CBS seems to have robots in the booth

May 02, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- CBS failed to show Dwight Smith's game-winning double for the Chicago Cubs in its baseball opener April 18. The mistake was refreshing. If human error didn't occur occasionally, how would we know the network hasn't automated its coverage?

It seems to have automated its announcers. There's a disturbing proliferation these days of play-by-play practitioners whose competence is seamless -- like a double-knit jersey.

New CBS baseball announcer Sean McDonough may be more technically proficient than Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese were 30 years ago on CBS, but does that make him preferable?

McDonough and his CBS colleagues Jim Nantz, Brad Nessler, Tim Ryan, Greg Gumbel -- has anyone heard them in the same room with Tom Hammond, Steve Zabriskie or Mel Proctor? Does it matter who announces?

As we scrutinize McDonough because he has the world's most important baseball announcing job, let's remember he is a real person. They don't just insert floppy disks in his forehead.

Unlike Nantz, the rising star at CBS, McDonough is short, bald and plain, all reasons to root for him. He's not a bad announcer, if you don't mind his referring to innings as "frames" or saying things such as "Oakland enjoys a 6-0 lead." He follows the action well, speaks with good diction and grammar and pronounces Spanish names well. He's as smooth as cream of wheat. Like buttah.

But is he the cream? Some claim McDonough is a clone of NBC's still ascending Bob Costas, who is 10 years older. Or the way Costas would be if he didn't know as many stories about what Bill Veeck said to Joe Gordon or about that hot foot Mickey Mantle administered to Johnny Kucks. McDonough admittedly showed a little more spark in the A's-Minnesota game last Saturday and said he'll sound more comfortable soon.

If CBS will let him. He's forced to genuflect to star analyst Tim McCarver at every turn.

McDonough's predecessor, Jack Buck, was fired because he failed to defer to McCarver. Deferential? McDonough is downright vice presidential.

McCarver has been considered the premier baseball analyst since the 1986 World Series and deserves most of the good lines. But all of them?

We saw how it works when the script called for McDonough to talk about the Cardinals' run of injuries already this season, an opportunity for McCarver to relate St. Louis trainer Gene Gieselmann's joke about the three major leagues these days: "The AL, the NL and the DL."

The camera was on Gieselmann long before McCarver said his name. It was like watching an actor answer the phone three seconds before it rings.

Costas would have said something cute when the Cardinals' batting order was presented for the bottom of the first inning -- a different version than had been presented a half-inning earlier. McDonough presented the new lineup without acknowledging it had changed. A change did not compute.

There's little time to lighten up. CBS gets only 16 regular-season games per year (there's a five-week lull after No. 3 Saturday that coincides with NBA and NHL playoffs), and they're hard to find without a map.

CBS is serious because it has invested $1.06 billion in a format that barely outdrew a dog show last weekend.

"I don't feel on a leash," McDonough said Wednesday.

He could prove it by breaking into a few measures of "Wabash Cannonball" every so often. Just like Ol' Diz.

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