Chris Berman dropped the schtick and the nicknames this week and said a great thing. If baseball really wants to start the recovery process, it should consider televising the postseason.
What, you haven't heard yet? The geniuses at The Baseball Network (ABC and NBC) will be regionalizing this year's coverage. You'll see one out of every four divisional playoff games, and it will be their choice, not yours. Even more astonishing, the League Championship Series games will be played simultaneously. Remember those days when you could actually watch both leagues? For instance, an A's-Toronto playoff game, followed by Braves-Pirates?Forget it. This is TBN's fun motto: "Baseball is dead. We don't believe you'd care to watch it. Therefore, you won't. Have a terrible day."
Berman, like all the hard-core sports types around ESPN, is outraged. "The fans don't realize yet that they won't see all of the postseason games, and they'll feel betrayed again," he said in a USA Today interview. "Come on. It's the worst thing that could happen."
Berman has a terrific idea: Let TBN keep its cherished prime-time game. During the divisional playoffs, when four games will be played on a single day, give ESPN time slots at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. And while TBN televises a League Championship Series game in prime time, let ESPN have the other.
Let's face it, ESPN always has the right idea when it comes to access. In the glory days of the Final Four - before CBS took a stranglehold - ESPN televised all the early-round games. You could unashamedly lose yourself in the tournament, see every single play. Hey, you don't have to watch, but it's there if you need it. That's the essence of sports television, and the networks, in their obsession with ratings and prime time, have lost touch with reality.
Here's what the Bud Selig Nation doesn't understand: The 1995 stay-at-home fans aren't just disgruntled. They're gone. Many of them won't be back - ever. I didn't believe that until just recently, when three of my closest friends - guys who played the game and followed it religiously - said they've completely dropped off the map. Two of them didn't even watch the All-Star game; the other was gone by the third inning. "It's amazing," said one, "when you realize you don't miss it."
Given that premise, baseball has to keep its devoted core. That core is still around, hanging in. But if you take away its viewing access to the postseason - which should be especially good this year with the likes of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Atlanta - it will be gone, too.
It just might be time to turn the whole thing over to cable. Prime time means nothing at ESPN; just get the games on. In the hands of ESPN, baseball would give the fans every postseason game, and if people like Berman and Keith Olbermann had any say, there would be day games in the World Series.
Ditch the networks. They've lost the privilege. They no longer understand the gig.
The Three-Dot Lounge
Latest list of things that won't save baseball: Quicker games (irrelevant), telling batters to stay in the box (they won't, and the umpires won't care), spiffy slogans, reduced prices, a lively All-Star game, Cal Ripken. But here's the topper, a USA Today headline about the massive All-Star "gala" in Arlington: "Big-Time Party Could Be Ticket the Sport Needs." Were you there? I wasn't. But I heard the shrimp was unbelievable. In fact, some feel the cocktail sauce might save baseball. . . . Where does it say that was a good All-Star game? I looked up from a magazine at one point and saw David Wells facing Mickey Morandini. That game was Hideo Nomo, Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas' rocket shot, period. Jeff Conine vs. Steve Ontiveros? That's any Tuesday night in any ballpark in America. . . . But it sure was nice to hear Al Michaels doing baseball again. . . . Best thing about the trade Bonds controversy: Maybe Barry will realize his behavior is so repulsive to teammates, fans and people in the organization, the issue actually is debatable.
. . . Sterling Sharpe was football's Steve Carlton, going years without sharing his thoughts with the public. That's fine. But on principle, he shouldn't be allowed to work with any network (ESPN recently hired him). What, all of a sudden he's Sinbad? . . . . . . When that lady showed up in the SkyDome Hotel with a loaded gun, looking for Roberto Alomar, it should have been a wake-up call for baseball. In these crazy times, it's a miracle nobody has fired a shot from the stands. The event is 20 years overdue. Beef up security and maybe it will never happen . . . The headline that says it all, in the New York Times nearly a full year after the strike began: "Baseball Talks May Resume."