CBS defends its decision to take McCord off Masters


It's the controversy that refuses to die.

As CBS prepares to present its 40th consecutive Masters this weekend, beginning with late-night highlights tonight (11:35, Channel 13), the network is still dogged by its decision to jettison golf commentator Gary McCord for this year's tournament.

McCord, as you'll recall, was banished by Augusta National officials for saying the greens appeared to have been cut with "bikini wax" and that the bumpy terrain there looked "like body bags."

Yesterday, CBS officials and broadcasters spent considerable time during a news conference defending their actions and those of the club.

"CBS is in a no-win situation. We made a business decision. If we tell the Augusta National people that Gary is on, that's the end of us at Augusta. That's it, plain and simple," said Frank Chirkinian, CBS' coordinating producer for golf coverage.

Said Jim Nantz, who will anchor and man the tower at the 18th hole with Ken Venturi: "Gary McCord is a huge part of our broadcast family. I'm upset that Gary is not here, but the comments that were made were beyond the boundaries of good taste for this tournament."

Later, after a continued line of questioning on McCord, Chirkinian, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, snapped: "If you want to go back to your stockholders and say, 'We stood on a principle and we lost the Masters,' I don't think you'd be working very long. You [writers] stand out there and beat your liberal drums. You come here and switch seats with us. Don't be a hypocrite."

Chirkinian has a point. No sportswriter works in total freedom. All of us can be called on the carpet for things we write, just as McCord was for what he said. And for all the chest-thumping that has been done in newspapers about McCord's dismissal, not one sports editor kept his or her golf writer at home in solidarity over his plight.

Nantz also is correct in saying that if CBS had taken its cameras and gone home, any of the other networks would have jumped in immediately to take over. Think not? There isn't an executive alive who would turn down the nearly guaranteed 8 or 9 rating that the Masters delivers, even with the most repressive set of rules this side of, well, an NCAA legislative session.

The fact is that Augusta National has zealously obtained the kind of power that allows it to dictate to one and all how its tournament will be covered, because no one has shown the intestinal fortitude to challenge the bully. Any takers?

ESPN takes the first swing

ESPN and Major League Baseball have reached an agreement that will allow the total sports network to carry the first game of the 1995 season, Los Angeles at Florida at 7:30 p.m. on April 25, one day before the rest of baseball gets back to work.

In its current contract with MLB, ESPN had received exclusive rights to a Sunday night opening game, one day before the traditional Opening Day, but that was erased when the first three weeks of the season were wiped out. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, your "Sunday Night Baseball" team, will call the Dodgers-Marlins contest.

Meanwhile, the network announced it will carry a tripleheader on April 26, the new Opening Day, including the first game from the new Coors Field in Denver, as the Colorado Rockies face the New York Mets. The other two games will be announced later.

Hearing the 'Voices'

In case you missed ESPN's loving salute to great baseball broadcasters, "Voices of the Game," which originally aired Christmas night, the documentary will be reshown tonight at 9.

Based on the Curt Smith book of the same name, "Voices," narrated by Miller, is a wonderful look at the history of baseball broadcasting, with rarely heard audio and interesting perspectives from some of the great voices connected with the game. It's worth a look and listen, if you can tear yourself away from "Seinfeld."

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