Ken Wolfe, Monday Night Footballs producer, thinks that Michaels means more than just being noticed at airports when he talks about recognition. "Al wants to be respected for his capabilities," Wolfe says. "And he thinks everyone else should approach a job as assiduously as he does." Adds David Michaels, "Al goes to great lengths to be accurate and fair in whatever he says. If he thinks he's not being treated the same way, it makes him crazy."
Bob Lundegaard, a TV critic for the
Minneapolis Star Tribune
, pulled a few screws from Michaels's hinges during last year's World Series. While Game 5 was being beamed from St. Louis, Lundegaard tuned a satellite dish so he could listen in on ABC's "pure" feed during commercial breaks. He quoted Michaels knocking his hotel accommodations, bad-mouthing the Series and talking about how much he longed for
Monday Night Football
. Michaels, who's so chummy with the dish audience that he sometimes tells them when he's going to the bathroom, complained that Lundegaard had blindsided him. "He made it sound like I'd been caught with my pants down," Michaels says. "It was an out-and-out attempt to make me look like a fool."
After reading the story, Michaels phoned Lundegaard and screamed, "So, whatever I say is fair game, right?"
"Sure," said Lundegaard.
"Then listen in tonight, you true journalist. I'm going to make you a star."
That night, during Game 6, Michaels said for the satellite feed, "Folks, those of you looking in on Telstar, there's a scum bag out there by the name of Bob Lundegaard...." ABC cut the sound. Later he said, "Since we're still on the dish, you jerk, Lundegaard, try to...." Again the audio went dead. Later still, when the network went to a commercial, Michaels said into his mike, "Let me go through Lundegaard's trash for syringes. Nobody straight could do that."
Michaels didn't get much sympathy for his part in this outrageous tiff. "It came right back in my face," says Michaels, "like I've got thin skin and can't take criticism."
Michaels also got into verbal fights at last year's Series with a reporter who had criticized the ABC broadcasting team for being biased in favor of the Cardinals. Two years ago he took on
The Boston Globe's Jack Craig, who had placed Michaels slightly behind NBC's Bob Costas and Vin Scully in a column rating baseball announcers. "Al sent me the nastiest letter I've ever received from an announcer," says Craig. "Yet I'd actually praised him in the piece."
"Al's looking for legitimate criticism," says David Michaels. "But everything becomes a cult of personality. He was as mad about [the Lundegaard incident] as anything I can remember. I told him to calm down and he said, 'No way I'm calming down. I'm getting right into this.' Newspaper guys are sometimes jealous of TV guys, and TV guys sometimes think of newspaper guys as nerds with word processors."
Sitting at noon in the living room of his two-story colonial in Brentwood, Michaels stares out at the birch and sycamore trees beyond his pear-shaped swimming pool. His gardener, Jose, waves from behind the rock garden, where water trickles over carefully placed boulders. The house smells of Brie. Linda has brought out a cheese tray, and Al and the kids, Steven, 17, and Jennifer, 13, nibble away.