We have seen a new side of Howard Cosell each year ABC has carried the World Series. Amid the bombast and overkill, he is always saying, "Discover me! Discover me!" He is always revealing another layer of himself -- not unlike a ripe old onion that makes your eyes run.
In 1977 Cosell revealed his lack of knowledge about baseball by hopping on points Tom Seaver made and passing them off as his own. In 1979 we saw "Inner City Howard," the Cosell who taught us about urban renewal and preached that Pittsburgh was making a comeback.
This year we have gotten a distressing bonus: two Howards in one. There's the "Personal Buddy Howard" and "Howard the Bard."
A shameless name-dropper, Cosell seems to have a deep personal friendship with all 18 starters and half the pitchers in the bullpen. Burt Hooton, for example, is a "close friend who plays in my golf tournament" each year. Ditto for Bob Lemon, or "Lem" in Howard-ese. Cosell's fondness for diminutives, which began in 1979 when he started calling Doug DeCinces "DEW-gie," has come full measure this autumn. "Georgie Porgie" is how he refers to George Steinbrenner.
As for poetry, Howard started the playoffs quoting Shakespeare. Last week he moved up a few centuries to Keats. His paraphrase of a Keats poem -- "One could see autumn sitting careless on the granary floor" -- was fairly accurate, although it had little to do with runs batted in. Any day now, Howard may jump another century and start spouting T.S. Eliot.
More on Cosell's excesses later. We now interrupt this narrative to bring you a report on ABC's coverage of the Series. It happens to be a notch or two better than its game-distracting, self-promoting coverage of the American League miniseries two weeks ago.
Play by play -- No one in network TV, with the possible exception of NBC's Dick Enberg, can rival Al Michaels as a baseball play-by-play announcer. Not surprisingly, both started out as broadcasters for major league teams. The shame is that Michaels, a B team player at ABC, was relegated to this weekend's games. The feeling here is that he's announcing rings around the folksy Keith Jackson, who has handled the Yankee Stadium games.
Jackson's mildly cornball expressions work well when everybody at the Arkansas-Texas game is yelling, "Go Soooey Pig!", but they are inappropriate for a New York-Los Angeles World Series. Keith, who like Cosell has never worked full-time on baseball, doesn't have a clue, either. "Ball's hit to the right side," he said at one point last week. Viewers were suddenly amazed to see a 300-foot fly to right field instead of a grounder to second. Jackson also confuses "up the line" with "down the line." As any sandlotter knows, the first refers to the infield; the latter, the outfield.
Production -- For the last few years, ABC and NBC, the other baseball network, have waged a war of words over replays. "If you have 'em from good angles, use 'em," says NBC. "Don't show 'em just to show 'em," says ABC. "They'd use 'em, too, but they just don't have enough of 'em," shoots back NBC. Ah, the wonders of baseball. It has taken this year's Series to prove NBC right.
The truth is that all of ABC's replay cameras, placed strategically around the park, don't always catch the play. Take Graig Nettles' "gamer" Tuesday night: a diving, eighth-inning catch of Steve Garvey's liner. Director Chet Forte showed only one replay, and that was from the main feed camera that he had just used live. NBC almost certainly would have had replays from the left- and center-field cameras.
Instead of showing all those players' wives (who always seem to cheer on cue), ABC also should give us a wide-angle view of how the outfielders are playing the hitters. We should see some hard reporting on the violence at Yankee Stadium. Moats around the field, Bowie? Flak jackets? When NBC covered the playoffs, its handheld-camera operators had to be escorted by security men to avoid being molested.
Commentary -- As one network executive put it, "This Series proves that Jim Palmer doesn't have to wear Jockey briefs to be good." Amid the hoopla and the razz-ma-tazz, he offers a cool, clear voice of reason and intelligence. Newsday columnist Steve Jacobson said Palmer's eyes are so blue they'd be blue even on black and white TV. But the great pitcher's major asset is this: He controls Howard.
The suspicion here is that Cosell has little respect for Fran Tarkenton, the Danderoo, Don Drysdale and his other yellow jacketed cohorts. But he's strangely deferential to Palmer and can't always get away with the blatant generalities he pawns off for wisdom. Palmer frequently corrects Cosell. He's not intimidated. He makes the Pompous One almost tolerable by reining him in.
Not that Howard wouldn't win if he were the horse in the rodeo. He wowed us with two more all-time Cosellisms last week.
Remembering the great baseball sage Gertrude Stein and seeking to extol Lou Piniella, he said: "A professional is a professional is a professional!"
And commenting on the late Thurman Munson, Cosell paraphrased the old vaudeville joke by saying, "I don't care what anybody says, I loved that man." Now what do we make of that? Does "everybody" say Munson was unworthy of love? Or do they just say Howard never loved him?
The following note came in from Rex Nelson, sports editor and columnist for the Daily Siftings Herald newspaper in Arkadelphia, Ark., and assistant sports information director for Ouachita Baptist University. Nelson had read The Post's Sports Waves column of Oct. 9 on talk show hosts.
"I read with particular interest your lead, 'The two supreme laws of Washington, D.C., sports talk shows are these: there is still no substitute for knowing how fast the Ouachita Baptist tight end can run the 40 . . .'
"I thought you might like to pass the following on to Ken Beatrice: The starting tight end this fall for Ouachita Baptist University is senior Watty Strickland, who runs the 40 in 4.8. Strickland started the first half of the season last year at quarterback before being moved."