What's all this stuff about NBC's Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola losing out to ABC's trio of Al Michaels, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer? Granted, Michaels, McCarver and Palmer showed during the National League Championship Series that there's no better announcing team in baseball, but Scully and Garagiola were not exactly bad company during the World Series. Their insights on pitch selection and other esoterica were terrific.
Despite Michaels et al., NBC is still the baseball network. Not only does it have a better feel for the game than ABC, but it also has a deeper bench. While ABC had to rely on the uninformed Gary Bender for interviews, NBC was able to turn to the savvy Bob Costas and Marv Albert. NBC's production, from its more candid scouting reports to its use of footage from The Natural during the pre-Game 2 show, was also superior to ABC's work.
Not everything NBC did clicked, however. The pre-Game 3 show essentially consisted of cohosts Albert and Costas doing a smart but misplaced Siskel and Ebert takeoff on baseball movies. And when L.A. manager Tommy Lasorda credited Costas after Game 4 with pumping up the Dodgers by calling their lineup weak, Costas was rushed on the air to give his response. It was disconcerting to see NBC allow one of its reporters to become part of the story.
•The sequence of shots that capped Game 1—Kirk Gibson pumping his arm after his epic homer, Lasorda bounding from the dugout, A's reliever Dennis Eckersley watching in disbelief—bore the unmistakable stamp of director Harry Coyle. Unfortunately, this was the 36th and last World Series for Coyle, 64, who suffered a heart attack in June and will retire after next season. More than anyone else, Coyle revolutionized baseball coverage by focusing his cameras on players' reactions as well as the play on the field. They ought to put him in the broadcasting wing of the Hall of Fame, pronto.
•As superb as Michaels, McCarver and Palmer were, they may not get another chance to work together. Although the major leagues' current national TV contract isn't scheduled to expire until 1990, commissioner Peter Ueberroth hopes to negotiate a new one soon, and it's possible that ABC, which has been losing a fortune on baseball for four years, may surrender the battlefield to NBC, CBS and cable.
Cable will be a major player in the deal, which could take effect as early as next spring. Because the networks are almost certain to cough up less than the $9 million or so they currently provide each team, Ueberroth hopes to make up the difference on the cable side of the ledger. The question is how to set up a national cable package for one or two nights a week without undercutting the value of some teams' local television deals. After all, few big league owners want to cede local TV games to, say, ESPN or Turner Network Television.
The way Ueberroth may solve the problem is to create an all-baseball basic cable channel that would show as many as four games each night. In effect, the owners would pool games already being shown on regional pay-TV services. Viewers would see (and pay for) the telecast of the team in their market if a game was scheduled; otherwise, they would be sent games of regional or divisional interest. Eventually baseball might also share the channel with the NHL or NBA in the off-season. At-least for the time being, postseason games would stay on free TV. Look for CBS to make a strong run at getting the playoffs and World Series in alternating years.
•A vehement boo for NBC's Citicorp Keys to Success feature. It's one thing to let a sponsor put its name on an event, e.g., the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl; it's quite another to allow it to purchase analysis of an event. What's next, the Mennen Skin Bracer Pitching Change?
•Strange but True Department: Before three of the most dramatic moments of the Series, NBC statistician Elliott Kalb and associate producer Jeff Simon put up some uncanny graphics.
Game 1, second inning, Jose Canseco vs. Tim Belcher: The graphic read, "Canseco has never hit a grand slam home run in his career." Next pitch—boom!—Canseco cleared the bases.
Game 1, ninth inning, Gibson vs. Eckersley: "Eckersley has not allowed a home run since Aug. 24." Seven pitches later, Gibson blasted his famous dinger.
Game 3, ninth inning, Mark McGwire vs. Jay Howell: "Howell has not allowed a home run to a righthanded batter this season (110 at bats)." Eight pitches later...history.
Kalb, who comes up with the stats, and Simon, who chooses the moment to put them on the air, claim no special powers other than those produced by hard work. But, said Simon, "after the Series, we're going to get on the first plane to Vegas."
Coyle, a veteran of 36 Series, is worthy of the Hall of Fame.