Major League Baseball on NBC

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Major League Baseball on NBC
Genre Major League Baseball
Directed by Harry Coyle[1]
Andy Rosenberg
John Gonzalez
Doug Grabert
Bucky Gunts
Presented by Major League Baseball on NBC broadcasters
Theme music composer Randy Edelman
Kevin Gavin[2]
Clark Gault
Mitch & Ira Yuspeh
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Production
Executive producer(s) Scotty Connal
Don Ohlmeyer
Michael Weisman
Terry O'Neill
Dick Ebersol
Tom Roy
Producer(s) Roy Hammerman
George Finkel
John J. Filippelli[3][4]
Kenneth Roy Edmundson
Les Dennis
Kevin Smollon (associate producer)
Jeffrey Simon (associate producer)
Ramon Plaza (associate producer)
Elliott Kalb (associate producer)
Steve Horn (associate producer)
Cinematography Tom Adza
Jim Bragg
Eric A. Eisenstein
Rick Fox
Lou Gerard
Steve Gonzalez
Dave Hage
Thomas K. Hogan
Cory Leible
Vaughn Kilgore
Jim Lynch
Tim O'Neill
Albert Rice, Jr.
Luis Rojas
Nick Utley
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 180 minutes, or until conclusion
Production company(s) NBC Sports
Release
Original network NBC
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Original release
  • First run: July 8, 1947 (1947-07-08) – September 30, 1989 (1989-09-30)
  • Second run: July 12, 1994 (1994-07-12) – October 17, 2000 (2000-10-17)
Chronology
Related shows Major League Baseball on ABC
Baseball Night in America
Major League Baseball Game of the Week
Major League Baseball: An Inside Look
Monday Night Baseball
External links
Website

Major League Baseball on NBC is the de facto branding for weekly broadcasts of Major League Baseball (MLB) games produced by NBC Sports, and televised on the NBC television network. Major League Baseball games first aired on the network from 1947 to 1989, when CBS acquired the broadcast television rights; games returned to the network in 1994 with coverage lasting until 2000. There have been several variations[5] of the program dating back to the 1940s, including The NBC Game of the Week and Baseball Night in America.

History[edit]

From 1947 to 1956 and again in 1965, NBC only aired the All-Star Game (beginning in 1950) and World Series. From 1957 to 1989, the network aired the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week (or a variation of it prior to 1966, when NBC did not hold the exclusive over-the-air television rights). From 1994 to 1995, NBC aired games under a joint broadcasting venture with Major League Baseball and ABC called The Baseball Network. From 1996 to 2000, the network's league coverage was reduced to postseason games (three Division Series games in prime time, the American League Championship Series in even-numbered years, and the National League Championship Series and World Series in odd-numbered years), as well as the All-Star Game in even-numbered years (during years when NBC did not hold the rights to the World Series).

Early years[edit]

1930s[edit]

NBC television's relationship with Major League Baseball technically dates back to August 26, 1939.[6] It was on that particular date that on W2XBS (an experimental television station in New York City which would ultimately become NBC's flagship station, WNBC), the first-ever Major League Baseball game was televised. With Red Barber announcing, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds played a doubleheader at Ebbets Field. The Reds won the first game 5–2 while the Dodgers won the second, 6–1. Barber called the game without the benefit of a monitor and with only two cameras capturing the game. One camera was on Barber and the other was behind the plate. Barber had to guess from which light was on and where it pointed.

1940s[edit]

By 1947, television sets, most with five and seven-inch screens, were selling almost as fast as they could be produced. Because of this, Major League teams began televising games and attracted a whole new audience into ballparks in the process. People who had only casually followed baseball began going to the games in person. In 1948, Major League Baseball's total attendance reached a record high of 21 million.

1947 also saw the first televised World Series.[7] The games were broadcast in the New York City area by NBC's WNBT, CBS's WCBS-TV and DuMont's WABD and sponsored by Gillette and Ford. The 1947 World Series brought in an estimated 3.9 million viewers, becoming television's first mass audience. In addition to New York City, live coverage of the Series was also seen on WRGB in Schenectady/Albany, WPTZ in Philadelphia, WMAR-TV in Baltimore and WTTG in Washington, D.C.

In 1948 and 1949, the World Series would be carried on the aforementioned stations, as well as on WBZ-TV and WNAC-TV in Boston, WNHC-TV in New Haven and WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia. In 1949, the World Series was also seen live in other Northeastern and Midwestern cities (Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis) that had been hooked up to network lines over the previous year.

1950s[edit]

In 1950, the Mutual Broadcasting System acquired the television as well as radio broadcast rights to the World Series and All-Star Game for the next six years. Mutual may have been reindulging in dreams of becoming a television network or simply taking advantage of a long-standing business relationship; in either case, the broadcast rights were sold to NBC in time for the following season's games at an enormous profit.

NBC aired the second and third games of the 1951 National League tie-breaker series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, necessitated by the teams' finishing the regular season in a tie for first place. The three-game pennant playoff, which featured the first baseball games televised live from coast to coast (with CBS airing the first game), culminated on October 3 when the Giants won the third and deciding game by the score of 5–4 (off Bobby Thomson's home run). Ernie Harwell called the game for Giants television flagship WPIX – the independent station's broadcast was simulcast nationally by NBC – and his description of the home run was a simple shout of "It's gone!" almost at the moment Thomson's bat struck Ralph Branca's pitch. Harwell later admitted he had probably called it "too soon", but fortunately for him, the call proved to be correct. "And then", Harwell recalled, "the pictures took over."[8]

The 1951 playoff between Brooklyn and the New York Giants and that year's World Series were the first major league baseball games telecast live from coast-to-coast; transcontinental network transmission lines had been completed and activated in September, in-time for the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco and the start of the 1951–52 television season.

On January 31, 1953, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox joined forces against St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck. The respective franchises tried to force the Browns to play afternoon games in an attempt to avoid having to share television revenues. A month later, Major League Baseball owners received a warning from Senator Edwin Johnson about nationally televising their games. Johnson's theory was that nationally televising baseball games would be a threat to the survival of minor league baseball. The owners pretty much ignored Johnson since the games on NBC in particular, were gaining a large and loyal following.

Another first for NBC during this period was the first color telecast of a World Series, the 1955 matchup between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.

Additional notes[edit]
  • By 1950, World Series games could be seen in most of the country,[9][10] but not all. 1950 also marked the first time that there was an exclusive network television broadcaster (NBC). As noted above, West Coast viewers finally saw live major league games on television during the 1951 postseason.
  • 1951, as mentioned above, marked the first time that the World Series was televised coast[11] to coast.[12][13][14]
  • The 1952 All-Star Game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia was the first nationally televised All-Star Game, but it was shortened due to rain.
  • 1955 marked the first time that the World Series was televised in color, as previously mentioned.[15][16][17]
  • Chicago White Sox announcer Bob Elson missed a chance to call the 1959 World Series – the White Sox' first since 1919, and Elson's first since 1943 – on NBC because the then head of NBC Sports, Tom Gallery (who incidentally, grew up on the same block as Elson) did not like him.[18] Elson was, however, allowed to call the Series on the White Sox' radio flagship, WCFL.

NBC begins airing the Game of the Week (1957–65)[edit]

Cover of the 1962 NBC Baseball Annual.

In 1957,[19] NBC started airing weekend Game of the Week telecasts[20][21] (Sunday telecasts were added in 1959) with Lindsey Nelson and Leo Durocher calling the action. During this period, NBC (as rival CBS had the rights to broadcast at least eight teams) typically broadcast from Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, Chicago's Wrigley Field or Milwaukee's County Stadium. NBC purchased the rights to 11 Milwaukee Braves games, 11 Pittsburgh Pirates games, two Washington Senators games, and two Chicago Cubs games. Leo Durocher was succeeded as color commentator by Fred Haney in 1960, and Joe Garagiola in 1961, while Bob Wolff replaced Nelson on play-by-play in 1962.

From 1958 to 1960,[22] NBC aired a special regional feed of its games in the southeast, where the network had a different sponsor (such as National Bohemian beer) than for the rest of the country. This feed featured its own announcing team, with Chuck Thompson calling the games with Bill Veeck (1958) and Al Rosen (1959–60). NBC never had a true backup game until 1966, when the network got exclusivity for the Game of the Week. In the process, NBC brought in Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese for the primary game, and Jim Simpson and Tony Kubek for the alternate game (which was always shown in the markets of teams playing in the primary game).

