O'Donnell: Bill Walton's one-off underscores tedium of Chicago baseball broadcasting
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR got "Airplane!"
Bill Walton got to work the White Sox-Angeles game last Friday night alongside Jason Benetti for NBCSCH.
Ah, fate is a fickle tickle,
Walton played his role well.
Like an advanced improv veteran, he tamped down his formidable intellect, amped up his energy and trucked into anticipated avuncular animation.
Benetti was fine.
The game was meaningless -- except for the notably deep reaction to it all from some very estimable corners of Chicago sports media.
Which begs the questions:
Was it because of a staggering turn by Walton?
(Probably not … fun, extremely good sport but not exactly the third coming of Cheech, Chong or Jimmy Piersall.)
Or was it because the day-to-day meanderings of Chicago's four MLB broadcast duos have become so mundane?
Bing, bong, bing!
Walton was a breath of patchouli-scented Glade near a Lollapalooza rest area.
As a fill-in, he wasn't in tough.
Consider the four TV/radio corners he provided a midsummer night's contrast from:
Benetti-Steve Stone: A young fellow likely "Just Visiting" alongside a would-be GM who, when asked what time it is, will first tell you how the watch was built.
Len Kasper-Jim Deshaies: Bland next to occasionally droll. They make dead air a happy place, especially if the road or the Cubs bullpen isn't spoiling the vibe.
Ed Farmer-Darrin Jackson: Check, please! A jail supervisor awaiting his pension announcing lunch call working with an analyst closing in on 20 invisible years in White Sox broadcast booths.
Pat Hughes-Ron Coomer: Mellifluous play-by-player who could be providing voice-overs for rainfall videos on "YouTube" along with the club secretary from the Ricketsville Rotary.
So, Walton was in easy.
And he certainly played to his power Alternative Boulevard -- whatever the goal.
Besides, as Walton's Dead gang sang many cashed chips ago:
They can't revoke your soul for trying.
THE PASSING OF JACK WHITAKER at age 95 is a regrettable reminder that the era of the sensible, even-keeled TV sports "columnist" is all but over.
Bob Costas -- now an unbelievable 67 going on 33⅓ -- stands as the most prominent possible next "Gray Eminence." But he has to decide what he's going to do with the rest of his career.
The extremely capable Mike Wilbon, 60, is nearing the gates of his broadcast autumn. But why would he give up his comfy "Pardon The Interruption" roost for the uncertainty of moral compassing a new-mill sportscape that really doesn't want much reasoned moral compassing?
The peerless Frank Deford -- with his valedictories for HBO and NPR -- proved that a rakish sports essayist can make it work just about anywhere.
But when do the rhythms of the leaves outrank the adrenaline rushes of the deadlined sports word puzzles as a life priority?
STREET-BEATIN': NBC audience numbers for the BMW Championship at Medinah reflected the 25-under cruise of Justin Thomas, although Sunday's finale (2.06 national) was the highest-rated non-major ending since The Players Championship in March. (That's soft numbers for a soft course.) … Great trend lick from Bruce Miles: During the initial four years of Joe Maddon's "American Legion Week," the Cubs are 20-3. Still plenty of time to get down on the Wrigley liege 'n runs vs. San Francisco Thursday (WGN-TV, 1:20 p.m.) and Washington Friday, Saturday and Sunday. … If Bill Belichick was calling the shots at Halas Hall, he would have had soccer champ Carli Lloyd in camp weeks ago under the name "Carl" (and not "Cody"). Her perfect 55-yarder at an Eagles practice Tuesday hinted at an all new kind of Joan of Arc. … Addition of Olin Kreutz to NBCSCH's game-day Bears programming should be a plus, but like so much else at the fizzling outlet, he won't be seen by very many people. Man on an increasing hot seat at the tailspinning "not spot" is VP/GM Kevin Cross, who just can't seem to sustain any visioned executive traction. … Grand that Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman is moving forward with plans for a D-I men's hockey program and a proposed new $100 million arena in downtown Champaign. But shouldn't the Lapsing Illini reestablish a competitive football program first? … For those keeping score, hints that the bells could be ringing any day now for Jimmy deCastro and his special sports broadcast guy. That could make the folks up at the Egg Shell Cafe in Deerfield double up on the Feta in the Spartan Omelette. … Saratoga will be charging $10 for general admission to its Travers Day extravaganza Saturday (Fox, 4 p.m.; TVG throughout the day). That makes the recent $30 door fee to the funereal Arlington Million appear just that much more grossly out of touch. … Credible tee talk that the Wheeling Park District is about to take over the spinal tapering Rob Roy golf layout after 30 years of ownership by the River Trails Park District. Billy Casper Golf currently manages. … Youth will be: David J. Halberstam reports that Noah Eagle -- age 22 -- has landed the gig as radio voice of the L.A. Clippers. The Syracuse/Newhouse grad is the son of CBS's Ian Eagle and has never called an NBA game. … And White Sox manager Rick Renteria went old-school outhouse when asked about his lineup shuffling, telling media: "I'm not going to appeal to the sabermetrician on a daily basis. … If they don't like it, I really don't give a (shoot)."
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.