Hit in the air, back, back, back to booth
With All-Star Week upon us, what better time than now to pick a baseball broadcasting all-star team?
And to those who answer a better time would be never, I say you're just sour because Archi Cianfrocco (whom I nominate for Official David Letterman Cheap Laugh Reference, replacing Joey Buttafuoco, who might have been copyrighted by NBC, for all we know) didn't make the All-Star roster.
As always, voting for the broadcasting all-stars has been conducted under supervision of U.N. observers led by Jimmy Carter. Please ignore any reports of balloting irregularity circulating in the Western press.
Television play-by-play: Bob Costas, NBC. It's been four years since Costas called "The Game of the Week" for his network, ever since CBS took over baseball. But NBC (and ABC, too) will have baseball back next season, which means the return of Costas (assuming that he re-signs with the network).
With all of his outstanding studio work on the Olympics, football and basketball -- hey, David Stern, better luck bullying somebody else next time -- plus his non-sports interview program, "Later," it's easy to forget what a pleasure he was to listen to on a Saturday afternoon.
Saturday afternoon games are gone under the new network deal -- indeed, the concept of a single "Game of the Week" will disappear. We might have to hope for a fortuitous regionalization or just wait for the postseason to see him, but Costas will be worth his wait in gold. Knowledgeable, articulate, quick-witted, humorous -- any adjective you'd want in a broadcaster applies to Costas.
Radio play-by-play: Jon Miller, WBAL. No, I haven't heard every announcer in the country. In fact, I've heard relatively few. But Miller consistently is praised by those who have heard lots of voices around the majors.
Sure, he's only on radio half the time, but maybe that's a good thing for Orioles fans -- otherwise, listeners might get spoiled.
There is nothing wrong with Miller's television work, but it is on radio that he truly stands out, weaving the descriptive play-by-play around whatever voice or other shtick of the moment moves him.
Television analyst: Tim McCarver, CBS and WWOR. "He talks too much," you say. Perhaps, but at least he didn't interrupt me in the middle of a column the way you just did.
Sure, it sometimes seems that McCarver speaks in one long sentence that begins with the first pitch and ends with the final out. But unlike analysts who will quote from The Book -- "Thou shalt remember the Closer and keep him busy" -- McCarver explains strategy, appears truly to study the game and thinks quickly on his feet.
Highlights narrator: Keith Olbermann and Chris Berman, ESPN. Olbermann's wit -- and he is ESPN's funniest on-air personality, unless you count Fred "I'll Get a Rumor Right Someday" Edelstein -- doesn't mask his attention to baseball detail. Listen among the jokes for major-league nuggets.
Berman you know from his players' nicknames (Wally "Absorbine" Joyner, et al) and his home-run call (back, back, back, ad infinitum). Though he sometimes goes overboard, Berman can achieve a stream-of-consciousness delivery that is a joy to hear.
What, you were expecting Van Earl Wright?
Television announcing team: Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, ESPN. This pair works extremely well together. As is the television custom, Miller gives Morgan lots of room, but Morgan doesn't wander aimlessly. There is some give-and-take, but they don't step on each other's lines.
Television production team: Producer Bill Brown and his crew at Home Team Sports. Flip around the dial on any given night and try to find another production, from ESPN to TBS, that provides all the angles and all the replays.
Major League Baseball has been criticized for not trying to appeal to minority fans, but it has taken a step in that direction with a program that debuts tomorrow on Black Entertainment Television.
"Strike Zone," produced by BET in association with Major League Baseball, will air Saturdays at 8 p.m.
According to a news release on the program, " 'Strike Zone' is designed to re-kindle or generate interest in baseball among fans of all ages."
The half-hour program, whose host is George Johnson, that ebullient fellow frequently seen on HTS' studio shows, will feature interviews, a "Negro League Retrospective," an instructional segment and a highlights package.
Tomorrow's show will include coverage of the Negro League tribute that is part of the All-Star activities in Baltimore.
Still more baseball
CBS' pre-game show tomorrow (Channel 11, 2:30 p.m.), coming from Camden Yards, is scheduled to include an interview with Frank Robinson. . . . Channel 13 will air "Not In Our League" Monday at 8 p.m. The program, WJZ promises, is "a nostalgic trip through the past" of Negro League baseball. If somebody comes up with a nostalgic trip that doesn't go through the past, let me know.