It may be unfair to say that Monday Night Baseball, as it has been presented by ABC so far this season, is the worst television treatment ever given a major sport, because by all odds somebody at sometime must have done something worse. But it is difficult to remember when or where that might have happened. Sure, nine years ago CBS did a wretched job on soccer, and a lot of us will never forgive NBC for the Heidi caper, but those failures do not measure up to ABC's ineptness with baseball so far.
ABC has earned this dubious distinction after broadcasting only four games—two that were aired to most of the country and a pair of backup games. After watching all four, I get the impression that the network has been caught short with ill-prepared production crews and announcers. As a result, ABC seems to be trying to hoodwink its audience with commentary that sounds insightful, but is often dead wrong, and with fancy camera work that frequently is used at inappropriate times during the action. There is certainly time for ABC to correct its errors, because it will broadcast 28 more Monday games, the All-Star Game and the league playoffs. However, unless major changes are made swiftly, I will take my network baseball Saturday afternoons on NBC and be thankful that that network will be doing the World Series in October.
In its four-year history Monday Night Baseball has had more than its share of troubles. Two seasons ago, for example, NBC put a celebrity—often a nonbaseball person who knew almost nothing about the sport—in the broadcast booths every week. For a time it seemed that every guy who owned a one-chair barbershop in Beverly Hills was getting a chance to chat on prime time with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. Fortunately, NBC stopped that nonsense. Last season its productions were first-rate.
A year ago ABC outbid NBC for the rights to Monday Night Baseball (plus the playoffs, All-Star Game and World Series in alternate years) for $12.5 million. It is a shame that ABC did not spend a commensurate amount of money—and expend the necessary effort—on its Monday telecasts. So far its coverage is not as good as even the poorest local productions seen in major league cities.
Part of ABC's problem may be that during the years it did not televise baseball, its executives and announcers were outspoken about the game being dull and slow. Baseball is neither of these, but members of the network's sports staff apparently have persuaded themselves that it is. Now they appear to be trying to show us that they were right all along.
The camera work on Monday Night Baseball has been poor. Batted balls and base runners have been lost from view far too often and split screens have been employed with the wrong men on base. Unbelievably, the starting lineups have not been given at the beginning of the games. Unlike NBC, which had the award-winning The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola preceding its telecasts, ABC has no pregame show. When the games are over, the wrap-ups are too brief. And if you plan to keep up with other developments in baseball by watching the Monday night telecasts, forget it.
ABC selected two teams of three announcers each to do the Monday games. The main crew of Bob Prince, Bob Uecker and Warner Wolf is not nearly as good as the backup trio of Al Michaels, Bob Gibson and Norm Cash. It is a shame that more than 99% of the nation has had to listen to the main team instead of to Michaels, a thoroughly professional play-by-play man; former Tiger First Baseman Cash, who adds humor to the telecasts; and Gibson, the recently retired Cardinal pitcher who is a rarity among broadcasters in that he does not talk unless he has something worth saying.
Neither Prince, the voice of the Astros and one of baseball's best announcers when he uses his very partisan style on local broadcasts, nor Uecker, a renowned clubhouse wit during his six-year major league career, has lived up to expectations. But the big problem with the main team is Wolf. He makes too many inane remarks in attempting to be controversial or clever or to lead his audience into believing he knows a lot about baseball. He is only fooling himself.
In the opening telecast of the season Wolf told viewers that Bobby Bonds "was the only legitimate home-run hitter" the Yankees had last year. Wolf must have been asleep in 1975 when Graig Nettles hit 21 homers. Wolf seemed awed in his second telecast when Met Pitcher Tom Seaver advanced from second to third on a fly ball to left. Knowledgeable fans know that Seaver is excellent on the bases and will take every extra base that is not nailed down. Wolf also has said, "Roy White is certainly an underrated ballplayer." There is a much greater chance that White is overrated. He is paid $90,000 by the Yankees, although his glove goes clank in the night and his throwing arm is not much better than the Venus de Milo's.
The best Wolfism to date was: "The Cardinals haven't had a third baseman since Kenny Boyer." Wolf must have been out of the country in 1973, 1974 and 1975, when St. Louis had Ken Reitz at third. A .265 hitter during those seasons, Reitz was twice awarded Gold Gloves for his work in the field.
Unless ABC moves quickly to eliminate bloopers like these from its Monday telecasts—and that may require Wolf's removal from the broadcasting booth—the sounds of summer for the network are likely to be the click-clicks of sets being turned off.