Postseason TV picture out of focus


Montreal Expos general manager Kevin Malone may not have been thinking specifically of The Baseball Network when he told ChristianWeek magazine this week that the sport was "controlled by Satan."

But baseball fans are in for no little share of hell next week when the thankfully-soon-to-be-departed Baseball Network foists shabby playoff coverage that raises more questions than it answers on an unsuspecting public.

For instance, except for highlights, viewers in Baltimore probably will not see any sustained coverage of either round of the National League playoffs, just as viewers in NL cities, such as Philadelphia, won't catch any American League postseason games.

Also, for next week's newly created divisional playoff round, you could bounce from one series on one night to another series the next and so on.

Speaking of those first-round series, let's suppose the Yankees hold on to the American League wild-card spot. Will we here in Baltimore get to see the Seattle-New York series? Or do we see the long-suffering Boston and Cleveland teams battle for a spot in the next round? No one knows.

Even the network originations will change through the World Series, so you won't be able to settle into a pattern of watching the telecasts in one place, as you have in the past.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, for the first time since the two leagues split for divisional play in 1969, viewers will not be able to see both League Championship Series, since they will air simultaneously on the same network.

The only saving grace is that if both series reach games 6 or 7, the starting times of those contests would be staggered.

Of course, an easy solution would be to bring back afternoon playoff games, but the networks say that daytime postseason ratings tumbled from 12.6 for the 1986 playoffs to 7.5 for the 1992 round. That's still a higher figure than most of the networks' daytime schedules.

Confused? Angry? Well, you can blame the greedy owners for this sham on two counts. First, in consulting with ABC and NBC, they devised the ridiculous concept of The Baseball Network, to try artificially to pump up national ratings by funneling local coverage through ABC and NBC affiliates. The fans saw right through the facade and stayed away.

Then, rather than extend their contract with the networks for one year, so that each would have a crack at the World Series, the owners -- no doubt plotting to cast both networks aside for a more lucrative package for next season -- drew up this travesty of a postseason broadcast schedule.

NBC will have Bob Costas and Bob Uecker on American League series, with Greg Gumbel and Joe Morgan on National League games. ABC's Al Michaels, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer will form one team, with Brent Musberger and Jim Kaat on the other.

The gridiron roundup

ABC's Bob Griese plans to have his analytic gaze focused squarely on the offensive line during tomorrow's Ohio State-Notre Dame showdown (Channel 2, 3:30 p.m.).

He'll be looking at Buckeyes left tackle Orlando Pace, a 6-foot-6, 330-pound sophomore "dancing bear" who Griese believes will be the key to helping Ohio State establish its passing game.

Curious about the college bowl situation? CBS (Channel 13) will place the chairman of the Bowl Alliance and the chairman of the Fiesta Bowl, where the unofficial national championship game will be played, in front of the cameras tomorrow during "The Show" at 4 p.m. They'll take your questions at (800) 303-4CBS.

Sunday's NFL pre-game show scene finds Gumbel interviewing Miami's Don Shula and his son, David, the Cincinnati coach, on "The NFL on NBC" (Channel 11, 12:30 p.m.) in advance of the Dolphins-Bengals 1 p.m. game.

Meanwhile, Matt Millen will report from Washington, where the Redskins meet Dallas, with a feature on receivers Henry Ellard and Michael Westbrook on "Fox NFL Sunday" (noon, Channel 45). Oddly enough, Channel 45 is eschewing the Dallas-Washington game at 1 p.m. for the San Francisco-New York Giants 4 p.m. clash.

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