Radio can bring Series into even sharper focus


October 19, 1990|By Steve McKerrow

During the regular season, WBAL radio ran spots urging television viewers of Orioles games to turn down the sound and listen to the station's radio call. Now World Series fans may want to try the same thing.

This is not a knock at the CBS Sports coverage on TV, with Jack Buck on the play-by-play and Tim McCarver doing color. They have been pretty good. (It remains an irritating mystery why we no longer see split-screen shots when runners are on base, allowing us to see whether a steal or pick-off is in progress.)

Yet listening to the CBS radio team of veteran Vin Scully on play-by-play and longtime Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench on color somehow offers a richer appreciation of the subtleties of this surprising series. (Game 3 from Oakland is at 8:07 tonight on WBAL-AM 1090, with the Reds up 2-0. TV is at 8 on Channel 11.)

For many fans there is an unmatched intimacy to baseball on the radio, born of indelible associations with hot summer nights on front porches, breezy drives in automobiles or late earphone sessions while everyone else is asleep. If baseball is a mental game, the radio brings it inside your head.

By contrast, TV is trapped by all those pictures. For example, during Tuesday's first game, TV carried most of the opening introductions. Sure it was live, but so what? It amounted to nothing but setting the ceremonial stage.

Over on radio, however, John Rooney's pre-game show featured nostalgic audio tapes from past series, featuring the voice of former commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Then came Scully talking with veteran broadcaster Red Barber (a one-time partner when Scully was a rookie), and we heard tapes of Barber's first series, in 1935.

This was a link to baseball tradition, and pictures were not needed. Nor did we have to see Reds owner Marge Schott and her dog at the on-field microphone, as TV was forced to show.

Scully calls a quick, accurate and vivid game, as you sometimes cannot see by watching TV. As Game 1 began, for example, Scully described Reds manager Lou Pinella frantically repositioning his outfield with hand signals, a part of the game which TV did not show.

Bench does not equivocate in assessing plays. In Game 1 he clearly described the reason Reds outfielder Eric Davis missed Rickey Henderson's line shot -- an oddly slicing trajectory into the running fielder -- before the first replay on TV showed the same thing. And in Game 2, he took apart A's manager Tony La Russa's conservative tactics in the first inning, which yielded a single run. "This is the World Series. You can't afford to do that," he observed.

Unfortunately, perhaps the biggest negative of radio is Bench squeezing commercials into the call. When Jose Canseco homered in Game 2, Bench had to immediately deliver "a Toshiba salute" from the sponsor.

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