For a '90s game of the week, dial ESPN

April 12, 1992|By Bill Fleischman | Bill Fleischman,Knight-Ridder News Service

For 32 years, NBC presented a major-league baseball "Game of the Week" on Saturday afternoons. The games became a sports TV tradition.

When CBS-TV took over three years ago, the network was expected to continue the tradition. But noooooo. CBS offers just 16 dates during the season.

Times change. There is so much baseball on TV now that the game of the week idea does seem to be as outdated as Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.

Or does it? ESPN believes it has the game of the week for the '90s. Every Sunday night during the season, ESPN is the only place viewers can watch baseball. That's the 65 percent of the nation that receives ESPN, but it's still the only game on the air at the time.

Play-by-play man Jon Miller and analyst Joe Morgan begin their third season behind the ESPN microphones tomorrow at 8 p.m. when defending world champion Minnesota is host to Texas.

"Last year," Miller said this week, "[former Detroit broadcaster] Ernie Harwell told me, 'You guys really have the game of the week now.' I was very pleased."

As a former major-leaguer, Morgan knows players are aware when they are a featured national TV attraction.

"A game of the week is a little more important than just an everyday game," said the Hall of Famer. "Players all know that they're going to be seen in every place in the nation."

Added Miller: "We have guys volunteering to do interviews with us and mugging for the camera in situations where sometimes you might have a hard time coaxing somebody to do something for you."

Miller, the lively voice of the Orioles, and Morgan are regarded as one of the best announcing partnerships in baseball. But they admit their first year together wasn't smooth.

"I could see right off that we shared the love for the game," Miller said. "But we had a learning process to find out about each other. In some ways, maybe each of us was too timid. Both of us were trying to get out of the way and let the other do his thing."

Added Morgan: "I've worked with a lot of play-by-play guys since 1985, when I retired. The one thing that alarmed me at first about play-by-play people was, they didn't really understand the little intricacies of the game. When I first started working with Jon, I wasn't sure [how much he knew]. Jon knows more about baseball than any play-by-play person I've ever worked with."

As an example of how subtle a play in baseball can be, both focused on last Monday's Mets-Cardinals season opener (Morgan was the ESPN analyst, working with Gary Thorne).

With one out in the top of the ninth and the Mets trailing by a run, Mackey Sasser hit a slow chop to shortstop. If the Cardinals had turned the double play, the game was over. Instead, the Mets tied the game and won, 4-2, in 10 innings.

Said Miller, who was watching at home after working the Orioles' season opener: "Joe pointed something out that was invisible to most of us, that the second baseman might have been able to pick up a second coming across the bag and throwing, instead of taking the ball at the bag and stepping back as he did."

Morgan, a former second baseman, said, "[Cardinals shortstop] Ozzie Smith is one of the smartest and best defensive players in the history of the game. He KNOWS if that ball is hit hard enough to make a double play. [When] he went to second base with that ball, that told me that he knew he could make the double play.

"But [second baseman] Jose Oquendo was out of the ballgame. I tried not to knock Tim Jones, because he had just been put in. That was a crucial part of the game and so many things happened on that play. That's why baseball is so interesting. Baseball is a very complicated game, getting from one out to

three outs."

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