1960–65[edit]

As previously mentioned, in 1961, NBC hired Joe Garagiola to be their Major League Baseball color commentator. The following year, Bob Wolff began working play-by-play. "You work your side of the street [interviewing players]", said Garagiola to Wolff "and I'll work mine." Wolff liked Garagiola's pizazz as he would say things like "the guy stapled him to the bag" or that a runner is "smilin' like he swallowed a banana peel." Also in 1962, NBC broadcast the National League tie-breaker series between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. Bob Wolff and George Kell[23] were the announcers for the playoff series. Wolff also hosted the pre-game shows for NBC's World Series coverage from 1962 to 1965.

By 1964,[24] CBS' Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese called games from Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Baltimore. New York got a US$550,000 payment of CBS' $895,000. Meanwhile, six clubs that exclusively played nationally televised games on NBC were paid $1.2 million.

Additional notes[edit]
  • 1960 – Prior to the mid-1970s, television networks and stations generally did not preserve telecasts of sporting events, choosing instead to tape over them. As a result, the broadcasts of six of the seven 1960 games are no longer known to exist. The lone exception is a black-and-white kinescope of the entire telecast of Game 7, which was discovered in a wine cellar in Bing Crosby's home in Hillsborough, California in December 2009.[25] A part-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who was too superstitious to watch the Series live, Crosby listened to the decisive contest with his wife Kathryn and two friends on a shortwave radio in Paris, France. Wanting to watch the game at a later date only if the Pirates won, he arranged for a company to record it. After viewing the kinescope, he placed it in his wine cellar, where it went untouched for 49 years. It was finally found by Robert Bader, vice president of marketing and production for Bing Crosby Enterprises, while looking through videotapes of Crosby's television specials which were to be transferred to DVD. The five-reel set is the only known complete copy of the historic match, which was originally broadcast in color.[25] The NBC television announcers for the Series were Bob Prince and Mel Allen, the respective primary play-by-play voices for the Pirates and New York Yankees. Prince called the first half of Game 7, while Allen did the latter portion.[25]
  • 1961 – In contrast to preceding years, where NBC's Series telecasts featured two announcers (usually one from each participating team) who split the play-by-play duties, each working his portion of the game by himself, the network had Yankees announcer Mel Allen handle all of the play-by-play on television (with Reds announcer Waite Hoyt confined to radio) while Joe Garagiola provided color commentary. This format would eventually become the standard form of presentation on World Series telecasts.[26]
  • On July 13, 1963, NBC's coverage of the Detroit TigersChicago White Sox game from Comiskey Park in Chicago was carried by KCRA-TV in Sacramento, KCRL in Reno and KVIP-TV in Redding – however it was not televised in the San Francisco market on KRON-TV.[27] NBC's coverage of the Cleveland Indians-Tigers game at 11:30 a.m. the following day was also not broadcast by KRON.
  • During the fourth and final game of the 1963 Series, Yankees announcer Mel Allen was calling the top of the ninth inning for NBC when his voice gave out due to a bout of severe laryngitis, forcing Dodgers announcer Vin Scully (who had called the first four-and-a-half innings of the game per the network's usual setup) to resume play-by-play duties for the remainder of the game. After the Series New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Young opined that Allen, the voice of the Yankees, had been stricken by "psychosomatic laryngitis" caused by his team being swept.[28]
  • In 1964, the New York Yankees made the World Series for the 15th time in 18 years – however Mel Allen was not there. In September of that year, before the end of the season, the Yankees informed Allen that his contract with the team would not be renewed. As been frequently mentioned, in those days, the main announcers for the Series participants always called the World Series on NBC. Although Allen was therefore technically eligible to call the Series, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick honored the Yankees' request to have Phil Rizzuto join the Series crew instead. It was the first time Allen had missed a World Series for which the Yankees were eligible since 1943, and only the second World Series (not counting those missed during World War II) that he had missed since he began calling baseball games in 1938. On December 17, after much media speculation and many letters to the Yankees from fans disgruntled at Allen's absence from the Series, the Yankees issued a terse press release announcing Allen's firing; he was replaced by Joe Garagiola. NBC and Movietone dropped him soon afterward. To this day, the Yankees have never given an explanation for Allen's sudden firing, and rumors abounded. Depending on the rumor, Allen was either homosexual, an alcoholic, a drug addict or had a nervous breakdown.[29] Allen's sexuality was sometimes a target in those more conservative days because he had not married (and never did). Years later, Allen told author Curt Smith that the Yankees had fired him under pressure from the team's longtime sponsor, Ballantine Beer. According to Allen, he was fired as a cost-cutting move by Ballantine, which had been experiencing poor sales for years[29] (it would eventually be sold in 1969). Smith, in his book Voices of Summer, also indicated that the medications Allen took in order to maintain his busy schedule may have affected his on-air performance (Stephen Borelli, another biographer, has also pointed out that Allen's heavy workload did not allow him time to take care of his health).

The Game of the Week exclusivity era (1966–89)[edit]

Until 1965[30] (when Major League Baseball made its first ever, league-wide regular-season network television deal with ABC), there was no league-wide national television package for regular season Major League Baseball games. As a result, teams, if they so desired, could sell the rights to the networks. Also prior to 1965, regular season Major League Baseball telecasts broadcast by networks had to be blacked-out in cities with league franchises. More to the point, by around the year prior, thanks to expansion (in 1960 and 1961), regular season MLB games shown on network television were shutouts in most major markets. However, the network Games of the Week, up until the late 1980s, still could not be seen in the two cities whose local teams were playing in each respective game.

From 1965 until the late 1980s, networks would cover two Saturday afternoon games each week: one that went to most of the network (a "primary game"), and the second only being seen in the home markets of the two teams playing in the network's "primary" game. Although the "primary" game would not be televised in each team's home markets, local television rights-holders in those cities were free to broadcast that game. The manner that this worked allowed, for instance, a network's two Saturday afternoon Games of the Week involving the New York Yankees at the Boston Red Sox serving as the primary game and St. Louis Cardinals at the Chicago Cubs being the secondary game. The Yankees-Red Sox game would as a result, be seen everywhere except in New York City, Boston and possibly markets adjacent to those cities. Ultimately, those markets got the Cardinals-Cubs game instead.

1960s[edit]

The New York Yankees, which the year before, played 21 Games of the Week for CBS, joined NBC's package in 1966. The new package under NBC called for 28 games compared to the 123 combined among three networks during the 1960s. On October 19, 1966, NBC signed a three-year contract with Major League Baseball. As previously mentioned, the year before, Major League Baseball sold an exclusive league-wide television package for the rights to the Saturday-Sunday Game of the Week to ABC. NBC only covered the All-Star Game and World Series in 1965. In addition, a previous deal limited CBS to covering only twelve weekends when its new subsidiary, the New York Yankees, played at home. As previously mentioned, before 1965, NBC aired a slate of Saturday afternoon games beginning in 1957.

Under the new deal, NBC paid roughly US$6 million per year for the 25 Games of the Week,[31] $6.1 million for the 1967 World Series and All-Star Game, and $6.5 million for the 1968 World Series and 1968 All-Star Game. This brought the total value of the contract (which included three Monday night telecasts such as a Labor Day 1966 contest between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers) up to $30.6 million.

On April 16, 1966, in New York City, about 50 baseball, network and advertising officials discussed NBC's first year with the Game of the Week. New York could not get a primary match-up between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees with Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese calling the action because of local blackout rules. Instead, that market received a backup game (or "'B' game") featuring Tony Kubek and Jim Simpson calling a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. That rule would be eliminated after the 1983 season.

In replacing CBS, NBC traded a circus for a seminar. Reese said "Curt Gowdy was its guy (1966–75), and didn't want Dizzy Dean[32] – too overpowering. Curt was nice, but worried about mistakes. Diz and I just laughed." Falstaff Brewery hyped Dean as Gowdy in return said "I said, 'I can't do "Wabash Cannonball." Our styles clash--" then came Pee Wee Reese. Gowdy added by saying about the pairing between him and Reese "They figured he was fine with me, and they'd still have their boy." To many, baseball meant CBS' 1955–64 Game of the Week thoroughbred. A year later, NBC bought ABC's variant of a mule so to speak. "We had the Series and All-Star Game. 1966–1968's Game meant exclusivity", said NBC Sports head Carl Lindemann, who added that "[Colleague] Chet Simmons and liked him [Gowdy] with the Sox and football" also, getting two network sports for the price of one. As his analyst, Gowdy wanted his friend Ted Williams. NBC's lead sponsor, Chrysler declined the idea when Williams, a Sears spokesman, was pictured putting stuff in a Ford truck.

