When Phil Garner stroked a two run single in the sixth inning of last night's World Series game, television viewers heard Howard Cosell gushing over Pittsburgh's "pepperpot" second baseman.
"That's the kid! Phil Garner! You look back through the years with Phil and see the way he produces in the clutch!"
At that moment, baseball fans tuned to CBS radio were hearing a very different sort of analysis. While Garner was batting, announcer Vin Scully wondered, "Why is (Mike) Flanagan pitching from the stretch with runner on third and two out?" His broadcasting cohort, Sparky Anderson, added, "With a windup you get much more power behind your throw. I hate to see that."
That play typifies the shortcomings of ABC Television's coverage of baseball. A team such as Scully and Anderson can delve into the nuances of the game. So do NBC-TV's Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. The team of Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Drysdale give their audience tons of data, biographical and statistical, but not much real insight into the subtleties of baseball.
These subtleties give baseball its great appeal. While the technical side of football is usually just so much gobbledygook, the technical side of baseball is facinating. At least I was fascinated when Flanagan seemed to be weakening in the late innings and Scully asked Anderson, "What's the key to seeing if your pitcher has lost it?"
The Detroit manager said, "You look for the velocity, and you look for how high he's throwing.If a pitcher is throwing high in the first inning , he probably just hasn't settled down. If he's high after the fifth inning, his legs are getting tired. You go out and get him."
I didn't hear one interchange on ABC that was similarly illuminating. The reason is obvious. Much as Cosell loves to denigrate ex-jocks in the broadcasting booth, ex-jocks seem to understand baseball better. Of the ABC trio, only Drysdale ran explain why a particular pitcher is throwing a particular pitch to a particular batter.
But ABC was short on this kind of analysis and long on the sort of information that Cosell volunteered after the Orioles' first inning. "That five runs in the first inning is a World Series record ... for game ," he said.
"Oh," Drysdale said. If the verbal side of the ABC telecast offered too much junk and top little substance, the vusual side of it was just the opposite: clean and uncluttered.
There were few shots of celebrities in the stands of pretty ball girls or players milling around the dugout. Nbc's coverage of the league playoffs must have included about a thousand shots of Angel Manager Jim Fregosi peering thoughtfully out of the dugout.)
But whenever anything important happened on the field, ABC's 14 cameras caught it. In the Oriole first inning' which decided the game. ABC had at least two shots of every important play. When Garner committed the error that ultimately wrecked the Bucs, a camera from the outfield showed just how he blew it.
By watching WJLA's coverage, and listening to WTOP, a baseball fan ought to know just about everything he wants about this World Series.