CBS loss more than innuendo

October 16, 1991|By Alan Greenberg | Alan Greenberg,The Hartford Courant

Is it true that Georgia native Clarence Thomas declined to watch Anita F. Hill's testimony because he was too busy watching the Atlanta Braves on CBS? Was Cito Gaston a lousy manager in the American League Championship Series because paid more attention to the lineup of corroborating witnesses than his own?

For those of you who may have gotten confused while switching channels, let me assure you it was Andrea Kirby who harnessed Tom Kelly, but Kirby Puckett did not harass Ms. Hill, only Toronto Blue Jays' pitchers. And while it's true that free swingers such as Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., really know how to play hardball, manager Jim Leyland wouldn't trade Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla for them.

The results are in, and the winners are, in no particular order: Thomas, President Bush and the Republican Party, the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates.

But not CBS. Definitely not CBS.

CBS paid $1 billion for the rights to televise Major League Baseball and, if there has been a more bone-headed network decision in the past decade, let's hear about it.

CBS's baseball ratings have been well below its -- and advertisers' -- expectations all season. Red ink flows. Why? Because most baseball teams have only regional appeal. Until ++ the World Series, when for one week almost everyone seems to pick a side and get interested.

The League Championship Series? Forget 'em. Nobody cares. The Nielsen ratings for the nation's 25 largest TV markets are in, and they're the worst in LCS history.

According to Nielsen, Friday night's Game 3 of the ALCS drew a 10 rating. ABC and NBC, which were televising the Thomas-Hill hearings live, had a 26.5 rating.

Saturday afternoon's Game 3 of the NLCS managed only a 7.6. Saturday night, in prime time, Game 4 of the ALCS registered 8.9 on the Nielsen scale. Sunday afternoon's Game 5 of the ALCS drew an 8.8 rating. Sunday night's NLCS Game 4 had an 11.3.

These are pathetic numbers and if you want to blame them on the Thomas-Hill hearings, as CBS surely will, don't. Last season we had more attractive matchups in terms of rivalries -- Pirates-Reds in the NLCS and Red Sox-A's in the ALCS -- but only slightly better ratings.

What is the world coming to when people would rather watch a Supreme Court confirmation hearing smacking of sexual innuendo than the National Pastime?

For those of you who missed most of the games, having spent the weekend watching home plate umpire Joseph R. Biden Jr. welcome endless panels of mystery guests into the batter's box, here's an update on what you missed:

* Braves owner Ted Turner and Jane Fonda doing the tomahawk chop with special guests Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

* Mike Pagliarulo having a moment better than anything any of us will have in our entire lives.

* A scintillating report in which CBS interviewed Twins' office worker Scott Erickson, not to be -- but sometimes -- confused with Twins' star pitcher Scott Erickson. We learned that -- are you sitting down? -- office worker Erickson sometimes mistakenly gets mail intended for Twins' heartthrob Erickson. Say, where's that test pattern when you want to watch something good?

* The Braves' Steve Avery and Tom Glavine, the best young pitchers in the National League.

* Twins manager Tom Kelly, belatedly remembering this season's private lessons from media consultant Andrea Kirby and resisting his natural urge to strangle various members of the media for asking stupid questions, as he attempted to do when the Twins reached postseason play in 1987.

* The Blue Jays losing three in a row at SkyDome, and the series, while Juan Guzman, their dominant starter the second half of the season, pitched only once, in Game 2 -- the only game the Blue Jays won.

* Gaston, who would have best helped his Toronto team by staying on the shelf with that back injury. Cito, you make Stump Merrill look like a genius.

It was an ugly weekend for Canada's team, and an ugly weekend for American politics. But it was an even uglier weekend for CBS.

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