King Kaufman's Sports Daily

MLB agrees to take cable customers' money. Now about those blackout rules. Plus: Meche, Lilly shine. And: Eddie Robinson tributes.


Salon Staff
April 5, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

Major League Baseball has finally struck a deal with In Demand, the pay-per-view network co-owned by Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable. The agreement allows cable subscribers to buy the "Extra Innings" package of out-of-town games, which would have been available only to DirecTV satellite customers had MLB and In Demand not come to terms.

It's a reported seven-year deal that will give In Demand a 16 percent stake in the new baseball network, which it will make available to at least 40 million customers starting in 2009, the Associated Press reports. DirecTV, which had been in line for a 20 percent stake in the new network under a then-exclusive deal signed last month, also gets 16 percent equity.

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Customers of DirecTV competitor Dish Network are still shut out, though MLB spokesman Rich Levin told the AP that baseball's still willing to negotiate with the satellite company. In Demand will make the package available to cable companies other than its owners.

So except for Dish Network subscribers, it all works out for baseball fans who want to watch out-of-town games. The In Demand deal takes effect immediately. In fact, In Demand began making the games available as part of a free preview week Wednesday night.

All that remains is the memory of Bud Selig and Co.'s condescending, dismissive attitude toward the concerns of baseball fans. Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris. Baseball fans will always have Bud's condescension.

Most of the time when politicians, particularly members of Congress, get involved in baseball, they're grandstanding, getting some ink, some C-SPAN face time. This time, though, it looks as though Sen. John Kerry's complaints about the DirecTV deal had some influence on the situation -- which is not to say Kerry wasn't grandstanding.

It would be too strong to say that Kerry shamed MLB into keeping the door open for a nonexclusive deal because the idea of MLB having shame is just too far-fetched. But Kerry, with his letter to the Federal Communications Commission and his comments in the media, helped give the fan backlash some weight. Baseball fans need all the help they can get in having their voices heard by baseball.

It would be nice if Selig and his minions would next hear the fans on the issue of MLB's insane, insulting blackout rules, the intentions of which are to protect the revenues of local broadcasters with rights to the games of the various teams.

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In practice, this leads to vast swaths of our country being prevented from seeing the games of up to six "local" teams -- sometimes hundreds of miles away -- without being able to see those teams on local stations, because the local stations know a lot more about what "local" means than baseball seems to.

For example, if you live around Charlotte, N.C., your "local" teams are the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. If you live in the Oklahoma panhandle, your "local" teams are the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and -- 700 miles away -- St. Louis Cardinals.

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And you can count yourself lucky you don't live in Iowa, where your "local nine" are the Royals. And the Cardinals. And both Chicago teams. And the Milwaukee Brewers. And the Minnesota Twins.

Here's a blackout map created by Dan Werr of BaseballThinkFactory.org.

Read it and remember Bud Selig's message to you, the fans, whenever you raise concerns about the game and how it's being run: It's not that big a deal.

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Dog days already in D.C.? [PERMALINK]

It's going to be a long year for the Washington Nationals. We all know that. Wednesday afternoon, early in the third game of the season, it sounded like the year was already starting to drag for Nationals TV announcer Bob Carpenter.

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The Nationals had dropped the first two games of the season at home to the Florida Marlins by scores of 9-2 and 9-3, and Wednesday they fell behind in the second inning when light-hitting outfielder Cody Ross hit an upper-deck home run, something the Marlins had made a habit of doing in the series already.

"Another Marlin upper-deck home run," was Carpenter's exasperated call. "When they hit 'em, do they hit 'em. Cody Ross with a 15th major league home run." He continued in what I'd have to call a disgusted tone: "A career .220 hitter. Does anybody not hit an upper-deck homer here anymore?"

Keep in mind, this was the second inning of the third game of the season.

In the third inning, Mike Jacobs homered for the Marlins two batters after Miguel Cabrera had done the same. Florida led 5-0. Carpenter's call: "Mike Jacobs rocks one to right field. It's downstairs, but it counts too."

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The funny thing is, the Nationals rallied, scoring three in the sixth inning and three in the ninth for a 7-6 win, their first of the season. There will be a lot more losses than wins over the next six months. It'll be fun to see if Carpenter's sunny new partner, Don Sutton, can keep him off the press box ledge.

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Somewhere, Darren Dreifort warms up [PERMALINK]

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On Monday, the signer of the most maligned free-agent contract of the winter, Gil Meche, made his debut for the Kansas City Royals, holding the Boston Red Sox to a run and six hits, striking out six and walking one in seven and a thirds innings. He got a standing ovation from the home crowd as he came off the field, one start into his five-year, $55 million deal.

On Wednesday, Ted Lilly toted his four-year, $40 million deal to the mound for the Chicago Cubs. He took a first step toward that seemingly bloated contract by outpitching Meche, holding the Cincinnati Reds to a run on three hits and a walk, with nine strikeouts in seven innings in Cincy's band-box park.

If this keeps up, Jason Marquis -- 6.02 ERA, three-year, $20 million contract -- is going to throw a perfect game for the Cubs in Cincinnati Thursday afternoon.

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Tributes to Eddie Robinson [PERMALINK]

Here's a short, incomplete list of some of the many tributes, columns, remembrances and editorials about Eddie Robinson, the Grambling coach who won more Division I college football games than anyone else. Robinson died late Tuesday night at 88.

Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News writes that Robinson's impact on the sport should have been greater.

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"Of Division I football's 119 head coaches, only six are black. America, that's disgraceful," he writes, adding that those who want to honor Robinson should do so "by demanding university presidents and athletic directors ignore their big-money boosters and move outside their comfort zone and hire more black coaches."

Others I came across that are well worth a few minutes of reading time: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports writes that as bad as those college football hiring practices are, it's worse in high school ball, even in predominantly black areas.

Richard Lapchick, who wrote Robinson's autobiography, "Never Before, Never Again," with him; former NFL player and college coach Bill Curry; and columnist Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN.com

Jeff Duncan and John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune

Dennis Dodd, CBS.SportsLine.com, who calls Robinson the greatest coach of all time, and "don't bother putting 'college' in front of Eddie Robinson's title." Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

Fred Mitchell and an unsigned editorial, Chicago Tribune

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See you Monday [PERMALINK]

This column has the day off Friday. I'll be back Monday. Here's a link back to the top of Thursday's column, here's one to the archives, and here's one to a randomly chosen column from 2004. Enjoy.

Previous column: Tennessee beats Rutgers for title

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