to tell viewers which pitches Javier Vazquez is throwing Friday against the Red Sox.
AP

Baseball on TV can get awfully complicated sometimes. You've got HDTV and widescreen formats. You have graphics spinning this way and that. TBS has some whacked-out, colorful computer-generated thingy to show the lead a runner takes at first base.

Now comes Scooter, the talking baseball.

I said Scooter. He's a baseball. A talking baseball.

Purists everywhere, grab the barf bag.

Yes, the folks at FOX, who gave us animated robots for NFL games and took on-screen graphics to a whole new intrusive level, now are using a cartoon baseball to explain pitches. Scooter is his name. Split-fingers are his game. He'll be articulated by Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. Or is that SpongePants SquareBob? I always get that mixed up.

This trick is aimed, somewhat obviously, at younger viewers, says David Hill, the FOX Sports Television chairman and chief executive officer. Hill is excited about the possibilities. "It's really cute and really terrific," Hill said.

FOX, of course, is not stopping with the chatterbox of a cartoon curveball. No, it will unleash some more of those weird graphics, the ones that you can't decide if they're way cool or way obnoxious. There's the ball tracer, which tracks the flight of a pitch. The ubiquitous floating strike zone box, which shows (supposedly) where the pitches cross the plate. And what is described in a press brief as "high home effects," graphics that track the flight of a batted ball from high above and behind home plate. FOX even has a similarly weird computer-generated leadoff bar like the one that TBS employs.

"We've got some stuff [that], if it works, it's a demonstration," Hill said, "and if not, it's an experiment."

All of it begins Friday night with a whopper of a game: the first meeting this year between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

You could argue that a game like Red Sox-Yankees needs no fancy graphics, no pumped-up computerized playthings. You could argue that the game speaks for itself, and that baseball on TV, generally, does not need gimmicks like in-game interviews with managers, as ESPN did earlier this week with San Francisco's Felipe Alou.

You could argue all that, but these guys are after ratings, and if some cool graphics pull younger viewers into the game, if hearing from the starting pitcher a few minutes after he's been yanked gets a few more eyes, the networks are going for it.

MAILBAG
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Viewers and fans say they want to get closer to the players, so putting microphones on players and coaches is becoming commonplace. Already there is hardly a place in the ballpark that can't be seen or heard -- or seen and heard -- by a television crew. There are more barriers to cross.

"I see the walls coming down greatly in the years ahead," Hill said.

Talking baseballs. Microphones on managers. Graphics that upstage the game.

I'm thinking we ought to keep some of those walls up.

Well, onward with the E-bag ...

Got lots of mail on the death of the cookie-cutter stadiums, much of it ripping me for being either forgetful or stupid. Some chose all of the above. I'd like to boil all the responses down to one paragraph, but it hurts too much to do that. You guys are killing me.

How can you claim that the cookie cutter is dead while Busch Stadium still stands? Once that thing goes, then truly the cookie cutter will be dead. -- Ben DeClue, Crystal City, Mo.

Well, I didn't forget Busch. But, before I get to that, read on ...

In your Monday article you wrote about the alleged demise of the cookie-cutter stadiums from the '60s and '70s. One that was glaringly missing from your list was Shea Stadium. Shea is the prototypical cookie-cutter stadium and it deserved to be on your list. It doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon, either, with the budget crunch that New York City is facing. Besides, do we really want a new ballpark with less seating? Just what any New York sports franchise needs -- an excuse to charge even more for tickets. -- Timothy Barbeisch, Endicott, N.Y.

All right. I didn't forget Shea, either. Didn't mention it on purpose. Again, though, hold on and we'll get back to that.

Of course, in mentioning cookie-cutter stadiums there was no mention of D.C./RFK Stadium. Perfectly fits the profile. Is this just another slight toward the D.C. area for being unworthy of Major League Baseball? Or perhaps you just forgot us like everyone else. -- Dennis Inguagiato, Arlington, Va.

Man, Dennis, a little inferiority complex? I must admit, though, you got me. I did forget RFK. But, then again, it's not a Major League Baseball stadium, is it? Hasn't been for some time. And, even if the Expos relocate to the area, RFK will be only a temporary home. So that thing died for me a long time ago.

