With its All-Star insight, CBS team makes best of a bad ballgame

Phil Jackman

July 14, 1993|By Phil Jackman

And after six days of fun, frivolity and excitement, they decided to play a baseball game. What's there to say about a 9-3 blowout?

Well, for openers, both the pictures and the talk sent our way by CBS were first-rate.

Good thing, because the network had a formidable task trying to sustain the momentum of superior performances by some of the local stations and ESPN in setting the table for last night's showcase.

With all suspense as to the outcome pretty well gone shortly after mid-game, it came down to the little things:

The comment was so timely, one might have guessed it was Jeane Dixon providing analysis on Russell Street last night, not Tim McCarver.

No sooner had Atlanta right-hander John Smoltz come on as a reliever as the American Leaguers batted in the sixth inning when McCarver said, "What you have to watch out for here is the wild pitch."

The words were scarcely airborne when Smoltz bounced a pitch by his catcher and a run scored, the seventh by the Americans. To prove it was no fluke, Smoltz flipped another one halfway to the backstop and another run trooped in.

Stuff like that, experts living up to their billing, makes for a good show when the competitive aspect takes flight.

This call proved just one of many gems of information and conjecture dispensed by McCarver and his play-by-play partner Sean McDonough to more than support the network's excellent pictures.

Similar to the 48,147 lucky dogs at Camden Yards, fans stuck at home watching wanted to see home runs and a win by the home team.

So no matter what kind of a night the net was having doing the game, it was a sure bet to get passing marks from viewers here.

Despite being hindered by having to donate more than half its time to introduction of the players, the pre-game show was punchy and a worthy lead-in.

Easily the feature of the early going aside from three home runs resulting in a 2-2 tie arrived in the third inning when the network was all over an incident involving Seattle pitcher Randy Johnson and Philadelphia hitter John Kruk.

The 6-foot-10 left-hander unloaded a fastball about six feet over Kruk's head at supersonic speed, and big, bad John wanted no more of this guy.

Cameras caught AL benchmen guffawing as if to say, "Take that, fella, we see that every day over in our league."

Another isolated shot showed the NL bench and manager Bobby Cox and his coaches shouting in unison, "He did that on purpose."

Whatever, the "intimidation" had its effect, Kruk refusing to come within 10 feet of the plate as he waved at strikes Nos. 2 and 3.

As if admitting it was all a setup, Johnson strode off the mound with a huge smile on his face as he crossed paths with Kruk at the conclusion of the inning.

After days of high excitement in the downtown area, the start of the game seemed calm by comparison, but it didn't take long for things to heat up when Gary Sheffield took AL starter Mark Langston very deep with a man aboard.

In the pre-game introductions, which seemed to take a week, AL manager Cito Gaston caught all sorts of what-for for naming a hundred Toronto Blue Jays to the team. Gaston was to earn the fans' disfavor fully ultimately, and therein lies a tale that should flower during the second half of the season. More on that in a while.

Once the powerful Americans were back in it with homers by Kirby Puckett in the second frame and Roberto Alomar an inning later, and moved ahead smartly with bursts of three in the fifth and sixth innings, it was now the announcers' time.

McDonough and McCarver, who are as smooth together as any team in the business despite working together just once a week, were at the top of their game offering tidbits.

McDonough told the story of Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg doing rehab work in Florida up into May and the perennial All-Star asking his Single-A teammates about the postgame spread in the clubhouse. One of his mates mentioned that at that level of play, the concessionaire might drop off a few hot dogs from time to time.

With each batter, star or relative unknown, one of the Macs had an interesting side story, a welcome relief from those endless dissertations on pitching matchups.

For instance, did you know that Oakland catcher Terry Steinbach still holds the hockey scoring record at his high school in Minnesota? Or that the all-time batting average for the All-Star Game is .243?

There were dozens of other inserts, which although hardly earth-shaking had the desired effect of keeping one's interest as the Americans were riding off into the sunset with their sixth straight win.

As far as AL fans were concerned, CBS picked an opportune time to show a tape of Bobby Cox's pre-game "pep" talk to his troops, the NL manager pointing out, "We're a much better league, I think, than the American League." Something he no doubt feels his Braves proved during the last two World Series.

In spite of fan displeasure with Gaston and his selections, the Toronto manager could have calmed the scene had he allowed Mike Mussina an out in the ninth. But no sir.

As Pete Gammons was to say later on ESPN, "It was an insult, no doubt. But maybe what it will do is create a bit of bad blood later on, a little hatred like we had in the '70s." There's no maybe about it.

Of special note locally is the fact Cal Ripken was taken out of the game. Millions will be able to tell their grandchildren that they saw this never-before-witnessed event, making the telecast memorable indeed.

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