Before 1966, local announcers exclusively called the World Series. Typically, the Gillette Company, the Commissioner of Baseball and NBC television would choose the announcers, who would represent each of the teams that were in the World Series for the respective year. For the 1966 World Series, Curt Gowdy[33] called half of each game before ceding the microphone to Vin Scully in Los Angeles, and Chuck Thompson in Baltimore. Scully was not satisfied with the arrangement[34] as he said "What about the road? My fans won't be able to hear me." In Game 1 of the 1966 World Series, Scully called the first 4½ innings. When Gowdy inherited the announcing reigns, Scully was so upset that he refused to say another word.

Tony Kubek initially had trouble adjusting to the world of broadcasting. Although he had a lot to say, he was gangling, he tended to stutter, and talked too fast. Gowdy soon suggested to Kubek that he should work offseason to improve his delivery. Buying a recorder, Kubek often read poetry aloud for 20 minutes a day. In 1968, Kubek wowed as a World Series field reporter. Pee Wee Reese, who was soon fired by NBC (and replaced by Kubek as the top analyst) said of Kubek "He wormed his way around, but I wasn't bitter. I just think if you don't have anything to say, you should shut your mouth."

Additional notes[edit]
  • As previously mentioned, before 1966, NBC typically paired the top announcers for the respective World Series teams to alternate play-by-play during each game's telecast. For example, if the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series, Mel Allen (representing the Yankees) would call half the game and Vin Scully (representing the Dodgers) would call the other half of the game. However, in 1966, NBC wanted its regular network announcer, Curt Gowdy, to call most of the play-by-play at the expense of the top local announcers. So instead of calling half of every World Series game on television (as Vin Scully had done in 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963 and 1965) they would only get to call half of all home games on TV, providing color commentary while Gowdy called play-by-play for the remaining half of each game. The visiting teams' announcers would participate in the NBC Radio broadcasts. In broadcasts of Series-clinching (or potentially Series-clinching) games on both media, NBC would send the announcer for whichever team was ahead in the game to that team's clubhouse in the ninth inning in order to help cover the trophy presentation and conduct postgame interviews.
  • In the early years of the League Championship Series,[35] NBC typically televised a doubleheader on Saturday, a single game on Sunday (because of football coverage). At the time, the network covered the weekday games with a 1½-hour overlap, joining the second game in progress when the first one ended. NBC usually swapped announcer crews after Game 2.
  • In 1967, main Game of the Week broadcasts were blacked-out in the cities of the two participating teams. In some cases, those games were aired by way of the teams' respective local flagship stations, with their local announcing crews – for example, the May 27, DodgersGiants contest in San Francisco was not carried by either KRON-TV in the originating city or KNBC in Los Angeles. The game was, however, telecast in Los Angeles over the Dodgers' flagship station KTTV, with Jerry Doggett and Vin Scully providing play-by-play. At the time, Dodgers' broadcasts over KTTV were limited to road games in San Francisco. Conversely the Giants' broadcast partner, KTVU, did not broadcast the team's home games in 1967.[36] Viewers in the San Francisco Bay Area may have been able to view this game on one of two NBC affiliates from nearby areas, KSBW-TV in Salinas and KCRA-TV in Sacramento, California.
  • The June 8, 1968 Game of the Week broadcast was cancelled due to coverage of the funeral/burial of Robert F. Kennedy. Cleveland at Detroit and Atlanta at Chicago Cubs were the games scheduled to air on that date.
  • Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 1969 World Series are believed to be the oldest surviving color television broadcasts of World Series games (even though World Series telecasts have aired in color since 1955). However, they were "truck feeds" in that they do not contain the original commercials, but show a static image of the Shea Stadium field between innings. Games 1 and 2 were only saved as black-and-white kinescopes provided by the CBC. CBC also preserved all seven games of the 1965 and 1968 World Series (plus the 1968 All-Star Game) in black and white kinescope.

1970s[edit]

1970–75[edit]

In 1971, Sandy Koufax signed a ten-year contract with NBC for $1 million to serve as a broadcaster on the Saturday Game of the Week. Koufax never felt comfortable being in front of the camera, and quit before the 1973 season.

On October 13, 1971, the World Series held a night game for the very first time.[37] Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who felt that baseball could attract a larger audience by featuring a prime time telecast (as opposed to a mid-afternoon broadcast, occurring when most fans either worked or attended school), pitched the idea to NBC. An estimated 61 million people watched Game 4 on NBC; television ratings for a World Series game during the daytime hours would not have approached such a record number.

For World Series night games, NBC normally began baseball coverage at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time with a pre-game show (with first pitch occurring around 8:20 to 8:25 p.m.). However, in 1986 and 1988, for Game 5 of the World Series (on Thursday night), NBC's coverage did not begin until 8:30. This allowed the network to air its highly rated sitcom The Cosby Show in its normal Thursday 8:00 p.m. timeslot. NBC went with carrying a very short pre-game show and got to first pitch at around 8:40 p.m. Eastern Time.

Monday Night Baseball (1972–75)[edit]

In 1972,[38] NBC began televising prime time regular-season games on Mondays, under a four-year contract worth $72 million. In 1973, NBC extended the Monday night telecasts (with a local blackout) to 15 consecutive games. NBC's last Monday Night Baseball game aired on September 1, 1975, in which the Montréal Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 6–5. Curt Gowdy called the games with Tony Kubek from 1972 to 1974, being joined in the 1973 and 1974 seasons by various guest commentators from both within and outside of the baseball world (among them Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Bobby Riggs, Dave DeBusschere, Howard Cosell, Mel Allen, Danny Kaye and Willie Mays). Jim Simpson and Maury Wills called the secondary backup games. Joe Garagiola hosted the pre-game show, The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola, and teamed with Gowdy to call the games in 1975.

During NBC's telecast of the Monday night DodgersBraves game on April 8, 1974, in which Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th career home run,[39] Kubek criticized Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on-air for failing to be in attendance at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta on that historic night; Kuhn argued that he had a prior engagement that he could not break.

Joe Garagiola replaces Curt Gowdy[edit]

Starting in 1975, Joe Garagiola and Curt Gowdy alternated as the Saturday Game of Week play-by-play announcers with Tony Kubek doing color analysis. Then on weeks in which NBC had Monday Night Baseball, Gowdy and Garagiola worked together. One would call play-by-play for 4½ innings, the other would handle color analysis. Then in the bottom of the 5th inning, their roles switched. Ultimately, in November 1975, Chrysler forced NBC to totally remove Curt Gowdy from NBC's top baseball team. Instead, the company wanted their spokesman, Joe Garagiola, to call all "A" regular season games, All-Star Games (when NBC had them), the top League Championship Series (when NBC had it), and the World Series (when NBC had it).

NBC hoped that, in replacing Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola's charm and unorthodox dwelling on the personal would stop the decade-long ratings dive for the Game of the Week. Instead, the ratings bobbed from 6.7 (1977) via 7.5 (1978) to 6.3 (1981–82). "Saturday had a constituency but it didn't swell" said NBC Sports executive producer Scotty Connal. Some believed that millions missed Dizzy Dean while local-team television broadcasters split the audience. Scotty Connal believed that the team of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek were "A great example of black and white". Connal added by saying "A pitcher throws badly to third, Joe says, 'The third baseman's fault.' Tony: 'The pitcher's'." Media critic Gary Deeb termed theirs "the finest baseball commentary ever carried on network TV."

Another factor behind Gowdy's dismissal was because of criticism from the national media alleging that he sided with the Boston Red Sox (a franchise that he had covered prior to his days at NBC) over a controversial play in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the 1975 World Series. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ed Armbrister reached base on what was ruled an error by Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk on Armbrister's bunt attempt. Gowdy said numerous times that, in his opinion, Armbrister had interfered with Fisk. Gowdy had been given the correct interpretation by NBC Radio Producer Jay Scott (who was a Triple-A fill-in umpire at the time as well), but did not use it.[40] Umpire Larry Barnett claimed he had received death threats on account of Gowdy's criticism. More to the point, Tony Kubek, on the NBC telecast, immediately charged that Armbrister interfered (with the attempted forceout), even though home plate umpire Barnett did not agree. Later, Kubek got 1,000 letters dubbing him a Boston stooge. Prior to Game 2 of the 1986 World Series, NBC did a feature on replays narrated by Bob Costas. One of the plays cited by Costas was the Armbrister play, and Barnett and Costas both insisted that Barnett had made the correct call, although Barnett declared, "You won't find many people in Boston who believe it was the right call." Costas used the feature to condemn the suggested notion of instant replay to settle calls, noting that it was the "same kind of mentality that adds color to classic movies and calls it progress."

