Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. said his goals for his first World Series were to educate, enlighten and entertain. As Bob Uecker might say, "Bingo!" Gowdy and ABC's announcing crew of play-by-play man Al Michaels and commentators Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer put on a baseball clinic that was consistently captivating, even though the early games were right out of Dullsville. Michaels was especially entertaining. Remember the beauty he got off about St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog after the Minnesota Twins had huge fourth innings two games in a row? "Whitey," said Michaels, "is going to need a fifth after the fourth."
Gowdy, 34, who cut his teeth as a teenage gofer at NBC while his father was announcing there in the mid-'60s, seemed to make a conscious decision not to produce down to his viewers. He assumed the audience was interested in the game's subtleties. Example: As Cardinal southpaw Ken Dayley entered Game 4, we were shown that Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky, the first two batters he was to face, both right-handed, have fared appreciably worse against lefties than righties.
ABC also showed a wealth of memorable replays, including Cardinals third baseman Tom Lawless's bat-flipping home run trot, St. Louis coach Red Schoendienst's putting a hex on the Twins from the dark of the dugout, three missed umpiring calls in Game 7 and Twins Kirby Puckett's and Al Newman's end-of-series high-five victory dance. However, in the early games, the live camera cuts selected by Craig Jan-off, who was directing his first Series, too often played catchup to the action on the field and seemed intent on romancing the crowd. Come on, guys, let's put a moratorium on shots of those tacky self-congratulatory signs in the stands—e.g., ALWAYS BELOVED CARDINALS and AMERICA'S BASEBALL CAPITAL. Looking at them is A Boring Chore.
As refreshing and insightful as he is, McCarver would be better in a two-man booth. He needs room to stretch and extemporize as he does on the Mets' local telecasts. Palmer, who signed a two-year contract with ABC before the Series, can be petulant and essentially makes the same points as McCarver about fielder position and pitch location. But mark this: The insights Michaels, McCarver and Palmer provided on balk moves, strategy, base-running blunders, the timing of relief moves and even the overrated value of radar guns made these telecasts ABC's finest World Series to date.
The most hilarious moment came in Game 4. Just as McCarver was referring to Minnesota pinch hitter Mark Davidson by his nickname, "Mad Dog," a shot of Herzog's smiling wife, Mary Lou, appeared on screen. Michaels, suppressing hysterics, had to file a disclaimer.
McCarver's contract with ABC expires at the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, and he could become the object of a bidding war if he wants to play ABC and NBC off against each other. NBC has wined and dined McCarver—in one instance at an out-of-the-way Manhattan restaurant in which Frank Gifford happened upon the proceedings. NBC can give him more baseball exposure than ABC—that is, if it can find a place to put him. NBC backup commentator Tony Kubek, whose contract has expired, is coming off an outstanding league championship series, and Joe Garagiola's contract has another year to run. McCarver's agent, Bob Rosen, has rejected offers for him to host ABC's Good Morning America and the new morning program CBS is developing. The smart money has McCarver staying at ABC—which is dangling an expanded sports commentary role before him—for at least another year or two. He's expected to make a decision within a few weeks.
Through Game 5, the Series ratings were down 14% (26.2 to 22.6) from the same number of games in 1986. This year Game 1, which got a 19.2 rating, set two dubious records: It was the first Series game not to receive a better rating than the highest-rated playoff game from that same year (Game 7 of the NL playoffs pulled a 21.1), and it was the lowest-rated prime-time Series game ever. To be fair, the '86 Series on NBC featured teams from the major markets of New York City and Boston. Moreover, it was up against ABC's third-rated entertainment programming, while this year's Series on ABC had to compete with NBC's top-rated shows. Still, the decline is notable.
A job well done: Gowdy educated, enlightened and entertained.