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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : A Network That Doesn't Work at All

October 05, 1995|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It didn't take long for major league baseball to recognize that its regional television coverage of postseason play doesn't work.

The mistake was acknowledged after the first night of telecasts.

Baseball on Wednesday issued this statement from Barry Frank, its chief television negotiator:

"It is our intention, as we negotiate the next round of television contracts, that each game of the postseason will be seen by our fans in its entirety, nationally either on cable or network television.

"In the future, starting times will be arranged so that games will not conflict."

The future does not include next week. The next round of playoffs, the best-of-seven league championship series, will also be shown regionally. That means two games will be played simultaneously, but only one will be televised.

During this week's best-of-five divisional playoff series, there are four games and one telecast.

Critics have been trying to warn viewers of what was coming since May of 1994, when baseball announced the formation of the Baseball Network and its partnership with NBC and ABC.

But still a lot of people were unaware just how limiting this regionalization would be until they started checking their television listings and realized they were going to get only one of four games.

"Our switchboard was swamped Tuesday," said baseball spokesman Richard Levin, whose office is in New York. "The only time the calls stopped was 1 p.m. eastern time, which is 10 a.m. in Los Angeles."

That, of course, was the time the O.J. Simpson verdict was read.

In Los Angeles, Game 1 of the Dodgers' series with the Cincinnati Reds was shown on Channel 4, but on occasion the Baseball Network would go to a split-screen format and show another game, usually the other National League series between Colorado and Atlanta.

"As far as I was concerned, it wasn't a case of getting an extra game, it was a case of losing both games," said reader Phil Crosby of Woodland Hills.

After the Dodgers' 7-2 loss fizzled to an undramatic climax, the Baseball Network stayed with a split screen as it showed L.A. viewers the exciting finish of Game 1 of the Colorado-Atlanta series.

One split screen showed Dodger and Red players walking off the field, the other screen had Brave reliever Mark Wohlers walking Larry Walker to load the bases in Colorado.

It finally went to a full screen from Colorado, but then with Andres Galarraga at the plate, the Baseball Network switched back to an emptying Dodger Stadium to show a slide that had the final score.

Viewers in L.A. could have missed seeing the game-winning hit live had Galarraga not struck out. The Baseball Network switched back to Colorado in time to show pitcher Lance Painter, whom Manager Don Baylor was forced to use as a pinch-hitter, striking out to end of the game.

Then the Baseball Network went off the air as Cleveland and Boston continued to play. If you wanted to see that game, you were out of luck unless you had access to a full-service satellite dish system.

On Wednesday night, after the Reds' 5-4 victory over the Dodgers, the Baseball Network went off the air with the Seattle-New York game in extra innings.

One more problem is figuring out whether games will be shown by NBC or ABC. NBC did the first two nights of the divisional playoffs, then ABC has the next three nights, beginning Friday.

ABC does the first two nights of the league championship series, NBC does the next four and ABC the final one.

The World Series goes ABC, NBC, NBC, ABC, ABC, NBC, ABC.

Got all that?

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