While Gowdy was on hand in the press box for Carlton Fisk's legendary home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series,[41] the actual calls went to two of Gowdy's Red Sox successors, Dick Stockton on television and Ned Martin on radio. Gowdy was Martin's color commentator on that home run. Meanwhile, according to the NBC cameraman Lou Gerard located above the third base stands, cameramen at the time were instructed to follow the flight of the ball. Instead Gerard was distracted by a rat nearby, thus he lost track of the baseball and instead decided to capture the image of Fisk "magically" waving the ball fair.[42]

Notes[edit]
  • In 1970, NBC televised the second games of both League Championship Series on a regional basis. Some markets received the NLCS at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time along with a 4:00 p.m. football game while other markets got the ALCS at 4:00 p.m. along with a 1:00 p.m. football game.
  • In 1971, Game 1 of the ALCS was rained out on Saturday, October 2. NBC did not televise[43] the rescheduled Game 1 the following day (the network had only planned an NLCS telecast that day), but added a telecast of Game 2 on Monday, October 4 (which had been a scheduled travel day).
  • NBC did not air Game 2[44] of the 1972 NLCS or the 1974 NLCS.
  • Except for Game 1 in both series, all games in 1975 were regionally televised. Game 3 of both League Championship Series were aired in prime time, the first time such an occurrence happened.
1976–79[edit]

On June 18, 1977, in the New York Yankees' 10–4 loss to the Boston Red Sox in a nationally televised game at Fenway Park in Boston, Jim Rice, a powerful hitter but a slow runner, hit a ball into right field that Reggie Jackson seemed to get to without much speed, and Rice reached second base. Furious, Yankees manager Billy Martin removed Jackson from the game without even waiting for the end of the inning, sending Paul Blair out to replace him. When Jackson arrived at the dugout, Martin yelled that Jackson had shown him up. The two men argued, and Jackson said that Martin's heavy drinking had impaired his judgment. Despite Jackson being eighteen years younger, about two inches taller and maybe 40 pounds heavier, Martin lunged at him, and had to be restrained by coaches Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. Red Sox fans could see this in the dugout and began cheering wildly; NBC television cameras showed the confrontation to the entire country.

Alternating coverage with ABC (1976–79)[edit]

Under the initial agreement with ABC, NBC and Major League Baseball (running through the 1976 to 1979 seasons), both networks paid $92.8 million for the league broadcast rights. ABC paid $12.5 million per year to show 16 Monday night games in 1976, 18 in the next three years, plus half the postseason (the League Championship Series in even-numbered years and World Series in odd-numbered years). NBC paid $10.7 million per year to show 25 Saturday Games of the Week and the other half of the postseason (the League Championship Series in odd-numbered years and World Series in even-numbered years).

Major League Baseball media director John Lazarus said of the new arrangement between NBC and ABC "Ratings couldn't get more from one network so we approached another." NBC's Joe Garagiola was not very fond of the new broadcasting arrangement at first saying "I wished they hadn't got half the package. Still, 'Game', half of the postseason – we got lots left." By 1980, income from television broadcasts accounted for a record 30% of the game's $500 million in revenues.

1980s[edit]

1980–82[edit]

The 1980 World Series is tied with the 1978 Series for having the highest overall television ratings for a World Series to date, with the six games averaging a Nielsen rating of 32.8 and a share of 56.[45]

In 1981, as a means to recoup revenue lost during a players' strike, Major League Baseball set up a special additional playoff round (as a prelude to the League Championship Series). ABC televised the American League Division Series while NBC televised the National League Division Series.[46] The Division Series round would not be officially instituted until 14 years later. Games 1, 3 and 5 of the Phillies/Expos series and Games 2, 3 and 5 of the Dodgers/Astros series were regionally televised.

Even though Dick Enberg did play-by-play for the 1981 NLCS for NBC (working alongside Tom Seaver), Merle Harmon was, for the most part, NBC's backup baseball play-by-play announcer (serving behind Joe Garagiola, who called that year's ALCS for NBC with Tony Kubek) in 1981. Harmon's broadcast partner during this period was Ron Luciano.[47] In late 1979, Harmon left the Milwaukee Brewers completely in favor of a multi-year pact with NBC. Harmon saw the NBC deal as a perfect opportunity since according to The Milwaukee Journal he would make more money, get more exposure, and do less traveling. At NBC, Harmon did SportsWorld, the backup Game of the Week, and served as a field reporter for the 1980 World Series. Harmon most of all, had hoped to cover the American boycotted 1980 Summer Olympics from Moscow. After NBC pulled out of their scheduled coverage of the 1980 Summer Olympics, Harmon considered it to being "a great letdown." To add insult to injury, NBC fired Harmon in 1982 in favor of Bob Costas.[48]

According to his autobiography, Oh My,[49] Dick Enberg (then the lead play-by-play voice for The NFL on NBC) was informed by NBC that he would become the lead play-by-play voice of the Major League Baseball Game of the Week beginning with the 1982 World Series (sharing the play-by-play duties for that game with Joe Garagiola, alongside analyst Tony Kubek) and through subsequent regular seasons. Enberg wrote that on his football trips, he would read every edition of The Sporting News to make sure he was current with all the baseball news and notes. He then met with NBC executives in September 1982, who informed him that Vin Scully[50][51] was in negotiations to be their lead baseball play-by-play announcer (teaming with Garagiola, while Kubek would team with Bob Costas[52]) and would begin with the network in the spring of 1983. Therefore, rather than throw him in randomly for one World Series, Enberg wrote that he hosted the pre-game/post-game shows while the team of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek did the games. According to the book, Enberg was not pleased about the decision (since he loved being the California Angels' radio voice in the 1970s and was eager to return to baseball) but the fact that NBC was bringing in Scully, arguably baseball's best announcer, was understandable. Enberg added that NBC also gave him a significant pay increase as a pseudo-apology for not coming through on the promise to make him the lead baseball play-by-play announcer.

Additional notes[edit]
  • As previously mentioned, the 1980 World Series is tied with the 1978 World Series for the highest overall television ratings to date, with the six games averaging a Nielsen rating of 32.8 and a share of 56.[45]
    • Although Bryant Gumbel anchored NBC's pregame coverage for Game 5 of the 1980 World Series, he was not present at Royals Stadium in Kansas City. Game 5 was scheduled on a Sunday, which conflicted with Gumbel's hosting duties for the network's NFL pre-game show NFL '80. As a result, Gumbel had to anchor the World Series coverage from the NBC Studios in New York City. Gumbel, however, would be present at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia for Game 6, which turned out to be the clincher for the Phillies.
  • During the 1981 strike,[53] NBC used its Saturday Game of the Week time-slot to show a 20-minute strike update, followed by a sports anthology series hosted by Caitlyn Jenner (then Bruce)[n1 1][54] called NBC Sports: The Summer Season.[55][56]
  • On June 26, 1982, before the bottom of the 9th inning of NBC's Game of the Week between Boston and Milwaukee the power went out at Fenway Park. All television equipment stopped functioning except for one camera and the intercom. Luckily, the director of the telecast was Harry Coyle, who had previously guided 36 World Series broadcasts for NBC. He told the lone cameraman, Mario, “We’ll show ’em what one cameraman can do!” and proceeded to direct the final inning of the game with just a single camera and zoom lens, located above home plate — including a frantic near-comeback by the Red Sox, who before the start of the inning, was down 11–8.
  • Tom Seaver provided periodic commentary during the 1982 World Series, but was not in the booth. As previously mentioned, Dick Enberg and Joe Garagiola traded off play-by-play duties (just like what Tony Kubek had done with Garagiola in NBC's previous World Series broadcasts) for NBC's coverage in 1982. Garagiola called the first three and last three innings. Enberg meanwhile, hosted the pregame show and then, called the middle innings.
Alternating coverage with ABC (1983–89)[edit]

On April 7, 1983, Major League Baseball agreed to terms with ABC and NBC on a six-year television package, worth $1.2 billion. The two networks would continue to alternate coverage of the playoffs (ABC in even-numbered years and NBC in odd-numbered years), World Series (ABC would televise the World Series in odd-numbered years and NBC in even-numbered years) and All-Star Game (ABC would televise the All-Star Game in even-numbered years and NBC in odd-numbered years) through the 1989 season, with each of the 26 clubs receiving $7 million per year in return (even if no fans showed up). This was a substantial increase over the last package, in which each club was being paid $1.9 million per year. ABC contributed $575 million for the rights to televise prime time and Sunday afternoon regular season games and NBC paid $550 million for the rights to broadcast 30 Saturday afternoon games.[57]

USA Network's coverage became a casualty of the new $1.2 billion television contract between Major League Baseball, ABC and NBC. One of the provisions to the new deal was that local telecasts that aired opposite network games had to be eliminated.[58]

Through the deal, the two networks paid $20 million in advance for the 1983 season; both networks paid a total of $126 million in 1984 (NBC $70 million and ABC $56 million). For the 1985 season, the rights fee totaled $136 million (with NBC paying $61 million and ABC paying $75 million), although the networks got $9 million when Major League Baseball expanded the League Championship Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven in 1985. The total rights fee increased to $141 million for 1986 (NBC $75 million, ABC $66 million), $171 million for 1987 (NBC $81 million, ABC $90 million) and then to $186 million for the 1988 (NBC $90 million, ABC $96 million). For the final year of the contract in 1989, NBC paid a fee of $106 million and ABC paid $125 million to the league, with the total rising to $231 million.

