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Blasts from the past
2008-05-20 21:09
by Philip Michaels

You know what's worse than watching your team wind up on the losing end of a 13-inning game featuring blown leads, missed opportunities, and enough fielding and base-running miscues to make Eric Byrnes point at you and say, "See, maybe I'm not such a bad player after all. Take back all those things you've said about me. Take 'em back!" Watching all of the above with a head cold so severe that I wish Eric Byrnes was standing in front of me, threatening me with a baseball bat. With my luck, he'd swing wildly and miss, and I'd still have to deal with this runny nose and hacking cough.

Sidenote: I actually went to an A's game with a cold once -- mild fever, throat so scratchy I couldn't speak above a whisper, but I was a season ticket-holder then and I didn't want to eat the tickets. Then, as last night, the game went into extras, only on that sickness filled evening back in 2003, the A's had blown what had been a 4-0 lead to find themselves knotted up at five with Detroit. This was the year the Tigers were touted as -- and wound up being -- historically terrible, so you can imagine the grace and equanimity with which I absorbed Keith Foulke coughing up two runs in the ninth. One of the fine bleacherites around me, who had greeted Foulke's arrival in the game by shouting "We're going to Foulke you up, Detroit" every 30 seconds or so, was shouting "Keith foulked us up!" -- I guess when you've just discovered that Keith Foulke's last name vaguely sounds like a swear, that's just knowledge you have to share with the world. Understandably, I think, given the fever and the idiocy-spewing bozo, I got up and left -- the only time in recorded history I've ever left a game with the outcome still in doubt. I pulled up in front of my apartment just as Tejada's homer won it in the 11th.

Back to today. When not reminiscing about thoroughly unentertaining games from 2003, I spent most of the day sacked out on the couch clearing stuff off my cable company-issued DVR -- our TiFaux, my wife calls it. On baseball-related matters, that meant the hour-long special Comcast Sports Net put together to commemorate the Athletics' 40 years in Oakland plus an old A's World Series game I grabbed off ESPN Classic.

First, a review of the former: It was... OK. I mean, it was a decent overview from an accentuate-the-positive point of view, and it was nice to see some of the old footage. (Which is good, because there's only so much footage, so get ready to see that shot of the A's standing on the dugout steps and tipping their hats to the crowd on Opening Night '68 a lot.) But there's not a lot digging beneath the surface. The 1973 World Series passes without a mention of the Mike Andrews incident, the attempt to trade players for cash in '76 is touched on ever so briefly (with no mention at all of the Messersmith decision that brought about the free agency that caused Charles Finely to break up the team), and apparently nothing happened at the Coliseum between the division title in 1981 and the American League pennant in 1988 that is worth your attention or interest. According to the special, the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, won three World Series in the '70s, won another in '89, got really good again once Billy Beane started running the show, and now the future's so bright, we gotta wear shades. And that, as Baron von Raschke was so fond of reminding us, is all the people need to know.

It would have been better had the documentary dove into things like when and why the A's started using "Celebration" to punctuate victories. Or the most heavily attended games at the Coliseum over the years. Or, heck, just mic up Steve Vucinich and have him talk for an hour about his recollections -- he's been here since the get-go, so he might have an insight or two dozen to share with the home viewer.

The bottom line is, you'd probably get more out of Rebels of Oakland, the HBO documentary from a few years back, even if the A's have to split screen time with those gauche Raiders. Or put down the remote, for goodness sake, and read a book -- either Champions by Glenn Dickey, The Mustache Gang by Ron Bergman, or Baseball's Last Dynasty by Bruce Markusen. Those should do you right.

The condensed replay of the World Series game -- Game One of the '74 Series against Los Angeles. (SPOILER ALERT: The A's win.) Game One seems like an odd choice from that Series -- I might have gone with clincher if I were making the programming decisions -- but if someone wants to stick old A's games on ESPN Classic, I'm not going to grouse.

Interesting thing about the telecast of that game -- that was back when NBC's approach was to use a network play-by-play man (usually Curt Gowdy), a color commentator (in this case, Tony Kubek), and the local announcer for the home team. For this game, that would be Vin Scully, though I presume once the Series moved to Oakland, Monte Moore got the honors.

