Costas hoping Baseball Night keeps grip

Keith Costas, 8, of St. Louis, can imitate a multitude of major-leaguers' batting stances, and he knows Willie Mays' basket catch from Roberto Clemente's hip catch. This would seem to make Keith a rare 8-year-old.

It helps that Keith is the son of NBC's Bob Costas, who has become something of a conscience of baseball in recent years. However, not so many years ago, it would have been unremarkable to find an 8-year-old so entranced by the game -- and his dad wouldn't have had to be a network sportscaster.


The perception is that baseball has lost its grip on the young. And now, with a possible players strike looming, that grip seems in danger of loosening all the more.

So when Costas and new partners Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker held a news conference this week to discuss NBC's telecast of the All-Star Game (Tuesday, 8 p.m., channels 2, 4), the talk wasn't so much of American League vs. National League as of owner vs. player and of popularity vs. apathy.


"The perception is that the NBA is on the rise and that baseball is plummeting. Baseball is still the second-most popular sport in the country after football," said Costas, citing favorable ratings for the World Series vs. those for the NBA Finals.

But, meanwhile, it seems that not many sports fans even know that the Astros' Jeff Bagwell is on a pace to hit 50-plus homers and approach 160 RBIs.

Morgan said: "The reason these players aren't as well-known, such as Bagwell, is that they aren't promoted. I don't believe that baseball has done enough with young players to promote them."

Uecker said baseball is too busy marketing caps, T-shirts, jackets and other licensed products to push its players.

Uecker has been identified with the humorous side of the game, but said he doesn't see that so much these days.

"I don't know if there's as much humor in baseball anymore," Uecker said. "Maybe it's frowned upon. Maybe it's the money. Everybody carries briefcases. I don't know what's in them. . . ."

The All-Star Game marks the first telecast of The Baseball Network, the joint venture among NBC, ABC and Major League Baseball. Instead of a game of the week, The Baseball Network will present 12 regionalized, prime-time telecasts beginning next week. Every game being played that night will be televised somewhere. It's being called "Baseball Night in America."

Because The Baseball Network schedule doesn't kick in until the All-Star Game, Costas hasn't been able to work yet with his partners. He's ready, though.


"I've been practicing by watching tapes of the 1975 World Series

and 'Mr. Belvedere,' " Costas said.

First night

On the first "Baseball Night in America" on July 16 at 8 p.m., ABC will send the Orioles at Angels game to Channel 13. The game time is being moved up three hours so it will be in prime time here. Ken Wilson and Bert Blyleven are the announcers. . . . On July 18, however, when the Orioles are in Seattle for an 11:05 p.m. start, the game time wasn't changed, so it won't be carried here. This probably will be the only Orioles game not seen on Baltimore television this season. That night, ABC will send the Giants-Phillies to Channel 13.

B team

Mel Proctor took some games off this week, so Tom Davis substituted on play-by-play on Orioles telecasts. Kenny Albert took Davis' usual spot doing between-innings updates and yesterday did play-by-play. Taking Albert's place as Marv Albert's son was, of course, Jerry Mathers. . . . Mike Flanagan stepped in as Orioles analyst, and he continues to show promise in his rookie season. But his voice reminds me of that beloved Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Hardy Har-Har, whom you'll surely recall as Lippy the Lion's sidekick, a hyena who seemed clinically depressed. (Unfortunately, most cartoon characters lack mental health coverage.)


Play or talk?

Quarterback Phil Simms, dropped by the Giants this off-season, reportedly has drawn interest from Fox and ESPN as an NFL analyst. However, Simms could end up returning to play another season. . . . Interviewed on Tony Kornheiser's WTEM radio talk show this week, Lesley Visser said she expects to leave CBS for ABC and ESPN. Visser was a guest via phone while Kornheiser's show was telecast by C-SPAN. This interrupted C-SPAN's scheduled programming, a panel discussion on a proposed 38 percent cut in federal subsidies for study of plantar warts. . . . Other hot rumor: David Letterman's pals Mujibur and Sirajul will leave CBS to call NFL games for Fox. . . .

CBS' "Eye on Sports" will have taped coverage of Leroy Burrell's record-breaking 100-meter run Wednesday on Sunday (3:30 p.m., channels 11, 9). . . . Don't go to bed early tonight: ESPN2 has the Running of the Bulls, live from Pamplona, Spain, at 1:45 a.m. Two Los Angeles-based comedians are the hosts. Apparently, neither Mariel, Margaux nor any other Hemingway relative was available.


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