Time was when the number of good baseball movies numbered in the, oh, ones: "Pride of the Yankees," maybe another. These days they tumble out of Hollywood and #i elsewhere in pairs and threes, a fact attested to by an American Movie Classics tribute entitled "Diamonds on the Silver Screen," scheduled for showing on the eve of the World Series, Oct. 15.
From the opening scene, wherein Tracy says to Hepburn, "I'd like to take you to a baseball game," in "Woman of the Year," to shots of the first baseball flick ever, "The Ballgame" (1898), no fewer than 35 films are included in this attempt to explain why the game will always be our national pastime.
The list of guest interviewees is impressive, ranging from directors (Barry Levinson) to writers (Mark Harris) to critics (Gene Siskel) to stars (Michael Moriarty, Glenn Close, Charlie Sheen) to just plain fans (Bob Costas).
Overseeing the hour-long romp is host James Earl Jones, whose words from on high inject an almost holistic sense to the most memorable clips from "Field of Dreams," "The Natural," "Eight Men Out," and the "Prides," of St. Louis and the Yankees.
Amid all the pomp and overstatement -- "it's more than a game; it's more than a sport; it's an art" and the notion that baseball healed the broken spirit of America caused by the Great Depression -- there is balance. Costas did a particular good monologue regarding the epic William Bendix effort, "The Babe Ruth Story."
"Picture it," says the NBC sportscaster, excitedly. "During batting practice, Babe belts a ball that hits a little dog. He then leaves the ballpark, takes the dog to a regular hospital where, miraculously, the puppy is saved. Years later, on his deathbed, Babe is being tended by that same doctor who saved the dog years before. Meanwhile, wafting through the window is a positively marvelous, choir-like rendition of 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame,' sung not by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but a bunch of kids down on the street. That's so bad, it's good."
It is Levinson who explains that "baseball is a dream that translates beautifully onto film," a fact that apparently escaped movie makers for far too long.
"Diamonds" is a Black Canyon Production, the same outfit that produced "When It Was A Game" for HBO. Nuff sed?
* According to N(D)BC, the Fighting Irish aren't playing Stanford tomorrow (2:30 p.m.), it's ND coach Lou Holtz attempting to "teach 'The Professor' [Cardinal coach Bill Walsh] new tricks." Recall, Walsh was the net's commentator on these games last fall.
Meanwhile, over on ABC, Miami and Florida State will tee it up at noon in a battle of titans, then the Baltimore area will get Southern Cal at Washington in lieu of Michigan vs. Iowa at 3:30. Hip-Hip-Hooray!
* As though it's not bad enough -- TNT got stuck with a 38-0 blowout of the Colts by Buffalo a couple of weeks ago -- Sunday's 8 p.m. offering is Jets vs. Pats, who have a combined record of 0-7. "Ostensibly, it's a clunker," admits New England quarterback Hugh Millen. Douse the light, Diogenes!
* ESPN's NHL opener Tuesday night has defending Stanley Cup champ Pittsburgh and Mario Lemieux taking on wunderkind Eric Lindros and Philadelphia. The newest Flyer gives promise of being a worthy successor to Wayne Gretzky as an attraction: Philly is consistently selling out its practices during training camp in Prince Edward Island at $5 a pop.
* Sensing a potential viewer backlash dead ahead, Channel 11 wants it known that no matter what's happening in the 1 o'clock game Sunday, it will have to head out for the Redskins-Cardinals game in Phoenix promptly at 4 p.m.
* Interest in Maryland football apparently is spreading like a summer fire in the Sierras in D.C. these days: Terps coach Mark Duffner had a caller (one, uno, single) during his Sunday evening talk show on WRC. That's a million percent over last week.
* Marv Albert gets a week away from the serendipitous pronouncements of NFL announcing partner Bill Parcells when NBC does the Troy Dorsey vs. Jesse James Leija fight tomorrow (5 p.m.). Boxing on network television, what will they think of next?
* This week's bit of breath-taking information from the NFL reveals that after the season premiere of "Murphy Brown" just about doubled the audience of "Monday Night Football" during the 9-10 p.m. hour, the Giants and Bears were able to snare the 10-11 p.m. hour.
* No wonder the NFL has jacked Super Bowl tickets up another $25 (to $175), Michael Jackson's providing the halftime entertainment. . . . Subscribers to the pay-per-view Martina Navratilova-Jimmy Connors tennis match report that announcers Barry Tompkins and Betsy Nagelsen wouldn't shut up, further ruining an otherwise lackluster show.
* No, Michael Nunn was not arrested on a charge of receiving stolen property after being given a decision over former super middleweight champ Victor Cordoba on a recent pay-per-view. It was for assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Davenport, Iowa, traits he continuously fails to display in the ring.
* Players see, players do: Obviously influenced by the days when Jim McMahon and the Chicago Bears used to butt helmets on the tube, Towson State's defenders try to deliver concussions to one another during pre-game introductions . . . . If there's a worse, more nonsensical commercial than the one Wilber Marshall, Art Monk and Darrell Green are doing for Pizza Hut, it was the one Joe Jacoby did for Yalich Clinic.
* If I was the coach of an NFL team with a lousy defense, I'd give serious consideration to employing Siren, Zap, Electra and Storm as my front four. They're the comely young ladies who imbibe in the nutritional supplements that create the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like appearances they flaunt on that "Gladiator" show.
* Showtime figures to do the Julio Cesar Chavez-Greg Haugen bout Dec. 4, which leads to the question, when are Chavez and Meldrick Taylor going to get it on again? It has been 2 1/2 years since the two staged a brawl for the ages and there has been a noticeable lack of talk of their doing it again.
* ESPN's spokesman for the defense on "GameDay," Tom Jackson, becomes a member of the Broncos' Ring of Fame in Denver Sunday. Chris Berman should have some fun with that one.