Stupefying is the notion that ABC can have its cameras trained on the 2 1/2 -mile oval at Indianapolis for hours yet, when the moment of truth arrives and the closest finish in Indy 500 history is at hand, it fails to provide a shot of the finish.
For an extremely tedious afternoon of crashes and racing under the yellow flag, however, the telecast was a winner due mainly to the untiring work of Jack Arute and Gary Gerould in the pits, Sam Posey's expertise in the announcing booth, the riveting eye-of-the-eagle closeups of the drivers as "Lady, and gentlemen, turn your engines" command rang out and, of course, 27 replays of every wall-scraper. Bobby Unser also provided interesting insights, but he has a voice that's hard to be attentive to.
The explanation for booting the finish, by director Don Ohlmeyer, is that something obscured the shot of the finish line by an unmanned camera. But the nature of the race, Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear charging for the checkered flag over the last eight laps, suggests that there was sufficient set-up time to ensure a perfect finish.
Recall, this is the network that missed a shot of the winner crossing the finish line in the New York City Marathon a few years ago, and Ibrahim Hussein wasn't going 225 miles an hour at the time.
At the very least, Jim McKay, who's cutting down his workload, should have phoned in one of his classically-written openings for the race. The hackneyed substitute included lines such as "It's a human challenge against all odds" and "it's a place in the history books."
* A bomb dropped on the Washington media scene yesterday when Redskins' play-by-play announcer Frank Herzog, negotiating a contract with Channel 7, was told by WJLA that today is his finale as the station's sports director.
* At the LPGA Championship in Bethesda last week, Pat Bradley said, "I have to admit the intensity has not been there since I finally made it into the Hall of Fame." Viewers certainly couldn't tell it during the women's Skins Game telecast on ABC last weekend.
It played perfectly as Bradley, Jan Stephenson, Meg Mallon and Nancy Lopez left a $110,000 carryover from Saturday to Sunday. And when the pot grew to $200,000, it was, in effect, as gripping as a close finish at Indy. Fortunately, the camera was there to record Bradley's winning putt.
* Pssst, the Barcelona Dragons take on the Sacramento Surge in the World League semifinals on ABC Sunday (3 p.m.) . . . Pass it on.
* Watch enough of NBA basketball (on Washington's Channel 4, unfortunately) and you rapidly come to the conclusion that they've created a game, at least during the playoff season, that is virtually impossible to officiate. But ain't it grand, even if it is team handball?
Great line from Utah's Karl Malone for those folks who say what's happening in playoff games is good defense: "If people judged me by what I do on the basketball court, I'd be in jail by now."
Three in the booth has never really proven to be worthwhile or popular, and this is in baseball and football, which have numerous dead spots and lots of time to kill. In pro hoops, where the games move at the speed of electricity, it's well nigh impossible. So reconsider your position, NBC.
* Bob Murphy, the glib analyst on Senior golf for ESPN, is out practicing what he preaches this week, taking part in the Kemper Open. Murph, who's fighting a winning battle against arthritis and plans on joining the 50-and-over crowd in February, is currently trying to figure out where the telestrator fits into golf telecasts.
"I don't want to be a guy who just draws lines. We will not overuse it," he says. "But we have an agreement with the sponsor [Just For Men] to use it at least twice per show and I don't see that as being a problem. It's a good tool for delivering a third dimension to the viewer in that you can show how a putt will break on a green and the places the player will be looking to avoid off the tee and on his approach shots."
* As though it's not bad enough trying to get into the matches of the French Open, arriving at 9 o'clock in the morning from Paris via ESPN, host Barry Tompkins doesn't help much with his constant stream of throw-away lines, which are appropriately named. More Mary Carillo, please.
* CBS has the Kemper Open from Avenel in Potomac tomorrow (4-6 p.m.) and Sunday (3:30-6 p.m.). Bound to be mentioned (if he makes the cut) is the statistic that John Daly leads the PGA Tour with an average drive of 284 yards, nine more than the guy in second place.
* There's something to be said for the way Howard Mash !B announces Johns Hopkins lacrosse games: At least there aren't that many games. Howie came up with a nifty triple equivocation during the NCAA semifinal last Saturday: "Syracuse has scored six straight unanswered goals in a row!" Question is, were they consecutive?