I wanted to feel like a good American. I wanted to join the family of 65 million in front of the great television set. I wanted to watch a baseball game all the way through for the first time in years.
I wanted to see the World Series.
Why did I get the feeling that ABC didn't want me to see the World Series?
Was it the funky-junky disco music at the opening? No, most TV shows have that. Was it the announcer huffing about how "dramatic" and "exciting" it would be - thus effectively undercutting the drama and barely ended - we'd heard again from excitement? No, that's par for the course. Was it Mickey Mantle, answering the unasked question."Where have you gone, Mickey Mantle?", by popping up in a commercial and singing. "Bryl-cream, a little dab'll do ya"O No. Stranger things have happened.
Perchance then it was Howard Cosell, whose absence from the booth on Monday night's football game seems to have been met with a national sigh of pleasure, and who was only able to restrain himself for 57 minutes of the first World Series game before husterically plugging the second World Series game. In fact, the first inning had barely ended - we'd heard again from the "good-hands people" and the company that claims to "make weekends" - and suddenly we got old reliable Howard brying. "Game two of the World Series, tomorrow night on Ay Bee Cee!"
Wait a minute, Howard - it's only the first inning of the first game, for crying out loud.
Yes. I was tempted to cry out loud.
It had started symptomatically - a flash of graphics, a burst of bombast ("ABC Sports presents!!!!) and a geritol commercial, just five minutes into the telecast. Four minutes later there was another commercial - and then Howard could be heard to exclaim, "Stay tuned for our World Series coverage, coming up." No one had mentioned it, but this was the "pre-game show."
Then, at 8:10 it was inexplicably time for an "ABC News Break." We didn't need an ABC News Break. But ABC needed an ABC News Break because it included a 10-second commercial for a $15 clock at K-Mark. First things first, right? Then we got a plug for the next day's ABC New coverage of the space-shuttle test, and a voice said. "He only had his woman and his guts to beat the system! 'White Line Fever!' The ABC Sunday Night Movie!"
Then there were two minutes of local commercials.
And then it was time for Keith Jackson, and the World Series was to begin yet again.
"ABC Sports presents! The 1977 World Series! From Yankee Stadium in New York, the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the New York Yankees!" (Picture of a ring on the screen.) "Ahh! What every ballplayer wants on his finger! A World Series Ring!" (ABC Sports logo and a feast of credits on the screen.) "AN autumnal evening in New York City! As the Dodgers and the . . ." and so on . . . "brought to you by . . ." and so on.
"As Howard Cosell mentioned, it's 59 degrees in New York," said Jackson. Actually, Howard had said it was 79 degrees. That did sound a little balmy for October in New York. But now Jackson shifted into hyperdrive. "This is exciting! This is dramatic! And here is HOWARD CO-SELL!"
Howard Cosell took the mike.
"Keith," he said, "you put it dramatically, vividly and exactly correctly."
Then he prattled on about the New York Yankees and how some people accused them of "buying" the pennant. "Maybe they DID and maybe they DIDN'T," said Howard, in his controversial way.
"It's nice to be back in the ABC booth, Howard," said Tom Seaver, the way a sardine might say, "It's nice to be back in the tank" with a shark and a killer whale. Jackson quickly came to the rescue with a profundity delivered molto fortissimo: "THIS is the WORLD SERIES!"
It was 8:18. The Dodgers were just taking the field. Why did I already feel exhausted? At 8:28, Pearl Bailey walked out to sing our National Anthem and Jackson said. "Let's enjoy the one and only Pearl Bailey." I wondered if on the line, "our flag was still there" the director would cut to a shot of the flag. I should have known - in such matters, it is folly to bother with wondering. Of course he did.
"Pearl Bailey!" said Jackson. "Pearlie! With our National Anthem Before a packed house in Yankee Stadium!"
Three more commercials. Half an hour had gone by.
Time more commercials. Half an hour had gone by.
Time for the "ceremonial first pitch," to be tossed out by Whitely Ford. "Whitey Ford!" said Jackson, "One of the toughest littel guys you'd ever want to see. He can beat you with his head as well as his arm."
"Whitey Ford," said Cosell, "The little southpaw with the mineing step." Much later in the game Cosell would complain, "I never saw a ballplayer who would fight."
Visually, plently was going on. There were split screens, instant replays and shots from, as Jackson put it, "out helicopter fluttering above Yankee Stadium." And when batters came to the plate (it's still called "the plate," isn't it?) an orange read-pit of vital or not-so-vital statistics materialized on the screen - a kind of electronic bubblegum card to complement Cosell's bubblegum-card banter. I couldn't make head or tail of all these statistics because they were gone before you could read them, but I think I learned at one point that Dusty Baker got a C-plus on a trigonmetry exam when he was a junior in high school.
or was it that he weighed 7 points, 6 ounces at birth?
I remember for sure that Rusty is "one of the most dramatic figures in all of basebll, 1977," because that's what Jackson called him. Jackson has a real flair for the dramatic. One might even say a flair with a vengeance.
"The Yankees are coming up with these three hitters," Cosell said after the first half of the first inning; then three names flashed so quickly on and off the screen that by the time you figured out they had something to do with what Cosell was saying, they were gone. There were two commercials waiting and time can't be easted in such cases. One was for "the impossible shave" you get from a certain razor and the other was either for "baseball," "hot dogs," "apple pie" or "Chevrolet," all mentioned in that order.
It must have been Chevrolet, because the announcer said, "You sure do have a taste for Chevies, America!"
On behalf of America, I said, "Oh, I can take them or leave them."
"This program is an exclusive presentation of ABC Sports," someone said near 9 o'clock. Gawd, who could forget that for an instant?
At 9:11, Cosell pointed out ABC executives Leonard Goldenson and Elton H. Rule sitting in a box with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. At 9:42 there was a very nice and very brief shot of the Empire State Building from the "fluttering" helicopter.
At 9:436, Howard Cosell began to break the camel's back. He leaped into a vacant moment with a plug for the next day's ABC News coverage of the space-shuttle test (ABC News and ABC Sports are now both under the domain of Roone Arledge).
"One day after the Russian failure with the Soyuz-25 spacecraft, th NASA space shuttle lies for the first time without its protective tailpiece!" blustered Cosell. "If successful, this will be a major boost for the United States in the space program!"
Howard was turning the space-shuttle test into another sports event.
One day I was walking up Broadway near 46th Street in New York. This may sound like a digression, but it isn't. I was feeling the need for a soggy cheeseburger; and since there was a Howard Johnson's nearby. I went in and took a seat at the counter.
There, a man eating a piece of Boston cream pie was listening to a baseball game on a portable radio. I do not remember who was playing, except for the Mets. The volume was turned up pretty loud and the counter man was listening to; and though I have no consuming interest in baseball, I found myself listening as well. There was something tactile and enigmatic about the way the announcer described the blueness of the sky and the greenness of the grass and something wonderfully suspenseful about the near-silent pauses between the pitch and the swing. There was actually less chatter on the radio station than there was on ABC TV Tuesday night.
But if you just listened to that radio - you didn't have to close you eyes or anything - you go caught up in it and you felt like you were really at a baseball game.
Two minutes after his plug for the space-shuttle coverage, Howard Cosell returned with another plug for the space-shuttle coverage. I turned off the first game of the 1977 World Series at precisely this point. As either the Yankees or the Dodgers will themselves be saying in a few days, "Maybe next year . . ."
But I doubt it.