More Mark Grace, please.
During his too-short, three-inning visit to the Marquee Sports Network booth during the channel’s debut Cubs game Saturday night, Grace called the Cincinnati Reds baseball’s equivalent of the NFL’s underperforming Cleveland Browns.
The former Cubs star rhapsodized about how, as a player, his diet featured jelly doughnuts, Philly cheesesteaks and Tootsie Rolls.
He reminisced about playing first base during Kerry Wood’s storied 1998 20-strikeout game.
“I could have put my glove on my head,” Grace said.
The Cubs beat the Athletics on Saturday in their exhibition opener, 12-2, but the real winner was Grace, who was funny and charming and insightful.
The guy was the life of the party.
He even read promos with gusto.
There was much talk during the game about the geegaws and gimmickry Marquee will have at its disposal once the season starts.
There were loads of promos touting the Cubs-centric programming this partnership between the ball club and Sinclair Broadcast Group will yield.
Someday, perhaps, the channel’s microphones — pinned Saturday on Jason Heyward during batting practice and Anthony Rizzo during the first few innings — will yield something nearly as entertaining as announcers Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies kept saying they did.
For now, however, it’s Grace’s brief guest turn that should entice fans, not the technology.
If Marquee is smart, it will figure out a way to make him a full-timer.
There were, of course, other winners and losers from Marquee’s launch.
Winner: Jed Hoyer
The line of the night may have come during a fourth-inning in-booth interview with the Cubs’ executive vice president and general manager.
Jed Hoyer said he texted David Ross, who missed what would have been his spring training debut as manager with flu-like symptoms.
His message: “Lou Gehrig, you are not.”
Loser: Sponsor plugs
The Cubs’ stated rationale for its Marquee Sports Network is it will give fans more of what they want.
What part of reporter Taylor McGregor’s in-game feature on the family that controls the plumbing valve concern with naming rights to the Cubs’ spring training home was supposed to be interesting to fans back in the Midwest?
Loser: Remote-control cameras
Robotic cameras aren’t new to Cubs TV, but there apparently will be a lot more of them in use once the season starts.
There was much talk Saturday from Len Kasper, Jim Deshaies and even Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney about how great it will be to have remote-controlled cameras perched atop the centerfield scoreboard and foul poles at Wrigley Field.
Viewers have every reason to wonder how much this will add based on the slow-panning robo-cams near the dugout and in the broadcast booth on Saturday.
High and faraway shots at Wrigley might make for pretty cutaway shots, but they are hardly well-positioned for game action.
Winner: Foot fans.
Crane Kenney touted it as the JavyCam because of its proximity to Javier Baez. Len Kasper called it the DirtCam, which is the name Fox Sports calls in when it’s in use. But the folks at Marquee apparently are very excited about planting a miniature camera in the infield dirt at Wrigley Field — calling it Cleat Cam because it’s at shoe-level.
Loser: Graphics fans.
Marquee’s spring training game coverage apparently will lack the channel’s full graphics package. Pitch speed and a location box won’t be available until the regular season.
Loser: Long-term memory
A product that advertises itself as helping improve short-term memory boost was among Marquee’s launch partners, but that’s not the kind of memory with which the channel struggles.
Its “Cubs Countdown: All-Time Games” hour featured a top-10. None predated 1970. All but two were since 1984. Four were in the last five years. That’s a real keen sense of history on display.
If you want to blame fan voting for omitting, say, Babe Ruth’s called shot at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series, OK. But Marquee signed off on the show. Add hanging Steve Bartman out to dry yet again at No. 2, and it’s not a great look.
Winner: The real Harry Caray
There were plenty of clips on Marquee’s opening day of Harry Caray, who was the first voice heard on the new channel.
Each clip evoked the memory of how Caray left the White Sox for the Cubs bad-mouthing Sox plans to take games off free over-the-air Chicago TV and launch pay-TV’s SportsVision in 1982.
The businesses of baseball and TV changed, of course, and the Cubs eventually moved games to local cable, but not until after Caray’s 1998 death.
Loser: Ryan Dempster’s Harry Caray impression
A little more than 15 minutes into Marquee’s first hour, the former Cubs pitcher trotted out his imitation of the former Cardinals, A’s, White Sox and Cubs announcer. There’s really no need for more of that.
Winner: Ron Rapoport
The former Sun-Times columnist and the author of the definitive Ernie Banks biography, “Let’s Play Two,” was the backbone of Marquee’s “More Than Mr. Cub” documentary.
It was a solid effort prominently featuring Michael Wilbon, Billy Williams, Rich Cohen, Randy Hundley, Banks’ sons and others. But it’s hard to understand how Banks’ 2013 appearance on stage with Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam merited as much time as it did.
Loser: Fans who thought they would get Marquee and didn’t
For fans who really wanted the channel, it may have been of little solace that it’s just spring training and there’s time to work out the kinks before the games count.
Never mind Dish and Comcast Xfinity subscribers whose carriers haven’t come to terms with Marquee, Hulu + Live TV didn’t have the channel in time for the debut. Ditto for fans with Charter Spectrum and DirecTV customers without the Choice package or higher. Others ran into technical issues.
There’s no good excuse for any of it.
Winner: The Bulls
If you were watching the Cubs and Athletics on Marquee, you weren’t watching the Bulls commit 26 turnovers and blow a 17-point lead en route to their eighth successive loss, dropping a 112-104 decision to the Suns.
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