NBC Sports, which practically invented televised baseball, likes to think its coverage of the national pastime is nonpareil. Once it was. But these days, ABC Sports, which practically invented every other televised sport, can match its network neighbor pitch for pitch and home run call for home run call.
ABC's coverage of the World Series' first two games has been almost picture perfect. The cameras miss nothing and offer unmatched replays; the graphics provide better reading than some best sellers; the announcers know the game and talk intelligently about it.
In short, ABC's World Series coverage probably has surpassed NBC's recent coverage of the two league championship series. Which is curious, because ABC barely bothers with regular season baseball while NBC worships the game every Saturday.
ABC's cameras always showed runs as they were scored; NBC sometimes failed to show players crossing the plate. ABC's announcers almost always pulled back when the Metrodome crowd went into a frenzy; NBC's announcers sometimes added to the noise (except to go silent at game's end). ABC even outscored NBC on interviewing the winners afterward -- incredibly, Reggie Jackson outperformed Jay Randolph at that task (for more details, see the Jay Randolph section that follows).
ABC captured the quirky nature of the Metrodome better than NBC, from intriguing camera shots to Al Michaels' play-by-play -- "Oquendo, looking up into the Teflon, makes the catch" and "Bruno goes back, at the base of the trash bag, and makes the catch."
Most remarkably, ABC's three-man announcing booth is coming across better than NBC's two-man teams.
First, there's Michaels, who is as gifted as NBC's Vin Scully and Bob Costas. Michaels has Scully's gift for phrasing and Costas' light, humorous touch, and he is unselfish with his partners. And those partners -- Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver -- make the biggest difference, providing more incisive analysis than NBC's Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek.
Palmer's biggest weakness is his longwindedness. Too often, he continues to talk through pitches, which disorients the viewer and which forces Michaels to cut him off when the ball is put into play. But sometimes Palmer is undercut by the production truck -- he'll be making a point and a replay on an entirely different topic will be shown, forcing Palmer to change analytical direction. Overall, though, Palmer rarely says anything extraordinarily stupid, a virtually unprecedented feat for an ex-jock with a microphone.
McCarver's biggest weakness is his incessant strategizing. To me, he's overstated, overrated and overexposed. But too many other people insist he's the greatest invention since the transitor radio, so I might be wrong; after all, two or three times a game, he makes wonderful points.
Somehow, the three usually don't clutter the telecasts with wall-to-wall chatter. The lesson to be learned, I guess, is that you can have the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the booth -- if the members pick their spots.
"Like any other announcer," Michaels said, "I'd prefer a two-man booth. But if you were to say to me -- 'Would you rather do the World Series with Palmer alone, with McCarver alone or with both?' -- I'd say with both . . . This is the first time in God knows how long that I feel so enormously comfortable and feel so excited about going into a big event with the right combination."
On top of everything else ABC is doing well, it finally has put the players' wives in their place -- which, of course, is not on camera. It is only showing them two or three times a game, for which the free world is grateful.
NBC's Jay Randolph interviewed the Cardinals after their pennant-clinching win over the Giants. Here is a transcript of Randolph's portion of his conversation with Manager Whitey Herzog: "A victory for mid-America and a victory for this man and the Cardinals. The miracle worker. My goodness, it was special." "Whitey, the comeback in Game 3 -- how important was that?" "You stopped them in these final two games. You stopped them cold." "Now you have to go to Minnesota. You're still banged up. A lot of people will say you can't make it but you've made it every time they've said it." "Well, it's a great tribute to this bunch -- a banged-up bunch, and, uh, you know somebody said the other day, 'Herzog can take just about anybody and Jose Oquendo and win' and how 'bout Oquendo tonight."