The Washington Times - January 2, 2009, 02:00PM

New Year’s Day is a great opportunity for lazy people like myself to sit on my butt and watch sports. I was focused yesterday on three events: The NHL’s Winter Classic, the Rose Bowl and the launch of the MLB Network. The Rose Bowl was a bit of a stinker, but the other two offered some very compelling television.

This idea of hockey outside in the cold is one of the best things the NHL has done in a long time. Seeing Wrigley Field in that context was great, and the game itself was compelling. There is a lot of debate about whether the NHL should do these types of games more often. I happen to agree with league commissioner Gary Bettman when he says that anything more than one would take away its uniqueness. One winter game on New Year’s Day, preferably in an iconic stadium in a hockey-crazed city, would create a very special tradition for the league.

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Now, the launch of the MLB Network was something I’d been looking forward to for a while, just to see how the production looked.

At first the network’s debut was somewhat inauspicious. The one-hour “Hot Stove” show beginning at 6 p.m. looked good, and it’s nice to have a roster of Major Leaguers like Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds and Barry Larkin on board. An instructive segment featuring Jimmy Rollins discussing Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the 1955 World Series was unique and well done.

But the actual Hot Stove discussion lacked new insights. I question, for instance, the logic of having three former players debate the offseason spending by the New York Yankees. None of the analysts — not Leiter, not Reynolds, not Larkin — even mentioned criticism of the Yankees’ ability to outspend all other teams, and the issue of a potential salary cap never came up. Perhaps adding a former front-office exec would provide better balance.

All that criticism aside, the network hit a grand slam with its re-broadcast of Don Larsen’s perfect game from the 1956 World Series. The game — Mel Allen, Vin Scully, vintage commercials and all — was highly entertaining, and the network was wise to hire Bob Costas to interview Larsen and catcher Yogi Berra before the broadcast and between innings.

There were several moving moments, including the look on Larsen and Berra’s faces as they watched the game’s end. It was, they said, the first time they had ever watched the game in its entirety.

In Larsen, we saw a man who appeared both genuinely proud but humbled to have created such an historic moment. It was touching to hear him say that he thought about the perfect game every day of his life, often more than once.

The best moment was when Larsen admitted he didn’t know he had pitched a perfect game until after he was informed by teammates. That is, he knew he had pitched a no-hitter, but the concept of a perfect game was foreign to him. Costas was clearly stunned, and the moment offered some new insight into one of baseball’s most historic moments.