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Rice no match for Eckersley

Analysis and insight missing after finale

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / September 30, 2011

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Where the heck is the Eck?

Actually, Red Sox fans couldn’t be blamed if they chose more colorful language in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s season-ending loss to the Orioles, not only because of the crushing outcome, but to a much smaller degree because NESN’s most insightful and candid analyst was nowhere to be found.

Sox fans would have wanted Dennis Eckersley to tell it like it is, just as he always does. The frequently stated opinion here is that there is no better baseball analyst, national or otherwise, than Eckersley. But he’s always at his best after tough losses, not only because he’s animated, on-point, owns a deep reservoir of institutional knowledge, and is fearlessly critical yet fair, but because in his likable, slightly wild-eyed way, you get the sense that this is one Hall of Famer who cares about the outcome as much as you do.

Instead, there was a certain less-engaged Hall of Famer alongside the indefatigable Tom Caron. While Jim Rice did take one mighty swing for the fences - suggesting that the Red Sox clubhouse is like a “spa’’ - he otherwise rarely ventured near an actual answer to the questions Caron lobbed his way. It wasn’t enough, not under those circumstances, when viewers are frustrated and want an expert opinion on why and how it all went wrong.

As it turned out, Eckersley was unavailable for NESN’s final Red Sox broadcast because he was en route to prepare for a game that ultimately would never happen. Eckersley is serving as a studio analyst for the fifth year on TBS’s coverage of both Division Series as well as the NLCS, and while the Sox were in their final innings of 2011, he was on a plane to Turner headquarters in Atlanta for a potential one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Rays or, in the National League, the Cardinals and Braves, which would have aired on TBS.

Eckersley is not the only broadcaster with ties to the Red Sox who will be a part of TBS’s coverage. NESN play-by-play voice Don Orsillo is back for his fifth postseason with TBS. He will be joined in the booth by analyst Buck Martinez for the first-round series between the Rangers and Rays, which begins today.

Brian Anderson, who called Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in last year’s NLDS, will be joined by analysts Ron Darling and John Smoltz on TBS’s lead broadcast team for the Yankees-Tigers series. Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly will call the Phillies-Cardinals matchup, while Victor Rojas and Joe Simpson have the Brewers-Diamondbacks.

‘Life’ is good I’m trailing behind the play on this, since it aired last Thursday, but it must be acknowledged that the second episode in the NFL Network’s two-part film “Bill Belichick: A Football Life’’ was just as engrossing as the first - even if the image of the coach roller skating while dressed as a pirate takes some time to fully register. (It should be noted that this took place at Randy Moss’s Halloween party, and not just some random Tuesday.) Belichick’s apparent epiphany while talking with Tom Brady on the sideline during a blowout loss to the Saints during the documented 2009 season that his coaching could not salvage a flawed defense was mesmerizing in its candor, perhaps the most memorable scene among many in the two episodes. It made a viewer wish that there was a third part to the series. But criticism that relevant developments during the season were glossed over if not ignored entirely are just. Patriots fans would love to have any insight on the machinations that led to Richard Seymour being dealt to Oakland. And if there was a reference to “LateGate,’’ when Belichick sent four players home after they were late to a morning meeting because of weather conditions, it was brief enough to escape notice here. NFL Films said the Patriots did not request that anything be omitted other than some footage that included play-calling terminology. If that is indeed the case, shortchanging the Seymour story in particular was a glaring omission in an otherwise superb production.

Ice shows Comcast SportsNet New England continues to add original programming specific to the local teams. “Patriot Wednesday’’ and “Patriots This Week’’ are recent additions to the lineup, and a Bruins-centric show will launch Oct. 11. Titled “Sticks and Stones’’ and hosted by the beyond-ubiquitous Michael Felger, the show will feature, among other elements, a segment with Bruins forward Shawn Thornton and contributions from NBC’s stable of NHL personalities (including Mike Milbury, long associated with NESN). NESN is expected to announce new Bruins programming that sounds very promising sometime next week . . . Call this the definition of sticking around until the bitter end. The 162d and final Red Sox game of the season earned a 15.5 overnight rating on NESN Wednesday night. ESPN, which along with MLB Network did an outstanding job of keeping viewers attuned to what was happening in the three other crucial games Wednesday, earned a strong 1.6 overnight rating for its national broadcast . . . Yesterday afternoon, the different approaches of NESN and CSNNE were crystallized by one impossible-not-to-notice contrast in programming. Not only did CSNNE stick with the postmortem press conference of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona longer than NESN, but it had in studio Lou Merloni, who during the Sox’ meltdown has provided informed and consistently well-reasoned analysis on CSNNE. While CSNNE was parsing Epstein and Francona’s comments, NESN was showing a Premier League soccer replay. Any Wolverhampton fans out there?

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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