It appears that, for the lack of a phone call and because of the late night talk-show wars, Baltimore baseball fans missed one Orioles game on television Saturday and may miss another Friday night.
Saturday night's game at Oakland did not air on Channel 2, making it the first Orioles contest this season not to appear on a local television outlet. And unless NBC officials can be persuaded to relax their rules a bit by Channel 11 officials, Friday's game at California may also be absent from the tube.
In the overall sense, the joint culprits are the Baseball Network and its broadcasting outlets, ABC and NBC.
Not only did the three parties conclude that the two Orioles games -- and by extension, the Baltimore market -- were not important enough for their West Coast games to be moved up so that they could be seen here in prime time, but because of rules that forbid local carriers, like Home Team Sports or channels 13 and 54, from airing games on "Baseball Night in America," the Orioles' local telecasters were banned from taking the game.
Also, because of the 8 p.m. local start imposed by TBN, it was difficult for East Coast newspapers, including this one, to get accounts of the game in their Sunday editions.
But Saturday's game apparently could have been aired here if officials at Channel 2, an ABC affiliate, had only asked the network for permission. The station aired the Boston-Seattle game at 8 p.m., then its local news, then its usual Saturday late-night programming.
Joe Lewin, Channel 2's vice president and station manager, said because the Orioles game had not been switched to the early time slot, he was obligated to take what ABC and TBN sent him, meaning the Boston-Seattle game.
However, Dan Bell, a Baseball Network spokesman, said Channel 2 could have had both the Boston-Seattle and Orioles-Oakland games. Bell cited an example from July 24, when the Cleveland ABC affiliate asked the network for permission to carry an Indians-Angels game from California in progress after "Nightline" in addition to the early game. The network gladly complied, Bell said.
When apprised of this, Lewin said he had not investigated the possibility of taking the late game and believed that ABC would not have given the station the feed of the Orioles contest, leaving him to pay the Oakland ABC affiliate for their feed, but Bell said the network gave the late feed to Cleveland three weeks ago for free.
Friday's Orioles game at Anaheim could suffer the same fate, as TBN telecasts now shift to NBC and Friday nights for the final six weeks of the regular season.
The current edition of TV Guide indicates that Channel 11, Baltimore's NBC affiliate, will air the Dodgers-Phillies game, but Emerson Coleman, the station's programming manager, said a final decision probably won't be made until today.
The holdup is this: Carrying Friday night's Orioles game would require Channel 11 to pre-empt NBC late-night programming, which would be "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," with other network programming, namely the game, a practice that all networks frown upon.
Also, because Leno's show has begun to draw even with David Letterman's program in the national ratings, NBC will be reluctant to allow a station in a top 25 market like Baltimore to take a night off from Leno.
There are, however, two things that may give Channel 11 a little wiggle room toward carrying the game.
First, Orioles ratings are so strong that the station would likely do better by airing the game than Leno, who trailed Letterman in Baltimore by almost a full rating point in the July ratings book. Second, "Tonight" is in reruns for this week, so it isn't as if Channel 11 would be blowing off original programming to bring the game to an interested market.