New season casts new TV angle on baseball's new divisional look


April 01, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

Baseball is truth, truth baseball -- that is all

ye fans know, all ye need know.

-- with apologies to John Keats

(Though why should he need an apology? He's been dead since 1821. But that reminds me of a joke: What's a Grecian urn?)

Baseball, in all its poetic glory, returns to the emerald chessboard and the magic lantern beginning Sunday night. And just as the majors will have a new, six-division look, so has baseball's television arrangement changed.

Begin with that Sunday night opener. As part of ESPN's deal, the majors are starting their season a day earlier, with the Cardinals-Reds game at 8 p.m. ESPN also is cutting back its baseball telecasts. This season, the cable network's basic schedule is one Sunday night game and a Wednesday night doubleheader. In 1993, ESPN carried six games on four nights.

(ESPN also has doubleheaders on Opening Day -- as opposed to Opening Night -- on Monday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.)

This season also marks the beginning of The Baseball Network, the arrangement under which ABC and NBC will telecast games nationally. Neither network will have baseball until the All-Star Game on NBC July 12. Then they begin with 12 regular-season telecasts.

Though the delay is in keeping with the CBS practice of recent seasons, the greater change is the abandonment of national network games during the regular season. Each night -- ABC and NBC will air games in prime time on Fridays, Saturdays or Mondays -- games will be regionalized, so it will be root, root, root for the home team.

"What they're trying to do is capitalize on the ratings strengths of the individual teams in their markets the way the NFL does," Jon Miller, the Orioles' lead radio announcer and the voice of ESPN's Sunday night telecasts, said in a news conference this week.

"But if you're a fan in Minneapolis, to use one example, without cable, you wouldn't get to see a National League team until the postseason."

The first two scheduled nights on The Baseball Network fall when the Orioles are playing night games on the West Coast. That's too late for prime time in Baltimore, so would the start time be changed? It's possible, a TBN spokesman said.

ABC and NBC regional announcers haven't been set, though it is expected the networks often will use the clubs' broadcasters. NBC's No. 1 team is Bob Costas and Bob Uecker; No. 2 is Dick Enberg and Joe Morgan (also Miller's partner on ESPN Sunday nights). ABC has reunited the three-man squad of Al Michaels, Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver. Brent Musburger is play-by-play man for the No. 2 team, but his analyst hasn't been named.

NBC has the League Championship Series, ABC the new divisional playoffs and World Series.

And here's where regionalization really puts a pinch on the baseball fan. The schedule calls for the first two rounds of postseason games all in prime time, with split national telecasts.

So, if the AL divisional playoffs pit the Orioles against the Rangers and the Blue Jays against the White Sox, Baltimore probably wouldn't see the Rangers-Blue Jays series. Then the first five games of the AL Championship Series would be played at the same time as the NL Championship Series. If both the AL and NL go to sixth or seventh games, they would be televised as doubleheaders.

Cheer up, though, the whole country gets to see the World Series.

Lucky number 13

Opening Day is also Channel 13's opening as an Orioles station again. WJZ will get an early start -- "Rise & Shine" hosts Don Scott and Marty Bass will be stationed at Camden Yards during the 5:30 a.m.-to-7 a.m. program.

The noon news also will emanate from the ballpark. After a return to ABC programming from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Channel 13 will televise "Gimme an O," a half-hour pre-game show with hosts Al Sanders, Denise Koch, John Buren, Sally Thorner and Bob Turk, plus all of your other favorite WJZ news personalities in "a variety of reporter packages."

The Home Team Sports-produced pre-game program takes over at 2:30 -- scheduled features include a 40-year Orioles highlights package and a piece on owner Peter Angelos. Then comes game coverage, which, like all local Orioles telecasts this season, also is being produced by HTS. The Opening Day announcers will be Mel Proctor, John Lowenstein and Palmer.

Yes, he is

Look for a reprise of CBS' spoof of the Bud Light limousine commercial, with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, during tomorrow's Final Four coverage (5:30 p.m., channels 11, 9). The spot will air between games. . . . CBS' Final Four preview at 5 p.m. will include guest analyst Rick Pitino, the Kentucky head coach who probably can't get a book out of this season. . . . Tim HTC Ryan and Ann Meyers will call the women's Final Four (tomorrow, noon) and championship (Sunday, 3:45 p.m.) on CBS. . . . Jim Nantz and Billy Packer, calling his 20th Final Four, are the announcing team for the men's semifinals and final.

He's the (Olber)mann

Keith Olbermann rejoins ESPN's "SportsCenter" from his ESPN2 exile on the 11 p.m. (or later, depending on when baseball ends), hourlong show. He is being reunited with anchor Dan Patrick. Asked what Patrick brings to "SportsCenter," Olbermann said: "Dan usually brings snacks and beverages. . . . He brings the most unmovable hair in the history of broadcasting."

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