The year is 2007, and the 104th World Series has a new look. Rather than paying six umpires to make split-second calls, baseball is using only an umpire behind the plate and a replay umpire upstairs monitoring shots from one of 12 network cameras. The plate umpire is not even allowed to call plays at home. The replay umpire handles everything other than balls and strikes -- safe or out calls, fair or foul balls, et al. -- and by pressing the right button, his decision is relayed to the stadium scoreboard for all to see.
It's an unlikely scenario, but if it comes to pass in any way, shape or form, you can credit or blame ABC Sports' riveting production of Sunday night's World Series finale.
ABC's cameras clicked all the right shots, including three replays that seemed to refute umpires' calls -- the out call on the Minnesota Twins' Don Baylor at home, the safe call of the Twins' Greg Gagne at first involving pitcher Joe Magrane and the out call of the St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Herr at first in a rundown.
This is not to celebrate instant replay as an officiating device. Because camera angles distort, on-the-field decisions by umpires or referees are the best route to go. But we can lean back and marvel at ABC's handiwork. It makes you want to live all of life -- at least the good times -- in slow-motion instant replay. If ABC Sports spent its weekends filming weddings instead of World Series, a lot fewer marriages might end in divorce.
It was a World Series -- and a Game 7 -- not soon to be forgotten, and ABC deserves some of the credit for not muddling the memories.
Just minutes before the game began, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels asked, "Isn't this the way it should be?" Well, sort of -- if you ignore the fact that the seventh game of a World Series probably should be played during the day, outdoors, on grass, at a time of the year closer to summer than winter and the fact that World Series telecasts would go over a lot better if someone finally would retire those lame Stroh's commercials with Alex the dog.
But for ABC, almost everything indeed was the way it should be.
Michaels and his partners, analysts Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer, covered almost all the bases without burying them under a mountain of rhetoric.
McCarver, in particular, was marvelous much of Sunday night -- pointing out how two Twins runners should have moved up a base in the second inning on a throw home; how Herr should be wary of getting picked off first just moments before he was picked off; how Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog might bring late-inning reliever Todd Worrell into the game early because of the sixth inning's importance; how Twins Manager Tom Kelly left starter Frank Viola in the game in the eighth so that switch hitters Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith would have to bat right-handed.
The home team won every game, which usually helps telecasts immeasurably because a loud home crowd generates excitement. And ABC made an important decision early regarding the remarkable Metrodome crowd -- why shout over 55,000 voices reverberating in a Teflon container?
During the pivotal bottom of the sixth inning when the Twins took the lead, Michaels gave us just the essentials -- balls and strikes, outs, runners on, score -- and little else. He let the drama unwind in low-key fashion. If Michaels were any more restrained, he'd have been in a straitjacket.
It was a Series of sound, and even in our homes, we could sense the Metrodome mania because of ABC's silent sensibilities. It was sound like we've never heard before. (During the sixth inning -- and you can check me on this the next time a World Series is played in Minnesota -- I turned off the sound on my TV set in Northwest Washington, cracked open a living room window and could still faintly hear the Metrodome crowd.)
And after ABC panned the delirious postgame scene for five minutes, Michaels simply said: "Now we know what sound feels like."
Then we got Reggie Jackson in the winners' locker room, continuing to prove that, with enough years of work, any famous ex-jock can become proficient enough at conducting interviews as to not be too embarrassing. And the show was soon over, seemingly all too soon, but the images of ABC's sonorous Series lingered well after the credits were rolled.