TV Article

CNN's Sports Tonight ESPN's SportsCenter

Why the two networks are popular with baseball fans

With pennant races that are tighter than Tommy Lasorda's uniform pre Ultra Slim-Fast and more football going on than even Bo could know, it's tough to wait until tomorrow's paper for tonight's scores. CNN's Sports Tonight and ESPN's SportsCenter beat the morning edition to the results-and also deliver some tart takes on the day's heroes and heels.

Each of these 30-minute broadcasts (airing nightly at 11:30) is like an up- to-the-minute national sports page offering what seems like 10 times the highlight footage provided by most local news shows. Included in the package is a constant flow of crisp commentary and telling statistics that four-minute local sportscasts rarely include: A recent ESPN graphic labeled ''Fear of Fenway'' presented Yankee pitcher Andy Hawkins' incredibly awful career ERA in Boston. After Red Sox centerfielder Ellis Burks' two-home-run inning in another game this season, CNN's ''Double Dinger'' stat showed him to be the 25th player of all time to achieve this and the first American League player to do so since Cliff Johnson was doing some heavy hitting for the Yankees in 1977.

Sports Tonight, which made its debut in 1980, employs 15 people ''who are watching games (usually more than one), taking notes, and choosing highlights, every night, seven days a week,'' says producer Jim Walton. SportsCenter, which began in 1979, has a similar setup. (The show also appears at 7 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.)

Fans can count on both programs to give them the night's top hitting and pitching performances, home-run hitters, and winning and losing pitchers. Sports Tonight's anchors, Nick Charles and Fred Hickman, are slick and smooth (though Hickman sometimes shifts into overdrive-he recently described the last-place Minnesota Twins as ''in traction, bloodless, a flat-liner, deader than Mr. Ed in August''). SportsCenter's Bob Ley and Dan Patrick don't have as much gloss, but their schmooze does have spunk. When one recent clip showed New York Giant rookie Rodney Hampton running over and past Buffalo's defensive line for a touchdown, Patrick said, ''He's supposed to be a senior at Georgia. Tell that to the Bills.''

On CNN and ESPN, jock talk can be a sport in itself.

Originally posted Sep 21, 1990 Published in issue #32 Sep 21, 1990 Order article reprints