1984 was the first year that the Game of the Week was not subject to blackout. NBC and ABC generally still aired two games each week, with a primary game carried to most of the country and a secondary game to mostly the markets that would carry that game. This was mostly done for insurance in the event that a game was rained out. During the 1970s and early 1980s, many of the "rainout insurance" games involved the Houston Astros since that team played in a domed ballpark. Therefore, if the Astros were at home on a given Saturday or Monday night, then it was a safe bet that the game would be shown on network television, due to the Astros being the only "dome" team (until the Seattle Mariners began play in the Kingdome in 1977).

The New York Times observed the performance of the team of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola by saying "The duo of Scully and Garagiola is very good, and often even great, is no longer in dispute." A friend of Garagiola's said "he understood the cash" concerning 407% hike in Major League Baseball fees paid by NBC for the 1984–89 contract. At this point the idea was basically summarized as Vin Scully "being the star", whereas Joe Garagiola was Pegasus[clarification needed] or NBC's junior light. When NBC inked a six-year, $550 million contract in the fall of 1982, a return on the investment so to speak demanded Vin Scully to be their star baseball announcer. Scully reportedly made $2 million a year during his time with NBC in the 1980s. NBC Sports head Thomas Watson said about Scully, "He is baseball's best announcer. Why shouldn't he be ours?" Dick Enberg mused "No room for me. 'Game' had enough for two teams a week." Henry Hecht once wrote "NBC's Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek, and Monte Moore sounded like college radio rejects vs. Scully." Vin Scully earned approximately $2 million per year for his NBC baseball broadcasting duties. Scully also reworked his Dodgers schedule during this period, as he would only broadcast home games on the radio and road games for television.

When Tony Kubek first teamed with Bob Costas in 1983, Kubek said "I'm not crazy about being assigned to the backup game, but it's no big ego deal." Costas said about working with Kubek "I think my humor loosened Tony, and his knowledge improved me." The team of Costas and Kubek proved to be a formidable pair. There were even some who preferred the team of Kubek and Costas over the musings of Vin Scully and the asides of Joe Garagiola. Costas was praised by fans for both his reverence and irreverence while Kubek was praised for his technical approach and historical perspective. One of the pair's most memorable broadcasts was the "Sandberg Game" on June 23, 1984. Bob Costas considered the Game of the Week his dream job saying "You can put a personal stamp on a baseball broadcast, be a reporter, something of a historian, a storyteller, conversationalist, dispenser of opinion."

Ratings for the Game of the Week had dropped from an average of 6.1 in 1984 to 5.5 in 1988 and an average of 4.8 by July 1989. According to a Major League Baseball report, an average of fewer than five million households viewed the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week in 1988. In an effort to push the ratings higher, NBC tried to feature a club from one of the major media markets.[59] Of the 32 games it aired during 1988, only three did not feature a club from New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles.[60]

NBC also would normally television two prime time games during the regular season (not including All-Star Games). Generally, NBC would broadcast one game on a Tuesday and the other on a Friday. They, however, would have to compete against local teams' over-the-air broadcasts, putting NBC at risk of hampering its ratings.

Additional notes[edit]
  • In the latter part of his career, National League umpire Doug Harvey became known for appearing in the "You Make the Call" segments on NBC's Game of the Week telecasts.[61]
  • For NBC's coverage of the 1983 All-Star Game, Don Sutton was in New York, periodically tracking pitches with the aid of NBC's "Inside Pitch" technology.
  • During the 1984 regular season, the reason for most of the changes from the traditional 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time start was because of NBC's golf or tennis commitments as well as September 1 title fight featuring Eusebio Pedroza.
    • 1984 World Series – As champions of the National League, the San Diego Padres had home-field advantage (at the time, the NL automatically gained home-field advantage in even years of the World Series). However, had the Chicago Cubs won the National League Championship Series (which appeared likely after the Cubs took a 2–0 lead in the best-of-five series), the Detroit Tigers would have gained home-field advantage despite the fact the American League's Baltimore Orioles had it the season before. NBC was contractually obligated to show all mid-week series games in prime time, something that would have been impossible at Wrigley Field, since the Cubs' venerable facility lacked lights at the time (they would not install lights until four years later). Had the Cubs advanced to the Series, Detroit would have hosted Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 (on Tuesday and Wednesday nights), while the Cubs would have hosted Games 3, 4 and 5 (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday), with all three games in Chicago starting no later than 1:30 p.m. Central Time.
  • In 1985, NBC's telecast of the All-Star Game out of the Metrodome in Minnesota was the first program to be broadcast in stereo[62] by a television network.
  • On Thursday, October 10, 1985, NBC didn't come on the air for Game 2[63] of the NLCS until 8:30 p.m. ET to avoid disrupting The Cosby Show at 8.[64] NBC would do the same thing for Thursday night games in subsequent postseasons. Dick Enberg hosted the 1985 NLCS pregame shows with Joe Morgan.[65] It was Enberg who broke the news to most of the nation that Vince Coleman was injured before Game 4. NBC even aired an interview with one of the few people who actually saw the incident, a Dodger batboy.
  • Dick Enberg was at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto for Games 1 and 7[66] of the 1985 ALCS on NBC. Enberg hosted the pregame show alongside Rick Dempsey (who was still active with Baltimore at the time). Meanwhile, Bill Macatee provided a report on Game 2 of the ALCS during the pregame of the NLCS opener.
  • Vin Scully's call of the final play in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series on NBC television would quickly become an iconic one to baseball fans, with the normally calm Scully growing increasingly excited: "So the winning run is at second base, with two outs, three and two to Mookie Wilson. [A] little roller up along first... behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!" Scully then remained silent for more than three minutes, letting the pictures and the crowd noise tell the story. Scully resumed with "If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow!"
  • NBC used Don Sutton as a pre- and post-game analyst for their 1987 LCS coverage. Sutton also made an appearance in the booth during Game 3 of the ALCS. Sutton talked with Bob Costas and Tony Kubek about Twins pitcher Les Straker's borderline balk in that game. Sutton later interviewed Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson following their loss in Game 5.[67] Meanwhile, Marv Albert went back-and-forth during both 1987 LCS.[68] He hosted the pregame for Game 1[69] of the NLCS with Joe Morgan, and in fact had to read the lineups to the viewing audience. There was a problem with the P.A. feed at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, so he ended up reading the script from the Cardinal dugout while the players were introduced to the crowd. He then went to Minneapolis the next night to host the ALCS pregame with Don Sutton at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Jimmy Cefalo hosted the pregame coverage for Game 5 of the NLCS, as Marv Albert was away on a boxing assignment for NBC.
  • The 1988 World Series marked the last time that NBC[73] would televise a World Series for seven years. Beginning in 1990, NBC would be shut out of Major League Baseball coverage completely, after CBS signed a four-year, exclusive television contract. After splitting coverage of the 1995 World Series with ABC, NBC would next cover a World Series exclusively in 1997.
    • Also as previously mentioned, longtime Los Angeles Dodgers' broadcaster Vin Scully called the 1988 World Series for a national television audience on NBC with Joe Garagiola. Unknown to the fans and the media at the time, Kirk Gibson was watching the game on television while undergoing physical therapy in the Dodgers' clubhouse.[74] At some point during the game, television cameras scanned the Dodgers dugout and Scully, observed that Gibson was nowhere to be found.[74] This spurred Gibson to tell Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda that he was available to pinch hit.[74] Gibson immediately returned to the batting cage in the clubhouse to take practice swings.[74] Bob Costas, who along with Marv Albert, hosted NBC's World Series pre-game coverage and handled post-game interviews made on-air statements that enraged many in the Dodgers' clubhouse (especially Tommy Lasorda). After the Dodgers won Game 4, Lasorda (during a post-game interview with Marv Albert) sarcastically said that the MVP of the World Series should be Bob Costas. While Kirk Gibson was taking practice swings in the Dodgers' clubhouse during Game 1, Orel Hershiser set up the hitting tee for his teammate. Along the way, Costas could hear Gibson's agonized-sounding grunts after every hit.[75] Costas said that the 1988 Dodgers possibly had the weakest hitting line-up in World Series history.
      • The following is Vin Scully's call of Kirk Gibson's game inning home run in Game 1[76][77] of the 1988 World Series[180][78] of the 1988 World Series: "All year long, they looked to him to light the fire, [Scully began] and all year long, he answered the demands, until he was physically unable to start tonight – with two bad legs: The bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And, with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice... this is it." Scully made repeated references to Gibson's legs, noting at one point that the batter was "shaking his left leg, making it quiver, like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly." Gibson worked the count to 3–2 as Mike Davis stole second base; the camera turned at that point to Steve Sax getting ready for his turn at the plate, and Scully reminded the viewers that Sax was waiting on deck but the game right now is at the plate. "High fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is... gone!!" Scully said nothing for over a minute, allowing the pictures to tell the story. Finally, he said, "In a year that has been so improbable... the impossible has happened!" Returning to the subject of Gibson's banged-up legs during a replay, Scully joked, "And, now, the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted?!" "You know, I said it once before, a few days ago, that Kirk Gibson was not the Most Valuable Player; that the Most Valuable Player for the Dodgers was Tinkerbell. But, tonight, I think Tinkerbell backed off for Kirk Gibson. And, look at Eckersley – shocked to his toes!" "They are going wild at Dodger Stadium – no one wants to leave!" As NBC showed a replay of Gibson rounding second base in his home run trot, Scully then made a point to note Eckersley's pitching performance throughout the 1988 season, to put things in perspective. "Dennis Eckersley allowed five home runs all year. And we'll be back."
The end of an era[edit]

