FSN Pittsburgh finally got it right this year when it hired Kent Tekulve as its Pirates analyst. Tekulve, who is seen on the postgame show after all telecasts, was a student of the game as a player and it's not surprising he does well in this role.
He comes with impeccable credentials. Not only does he have an excellent broadcasting resume -- he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies announcing team for seven seasons in the 1990s -- but he was the Pirates' advance scout in 2006 and 2007. As such, he has a tremendous knowledge of the rest of the National League.
Those assets come across in his work. If there's a glitch, it's that he is an employee of the Pirates, working as what amounts to a goodwill ambassador for the team. But there's no lack of objectivity in his opinion. He's not likely to strongly criticize the team, but, since FSN and the Pirates are partners, that type of criticism isn't going to be heard from anyone at the station as part of the game broadcast.
"I don't think the club looks at me to be a PR guy," Tekulve said. "I'm there to analyze the game. I have enough faith that I've watched enough baseball that if I have an opinion on something, it's pretty accurate. If I screw up, I'll admit it."
Tekulve pitched for the Pirates from 1974-85, saved three games in the team's 1979 World Series win and is seventh all time in games pitched. He and Mike Marshall are the only players to pitch 90 games in a season more than once. Tekulve did it the second time with the Phillies when he was 40.
On a recent segment, when the Pirates were in the early stages of the mini-turnaround in which they now find themselves, Tekulve pronounced the team better than most people -- maybe even the players and management -- thought.
"I've watched these teams play as many as 40 times over the past two years, and I think the physical skills of the Pirates players are well into the upper half of the National League," he said. "I don't buy the argument we need better players. Understanding how to use those skills is our downfall. The players have to understand the game better. It's not mechanical stuff, it's knowing the game, knowing what the other team is going to do, knowing what you should do in different situations.
"What I'm most encouraged about so far is we're not regularly being beaten by pitchers who are 3-6 with a 6.40 earned run average. That used to happen too often. It's not happening as often this year. Our hitters are taking a better offensive approach. They're being more selective early in the count."
The Pirates are making Tekulve look good, having won nine of their past 13.
FSN on top
As bad as the Penguins beat the Flyers Sunday, that's how bad FSN beat WPXI when the two stations went head-to-head with postgame shows. WPXI won the ratings because it carried the game and had a built-in audience, but it was thoroughly outclassed, despite utilizing all of its four-man sports staff.
FSN has an edge with Dan Potash, who covered the team all year and has built up a strong rapport with the players, which shows in his interviews. Potash was in the locker room conducting live interviews with key players minutes after the teams left the ice, while WPXI had John Fedko in the studio playing for time. When WPXI went to Mellon Arena, it had Alby Oxenreiter interviewing Mike Milbury, a former NHL coach and general manager who was part of the NBC announcing crew.
WPXI was taping its interviews and didn't get some players on the air until as much as 25 minutes after Potash had them. When there was time to kill, WPXI had to switch back to its studio, where Fedko had little to say. FSN went back to Rob King and Jay Caulfield, their Penguins analyst, who had a lot more to say.
It was the top of the fourth of a 2-2 game Sunday between the Pirates, who could reach .500 with a win, and the division-leading Chicago Cubs. In other words, for a Pirates game in mid-May, it was somewhat compelling.
But not to the television broadcasting crew of Lanny Frattare and Bob Walk. They were too busy having a good time discussing the daily trivia question, which they considered so important they pretty much ignored the first two batters of the inning.
This sounds like one of those ideas that comes from upstairs, but from wherever it came, it's time to ditch it or at least considerably minimize its importance.
Can you imagine the Penguins announcers going on and on about a trivia question while the game was in progress?
The Penguins' series-deciding victory against the Flyers Sunday drew a 1.6 rating on NBC, slightly ahead of the 1.5 rating the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars received Saturday. In Pittsburgh, the Penguins game had a 26.1 rating. The second-highest rated city was Philadelphia at 7.6.
Rounding out the top five were Buffalo 4.8, Detroit 2.6 and Cleveland 2.5.
The top-five rated markets for the Saturday game were: Detroit 14.1, Dallas 4.0, Pittsburgh 3.4, Buffalo 3.1 and Minneapolis 2.9.
Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .