With just four outs to go in the first American League playoff game the other night, Oakland had a 3-2 lead and as good a relief pitcher as there has ever been, Dennis Eckersley, in its bullpen.
But wait, ultra-cerebral A's manager Tony La Russa opted for Jeff Russell. Toronto batter John Olerud delivered the single that tied the game, and the guys in the CBS booth took another swig of a soft drink. Not a word of discussion, dissent or debate before, during or after.
Come the ninth inning and after their dramatic comeback to tie, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston sent starter Jack Morris out with fireballing Tom Henke a simple phone call away. Morris had surrendered a couple of home runs already.
Again, the announcers were all but mute before, during and after a Harold Baines home run won the ballgame. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth twice, La Russa now summoned Eckersley.
Question is, what do play-by-play man Dick Stockton and analyst Jim Kaat think their jobs entail if it's not a full and frank discussion of the situations arising in a game? Everybody watching or listening had an opinion on the subject, and here are these guys rambling on about statistics or whatever.
It's enough to send a baseball fan off to the radio side of the two championship series, which might not be a bad idea anyway when you have a guy like Jerry Coleman calling the play. The longtime San Diego announcer and Yankees second baseman sees something and comments immediately, often in obtuse and mystical manner.
Then there was a discussion about the paraphernalia players wear today. "I'd hate to see an old-timer, a guy who played in the '10s and '20s, walk into the ballpark today," Coleman said. "Rickey Henderson wears his wraparound sunglasses indoors [Skydome] because they help his peripheral vision, side-to-side, up-and-down, in-and-out."
Stuff just flows out of Jer. Partner John Rooney asked, "Will so-and-so come back with a fastball, Jerry?"
To which Coleman replied, "How do I know? I couldn't hit a fastball."
It was still 4-0, Atlanta, when Coleman said that if the Braves got a few more runs, "we can head for the airport."
Rooney noted: "It's 12 hours until our flight," and Jerry replied, "We'll wait."
Leading into a promo for the CBS broadcast of the ALCS the next evening, Rooney asked Coleman what he planned to do on the NLCS off-day in Pittsburgh. "Go see 'Last Of The Mohicans'," came the answer. Rooney read the promo for the Toronto-Oakland game and Jerry countered, "Well, I won't go now."
Thing is, it's not all confusion, malaprops and chaos with Coleman. Just before Ron Gant belted a grand slam for the Braves, Coleman took Pitt pitcher Bob Walk to task, yelping, "I don't approve of that pitch at all. He throws a sidearm curveball on a 2-and-2 pitch with the bases loaded and one out, and he hasn't thrown one all day."
Now that's what the job is, Dick Stockton and Jim Kaat, commenting on what's going on. After all, you're the experts.
* No cutesy-wutesy send-off for Joe Angel here. Besides not being anywhere near as good as he was his first trip through here, Jumpin' Joe pretty well fits the description of a malcontent, the way he flits hither and yon all the while negotiating escape clauses in contracts. It's time to take another look at Ken Levine, WBAL; heard he had a terrific year with the Seattle Mariners. Keep those tapes and resumes coming, boys and girls.
Angel should consider himself fortunate he didn't hang around as the No. 1 radio guy with the Yankees. No sooner was George Steinbrenner told he could return to his meddling ways when he's in the midst of a campaign to get rid of a few of the team's announcers.
* Interesting and worthwhile experiment the Baltimore Spirit is conducting, taking a 15-game package of games over to a public broadcast station at Towson State, WTMD. Traditionally, the indoor soccer team in town chases after some 1500-watt station endlessly, only for its season to be half over before interested fans can find it. It's 89.7 on the FM dial. Be there for Dave Johnson's call against Chicago Nov. 7.
* With a dynamite schedule of Miami vs. Penn State (noon, ABC), Clemson vs. Virginia (3:30 p.m., ABC), Pitt vs. Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., ESPN) and Stanford vs. UCLA (10:30 p.m., ESPN) on commercial and cable television tomorrow, how can the pay-per-view expect a big response to its menu? Granted the 3:30 games are fair to middling -- California at Washington, Oklahoma at Texas and Michigan State at Michigan -- but just how many alumni can you count on?
* The quality of a real pro's work doesn't suffer in situations like the Orioles playing a 13-inning game the last day of the season in Cleveland. Evidence Jon Miller's call of last Sunday's finale against the Tribe. The highlight arrived when the never-say-die Birds issued an intentional pass to Carlos Baerga and Jon took a "voice poll" of the Cleveland fans, who were understandably upset and booing lustily at the ill-timed strategy of the visitors.
* Bill Walton figures to be a welcome addition to the "Insiders" portion of the NBA studio show on NBC. He replaces Bob Ferry, who started out stiff and never really got any better during his two-year test . . . and he certainly gave away no trade secrets of whatever trade it was he plied before joining the network.