Early Series review: CBS is on target

Phil Jackman

October 21, 1991|By Phil Jackman

The TV repairman: A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. And just to make sure, during the league playoffs, CBS provided both. . .yaddada-yaddada-yaddada.

With the start of the World Series, however, "the network of baseball's big games" so far has been up to the assignment with steady, even coverage.

At the outset, get one thing straight about baseball in the middle of the football season: All the players are stupendous performers, who, except for the passage of time, certainly would have been in the lineup of the '27 Yankees or the '34 Gashouse Gang.

With that as a given, announcers Jack Buck and Tim McCarver (TV) and Vin Scully and Johnny Bench (radio) have done a fine job of reporting and editorializing, going so far as to point up rockhead plays (take a bow, Dan Gladden).

Actually, it's some of the things the network hasn't done that has made Fall Classic viewing less tedious than usual. For example, one night last week during the NLCS, someone saw fit to slip in 133 replays during the course of a 1-0 game and that's easily a hundred too many. Noteworthy restraint was shown in World Series Games 1 and 2 in this regard.

The immediate reaction when a new gadget called "Sportvision" was introduced was that, typical of new toys, the device would be used and used and used. If anything, however, the pitch-tracking graphic could have been pressed into service more.

Another area in which CBS is showing laudable restraint is in its print graphics. You know the kind: "Only four times in the last 10 years has a team won the World Series after losing the first game."

Also being kept under firm control has been the number of promos for the net's prime time shows. During Game 1, "Murphy Brown," "Designing Women," "Major Dad," and "Evening Shade" got just two calls apiece while "60 Minutes," "Northern Exposure" and "Golden Girls" received one each.

Years ago, during a Super Bowl on NBC, "The A Team" exceeded this total handsomely by the middle of the first quarter. . .and how about all those people touting new shows on ABC materializing in the "Monday Night Football" booth.

Prior to the opener, there was a tendency to overstate the problem Braves' outfielders might have trying to track balls against the white roof of the Metrodome, as though the Houston Astrodome in their league doesn't provide a similar test. But this is an excusable old standby, going back to the years when all Series were staged in Yankee Stadium and the sun field in left annually became the most famous chunk of real estate on the planet for a week.

It was Frank Robinson who once uttered the line, "Baseball is a game of speed, not rush," and everyone involved has been doing his darndest lately to prove it. The actual playing times of the first few innings Saturday were 15, 19, 20 and 21 minutes, but add three minutes after each inning and 2:30 after each half-inning for commercial purposes and you can forget about a tempo developing.

As the game drags and a pitching change or two takes on the dimensions of the last two minutes of an NFL game -- "Figure it for a half-hour sometimes," says Terry Bradshaw -- TV is forced to fill the void with graphics and replays and the latter never will be McCarver's friend.

Because Tim relies on his eyes and knowledge of the game totally, he often crawls out on a branch with a statement, only to have it sawed off by a replay in super slow motion. Fortunately, he's secure enough to laugh at himself and say, "Well, the play was close enough to call him out," as a fielder botches a tag and pictures show clearly the baserunner was safe.

Already, CBS is two steps along the way toward an Emmy simply by keeping shots of opposing managers Bobby Cox and Tom Kelly within reason. Of course, it might have helped that neither reminds you of Marcel Marceau while watching the game in the dugout.

Now if they'll only get rid of the shots of the pitchers showing up at the ballpark five hours before the game. . .or the inevitable shot of the little tyke crapped out as a game rages toward midnight, three hours after the kid's bedtime.

Say what you want about host Pat O'Brien and his dreadful puns. He has fun with them and, no matter what the sport, he constantly reminds us that hitting, kicking, pitching, bouncing or catching a ball isn't to be considered in the same vein as doping a way out of a recession.

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