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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Ballgame's Over for Great Team at ABC

October 30, 1989|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Baseball left its heart in San Francisco.

Yes, there were two earthquakes: The one that hit the Bay Area and the one that hit the Giants, who were annihilated by the Oakland Athletics in four games.

History has a way of putting things right, however. That means, as Al Michaels noted near the end of Saturday night's finale on ABC, the results of the 1989 World Series will be remembered as merely "a footnote" to the tragedy.

There'll be more than one footnote, actually.

* From calamity springs revelation, for the 1989 series marked the debut of something baseball should consider adopting permanently--the subdued locker room celebration, with on-camera humility replacing bubbly.

No champagne showers, hairy armpits or players being asked how it feels to win (better than it feels to lose, that's for sure). They awarded the trophy, let the owner swell his chest, the most valuable player say it was a team effort and the losing manager express pride in his players. Then it was back to the TV booth for goodbys. Very nice. Omit the quake, but leave the quieter locker room in next year's script.

* ABC naturally envisioned the series being not only highly profitable (which may not materialize, based on early ratings), but also a swell way to advertise its prime-time schedule through the deployment of promos.

Far better, however, the telecasts turned out to be a wonderful way to promote special "800" and "900" numbers in behalf of the Bay Area's recovery. They appeared on the screen during some station breaks, and you could have called them to make a contribution to quake relief.

Or (although not advertised on ABC), you could have called another "900" number and made a contribution to A's superstar Jose Canseco.

The end of the series presumably lowered the curtain (temporarily, at least) on Canseco's daily commentaries on the baseball exploits and incredibly interesting routine--where he went for breakfast, lunch and dinner and what he ate when he got there--of Canseco. Why tell it only to sportswriters and sportscasters when you can also tell it directly to fans--for profit?

Available for some time on Jose Canseco's Hot Line were his standing views on steroids, cars and guns and daily updates on his activities in baseball ("I put on one great show at batting practice.") and his personal life. Canseco's outlook appeared to be a tad self-centered: You got the impression from his hot line that the quake caused him great distress mostly by creating traffic jams that impeded his progress on the freeways. Yes, a great humanitarian.

* Far more significantly, the ending series also aborted baseball's best TV announcing team--ever. The extraordinary trio--Michaels, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer--faced the camera after the fourth game, presumably for the last time. "Well, guys, that's it for us," said Michaels. "We're history, I suppose."

He supposed right. Their partnership was ending because ABC's association with major league baseball was ending, just as NBC's even longer ties with major league baseball had ceased after telecasting the league championships.

Starting next season, baseball returns to CBS (after 25 years), where McCarver will join Brent Musburger in the broadcasting booth.

What a classy way for ABC to bow out Saturday, with Michaels paying tribute to NBC, whose "Game of the Week" was for so many years the state of the art in network baseball telecasts.

Michaels ticked off some names: Curt Gowdy, NBC's main baseball man from 1966 to 1976 and father of ABC baseball producer Curt Gowdy Jr.; baseball director emeritus Harry Coyle; Tony Kubek, who was the network's main color man for 14 years, and Bob Costas, who since 1983 formed the network's No. 2 baseball announcing team with Kubek.

"You were terrific," Michaels said.

Whether inadvertently, Michaels omitted Joe Garagiola, who spent 27 years in the NBC broadcast booth, and Vin Scully, who was the network's top baseball voice since 1983 and who this final season was paired with a superb partner in Tom Seaver.

ABC's "Monday Night Baseball" had its own more-checkered history, extending to 1976, with such names as Bob Prince, Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, Bob Uecker, Warner Wolf, Don Drysdale and Earl Weaver occupying the booth at various times until the network got it just right with Michaels, McCarver and Palmer in 1985.

It was a team of rare qualities, of wit, literacy, intelligence and chemistry. Palmer and McCarver not only had especially keen eyes for the game, but also the ability to articulate their knowledge in interesting and meaningful ways. McCarver, in particular, has been such a whiz, repeatedly bringing fresh insights to an ancient game. On Saturday night, he compared the A's to Mike Tyson.

Sportscasting and tragedy have met before, witness Jim McKay's heroic work on ABC when the 1972 Munich Olympics was jarred by the murder of Israeli athletes by terrorists. However, few of today's sportscasters (Scully, Costas and NBC's Dick Enberg also come to mind) could have performed as cooly and adroitly as Michaels when the earthquake hit. He gets better and better.

More than merely a gifted all-purpose sports announcer, Michaels has achieved the mastery of simple eloquence that eludes so many of his colleagues. When Will Clark of the Giants tumbled into the first base box seats to catch a pop fly Saturday night, Michaels declared: "That's all you'll ever need to know about Will Clark--ever!" It was the perfect fusion of words and picture.

Well, so much for that, as the old gang breaks up and McCarver moves to CBS and gets a new partner who has some big shoes to fill. Do you believe in miracles? Not this time.

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