Television / Analysis -- Who's On TV? Playoff Format One Big Mess - - Baseball Network Won't Show All Games

One of the most memorable routines done by the Abbott and Costello comedy team was derived from baseball. This week, the major leagues introduce a television playoff format similar to that skit. Problem is, nobody's laughing.

Baseball fans will get regionalized, prime-time coverage of the expanded playoffs, no thanks to the Baseball Network. The question will not be who's on first, but who's on, period.

Fans are not just confused - they are angry - because this is the first time that all postseason baseball games aren't going to be televised.

In Atlanta, Cincinnati, Boston and Cleveland, where the home teams have clinched playoff berths, fans will see their teams. But what about places like Philadelphia?

The Phillies will be spectators, just like us. Does that mean we have to watch the Braves, champions of the Phillies' division, the National League East?

"We're going to try to send the game that would have the maximum interest in a city or region," said John J. Filippelli, coordinating producer of TBN. "That could change. You wouldn't always get the Braves. You could get an American League game."

It begins tomorrow

The first two game dates are tomorrow and Wednesday, with games 3 and 4 in all four series coming on Friday and Saturday. Any fifth games in the best-of-five divisional rounds will be played Sunday.

The best-of-seven league championship series start Tuesday, Oct. 10, and the World Series begins Saturday, Oct. 21.

ABC and NBC crews will alternate doing the games, with ABC having won a coin flip to show the World Series' decisive Game 7, should things go that far.

All games will start at the same time, either 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., and each region will have a primary game and a bombardment of interruptions from other games.

"We want to keep people as up to date as possible," Filippelli said. "Our goal is to update every single run."

TBN will refrain from bouncing back and forth between games, but will use insets and split screens to allow viewers to stay with their primary game while seeing action from other games.

"We'll never be leaving your game, but that information will be up there on the screen," Filippelli explained. "We'll try not to do it in crucial situations."

This format was decided on almost two years ago, when baseball's fathers became alarmed by a 39 percent decline in Saturday afternoon "Game of the Week" ratings between 1988 and 1992.

Baseball's television committee, of which Phillies owner Bill Giles is a member, decided that going exclusively prime time would boost the ratings. Thus the Baseball Network, a partnership involving baseball, ABC and NBC, was born, and with it came regionalization in the form of Baseball Night in America.

Following the NFL

The committee reasoned that the National Football League uses a largely regionalized format and its ratings are good, so why not baseball?

Unfortunately, nobody bothered to inform the committee that in the case of the NFL, it's the product and not the format that draws good numbers.

The Baseball Network will be remembered as an experiment that failed - it will disband after this season as the result of a baseball-provoked contract dispute. But for now, we're stuck with it.

Pairings have the A.L. Central winner (Cleveland) and A.L. wild-card team (New York) opening at home and playing Games 3, 4 and 5 on the road. In the National League, the West winner (Los Angeles) and the wild-card team (Colorado) will open at home and play Games 3, 4 and 5 on the road.

NBC, tomorrow and Wednesday, will use its No. 1 team - Bob Costas/Bob Uecker - on Boston-Cleveland, No. 2 team Greg Gumbel/Joe Morgan on Los Angeles-Cincinnati, Pete Van Wieren/Larry Dierker on Atlanta-Colorado and Gary Thorne/Tommy Hutton on New York vs. Seattle or California.

ABC, inheriting Baseball Network action Friday-Sunday, will put its top two teams (No. 1 trio Al Michaels/Tim McCarver/Jim Palmer and No. 2 pair Brent Musburger/Jim Kaat) on Reds-Dodgers and the Yankees series with the first team likely to go to the battle of the top two TV markets if California defeats Seattle today.

Thorne and Hutton will move to Cleveland-Boston, and Van Wieren/Dierker stay put on Atlanta-Colorado.

And if either of ABC's top two broadcast teams see their series end early, they'll probably move to series that remain undecided.

ESPN will do half-hour postgame shows following each game through the World Series, usually starting around 9 p.m. PDT. Karl Ravech and Roy Smalley will serve as hosts, with Dave Campbell, Peter Gammons and Gary Miller reporting.