How about that! Technology keeps 'This Week in Baseball' a hit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Cue music. Roll tape. "This Week in Baseball" is in its 15th season.

In June 1977, using what now seems like primitive technology, "TWIB" debuted, giving viewers their first regular look around the majors. At the time, baseball was in the midst of a revival in popularity. This highlights show certainly was a part of the mix -- along with an exciting World Series in 1975 and the sudden mobility of stars via free agency -- that fueled the renewed interest.

"I think there is not coincidence in this," said Geoff Belinfante, "TWIB" executive producer. "Real avid baseball fans would wait each week to see the great plays. The only place you could see that was 'This Week in Baseball.' "

Yes, in the dark days before ESPN and CNN, what did you usually get with your nightly sports reports? Highlights of the local team and little else. How did we ever live?

The Major League Baseball Promotion Co. figured it was no way for Americans to live, so it decided a weekly highlights show was in order. And, around the same time, Sony introduced 3/4 -inch videotape, making it possible to record every game in production trucks around the majors.

"We were using technology that many people in the broadcast industry said, 'You can't do it,' " Belinfante said. "It was a long and tedious process."

At first, that 3/4 -inch tape had to be transferred to 2-inch tape to be edited, Belinfante said, before "TWIB" could be put together. But then, the technology advanced, eliminating the need to transfer tapes for editing.

fTC "The first big boon to our business was when people developed a means of editing 3/4 -inch tape," he said. "We could be much more creative in our approach."

So we started to see quick cuts, music matching highlights, the sort of things we now take for granted. Remember how excited you were the first time you saw strikeouts pieced together in a whiffathon? There's probably still a stain on your sofa from the spilled Tab (though you haven't quite lost the aftertaste yet).

The next big step for "TWIB" -- one that allows it to be updated through Friday night for each weekend's show -- was the proliferation of games floating around on satellite.

The show's producer, Major League Baseball Productions, an independent entity that operates under a license from Major League Baseball, now can capture about 250 hours of baseball per week -- didn't Sunday's Baltimore Orioles doubleheader take about that long? -- via satellite at its New Jersey Meadowlands "sports teleport" (beam me to Fenway, Scotty).

"TWIB" is shown on more than 100 stations, including Channel 2 at various times on Saturdays and Sundays (this weekend, it's today at 12:30 p.m.). The show has grown to include more features as highlights have spread all over the dial -- and one of the purveyors of those highlights is Sports Newsatellite, owned by the same company as Major League Baseball Productions.

The show isn't just for the hard-core fan, Belinfante said.

"I have this theory that there are certain people in certain businesses who find it important to keep up with sports," he said. "It's a place [the show] where they can plug themselves in quickly."

From the beginning, the voice plugged into "TWIB" has belonged to Mel Allen. To an older generation, he's the voice of the New York Yankees, of the World Series. To a younger generation, Allen is that guy drawling, "How about that!" to punctuate a great catch. To anyone who appreciates the game and its history, the continuing presence of a voice first heard calling baseball in the 1930s is simply a joy.

Want to put Tom Davis in the same broadcast booth with Jon Miller and Ken Levine? Davis, featured on Home Team Sports, WQSR-FM, "Sports Beat" and available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, was asked about the Orioles announcers Monday night on Stan "The Fan" Charles' radio show. Davis, though acknowledging Miller's talent, said the broadcasting package was being compromised to accommodate Miller -- letting him do only half of the games on WBAL Radio while also working Channel 2 games and ESPN Sunday night telecasts. Go ahead and let him leave, Davis said. As for Levine, Davis said he liked the rookie radio announcer, but couldn't take Levine's voice for more than 10 minutes.

The 12th inning of Tuesday night's Orioles game pointed to the good and bad in Jim Palmer's analyst work for Channel 2. Shortly after Sam Horn doubled in the go-ahead run for the Orioles, Palmer launched into a discussion of what was troubling Doug Jones (who allowed the hit), the struggling Cleveland Indians reliever. This continued after another RBI hit by Randy Milligan.

Now, it's true that something's happening, and he doesn't know what it is (do you, Mr. Jones?), and analyzing the reliever's problems surely would have been appropriate on a national telecast. However, at that point, Palmer was addressing an audience presumably more interested in the fact that the Orioles just had gone ahead in extra innings.

This is not to say that local announcers should ignore the other team or other aspects of the majors, but there are times when the hometown club takes precedence.

In the bottom of the 12th, though, Palmer offered a pitcher's perspective on Orioles reliever Gregg Olson. Palmer said that Olson was tipping his pitches, not by the way he was positioning his hand, but by how quickly he delivered. On curveballs, when the catcher didn't move to a spot, Olson would get the sign and go, Palmer said. On fastballs, when the catcher had to move, Olson would shake his head and wait.

Give Palmer credit: He's always in there pitching.

CBS is in town for today's Orioles-Boston Red Sox game channels 11, 9, 1 p.m.) with announcers Dick Stockton and Jim Kaat. Save a space for Kaat in the press lounge. According to a CBS news release in which Kaat ranks aspects of major-league parks, Memorial Stadium's press-box food -- specifically, the crab cakes -- ranks as a favorite. . . . Black Entertainment Television will have taped coverage of the Carl Lewis-Ben Johnson 100-meter -- on Monday at 6 p.m. . . . After tomorrow night's Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves game (ESPN, 8), Joe Morgan will become the first announcer to have worked a national telecast from all 26 major-league stadiums, ESPN says. Miller is missing only a national game from Arlington Stadium to ++ match his partner, according to the network.

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