Now, we went back and forth on Busch. Many people I talked to don't consider it a true cookie-cutter. Most people would have to agree that it has a little more panache than Riverfront, Three Rivers or the Vet. But that one's close. Shea, as bad as it is -- and it's bad -- wasn't included because it's not the complete circle that the other three (and Busch) are. It's kind of a half-baked cookie. A couple of e-mailers even suggested Network Associates Coliseum, the home of the Oakland A's. Awful, for sure. But not a cookie cutter.

While we're on this, I don't get the backlash against the new stadiums that I've heard from many people. Granted, I think some of these parks are getting a little too cutesy with their nooks and crannies. But see a game in Network, or the dome in St. Petersburg, and you'll quit your complaining. The new parks aren't perfect. A few of them look a little too alike. But come on. It's night and day.

One more word on the cookie-cutter thing ...

Your observations on the cookie-cutter parks are right on the money, but I think there's an interesting twist arising from the same era. Why did Kansas City choose to buck the trend and build two stadiums side by side? Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium have been around for more than 30 years now, and they are still very highly regarded venues. How on earth could a boring, cow-town, Midwestern backwater like K.C. get a 20-year jump on today's football-only, baseball-only stadium megatrend? -- Jerry Murphy, Columbia, Mo.

Good question, Jerry. Kansas City clearly was ahead of its time. The fans there have two nice stadiums that still hold up, for the most part. It wasn't easy, though. The people who were in charge of the K.C. stadium plans back in the late '60s tried to push a single multi-purpose stadium, but it became too complicated, so they went with the two, and voters approved a bond issue to pay for the stadiums in 1967. At one time, there was some thought about putting a roof on Arrowhead. But that idea was scrapped, and since the two have installed natural turf (Kauffman, born Royals Stadium, didn't go to real grass until 1995), these are two of the finest parks anywhere. They don't have all the great amenities of the newer stadiums -- more restrooms, concessions, wider aisles, all that stuff -- but they're good-looking, clean and fan-friendly. It works in K.C.

The Cubbies better take this injury slow and not bring Mark Prior back too early. I would rather lose games this season then lose Prior for good. -- Rich, Chicago

I received lots of stuff on Prior and his injury. Rich, rest assured. The Cubs think the same way you do on this one.

As a Boston fan I hate the horrible feeling I have that Nomar Garciaparra is no longer one of the premium players in the game. He simply hasn't been as good since his wrist problems. Last year he looked like an MVP until the end of August. In September he fell off the charts and was terrible in the playoffs. My guess is he becomes like Eric Davis -- productive when he plays but he won't be able to play all the time. As a result he'll never be the one to carry a team through the tough times. And with Pedro Martinez always looking a bit brittle and now basically a six-inning pitcher at best, I think the Sox will have another rough year. -- Dean Chisholm, Bourne, Mass.

Dean, you wouldn't be a Boston fan without your doubts. And those are two big concerns all Red Sox fans have. I see a big season from Nomar if he comes back healthy. He'll be rested, he has reason to play well (a contract year) and the Sox should be in the race. As for Pedro ... if you figure him out, write back, would you?

Tendon injuries tend to really respond to acupuncture. Do you know if Prior or Garciaparra have tried this? -- Paul, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Paul, the Cubs trainer told me that Prior and the Cubs have received all sorts of suggestions from all sorts of people, and I'm sure acupuncture was on the list somewhere. Right now, though, it's slow and steady for Prior and Nomar. But if they're still not back by, say, June, send in the needles.

I have to take issue with regard to the current steroids-Barry Bonds thing. I am rather tired of people who know very little about either subject getting as vehement in their accusations as they do. First, when Barry came into the league some 14 years ago, he was a man in his early to mid-20s. He is now in his late 30s. It is not unusual for a man to reach peak muscle maturity in his early to mid-30s. Do I believe steroid abuse is an issue? Definitely. Yet, having said that, I believe that a person should be innocent until proven guilty, and what circulates now with regard to Bonds does not constitute proof. It is simply the backlash created by a media environment created to exploit any possible angle for a sensationalistic story. -- Chris Read, Gilbert, Ariz.

