There's an easy explanation for all those empty seats at Turner Field in Atlanta, more than 6,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday in the first two games of the National League Championship Series between the Braves and New York Mets. Why pay $45 and $65 to sit a mile from home plate when you can sit at home and watch NBC's superb production and have the pleasure of listening to Bob Costas and Joe Morgan, two masters of the microphone?
Conversely, Yankee Stadium has been filled to capacity for the playoffs. Think it has anything to do with all those street-smart New Yorkers trying to avoid an endless stream of promos between innings for the Fox network's fall lineup, including a steamy shower scene from an upcoming "Ally McBeal"?
Over the last three days of riveting baseball, two different philosophies of production have been on display on the two networks.
NBC, handling the NLCS, is clearly taking more of a minimalist approach, allowing the games to unfold without too much intrusion from all the technological gadgetry at its disposal. It's meat-and-potatoes baseball, with hardly any complicated graphics or bizarre camera angles, with seamless play-by-play and analysis provided by a broadcast team clearly on top of its game.
Fox, on the other hand, uses every bell and whistle in its repertoire on the American League series. The network that brought you the flaming puck in hockey mercifully hasn't gone that route to show the trail of a sharply breaking slider, but then again, the series is only two games old.
Who knows what innovations Fox is concocting, even as we occasionally nap through 3 1/2-hour games that don't end until midnight. Fox already has cameras and microphones planted in every nook and cranny of the ballpark and a battalion of statistics people to provide graphics Einstein would need help deciphering.
I'm also intrigued by the comet-like effect that Fox flashes across the screen any time live action goes into a taped replay, and vice versa. What's wrong with fade in, fade out?
"Our avowed interest is to show you the basic game, with an uncluttered screen as much as possible," said NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol. "This is a game that benefits from being pastoral, not looking like a child's video game."
When I mentioned to a Fox executive that I was occasionally being driven to distraction by too much use of "catcher-cam" and other gimmickry, he said, "Oh, you're just an analog guy in a digital world." If I knew what that meant, I'd probably take it as a compliment.
Whatever, I'm also a huge fan of Costas. He has a fascinating anecdotal story for almost every principal, a telling statistic for every situation, and a lyrical style and descriptive use of language that may produce the easiest and most entertaining listen in sports.
When the Braves' Chipper Jones went to the plate Wednesday afternoon, Costas informed viewers, "Every time Chipper Jones comes up to bat, [Mets catcher] Mike Piazza says, 'Hi, Larry,' because Piazza says he refuses to call a grown man Chipper."
Talking about the Mets' closer, Costas said Armando Benitez "pitches like an angry man." And Costas's home run call is pure and simply classic. "Back goes Mora, to the track, to the wall. Gone." No high-decibel histrionics, the rage all across the dial these days.
Morgan, meanwhile, complements Costas as well as he does Jon Miller, his equally talented partner on ESPN games. Morgan always gets down to the bare essence of every situation without belaboring his points.
In the sixth inning of Game 2, when an NBC camera caught Mets Manager Bobby Valentine throwing his hat in disgust following Eddie Perez's game-winning two-run homer, Morgan surmised that Valentine wasn't trying to show up his own pitcher but was furious at himself for allowing the tiring Kenny Rogers to pitch to Perez. Valentine confirmed it later in his postgame news conference, saying, "I left him in and it was absolutely the wrong move."
Over at Fox, analyst Tim McCarver is the star of the show, and he's also a brilliant analyst of the game, though occasionally a tad too verbose for my taste. Like Morgan, he can spot trends, explain strategy and dissect critical plays, though there are times when he tends to ramble.
Why Fox feels it necessary to have three men in the booth remains a mystery. So too does generally competent play-by-play man Joe Buck's improper use of the expression "pops it up" on fly balls that are tagged all the way to the warning track, and occasionally beyond.
Despite the obvious philosophical differences in how to televise a baseball game, both networks share several common traits, most notably superb replays on every critical play. And doesn't it seem like every time a Fox or NBC camera zooms in on a player or manager, a spray of spit is certain to follow? It's uncanny. You don't need a remote to watch baseball on television these days. You need a windshield wiper.