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Baseball Night's strikeout shouldn't come as surprise


The TV Repairman:

You have to wonder why or how ABC came to the conclusion that it could score with a "Baseball Night in America" show when that has been ESPN's tag line for a couple of years now, and it's not like there's not a thousand ballgames on the tube already.

You question the nights it chose, too, Saturday and Monday in the middle of the summer. Its ratings were horrible earlier this week, 6.4 million and 6.5 million households, but came within a point of the ratings the nets are choking on in prime time during the re-run season. NBC will do just as badly later on when it goes with a Friday night game.

You can get figures like that with a return to a Saturday afternoon "Game of the Week" format, which would serve a target audience of kids better and cut expenses dramatically. It's no surprise the nets are bye-bye when the season ends.

Also, it's not the coverage of baseball the networks and cables provide nationally that sees the game taking a ratings hit. That hasn't changed in years. Contrary to what Judge Lance Ito says about the game being a bore, it's a fine game that has been messed up by the human element and it has never really worked on television anyway.

The game you're probably missing on ABC Monday (8 p.m.) is the Yankees vs. Rangers.

* Changing logos and team uniforms is becoming a huge business. The prime reason clubs are doing it, of course, is to provide a new line of shirts, socks, caps and whatever to unload on men, women or children with a surfeit of money. But baseball, bless its heart, is said to be considering a rule where a team has to stick with a logo for at least two years.

* The way the commercial and cable networks are throwing time and money around to pro football, you'd guess that the viewing public couldn't get enough of the top-secret information coming out of pre-game shows. Uh-uh. It's found money considering the pot-boilers start at 11 a.m. Sundays and pre-game shows is where a lot of advertisers start out while waiting for the jump to the big time, the game telecast itself.

* Turnabout is fair play, right? For years, in those cable and network unions covering tennis and golf, the big-name people from network have done most of the work on cable covering the early rounds. No complaint to this point. But with HBO so clearly superior to NBC when it comes to doing Wimbledon, when is someone going to realize here's one event where the assignments should be reversed.

* Jeff Tarango, bad boy of tennis, come on. Following up his brouhaha at Wimbledon, Tarango made it onto some highlight tapes with another run-in with a chair umpire in Washington the other day. There was a time when the bad boys, John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, Dennis Ralston, had to be able to play.

* "Wide World of Sports" (ABC) tomorrow (4:30 p.m.) has same-day coverage of the Tour de France and super-heavyweight grappling from the World Wrestling Championships in Istanbul last November. Go to the head of the class if you recall who won the competition. Same-day coverage of the charge down the Champs-Elysees in Paris to the finish of the Tour is Sunday at 5 p.m.

* Folks in the pay-per-view industry are upset with the boxing promoter-cable outfits, which are becoming more and more prominent in boxing. No sooner does HBO announce a heckuva competitive fight, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield III, for Nov. 4 when Showtime starts screaming that the date was projected for Mike Tyson's second waltz with a tomato can after he disposes of Peter McNeeley Aug. 19: Pay-per-view, $50. It's called counter-programming, fellas, a fact of life in TV for years.

* A Fox Network spokesman, upon hiring Pam Oliver away from ESPN to report on the NFL, said, "Pam's versatile. She can be in the studio and go on the road." For $250,000 a year (three-year deal), one would hope so.

* TNT has made official a trade that ranks right up there with the Nellie Fox-for-Joe Tipton, George Kell-for-Barney McCoskey, Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio or Frank Robinson-for-Milt Pappas steals: Verne Lundquist working opposite Pat Haden, replacing Gary Bender on play-by-play, puts this duo as the second best announcing team in pro football if you still think Pat Summerall and John Madden are numero uno.

* ESPN's early-round coverage of the British Open continues today at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. before ABC moves in tomorrow (10 a.m.) and Sunday (9:30 a.m.). With Jim McKay still recovering from heart surgery a while back, the network is summoning Jack Whitaker out of retirement to host. Now that's some relief pitcher. The Repairman picks Colin Montgomerie.

* It's all but a done deal, the NHL closing down for up to two weeks so that its players can head for the hockey tournament segment of the Winter Olympics in Nogano, Japan, in 1998. Besides the fact it's four years late and cashing in on the popularity of the basketball "Dream Team" is past, a bunch of all-pro teams constitutes a re-enactment of the Canada Cup, which millions aren't aware even existed. Commit the "Miracle on Ice" to memory, for it will never happen again.

* Good tickets for the Monica Seles-Martina Navratilova "Return of the Champions" match on pay-per-view July 29 are going for $50, more than you'd pay to wander around the grounds of Wimbledon or the U.S. Open Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow all day checking out dozens of matches.

* Blockbuster video rentals and sales must be on the wane, Florida Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga threatening to move his NHL team out of the Miami area. That's a weak joke, gang, because it's strictly a ploy to get another arena built since Wayne owns baseball's Florida Marlins and is conditional owner of football's Miami Dolphins and, probably, a dozen or so offshore islands.

* Sleeper of the weekend: A track meet from Bislett Stadium tomorrow (1 p.m.) on ESPN. The Oslo (Norway) oval always produces at least one world record and a half-dozen spectacular performances.

* Tomorrow (10 p.m.) on Showtime: Nigel Benn vs. Vincenzo Nardiello with Benn's WBC super-middleweight crown the prize. . . . ESPN's CFL offering tomorrow (7:30 p.m.) is Lions at Stampeders. Name the cities they represent and win a prize. . . . CBS pipes into the U.S. Sports Festival in Colorado with boxing tomorrow (4 p.m.) and figure skating Sunday (4:30 p.m.). Tomorrow's stars today. . . . HTS has the Legg Mason Classic tennis final from Washington Sunday at 2 p.m. See who can last longest in a Kennedy Courts stadium on 16th Street that hasn't seen a breath of fresh air since 1962. . . . The ESPN fight tonight (9 o'clock) has Jeremy Williams (21-1) taking on Gerard Jones (15-1). Not much science here. . . . The Upperville Classic is on ESPN Sunday at 3 p.m. That's show jumping, dressage and other equestrian pursuits, low-brows.

* Remember "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf" from the days of "We Like Ike" buttons? It's back! Nick Price and Greg Norman meet in match play on a new, famous or scenic course located anywhere in the world as in days of yore: ABC, 2 p.m., tomorrow.

* Hey, the world bull-riding championships are on Washington's Channel 4 tomorrow (3 p.m.), and do you think sports director and rodeo nut George Michael had anything to do with it?

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