Lots of mail, still, from Barry backers and Barry bashers. I could run three mailbags a week on this stuff. I could, but I won't. This will have to do for this edition.

At the risk of sounding like a homer, are my Marlins ever going to get some respect nationally? All they have done is beat the crap out of MLB since last May, but the media keeps dismissing them. It's time you start giving credit where credit is due, and that is to the Marlins players, coaches and management. -- Nicolas J., Palm Beach, Fla.

You want a World Series win and respect? Sheesh. Next thing you know you guys will be asking for your own stadium down there.

How 'bout them Tigers? After one week they're tied for first in the majors. But it's not just that the Tigers are winning, they're playing really good baseball. I've been trying to avoid looking past the next game, but I have to say it: the Tigers are legit! -- Dan Carravallah, Livonia, Mich.

Write back in July, Dan, and remind me of this letter, would you?

On the bottom of last week's E-Bag, Jeff Dorman of Cleveland asked for some good trash-talking lines from the stands. I received a lot of responses. Not a lot of them were good, though. Here are five.

Dodgers vs. Giants at Chavez Ravine, not too long after Barry Bonds made his disparaging remarks about Babe Ruth last year (do steroids inflate ego as well as muscles?). A fan near the on-deck circle screams, "Hey Barry, are you pitching this Sunday? No? Then just shut [expletive deleted] up and play ball!" The fan was then escorted from the stadium, but not before he got a rousing ovation from the fans in his section. -- Joe Abernethy, Staten Island, N.Y.

Yankees vs. Red Sox, Fenway bleachers. A beach ball is being bounced around and a Boston fan spikes it toward a guy wearing a Yankees hat, hitting him on his head. The Yankees fan gets up and tosses the beach ball in a different direction, prompting a third party (assume he was a Red Sox fan) from very far away to yell out: "Nice throw. Does your husband play?" -- Dave Medford, Mass.

The M's were playing the Yankees at Safeco, so I had to go and boo the visiting team. I was talking with my uncle and some Yankees fan was in the seat in front of us. I said something about the Yankees lineup nailing our pitcher, and in this Yankee lover's drunken stupor he turned around and said, "Oh yeah, I'll nail you!" Ah, those Yankee fans. -- Ryan, Seattle

My favorite line of heckling came during a game at 3Com Park between the Giants and Mariners. When Joey Cora, who was the M's second baseman at the time, came to bat a Giants' fan with a voice that could cut glass screamed, "Hey Joey, stand up!!!" Being a "tall" man (5-foot-8) myself, even I found it hilarious due to the impeccable timing and elocution. -- Bill DeFazio, Sacramento, Calif.

Here's one for your "Great Insults" homage: Cubs-Sox Crosstown Classic. Cubs winning at Comiskey. Some younger Cubs fan is taunting some Sox fans when one grizzled South Sider in a Chicago Police Department shirt steps up and says, "I kicked your dad's ass in 1968, and I'll continue the family tradition if you don't shaddup!" -- Nick S., Chicago

I have to think that 24-ounce beers have something to do with making these seem funnier at the time than they do sitting here looking at a computer monitor.

I have to know which is more rare -- the unassisted triple play or the single-pitcher no-hitter? Obviously I know which is better, but which is more likely to happen? -- Stephen Cooper, Atlanta

Stephen, I don't normally field questions like this. They make books for this kind of stuff. But after subjecting y'all to all that witty trash-talking banter, I feel like I need to come clean. So: Unassisted triple plays are much, much less likely to happen. There have been only 12 of them in baseball history, the last by Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal (as you know, Stephen) last year against St. Louis. There have been nearly 200 no-hitters.

I was wondering what the over/under is for the date that the Boston Red Sox manager rips off his Terry Francona mask to reveal his true identity -- Grady Little! -- all the while letting out a comic book villain belly laugh. I say Aug. 1. Have you seen the way he's handled the bullpen? It's Grady incarnate, I tell you! -- Mike, Ridgefield Park, N.J.

Well, folks, the honeymoon evidently is over in Boston. And we're over and outta here. Thanks for writing in.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.

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