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An unconventional Fenway production

We've learned repeatedly in the past few years that the E in ESPN stands for Entertainment as the folks in Bristol, Conn., increasingly incorporate the entertainment world in their programming.

Sunday night, we found out that the P stands for Politics, even though ESPN's venerable play-by-play man Jon Miller said, in his opening for the Yankees-Red Sox "Sunday Night Baseball" game: "Conventional wisdom is that baseball is the national pastime, not politics."

The Red Sox mixed the worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics at Fenway Park Sunday night, making the game nirvana for the pop culture world of ESPN.

Unfortunately, for those mostly interested in the S-is-for-Sports component, it was tough viewing. Should John F. Kerry have thrown out the first pitch? Sure. Should he have been interviewed during the game? Sure . . . though did ESPN have to make it so obvious that good guy Miller was feeding him pre-arranged questions?

But the real overkill was the 25 times -- by this viewer's count -- ESPN cut to Kerry shots during the game. Looking down the road, does this mean that President Bush will get equal time during a Yankees or Mets telecast before the Republican convention in New York?

You have to figure, like big campaign donors, ESPN would want to hedge its bet on the election, especially as the ever-increasing carriage fees for the expanding empire catch attention in Washington.

Still, ESPN succeeded in catching the flavor of the DNC in Boston Sunday night, starting with wonderful aerial shots of the city from the Met Life blimp, continuing with ground-level shots showing security at the FleetCenter [and Fenway], and the fireworks over Boston Harbor during the game.

And they had a big Boston audience. The game had an 18.8 rating, the best ever for an ESPN baseball game in Boston. In Providence, the Sox telecast had a 19.2 rating.

The numbers capped a weekend in which Channel 4 posted its second-highest Sox rating of the past two years for Friday night's telecast, a 15.5, trailing only a 16.0 for a Sox-Yankees game last Aug. 29.

And, on Saturday, Fox tied for its third-best Saturday afternoon rating in Boston with a 12.9 rating (30 share).

Leftover items
Weekend snippets:

* A head-scratcher. NFL players get fined for taking their helmets off in a fight, and Fox's Tim McCarver is saying Sox catcher Jason Varitek should have taken his mask off to engage Alex Rodriguez.

* The late-running Sunday night baseball game didn't leave time for channels 4 and 7 to get postgame video for their late-night shows. Each went heavy with Patriots training camp previews and came in with baseball reports at the end of the show. Channel 4's "Sports Final" went overtime to get a postgame interview with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. Patriots tight end Christian Fauria took over Channel 7's "Sports Xtra" Sunday night as self-proclaimed co-host with Joe Amorosino.

* ESPN generally finishes its "Sunday Night Baseball" telecasts in time to get its audience to "SportsCenter" at 11 p.m. That plan pretty much went out the window this week after a 36-minute, 50-pitch first inning.

* Replays showed home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt was correct on Jorge Posada's catch for a force at home in the first inning as he dragged his leg across the plate and calling Derek Jeter out when he was hit by Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli's throw in the eighth while Jeter was running inside the first-base line.

* Analyst Rick Sutcliffe, a former starter, gets credit for a quality start in place of ESPN analyst Joe Morgan (at the Hall of Fame ceremonies), but was in need of relief in the final innings. Among his on-the-money observations: On Johnny Damon: "On defense, he giveth and he taketh away." On Kerry's bounced 50-foot ceremonial first pitch: "Kerry set the tone for Lowe with that sinker into the dirt."

* One benefit of all the face time for the celebs in the stands was being spared live in-game interviews with managers and/or players who just came out of the game. The only "Sounds of the Game" segment was tape of Kevin Youkilis predicting Damon would homer off the "Pesky Pole" in the second inning.

Missing ending
Frank Shorr, director of the Sports Institute at Boston University and former sports producer at Channel 7, was fuming Sunday because Outdoor Life Network missed Lance Armstrong crossing the finish line of the Tour de France in its live coverage Sunday morning. "You've got to be kidding me," said Schorr. "I watch the Tour for three weeks, then give it almost three hours of my Sunday and OLN doesn't have him crossing the finish line?"

And the story only gets worse.

It turns out that the French production company that provided the world feed -- Societe Francaise de Production -- rejected OLN's request to lay its own cable at the finish to augment the international feed and allow it to focus exclusively on Armstrong.

Then SFP concentrated on the relatively inconsequential sprint finish in Sunday's final stage [won by Tom Boonen] and missed Armstrong's finish completely. Conspiracy theorists forever will wonder if it was incompetence, hard to believe in an international event of this magnitude, or an intentional omission by the producer. After all, Armstrong was the only guy out there wearing a bright yellow jersey.

By anyone's news standards, the big story of the day was Armstrong crossing the finish line to become the first six-time winner of the Tour, even though his victory was a fait accompli going into the final day. Still, not to have the documentation is akin to missing Hank Aaron's 715th home run. It's an unthinkable professional gaffe and it left announcers Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen to say Armstrong had slipped over the line unseen by the cameras.

In truth he had, coming across in 114th place.

For OLN it was an embarrassment that fell short of an unmitigated disaster only because network vice president John Carter, thwarted by the French in having his own live shot, still assigned a cameraman at the finish to shoot what he expected would be a second view of Armstrong crossing the finish line.

Said cameraman, accomplishing what the French crew couldn't or wouldn't do while jostling for position himself at the finish, picked Armstrong out of the finishing melange and got the shot. Immediately he got the emergency call from the truck.

The tape was seen shortly after the fact and incorporated in OLN's re-airings of the Tour's final stage through the day and on the CBS wrapup show Sunday afternoon.

Political pros
Tonight's "Pros on Pros" show on WWZN (1510-AM) will air live from The Stadium sports bar in South Boston with co-hosts Larry Eisenhauer and Paul Stewart. Scheduled guests include Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), and Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kansas), and former congressman Jack Kemp. Tomorrow, Eddie Andelman and Dave Jageler do their noon-3 p.m. show live from the Bedford VA Hospital as Andelman continues his drive to provide veterans with prepaid phone cards and portable radios. To donate to the cause, call the station at 781-359-1533 or stop by WWZN's Burlington studios . . . Globe staffers Nick Cafardo and Bob Ryan will join host Bob Lobel on "Sports Plus" tomorrow night at 11 on NESN. Topics include baseball's trading deadline, Patriots training camp, and Armstrong [Ryan is just back from the Tour de France]. Next week, the show expands to twice weekly, with one telecast concentrating on pro football.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is 

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