After calling the 1988 World Series with Vin Scully, Joe Garagiola resigned from NBC Sports.[79][80][81] Although it was not official at the time, NBC was on the verge of losing the television rights to cover Major League Baseball to CBS.[82][83][84][85] Garagiola claimed that NBC left him "twisting" while he was trying to renegotiate his deal. Joe Garagiola was replaced by Tom Seaver[86][87] for the 1989 season.[88]

NBC's final Major League Baseball broadcast was televised on October 9, 1989; Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs from Candlestick Park. Vin Scully said "It's a passing of a great American tradition. It is sad. I really and truly feel that. It will leave a vast window, to use a Washington word, where people will not get Major League Baseball and I think that's a tragedy. It's a staple that's gone. I feel for people who come to me and say how they miss it,[89] and I hope me."

Bob Costas[90] said that he would rather do a Game of the Week that got a 5 rating than host a Super Bowl. "Who thought baseball killed its best way to reach the public? It coulda kept us and CBS – we'd have kept the 'Game'[91] – but it only cared about cash. Whatever else I did, I'd never have left 'Game of the Week' Costas claimed. Tony Kubek,[92] who (as previously mentioned) teamed with Bob Costas since 1983, said "I can't believe it!" when the subject came about NBC losing baseball for the first time since 1947.

Author and presidential speechwriter Curt Smith went a step further in saying that Major League Baseball's deal with CBS Sports was "sportscasting's Exxon Valdez." Had baseball valued national promotion provided by the Game of the Week, said Smith, it never would have crafted a fast-bucks plan that has cut off the widest viewership. "It's an obscene imbalance", Smith also said, "to have 175 games going to 60 percent of the country [in reference to Major League Baseball's corresponding cable television deal with ESPN, which at the time was only available in about 60% of the country] and 16 games going to the rest." He added: "Baseball has paid a grievous price for being out of sight and out of mind. It's attacked the lower and middle classes that forms baseball's heart. . . . In the end, the advertising community has come to view baseball as a leper."[93]

Arthur Watson, president of NBC Sports, said in a statement that NBC had "aggressively" bid to continue its 41-year involvement in baseball (NBC's bid was reportedly in the $800 million range[94]) and was "deeply saddened" when learning of CBS' deal.[95]

After NBC lost the Major League Baseball package to CBS, the network aggressively counterprogrammed[96][97] CBS' postseason baseball coverage with made-for-TV movies and miniseries geared towards female viewers.[98]

Since this is indeed...a sad moment for us as we sever our relationship with baseball...for a while at least, we would like to ask your indulgence and let us take this time to thank a lot of people!

— Vin Scully prior to reading off the credits for NBC's 1989 NLCS coverage following the San Francisco Giants' pennant clinching victory against the Chicago Cubs.

And to all of the marvelous and wonderful cameramen and technicians who have represented NBC...over the 42 years of baseball broadcasts...and I think that can sum it up, each and everyone of us...we gave it our best shot! As did the Giants and the Cubs! And it's the Giants who go to the World Series, beating the Cubs 3 to 2. And we get the BART Series, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the series that will be played in the memory of A. Bartlett Giamatti. There's a sweetness to that thought! It's over for us...time to surrender the stage...and the Giants have won the pennant! For Tom Seaver and for Mike Schmidt, this is Vin Scully saying so long...for the last time...from San Francisco!

— Vin Scully's final words as NBC signs off from its Major League Baseball coverage for the final time on October 8, 1989.[99]

To those of you at NBC, for 41 years you made this an art form! And to people especially like Curt Gowdy, Sr., the fabulous announcer...to the Hall of Fame director Harry Coyle...and down through the years...to Tony Kubek and the people of the present like Bob Costas and all the men and women at NBC, at the peacock...take a bow, you were terrific!

— ABC's Al Michaels eulogizing NBC at the end of ABC's coverage of Game 4 the 1989 World Series.[100]
Additional notes (1989)[edit]

The Baseball Network (1994–95)[edit]

After a four-year hiatus, ABC and NBC[113] returned to Major League Baseball under the umbrella of a revenue sharing venture called "The Baseball Network". The Baseball Network kicked off its coverage on July 12, 1994, with the All-Star Game[114] out of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The game was televised on NBC with Bob Costas, Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker calling the action, and Greg Gumbel hosting the pre-game show. Helping with the interviews were Hannah Storm and Johnny Bench. The 1994 All-Star Game reportedly sold out all its advertising slots; this was considered an impressive financial accomplishment, given that one 30-second spot cost $300,000.

After the All-Star Game, NBC was scheduled to televise six regular season games on Fridays or Saturdays in prime time. The networks had exclusive rights for the twelve regular season dates, in that no regional or national cable service or over-the-air broadcaster may telecast a Major League Baseball game on those dates. In even-numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series, while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series.[115] In odd-numbered years, the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate.

The long-term plans for The Baseball Network crumbled when the Major League Baseball Players' Association went on strike on August 12, 1994 (thus forcing the cancellation of the World Series). In July 1995, ABC and NBC, which wound up having to share the duties of televising the 1995 World Series as a way to recoup (with ABC broadcasting Games 1, 4 and 5, and NBC broadcasting Games 2[116] 3,[117] and 6[118]), announced that they were opting out of their agreement with Major League Baseball. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season[119] opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. Both networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th century.

Five years after The Baseball Network dissolved, NBC Sports play-by-play announcer Bob Costas wrote in his book Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball that The Baseball Network was stupid and an abomination. Costas wrote that the agreement involving the World Series being the only instance of The Baseball Network broadcasting a national telecast, believed that it was an unprecedented surrender of prestige, as well as a slap to all serious fans. Unlike the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association the so-called "Big Two" of North American professional sports leagues, the National Football League and Major League Baseball had nationally televised all playoff games for decades. While he believed that The Baseball Network fundamentally corrupted the game (except in Costas' point-of-view, the sense that the fans held steadfast, spaniel-like loyalty), Costas himself acknowledged that the most impassioned fans in baseball were now prevented from watching many of the playoff games they wanted to see. Costas added that both the divisional series and the League Championship Series now merited scarcely higher priority than regional coverage provided for a Big Ten football game between Wisconsin and Michigan.

Additional notes[edit]

  • Prior to Game 3 of the 1995 World Series, Cleveland Indians slugger Albert Belle unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at NBC reporter Hannah Storm as she was waiting in the Indians' dugout for a prearranged interview with Indians lead-off man, Kenny Lofton. On the same day, Belle snapped at a photographer near the first base line during batting practice. Belle was ultimately fined US$50,000 for his behavior towards Storm. This particular World Series was remembered for baseball television history being made twice by Storm. Prior to Game 2, she became the first female sportscaster to serve as solo host of a World Series game, and after Game 6 she would be the first female sportscaster to preside over the presentation of the Commissioner's Trophy to the World Series champions. However, she was not the first female sportscaster to cover the World Series: that honor fell to CBS Sports reporter Lesley Visser, who served as a field reporter for the Series from 1990 to 1993. She would also cover that same World Series but for a different network, ABC Sports.
  • During the 1995–96 television season, the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Summer Olympics were all telecast by NBC, marking the only time in history that all four marquee events were aired by the same network.

