When the cry of "Play Ball!' goes through the land Monday, it will open a season that will see the biggest changes in televising the sport since NBC's inaugural telecast in 1939.
CBS, which has not broadcast a game since 1964, begins at least a four-year run as the network of major league baseball Saturday, with a 10 a.m. game between the Dodgers and Houston Astros. The network wrestled the contract from NBC and from ABC, which started broadcasting the game in 1976.
Ted Shaker, CBS Sports' executive producer, asks viewers to be patient with his network's coverage.
"We're not going in beating our chests saying we'll do baseball better than it's ever been done before," he said. "We go in with a deep bow to NBC and ABC and with a great reverence for the game. It'll take time and we'll make mistakes. Hopefully, we won't make them a couple of times. We'll make our own imprint on televising baseball, but not right out of the blocks."
He said CBS plans no departures from the traditional approach to televising the sport.
"We're not out to re-invent the wheel," he said. "NBC for the last four decades and ABC since 1976 set the standards for network coverage of baseball on television."
For the record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 8, 1990 Orange County Edition TV Times Page 14 Television Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
After the color pages of TV Times went to press, CBS dropped long-time sportscaster Brent Musberger, who had been scheduled to be the network's baseball play-by-play announcer (story, Page 78).
The change most noticeable to viewers will come in the booth, where Brent Musburger will inherit the play-by-play role held by Vin Scully at NBC since 1983.
Musburger's partner will be ex-ABC analyst and catcher Tim McCarver.
"In all the sports we cover, the analyst is the central figure," Shaker said. "Tim has a tremendous way of expressing himself, with great humor and spontaneity. He'll be able to express himself much more freely than he did at ABC, (which covered baseball with a three-man team since it resumed covering major league baseball in 1976) because there will be one less person in the booth."
The Musburger-McCarver team won't be heard in Southern California until June. For the next two Saturdays, the duo of St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck and Jim Kaat will call the games aired here.
The fifth member of CBSU announcing team is Greg Gumbel, who will host the studio wrap-around show. His brother Bryant once held the same position at NBC.
One tradition that CBS won't be keeping is televising a game every week. After an April 21 game between the Angels and Minnesota Twins, baseball will disappear from CBS until June 16. Games will be televised each Saturday thereafter through Aug. 25, when there will be another hiatus until Sept. 22.
But the void will be more than made up by cable.
In its first season of major league baseball, ESPN will carry 161 games, with double-headers Tuesdays and Fridays and single games Sunday and Wednesdays. Coverage begins Monday with an 11:30 a.mm game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox, followed at 5 p.m. by Chicago Cubs-Philadelphia Phillies.
Loren Matthews, ESPN's senior vice president in charge of programming, said the key to his network's broadcasts will not come from the ballparks but from its Bristol, Conn., studios.
"The bottom line is that we'll be able to go to other games, predominantly on a quick turnaround tape basis, to show what's going on," Matthews said. "For extraordinary occurences, we will have even greater latitude of bringing live the significance of Nolan Ryan's 300th win or a long hitting streak being on the line."
The cable all-sports network will also air "Baseball Tonight" a nightly scores, highlights, features and analysis show hosted by John Saunders.
"Our goal is to put the season into perspective, instead of just reporting it as a series of games," said coordinating producer Eric Schoenfeld. "If you watch the weekly baseball shows, it's tough for them to pick out the most pivotal moments. Because we'lllbe there every night, we'll have pivotal moments every night, spotting trends, anticipating upcoming trends and saying why each game is meaningful."
MORE LINEUP CHANGES
The changes in baseball's television coverage aren't just limited to the network level:
Longtime NBC broadcaster Joe Garagiola joins SportsChannel's Angels crew, working with Joe Torre. Meanwhile, Torre will begin his first full season as the play-by-play announcer on KTLA's Angel forecasts. Reggie Jackson is rejoining the Angels organization, filling Torre' analyst job.
SportsChannel also has a new Dodger announcing team, Joel Meyers, who announced Angels games for the pay service last season, it switching leagues. Former Dodger third baseman Ron Cey is the new analyst, replacing Don Sutton.
The Dodgers' KTTV crew of Vin Scully, Ross Porter and Don Drysdale remain intact. However, because Scully will no longer have NBC commitments to fulfill, he is expected for all 50 telecasts.