Right now, CBS operatives are planting a virus in Tony La Russa's computer, placing lead weights in Rickey Henderson's spikes and loosing termites on the Oakland Athletics' bat rack. The word sweep may not be uttered at CBS headquarters, not even by the cleanup crew. A roar went up in Manhattan Wednesday night when the Cincinnati Reds' Jeff Reed bounced into a game-ending double play, ensuring a sixth game of the National League playoffs.
CBS, which paid $1.06 billion for four years of major-league baseball, has not fared well in the postseason ratings so far, and having fewer games to broadcast won't help.
The network's five prime-time telecasts through Wednesday (three National League, two American League) have averaged a 13.2 rating and 23 share. Last year, after five prime-time games, NBC's numbers were 14.6 and 26. NBC ended up with six prime-time playoff games, averaging 15.0 and 26, the all-time lowest numbers for League Championship Series broadcasts.
(Ratings measure the percentage of all television households watching a program. Shares represent a percentage tuned to a show among the homes where a television is in use.)
CBS needs about a 24 rating for its last NL game (or games) to avoid replacing NBC in the playoff cellar.
When his network first bought the baseball rights, CBS Sports president Neal Pilson talked about the synergistic effect major-league coverage would have on the entire network lineup. However, the average ratings for the week of Oct. 1-7, when CBS had two prime-time games, don't show a whole lot of synergy: NBC had 15.0, ABC 12.6 and CBS 12.1.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that CBS is facing heavy losses on broadcasting baseball, possibly more than $75 million this year and $250 million over the four years of the contract. Rival network officials say CBS is selling World Series commercial spots for $240,000 instead of the $300,000 charged by ABC last year, the Journal said. CBS denies this.
Furthermore, the network based its financial plan on six-game playoffs, the newspaper reported, something that only the NL will achieve this season. And, then, here comes the World Series, looking like a great chance for the A's to beat either NL representative -- both from small television markets -- in four telecasts. Uh-oh. Will Dan Jiggetts have to wear John Madden hand-me-down blazers?
Still, CBS values the promotional value of postseason baseball. Network executives told the Journal that a hit series launched by promos during the Series would cover any baseball losses for HTC the year.
And now we switch to "As the Mike Turns." Joe has left Jon fo the bright lights of the big city. Jon wishes him well, but now doesn't know who will mind the store while he is away. Meanwhile, good, ol' Chuck wonders why he's working so much if he's supposed to be retired.
Letter carriers must be groaning under the weight of audition tapes they're delivering to WBAL Radio these days. With Joe Angel off to New York to call New York Yankees games, the station is searching for a new partner for No. 1 play-by-play announcer Jon Miller. And if Chuck Thompson decides not to work the bulk of the radio games Miller will miss next season to work ESPN and Channel 2 telecasts, WBAL must find yet another announcer.
So, what are the folks at WBAL looking for?
"Do they want somebody with great proven credentials, who's been around for a long time?" Miller said this week, "or a young prospect, a broadcasting Ben McDonald?"
Well, it seems WBAL could have both. Angel's replacement should be an announcing veteran. In that job, in which the broadcaster will be the No. 1 person maybe half of the time, a track record is important. But suppose Thompson decides he doesn't want to commit to an 80-game schedule? There is WBAL's opening to develop talent, maybe finding a young man -- or young woman, for that matter -- who can grow in the role as a fill-in for 40 games, perhaps even serving as pre- and post-game host.
In the meantime, let's go to the audiotape.