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Electing to Await the Result

November 10, 1994|JIM MURRAY

Stop me if you've heard this. It's an old gripe of mine.

I refer to the invidious practice of television spoiling the elections for us once again.

The polls in this state close at 8 p.m. At one minute past 8, all three networks came on the air to tell us gleefully that Gov. Pete Wilson had been reelected. Not a ballot had been counted! They were able to do this by feeding exit-poll computations to the computer.

I had to gnash my teeth. Do you remember how elections used to be in this country? In the old radio days? Even early TV?

No computers then. You got ready for a delicious evening of combat and suspense. You mixed up a plateful of sandwiches or bowls of candy or popcorn, popped a six-pack and settled down for a night of entertainment. It was great good fun. Like watching a fascinating mystery unfold.

Now, television comes into the picture. Sort of like the guy who leans over as you take your seat and the movie starts and whispers "The butler did it!"

Homicide would be justifiable. Close elections are almost the only fun left in a democracy.

Americans are at fault. They don't have to respond accurately to those exit polls. They don't have to respond at all. "None of your damn business how I voted!" would be a perfectly proper response. A lie would not be out of the question for those snoops.

Americans won't do that. They blab everything they know. That's why I never believe any of those conspiracy theories if they involve Americans. Americans are congenitally unable to keep a secret. If two Americans know a thing, one will go on a talk show and the other will write a book.

But I guess what really worries me is the practice might spill over into sports.

I mean, how would you like to get comfortable in front of your TV screen next January, all set to enjoy Super Bowl XXIX and have some joker in a studio in New York come out and announce "CBS is able to project on the basis of two practices and a computer analysis of the game plan that Buffalo will lose again. Sunday's Super Bowl will go to Dallas, 62-10. Error factor is plus or minus 2."

Or maybe you would have like to have had Gil Clancy come on line in the fifth round of the heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand last Saturday and say "On the basis of punches thrown and landed in the first five rounds, HBO is able to determine that George Foreman will KO Michael Moorer by the 10th round. A straight right to the mouth will do it."

Maybe you'd like to get set for a Wimbledon final and be thrilled to see Pete Sampras throw in ace after ace only to have Tony Trabert come on camera to say, "It doesn't mean a thing, folks. Sampras will get cramps in the third set and Agassi will pull out the match, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-0. We have ascertained this on the basis of courtside observations of three qualified network physicians and an analysis of what Pete had for breakfast."

Some of the great moments in sports history might become anticlimactic. Suppose a TV technician had predicted two days before the 1957 Kentucky Derby, "Willie Shoemaker will stand up in the stirrups before the finish line and Gallant Man will lose the Derby to Iron Liege."

Or what if a ringside broadcaster at the Dempsey-Tunney fight in Chicago announced as Tunney hit the floor, "Don't get excited. He'll get up at the count of 14. Our network has projected he'd have to stay down for two hours to be counted out. The referee bet on him."

What if the announcer said as Babe Ruth pointed to the bleachers in the '32 World Series, "That's exactly where he's going to hit it. NBC has computed that pitcher Charlie Root will throw him a fastball over the plate and Ruth always hits those right there."

How about if we knew on the eve of the Rose Bowl game that Roy Riegels was going to run the wrong way? What if, on that 420-foot drive to left by Joe DiMaggio in Game 6 of the '47 World Series the announcer said, "Forget it. Gionfriddo will catch it. But the Yankees will win tomorrow anyway."

How would you like to have been a card-collecting student of the game of baseball in the summer of '94 and be thrilled to announce, "Hey! Maybe three guys will break the 60-homer mark!" only to be told by a computer analyst at ESPN, "No they won't, they'll go on strike by the time they hit 49 with a month and a half left. CBS has computed this by a comparison study of the lifelong philosophies of Bud Selig and Donald Fehr and predicts the season will end no later than Aug. 14 and maybe the game itself."

What if a computer was able to peer into the thought processes of Michael Jordan and was able to predict, "the greatest basketball player in the annals of the game will quit to become a lifetime .201 hitter."

What would it do to the NBA finals if the computers announced the New York Knicks would win in five games, 42-39, 41-38, 29-36, 40-38 and 39-37?

But, the real nightmare would be, what if the networks went to the computer to find out who would win the '95 World Series and the computer came back, "World Series, what's a World Series? We're not showing anything like that in our scan." And the network came back, "It's the championship of baseball." And the computer came back, "Baseball? What's that? We're not showing any such sport in our '95 data."

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