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Steve Springer / ON THE MEDIA

Barkley is the missing ingredient in this mix

October 10, 2008|Steve Springer

Something is missing from the TBS baseball studio show.

Something that could bring excitement, unpredictability, controversy.

Something that could light the spark clearly missing when Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley, along with Curtis Granderson (division series) and Harold Reynolds (championship series) join host Ernie Johnson to analyze the plays, the players and the moves in the games of the day.

Something that could lighten the analysis and sharpen the criticism.

Only one Turner Sports broadcaster has that something, and he is nowhere in sight.

Charles Barkley.

Call it charisma, call it personality, call it camera savvy, Barkley has it. His warm belly laugh, needling wit, penetrating insight and searing criticism, encouraged by Johnson and enhanced by co-analyst Kenny Smith, the perfect sidekick, and occasional co-analyst Magic Johnson have made the NBA studio show can't-miss TV.

Fans will sit through the most boring games for fear of missing some performance by the never-boring Barkley and company. Even the players watch when they can and enthusiastically agree to serve as Barkley foils on postgame interviews.

The difference between the baseball and basketball shows can be clearly seen in Ernie Johnson, a consummate pro.

For basketball, he is a referee, staying out of the way of the action, blowing his whistle only for commercial breaks. For baseball, he's more like an umpire trotting out to the mound to break up a meeting and get the action going.

So how about it, Charles? How about lending your voice to the proceedings, which are sometimes as lifeless as a pitching change?

"If they asked me, I would do it. Heck, yeah," said Barkley, who, nonetheless, thinks criticism of the baseball group is misguided.

"I think it's unfair to throw these guys together at the last minute and expect it to work. They don't have a show all season where they can work on it like we do."

Indeed, Ripken and Eckersley joined Johnson for an All-Star game selection show and the last two game-of-the-week broadcasts of the regular season. And that was it.

So any secrets for success that Barkley can pass on to his baseball counterparts?

"They need to relax," he said. "When I was deciding between NBC and TNT, I wanted to make sure we were going to have fun wherever I went. I was not going to go someplace where they would take themselves too seriously. This is just basketball. We are not curing cancer."

Still the best

Regardless of the crew in front of the camera, the studio shows will always have at least a slice of entertainment as long as producer Tim Kiely is on the job.

He had a special gift for Eckersley on the former pitcher's 54th birthday.

Told by Johnson to watch the monitor, Eckersley groaned when he saw the beginning of one of the most memorable highlights ever shown: Kirk Gibson's game-winning home run at Dodger Stadium off Eckersley, then with Oakland, in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Then came the Kiely touch after Gibson swung. Suddenly, there was Jose Canseco in right field making a sliding catch. And there was Eckersley, victorious on the mound.

Said a smiling Eckersley: "The most surprising thing is that Canseco made a sliding catch."

Still true blue

The e-mails keep pouring in since this column scolded FSN announcers Steve Lyons, Kevin Kennedy and Jim Watson last week for their homerism following the clinching of the NL West by the Dodgers. The sentiment was 2 to 1 in favor of the announcers, 34-17, with 10 other readers venting their anger on everyone from Rex Hudler on Angels broadcasts to TBS' crew.

A sampling:

* Please don't take what is human out of these people. Yes, Vin Scully would never do this, but I wish he would. He deserves to roll up his sleeves and celebrate with the rest of us without worrying about being judged by other people.

Dave

* It was a celebration! For everyone!!! And if those 3 wanted to smile and cheer along - well, why not? What was the problem with that? You are nit-picking. And sound very jealous. Like you didn't get an invite to the party -- and were miffed.

Debi

--

steve.springer@latimes.com

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