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The Strikeouts

April 25, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball fans are fickle, especially when it comes to television.

Of course, they have been loyally tuning into baseball games since the World Series was first telecast by NBC in 1947. Over the years, famous baseball players have guest-starred on TV series. Willie Mays once played himself on an episode of "The Donna Reed Show," and several of today's top stars, including Jose Canesco, supplied the voices for animated versions of themselves last season on "The Simpsons."

But baseball-themed TV series have struck out--so far. CBS is hoping to hit a home run with its new comedy "A League of Their Own," based on the 1992 hit film about the all-women baseball league of the 1940s.

Amazingly, there have only been three series on America's favorite pastime.

First up to bat was CBS' 1976 sitcom "Ball Four." Based on former pitcher Jim Bouton's ribald best-selling book of the same name, the comedy series starred Bouton, who also was one of the writers. Bouton played Jim Barton, a star pitcher who had been assigned by a sports magazine to chronicle his off-the-field adventures. Former Oakland Raider Ben Davidson co-starred as Barton's teammate, Rhino Rhinelander.

"Ball Four" premiered Sept. 22, 1976, to disastrous reviews and was history by Oct. 27.

CBS didn't fare much better with the 1979-80 comedy "The Bad News Bears," which was based on the 1976 hit film and the sequels, "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" and "The Bad News Bears in Japan."

The sitcom starred Jack Warden as gruff former minor league baseball player Morris Buttermaker who was trying to eke out a living as a swimming-pool cleaner. When one of his clients refused to pay him, the ill-tempered Buttermaker drove his car into the man's pool and ended up in court. Given the option to either "volunteer" to coach the Hoover Junior High baseball team or go to jail, Buttermaker tries his luck in coaching the hapless team of misfits.

Catherine Hicks ("Marilyn") co-starred as Hoover's principal, Dr. Emily Rappant; Philip R. Allan was Roy Turner, the coach of the rival team, the Lions, and Tricia Cast was Amanda Whirlitzer, the female pitching wiz of the Beavers. A young Corey Feldman ("Lost Boys") also was featured as Beaver Regi Tower.

"Bad News Bears" premiered March 24, 1979, and after three time changes was out of the CBS lineup by July 26, 1980.

Steven Bochco's ambitious 1983 NBC series, "Bay City Blues," had a lot of the grit and realism that made his "Hill Street Blues" a success. But the series was never given the chance to develop and find an audience.

"Bay City Blues," the only baseball series not based on a movie or a book, focused on the private and public lives of a minor league baseball team, the Bluebirds, from the fictitious working-class town of Bay City, Calif. Everyone in the Bluebirds organization was disenchanted and wanted off the team and into the majors.

They never not got the chance. The series, which received decent reviews, premiered Oct. 25, 1983, and was canceled less than a month later on Nov. 15.

The cast, though, went on to better things. Michael Nouri, who played manager Joe Rohner, is Susan Dey's ex-husband on "Love & War"; "Murphy Brown's" Pat Corley was the Bluebirds' owner, Ray Holtz; Dennis Franz, who played Buntz on "Hill Street Blues" and "Beverly Hills Buntz," was coach Angelo Carbone; Ken Olin of "thirtysomething" was Bluebird Rocky Padillo; Michele Green ("L.A. Law") and Sharon Stone ("Basic Instinct") were among the supporting cast of characters.

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