I spent the first nine years of my life in Los Angeles, and I've lived there off and on throughout my post-collegiate life, so I'm well aware of the play-by-play prowess displayed nightly by Vin Scully. But to hear him in the prime of his career calling a World Series game -- man, that guy is awfully good at his chosen profession.

Sidenote II: One of my first bosses out of college may be one of the few people in captivity to not enjoy Vin Scully's work, by which I mean he was not just indifferent or of a "Well, he's OK, I guess," mindset, but that he actively argued that Vin Scully was a bad broadcaster. My boss was a Red Sox fan, so I suppose Vin's crime was to not be suitably mournful about the result of the '86 series, but man... that's crazy talk. And my former boss has had children, meaning his dangerous ideas will spread. I fear for the future.

I mention the play-by-play set-up for the '74 Series -- local guy is brought onto the network telecast to add color -- because I think it illustrates what a wonderful idea that was. In the condensed hour-long version of the Game 1 telecast, Vin dropped several knowledge bombs on me -- that Andy Messersmith was looking sharper than he had in the entire month leading up to the Series, that Jimmy Wynn very rarely hit to the right side, that the Dodgers' runners-left-on-base woes in Game One were a continuation of a trend they had experienced during the playoffs with Pittsburgh. I can safely say that I have next to no working knowledge of the intricacies of the 1974 season -- in my defense, I was two years old at the time -- but because of the contributions from the broadcast booth, I was able to understand the action on the field just a little better. And shouldn't that be the goal?

Near as I can tell, the pattern of incorporating local announcers into the network telecast ended when ABC covered the 1977 World Series and said, "Hey, you know what? Our team of Keith Jackson, Tom Seaver, and Howard Cossell will work just fine." (Yet another reason to curse Roone Arledge and all his progeny.) And thus has it been ever since -- the network with the World Series rights brings in its own crew to speak in vague generalities about the teams vying for the trophy.

I thought about this today, as -- fittingly enough -- Deadspin's Media Approval Ratings series turned its attention to what people think of Tim McCarver's work. (I'll sum it up for you: They don't think very highly of it.) And it hit me -- weren't the networks on to something back in the day when they brought in local broadcasters to contribute to the Series coverage. I mean, wouldn't you rather have the insight of someone who's watched one of the participants for 162 games, as opposed to McCarver who -- if the Sox and the Yanks aren't involved -- is reduced to explaining how a slider works with the help of an animated baseball or indulging in forced plays on words ("You might say Big Papi put a big pop into that ball!") or explaining things that even the most Schlitz-addled viewer comprehended after the first three explanations ("That batter is out, because the fielder caught the ball. If he hadn't caught the ball, that batter would be safe. But he didn't, so the batter's out.")?

I'm racked with fever, and even I know the answer to that question.

2008-05-20 21:33:19
1.   Bob Timmermann
Monte Moore indeed sat in on the games when they were in Oakland.

NBC and ABC used the local commentators through the 1970s I believe. Carlton Fisk's big homer in the 1975 World Series was called by Dick Stockton.

I believe that in 1977 and 1978, since Vin Scully was under contract to CBS, NBC and ABC used Ross Porter in the postseason as the "Dodgers" announcer.

Using the home team announcers in the World Series was SOP in the 1950s and 1960s. I've seen Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, which was on NBC, but the two announcers were Scully and Ray Scott, the Twins announcer.

2008-05-20 21:41:47
2.   Philip Michaels
1 Wikipedia lists Ross Porter as the radio announcer for 1977 and 1978, along with Bill White.

Cossell, Jackson, and Seaver are listed as the ABC team for '77. (The brief clips in "The Bronx is Burning" seem to confirm this.) Wikipedia says NBC's team for '78 was Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek, and Tom Seaver.

People really liked Tom Seaver on their World Series telecasts.

2008-05-20 21:58:46
3.   Eric Stephen
I would really like it if home team announcers were added to postseason crews.

It's almost unfathomable that three different networks have decided Tim McCarver is the #1 analyst for MLB. He's essentially been the top analyst in the sport since 1985. Craziness.

2008-05-20 23:58:05
4.   Bob Timmermann
Billy Packer has been the analyst for all the Final Fours since 1976 I believe. Or maybe 1975.
2008-05-21 07:01:42
5.   Philip Michaels
4 Or as it should be known: "America Held Hostage -- Year 32."

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