Rangers respect

DALLAS — The most-watched segment of the most-watched show on cable television this year starred Josh Hamilton, who plays for Texas Rangers.

ESPN's Home Run Derby on Monday night is the new leader in cable's clubhouse, making January's CNN Democratic presidential debate another also-ran. The Home Run Derby averaged a robust 6.4 rating and 9.1 million viewers. During Hamilton's 28-homer barrage, the ratings needle peaked at 7.5. That's more than 10 million viewers.

This is significant because the networks have long considered the Rangers in the same radioactive class as the Tampa Bay Rays, the Washington Nationals and the Class A Savannah Sand Gnats.

It has nothing to do with market size. The Rangers play in the same television market as the TV darling Cowboys. But the networks' interest in the franchises is 180 degrees apart. Who could blame them? Pick a year, any year. Now check the standings.

The ultimate indignity came early this year when Fox, ESPN and Turner sat down to divvy up the 2008 schedule. When the networks finished, the Rangers were shut out of national coverage.

Now along comes Josh Hamilton.

Just about the time Sports Illustrated put Hamilton on its June 2 cover, Fox began making inquiries about shuffling its Saturday afternoon schedule to accommodate Rangers games. But the team had little interest in moving Saturday home games from evenings to broiling afternoons.

Imagine the raised eyebrows had TV listings showed the Rangers hosting the Rays on Fox's June 7 broadcast.

Still, Fox remains hard at work trying to find a place for the Rangers.

”We have major interest,“ Fox spokesman Dan Bell said.

Over at ESPN, Hamilton is ”our new hero.“ That's how Len DeLuca, senior vice president for programming, described the center fielder.

”The Rangers are in the center of our radar screen now as opposed to the periphery,“ DeLuca said. ”Josh Hamilton put them there. Now the team has to continue winning games.“

DeLuca sees the Rangers as a possible fit for upcoming night games. The Yankees-Rangers series in August looks appetizing. The Rangers can be flipped into a Monday or Wednesday national game with less than a week's notice.

For the record, DeLuca is excited about all the Rangers All-Stars. But Hamilton is the straw stirring this drink.

”He reminds me of a young Joe Hardy,“ DeLuca said, referencing the hero of the musical Damn Yankees.

Hardy played for the Washington Senators. Before they moved, the Texas Rangers were the Washington Senators.

”It's a story made for TV,“ DeLuca said.