ABC Sports marks the beginning of the end of its Baseball Network partnership with NBC when it televises the All-Star game Tuesday. From then on, it's anybody's guess who does what.
ABC has the first six prime-time regular-season telecasts, NBC the next six, and the playoffs and World Series are still drifting in TV limbo, yet to be assigned to either network.
On June 23, ABC and NBC announced they were pulling out of The Baseball Network and would refuse to bid for the sport next time around, practically guaranteeing that neither will televise another game in this century.
"We faced a similar situation in 1989," said Tim McCarver, who was doing analysis for ABC when CBS got the baseball contract in 1990. "Of course, I'm hoping the same thing doesn't happen. We had an earthquake that year at the World Series."
In announcing that The Baseball Network would be dissolved at the end of this season, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol cited a "trail of broken promises." ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson declared that baseball now seems "incapable at this point in time of living with any longterm relationship."
Acting commissioner Bud Selig said he wants to have a new agreement in place by Nov. 1, and Fox seems a likely candidate. Before that, however, baseball and its two current network partners will have to figure out how to divvy up the postseason.
The Baseball Network will come to an end after only its second season, but because of last year's strike, neither network got to televise any postseason games.
NBC did the 1994 All-Star game, and ABC was four games through its regular-season schedule when the strike washed out the rest. Baseball's first wild-card playoffs were to have been televised by ABC, with NBC doing the league championships and ABC doing the World Series.
But with just one postseason left to divide up in their partnership, it's likely that NBC and ABC will come to agreement on some sort of split, sharing both playoffs rounds and, for the first time, putting the World Series itself on different networks on different nights.
ABC's All-Star crew will consist of Al Michaels, McCarver and Jim Palmer in the booth, Lesley Visser and John Saunders in the dugouts and former Baltimore Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey doing live interviews from the bullpen. The telecast starts at 5 p.m. PDT from the Ballpark in Arlington.
A CHANGE OF APPROACH
"This is more of a play-by-play announcer's game beause, from an analyst's view, the strategy of winning and losing isn't as important as it would be during the season," McCarver said. "Your approach changes to more stories about the players, a real personal approach."
ABC will air "The 1995 All-Star Selection Special," from 5-6 p.m. EDT Sunday with Michaels hosting.
ABC Sports' technical coverage will include 21 cameras from all vantage points, including one in the Goodyear blimp and an unmanned camera directly above home plate. Coaches will wear wireless microphones.
ABC last televised the All-Star game from Cincinnati in 1988, a 2-1 American League victory. Last year, the National League ended a six-year AL winning streak with an 8-7 victory.
Again, ABC is scheduled to do the first six games of the regular season, splitting its prime-time telecasts between Saturday and Monday. Brent Musburger will be the No. 2 play-by-play man on ABC.
NBC will do the final six weeknights, all on Fridays. Beause of his commitments to golf and football, Dick Enberg will be unable to do baseball this year for NBC. So, Greg Gumbel will be paired with Joe Morgan on the NBC team backing up Bob Costas and Bob Uecker.
Costas recently said that the loss of baseball at NBC means less to him than it might otherwise with "the game itself at the lowest ebb in my lifetime."
The game has lost none of its allure for McCarver.
"I expected what is happening and what has happened," McCarver said. "Obviously, we're all very concerned, but I by no means have lost any enthusiasm for the game.
"I can see it coming back right now."