Trouble at NBC (1996–2000)[edit]

NBC viewers followed every pitch in the 1997 World Series with the aid of SuperVision, a pitch-tracking system developed by QuesTec Imaging Inc.

Despite of the failure of The Baseball Network, NBC decided to retain its relationship with Major League Baseball, but on a far more restricted basis. Under the five-year deal signed on November 7, 1995[120] (running from the 1996 to 2000 seasons) for a total of approximately $400 million, NBC did not televise any regular season games. Instead, NBC only handled the All-Star Game, three Division Series[121] games[122] (on Tuesday,[123] Friday and Saturday nights), and the American League Championship Series in even-numbered years and the World Series,[124] three Division Series games (also on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights) and the National League Championship Series[125] in odd-numbered years. Fox, which assumed ABC's portion of the league broadcast television rights, gained the rights to the Saturday Game of the Week during the regular season, in addition to alternating rights to the All-Star Game, League Championship Series (the ALCS in odd-numbered years and the NLCS in even-numbered years), Division Series and the World Series.[126][127]

Also around this particular period, NBC adapted composer Randy Edelman's theme from the short-lived Fox series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. as the main theme music[123] for its baseball telecasts. However, NBC used Edelman's "Emotions Run High" from the film The Big Green as the theme[128] for the network's coverage[129] of the 1996 All-Star Game.[130]

1997–98[edit]

In 1997,[131] just before the start of NBC's coverage of the World Series, Don Ohlmeyer, president of the network's West Coast entertainment division and former executive producer for NBC Sports, came under fire after publicly announcing that he hoped that the World Series would end in a four-game sweep.[132] Ohlmeyer[133] believed that baseball now lacked broad audience appeal (especially in the aftermath of the 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike). As opposed to teams from the three largest television markets (New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago) in the U.S., the 1997 World Series[134] featured the matchup of the upstart Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, which made their second World Series appearance in three years. In addition, Ohlmeyer feared that the World Series would disrupt NBC's efforts to attract enough viewers for its new fall roster in order to stay on top of the ratings heap. Ohlmeyer said "If the A&E channel called, I'd take the call." Game 5 fell on a Thursday, which had long been the highest rated night on NBC's schedule,[135][136] if not on all of television.

In 1998, Bob Uecker abruptly left NBC Sports before a chance to call the All-Star Game[137][138] from Coors Field in Colorado. Uecker underwent a back operation in which four discs were replaced. For the remainder of the contract (1998–2000), only Bob Costas and Joe Morgan[139] called the games. Also in 1998, NBC's coverage of the ALCS was the highest rated for any League Championship Series since before the 1994 strike. NBC averaged a 9.4 rating for the six games, which was a 6% increase than the network's coverage of the 1997 NLCS in the same time slot. The rating was 13% more than Fox's ALCS coverage in 1997 and 12% more than NBC's coverage in 1996.

A NBC Sports media pin for the 1997 World Series.

The Jim Gray/Pete Rose interview[edit]

In 1999,[140] NBC field reporter Jim Gray, who had previously covered Major League Baseball for CBS, came under fire for a confrontational interview with banned all-time hit king Pete Rose.[141] Just prior to the start of Game 2 of the World Series,[142] Gray pushed Rose – on hand (by permission of Commissioner Bud Selig) at Turner Field in Atlanta as a fan-selected member of MasterCard's All-Century Team – to admit to having wagered on baseball games as manager of the Cincinnati Reds ten years earlier. After NBC was flooded with tons of viewer complaints, Gray was forced to clarify his actions to the viewers at home prior to Game 3. Regardless of Gray's sincerity, Game 3 hero Chad Curtis of the New York Yankees boycotted Gray's request for an interview live on camera;[143] Curtis had hit a game-winning home run to send the World Series 3–0 in the Yankees' favor. Curtis said to Gray, "Because of what happened with Pete, we decided not to say anything."[144][145]

Despite the heavy criticism he received, Gray offered no apology for his line of questioning toward Rose:

Although Dick Ebersol (then-president of NBC Sports)[147] and Keith Olbermann – among others – have maintained that Gray was simply doing his job,[148] it should be noted that in 2004, Pete Rose would admit to betting on baseball (along with other sports) while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.[149]

2000[edit]

A NBC Sports media pin for their coverage of the 2000 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

In 2000, NBC was caught in the dilemma of having to televise a first-round playoff game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics over the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore. NBC decided to give its local stations the option of carrying the debate or the baseball game.[150] If an NBC affiliate decided to carry the debate, then the Pax TV affiliate in their local market could carry the game. NBC also placed a crawl at the bottom of the screen to inform viewers that they could see the debate on its sister channel MSNBC.

On the other end, Fox said that it would carry baseball on the two nights when its schedule conflicted with the presidential or vice presidential debates. NBC spokeswoman Barbara Levin said "We have a contract with Major League Baseball. The commission was informed well in advance of their selecting the debate dates. If we didn't have the baseball conflict we would be televising it." Although there has not been confirmation, anecdotal reports indicated that many NBC affiliates in swing states (such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania) chose to air the debate over the baseball game. This is an option that CBS affiliates did not have in 1992, when that network refused to break away from Game 4 of the American League Championship Series (which had gone into extra innings) to the first ClintonBushPerot debate. Like NBC and Fox would do in 2000, CBS cited its contract with Major League Baseball.

During NBC's coverage of the 2000 Division Series between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics, regular play-by-play announcer Bob Costas decided to take a breather after anchoring NBC's prime time coverage of the Summer Olympic Games from Sydney. In Costas' place was Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray,[151][152][153] who teamed with Joe Morgan before Costas' return for the ALCS. It wasn't just Costas but all of NBC's production crews who were down in Sydney. The Olympics ended just two or three days before the MLB playoffs started that year, so the TBS crew worked the Division Series games for NBC.

Baseball leaves NBC again[edit]

In September 2000, Major League Baseball signed a six-year, $2.5 billion contract with Fox[154] to televise Saturday afternoon regular-season baseball games, the All-Star Game and coverage of the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series. 90% of the contract's value to Fox, which was paying the league $417 million per year, came from the postseason, which not only attracted large audiences, but also provided an irreplaceable opportunity for the network to showcase its fall schedule. Under the previous five-year deal with NBC (running from 1996 to 2000), Fox paid $115 million ($575 million overall), compared to the $80 million ($400 million overall) that NBC paid. The difference between the Fox and the NBC contracts was that Fox's Saturday Game of the Week was implicitly valued at less than $90 million for five years. Before NBC officially decided to part ways with Major League Baseball (for the second time in about 12 years) on September 26, 2000,[155] Fox's payment would have been $345 million, while NBC would have paid $240 million. NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said regarding the loss of Major League Baseball rights for the second time since 1990:[156]

We have notified Major League Baseball that we have passed on their offer and we wish them well going forward.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol[157] added that it was not cost-effective for NBC to be paying out the kind of money that Major League Baseball wanted. The network was also reportedly concerned over disruptions to its regular fall prime time lineup that would result from having to broadcast the playoffs and World Series. In addition, NBC had several NASCAR races scheduled during the summer.

The last Major League Baseball game that NBC has televised to date was Game 6 of the 2000 American League Championship Series, occurring on October 17, 2000.[158] In Houston, due to the coverage of the 2000 Presidential Debate, KPRC-TV elected to carry NBC News' coverage of the debate while independent station KNWS-TV carried the ALCS game via NBC.

The loss of Major League Baseball was part of a slow decline for NBC's sports division.[159] This began with its loss of the rights to the NFL's American Football Conference to CBS at the end of the 1997 season. In 2002, NBC lost its NBA rights to ABC. This all culminated in the unproductive 2004–05 prime time season (despite heavy promotion of its lineup during the 2004 Summer Olympics), when NBC carried no major championship sports events during prime time. NBC did, however, acquire the television rights to the National Hockey League in 2004,[160] however that league ended up in a lockout that delayed the start of the contract by two years).

In 2001, Bob Costas claimed that despite still loving the game, he now felt a certain alienation from the institution. By the time that NBC lost Major League Baseball for the second time in twelve years, the sport endured a strike, realignment, the introduction of the wild card round, and NBC's complete loss of the regular season Game of the Week. Costas would add that since NBC only did a few games each year and he lacked the forum that he would eventually have (on HBO's On the Record with Bob Costas, Inside the NFL and Costas Now as well as Costas on the Radio) to express his views, he to some extent, started editorializing in games. When asked about whether or not the fact that NBC no longer had the baseball rights was disappointing, Bob Costas said "I'm a little disappointed to lose baseball, but that's the way the business is. And it's not nearly as disappointing as it was when we lost it at the end of the '80s. Because then it was like baseball was the birthright for NBC. ... (Baseball is) not going to affect any decision that I have in the future. It's nowhere near as devastating as a decade ago. Different circumstances, different time. I miss it a little bit but not a lot. I am very philosophical about this stuff. I have had wonderful opportunities in my career and no one wants to hear me complain about anything." In 2009, Costas would become a contributor and occasional play-by-play announcer for MLB Network.

