Baseball has been accused, in recent years, of having greater appeal to "Lawrence Welk Show" devotees than to the "Yo, MTV Raps" set, but the mounting evidence suggests that the game's leaders are trading in their bowler hats for caps turned backward.
For one thing, there's a brand-spanking-new marketing and advertising campaign with the theme "What A Game," that is 100 percent hipper than anything baseball has ever tried before.
Over the weekend, spots featuring Aretha Franklin and rapper LL Cool J delivering their twists on "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" were unveiled, with a third ad, starring , filmed at Camden Yards after Saturday's game.
The LL Cool J spot, which co-stars such phenoms as Ken Griffey and Sammy Sosa, is clearly aimed at younger, urban fans, who have thumbed their noses at baseball in recent years for cooler sports such as basketball and hockey.
"This campaign not only reflects the enthusiasm and diversity of the game, it melds baseball tradition with contemporary life," said acting commissioner Bud Selig, who tied the campaign to other "fan-friendly" changes like realignment, wild-card playoffs, interleague play and the impending reintroduction of the televised Saturday "Game of the Week."
Speaking of the "Game of the Week," the network that will serve up said animal, Fox, is sending signals that it will not do baseball the same old way.
In addition to a 30-minute Saturday morning show, targeted to kids, Fox officials reportedly have discussed such technological advances as placing microphones in the bases to better pick up on-field sound.
And the emphasis will clearly be on the future of the sport, not its past, as evidenced by a quote from Fox Sports president David Hill in a piece from Sunday's New York Times Magazine in which he reportedly told executives:
"If anybody talks about any dead guys during a broadcast, I'll sack 'em. I'm sick of dead guys! Whenever I turn on baseball, all I hear about is dead guys. If I hear a name, I'm gonna ask, 'Is he dead?' And if he is, you're fired."
Hmmm. Here's a tip to Josh Lewin, soon-to-be named Fox play-by-play guy: If you want to move ahead in the company, stay away from names like Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and, most of all, Babe Ruth.
Spiro Morekas and Mark Mussina are taking their "Sports Showdown" on WWLG (1360 AM) to 5 p.m., just for tonight and Friday. The program stays at its usual 10 p.m. slot the rest of the week.
Let's get something out front right at the top: Networks are in the business of drawing big ratings, keeping advertisers happy and making money, and showing lots of the Chicago Bulls seems to accomplish all that for NBC.
However, those things shouldn't come at the distortion of the playoff format, but that appears lost on the Peacock Gang.
After the champion Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers last Thursday night, they were dispatched to Seattle to play the opening game of their second-round series at noon Pacific time Saturday. Predictably, the Rockets ran out of gas in the second half and lost by 33.
Meanwhile, the Bulls and New York Knicks, who each wrapped up their respective first-round sets Wednesday, got their series opener held over to Sunday's prime-time slot.
Because of building conflicts, the Chicago-New York schedule has been jiggered so that games 3 and 4 will run back-to-back Saturday and Sunday. NBC reaps the benefit of two weekend network appearances for Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, et al.
Do you think Jordan, the proven ratings' grabber, might want a little extra time to rest that ailing back? Too bad, Michael. You are, like everyone else under the NBC/NBA's watch, just an expensive tool, and when your usefulness is used up, it will be time to bring in new tools (see Grant Hill, Anfernee Hardaway).
ABC's Kentucky Derby coverage took a critical thrashing, as the network was in a long commercial break when Grindstone was declared the winner, but its coverage was a big Nielsen hit, getting an 8.2 overnight rating, a 14 percent rise from last year.
Also on the rise was Fox's hockey coverage, which did a 3.1/8, giving it the highest rating ever for a Sunday afternoon playoff game.
Pub Date: 5/07/96