Let me tell you about a nightmare I had the other night. If you're a baseball fan, you may have shared it.
In the dream, I kept trying to watch a simple playoff game. But Howard Cosell kept talking about Jill Clayburgh filming part of a movie in his living room. And ABC waited until the bases were loaded to run full-screen promos about upcoming fights and college football games. And Howard gave pro football scores. And ABC cameras shot so many players' wives that it finally ran out of them and had to shoot Dave Righetti's girlfriend in the tensest moment of the game . . .
. . . Then I woke up and switched the dial. How do you spell relief? N-B-C, I learned.
Its coverage of baseball is oh so different from ABC's. NBC has two announcers in the booth instead of three, so there's less chitchat. Being more familiar with the game, its crews anticipate better and rarely miss a replay. Most important, the game is the thing at NBC. It doesn't talk about Barbara Mandrell when the Goose is on the mound.
To be sure, NBC has made an error or two during the postseason. When Billy Martin began his devilish delaying tactics against the Yankees Tuesday night, nary a peep was heard from Joe Garagiola or Tony Kubek about what umpire Nick Bremigan could do to maintain control. And who really saw the bizarre passed ball that ended the Dodgers-Astros series Sunday?
But NBC carries baseball all season, and the experience pays. Game after game this fall, coordinating producer Mike Weisman's two broadcast teams have brought us brilliant sports TV. You just can't do it much better.
Followers of the mini- and maxiplayoffs have needed a scorecard to keep track of the networks. ABC had the American League division series while NBC had the National League. NBC has the league playoffs. ABC gets the World Series next week. (Whomever Bowie Kuhn will give the Pluperfect Series to one of these Decembers is anybody's guess.)
Without further ado, our 1981 playoff awards:
Best telecast -- Game 2 of the Dodger-Expo series Wednesday night. This was TV's equivalent of a perfect game, easily the best baseball telecast of the year. It was impeccable in every way, from commentary by Dick Enberg and Tom Seaver to camera-shot selection by director John Gonzalez. Gonzalez has emerged as one of the most innovative directors in sports TV. He avoids those shots of fans waving for attention and tries to shoot single faces instead. Notice during the Dodger-Expo game tonight how effectively he uses live split-screen shots such as the pitcher against the batter.
Worst telecast -- Final game of the Yankee-Brewer miniplayoffs Sunday night. This was the nightmare telecast in which Cosell's egocentricities ran out of control. He continually reminds us how observant he is ("As I pointed out earlier . . . "). He's an incessant name-dropper. He interrupted Bob Watson's at bat to shout, 'Hey, hey, do you believe this one?', whereupon he announced another football score. Some of the blame for the distractions must be shouldered by producer Chuck Howard, whose work usually is superb.
Best line -- By NBC's Enberg, when the camera caught a young couple kissing in the stands at Olympic Stadium. "Some people bring hot coffee to the game," he said, "and some people just keep warm." Second-best line: by Garagiola after Kubek had called Tom Lasorda "ebullient" and Bill Virdon "taciturn." "One of 'em's selling and the other's buying -- that's the difference," said Garagiola.
Worst line -- By Cosell on Yogi Berra: "He's the most spontaneously articulate man in the chronicle of English literature." Bombast, anyone?
Most redundant line -- By ABC's Don Drysdale, who periodically introduces replays by saying, "Here's another view of it again."
Best commentary -- ABC's Jim Palmer is a TV natural, but Seaver gets the nod, mainly for Wednesday night's performance. He was more relaxed and less talky than usual, and his comments on pitching strategy and mechanics brought us inside the game. The merciful absence of Ron Luciano from the booth apparently means that he will not return with NBC's backup team next year. Look for the Phillies' Tim McCarver to fill in until Seaver retires.
Most boring shot -- The one from center field, showing second base, the pitcher and the batter. I know it shows the pitch's location, but Zzzzzzzz. Directors are just starting to vary their shots of pitches from side, closeup and overhead angles. Keep varying, men. Second-most boring: Those pictures of recognition-starved fans. The only interesting fans, I've decided, are the ones who just glower back.
Best replay -- Gonzalez's shot of the Expos' Terry Francona being tagged out at second on a steal attempt by the Phillies' Manny Trillo. NBC always has four replay angles at every base. The third angle showed Trillo pushing Francona's hand off the bag with the umpire unaware. Runner-up: ABC director Chet Forte's shot of Reggie Jackson standing at home with a wide grin after tying the Brewers with a third-deck home run Sunday.
Most needed rule -- "Thou shalt not cut away for interviews with players or potentates whilst runners are on base." Those insets of interviews in the corner of the screen are distracting enough, let alone when they keep on rolling while double plays and stolen bases are in progress.
Next Tuesday, Cosell returns with his patented mix of comments about refurbished cities, Jill Clayburgh movies, exclusive tape-viewing sessions with Bowie Kuhn and George Steinbrenner, and -- yes! -- baseball. The early line on Howard's personal pepperpot/hero for 1981: Larry Milbourne. Enjoy the next few days of reality