Future of Major League Baseball on NBC[edit]
2007–13

A June 4, 2006 Broadcasting & Cable article stated that Fox may have considered a partnership with another network (which ultimately, turned out to be TBS) for the next contract. NBC was the only network named in connection to a possible partnership in the article. The setup being suggested was similar to the last time NBC had the rights to baseball, that being the network would get the rights to some League Championship Series games and alternate rights to the World Series and All-Star Game with Fox, which may or may not have kept the Game of the Week. After weeks of speculation and rumors, on July 11, 2006, at the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball announced a renewal of its existing current with Fox Sports through 2013, allowing the Fox network to retain exclusivity of the television rights to the World Series and the All-Star Game (the World Series would begin the Wednesday after the League Championship Series are completed). The deal also allowed Fox to retain the Saturday Game of the Week and gave it broadcast rights to one League Championship Series annually. This ruled out baseball returning to NBC, as the two annual showpiece events were not be available in any contract the network might obtain before then.

OLN (now NBCSN) briefly considered acquiring the rights to the Sunday and Wednesday games, which expired after the 2005 season. However, on September 14, 2005, existing rightsholder ESPN signed an eight-year contract with the league, highlighted by the continuation of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball with additional, exclusive team appearances. Currently, NBCUniversal parent Comcast owns 5.44% of the MLB Network and featured a New York MetsSan Francisco Giants game with Bob Costas and Al Michaels (who while working for the Cincinnati Reds had previously helped call the 1972 World Series for NBC and as of 2006, serves as the play-by-play voice for NBC's Sunday Night Football telecasts) in July 2011.

The New York Times, however, reported that it was unlikely that NBC would get baseball, as the network would have to preempt up to three weeks of NFL coverage on Sunday nights. However, the NFL used to not schedule a Sunday night game on the second night of the World Series, which meant that NBC gaining the rights was not completely out of the question (however, the following Sunday, in which a possible World Series Game 7 is scheduled, a Sunday night NFL game is also scheduled). In addition to this, other Sunday playoff games, such as the ALCS and NLCS could be pushed to the afternoon. This might not be appetizing to league officials, as major playoff games would go up head-to-head against highly rated afternoon NFL games (as opposed to today's system, in which only one game out of two for the day would go up against network NFL broadcasts).[161]

2014–21

During the summer of 2012, NBC Sports was reportedly involved in negotiations for a television contract with Major League Baseball.[162] NBCSN was expected to play a large part in NBC's bid.[163] However, it was likely that NBC would want either marquee event (All-Star Game and World Series) to air on the broadcast network rather than cable. This could have potentially conflicted with the network's broadcasts of Sunday Night Football, which has generally had a game or two scheduled on nights when a World Series game is held since 2010; however, prior to this, no game was scheduled on these nights so it would not have been unprecedented. Besides the potential conflicts with Sunday Night Football, another disadvantage[164] for NBCSN is that it was available in fewer than 80 million homes, trailing the national reach of both Fox Sports 1 and TBS.

On August 28, 2012, Major League Baseball and ESPN agreed to an eight-year, $5.6 billion contract extension, the largest broadcasting deal in Major League Baseball history. It gave ESPN the rights to up to 90 regular-season games, alternating rights to one of the two Wild Card games (between American League and National League teams) each year, and the rights to all regular-season tiebreaker games. On September 19, 2012, Sports Business Daily[165][166] reported that the league would agree to separate eight-year television deals[167] with Fox Sports and Turner Sports[168] through the 2021 season. On October 2, 2012, the new deal between Major League Baseball and TBS was officially confirmed;[169][170][171] NBC looked to be left without a package,[172] because though it made an offer, Major League Baseball did not consider NBC a serious bidder after the ESPN deal was made public. Sources said that NBC did not make a strong offer, and that it was most interested in ESPN's package, which includes exclusivity on Sunday night and rights to the two mid-week games. When ESPN took that package, NBC's interest waned.[173]

Related coverage[edit]

Major League Baseball on NBC Radio[edit]

For many years, the NBC Radio Network also had a role in Major League Baseball coverage. The network shared World Series broadcast rights with CBS beginning in 1927, with All-Star Game broadcasts added in 1933. The Mutual Broadcasting System joined NBC and CBS in 1935; the three networks continued to share coverage of baseball's "jewels" in this manner through 1938, with Mutual gaining exclusive rights to the World Series in 1939 and the All-Star Game in 1942.

In 1957, NBC replaced Mutual as the exclusive national radio broadcaster for the World Series and All-Star Game. The network would continue in this role through 1975, with CBS taking over the rights the following year. NBC Radio did not air regular season games during this period (save for the three-game National League pennant playoff series in 1959 and 1962); nor did the network cover the League Championship Series from 1969 to 1975, those series instead having local team radio broadcasts syndicated nationally over ad hoc networks.

Major League Baseball on former NBC-owned radio stations[edit]

Team/Market Station Years
Chicago Cubs WSCR 2016–present
Chicago White Sox 19241934; 19671970; 19731979; 19821995; 20062015
Cleveland Indians WTAM 19291931; June 28, 1946; 19731991; 1998–present
Colorado Rockies KOA 1993–present
New York Mets WFAN 19882013
New York Yankees 2014–present
San Francisco Giants KNBR 1979–present

Major League Baseball coverage on NBC owned-and-operated television stations[edit]

Team Stations Years
New York Yankees W2XBS/WNBT 4
(now WNBC)
19391945
Philadelphia Phillies WCAU 10 2014–present
San Diego Padres KCST-TV 39
(now KNSD)
19711972; 19841986
San Francisco Giants KNTV 11 2008–present

Comcast SportsNet[edit]

Name Region served MLB team rights Notes
SportsNets
Comcast SportsNet Bay Area[n1 2] Northern and central California, northwestern Nevada (including the Lake TahoeRenoCarson City region), and parts of southern Oregon San Francisco Giants Acquired majority interest from Cablevision in April 2007. Comcast owns 45%, while the Giants and Fox Entertainment Group each own 25%.[citation needed] While previously branded as an FSN affiliate, it switched to the Comcast SportsNet branding in March 2008.[174]
Comcast SportsNet California[n1 3] Northern and central California Oakland Athletics Created in conjunction with Maloof Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA and Sacramento Monarchs WNBA franchises, after the company did not renew its previous contract with FSN Bay Area.
Comcast SportsNet Chicago[n1 4] Illinois, northwestern Indiana, Iowa, non-Milwaukee market areas of southern Wisconsin Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Shares rights to the Cubs and White Sox with WGN-TV, WLS-TV and WPWR-TV (the latter two effective with the 2015 season).
Comcast SportsNet Houston[n1 5] Houston area Houston Astros
SportsNet New York (SNY) New York City, New York state, Connecticut (except northeastern areas), northern and central New Jersey, northeastern Pennsylvania New York Mets Owned jointly by the New York Mets, Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia[n1 6] Philadelphia, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, southern and central New Jersey Philadelphia Phillies Flagship of the Comcast SportsNet slate of regional sports networks. Originally a joint venture between Comcast, the Phillies and Spectacor (owner of the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL and Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA), controlling interest in Spectacor was acquired by Comcast in 1997.

Announcers[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jenner changed her name due to gender transition in 2015.
  2. ^ Formerly known as the Pacific Sports Network (PSN) from 1989 to 1991, SportsChannel Bay Area from 1990 to 1991, SportsChannel Pacific from 1991 to 1998 and FSN Bay Area from 1998 to 2008.
  3. ^ Originally launching as Comcast SportsNet West, the channel was renamed Comcast SportsNet California on September 4, 2008.
  4. ^ Launched in 2004, as a joint venture between Comcast in conjunction with the White Sox, Cubs, the NBA's Chicago Bulls and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks (which own 20% each). Effectively replaced FSN Chicago as the local cable broadcasters of the four teams.
  5. ^ Launched in 2012, replacing Fox Sports Houston as the local broadcaster of the Houston Astros and the Houston Rockets.
  6. ^ Replaced PRISM and SportsChannel Philadelphia as the local broadcasters of the Phillies in 1997. Due to its use of the microwave relay and fiber optic infrastructure previously used by PRISM, it was legally exempt from requirements to offer its programming to satellite providers until the Federal Communications Commission passed legislation closing the "terrestrial loophole" in 2010. Until then, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia was exclusive to Comcast and Verizon FiOS systems in the market.

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