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Mike Downey

Baseball May Add to the Mess

September 30, 1987|MIKE DOWNEY

Nervous? Network television executives? You must be kidding. It's Ulcer City, baby. Heartburn time. They're wasting away this week in Maaloxville. The CBS eye is bloodshot. The NBC peacock is leaving little leavings all over the studio.

This has to be one of the scariest weeks in TV programming history, at least since the 1980 Moscow Olympics bit the dust.

Never mind that the men and women from the entertainment division have been perspiring over the Nielsen ratings to see if their season premieres were hits or flops.

Forget for a moment those whose livelihoods depended on whether viewers wondered why Sandy Duncan was hanging around with Valerie Harper's family, or wondered if Bill Cosby had bought any new sweaters, or wondered whether Patrick Duffy would ever open up the door to his shower and find Victoria Principal taking one.

These worries surface every year at this time. There's nothing new about a TV programmer losing sleep over the new cop shows, private-eye shows, doctor shows and realistic situation-comedies in which unmarried fathers raise their children with the help of expensive domestics.

No, the nail-biting and gum-bleeding these days are mostly in the network sports divisions. Even as you read this, security guards are probably nailing shut the windows of their high-rise office buildings, to keep their sports executives from leaping out.

First off, there's this pro football thing. The real players are on strike. They might be on strike for a long time. In the meantime, the show must go on--mustn't it? So, the networks have decided to go ahead with their regular National Football League programming schedules, as if nothing has happened. ABC has even elected to air Monday Night Slimeball, featuring the greatest assortment of nobodies and has-beens since "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" was on the air.

That was bad enough. To air Sunday pro football games in which the two opponents will resemble the squads from a Burt Reynolds prison movie, that already hurt. Chances are, ratings would plummet, advertising rates might drop off sharply, and TV sets all over America will be turned off Sunday morning, the minute David Brinkley yanks Sam Donaldson away from George Will's throat.

However, the bad could very well get worse.

Over the next few days, the network sports honchos will be sweating even more profusely, because the major league baseball pennant races are about to be settled. Division championships will be determined by Sunday, and the playoffs are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Fine and dandy. Big ratings, right?

Except . . .

What happens if there is an all-Canadian World Series?

We'll tell you what happens.

Throat-cutting, coast to coast. Psychiatrists turning away customers by the dozen. Druggists refusing to dole out Valium by the wheelbarrow load. Firemen spreading out nets and talking by bullhorn to the poor saps out on the ledge.

If Toronto can stave off Detroit in their big series this weekend in Motown, and if Montreal can somehow make a move while St. Louis and New York are neutralizing one another, we could have what Daffy Duck would refer to as a revoltin' development. We could have a World Series played entirely outside the United States.

The national pastime? What nation?

The national anthem? Which one?

The American League champions? You mean the North American League, don't you?

Here's the umpire, starting Game 1: "Play ball, eh?"

Here's the first pitch: "Strike, eh?"

Here's the fan behind home plate at Toronto: "Aw, that was a ball, you hoser!"

Here's the fan behind home plate at Montreal: "Sacre bleu!"

And now, let's name the Labatt's Light player of the game.

Think of all the things that might happen with a World Series played entirely in Canada:

--The first ball won't be thrown out by a celebrity, it'll be dropped between two players, like a puck.

--If it gets cold, the commissioner won't wear a topcoat, he'll wear a stocking cap.

--The winning manager won't be telephoned by the President--he'll be phoned by the Prime Minister.

--Scalpers won't take U.S. money--they'll send you to a currency exchange window.

Worst of all, the TV ratings in the United States will be the lowest since Linda Ellerbee was appearing in prime-time. "My Mother, the Car" will seem like a Cosby-sized hit in comparison to what the all-Canada World Series will get. If you thought Kansas City vs. St. Louis drew low ratings, wait until you see Montreal vs. Toronto. We're talking zero share here.

No matter who made the Series, at least the American TV networks could be assured of having monster ratings in two fairly large markets. OK, so Milwaukee and St. Louis in 1982 weren't Los Angeles and New York in 1981. That's all right. At least everybody in Wisconsin and Missouri who could get one eye open was glued to a tube.

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