"In radio you're leading all the time, but in television you're a counterpuncher," says Scully, who put on an impressive show of the latter while telecasting a game earlier this season from San Francisco. Juan Marichal was pitching and Scully, astute student of the game that he is, told his viewers that the Giant star seemed off stride while making his distinctive leg-high windup.
In the second inning Marichal's wind-up began to improve, which Scully demonstrated by bringing into play stop-action camera and instant replay, visual aids still absent from many baseball telecasts. Then the Giant pitcher broke off a good curve, a single pitch, but one that moved Scully to the casual eloquence characteristic of his style. "That's the kind of pitch Roy Campanella used to say gives you the old jelly leg," he said. "It's tough to hang in there on curveballs like those. Your leg starts to leave without you."
The qualities of a Scott or Scully, though, are all but lost in the sea of bland-ness and banalities that otherwise inundates the telecasting of baseball. The sins are easily cataloged: repetitive small talk about matters already deathlessly familiar; sugar-coated explanations for poor play; nice-Nellyisms about umpires who are never wrong and ballplayers who are, each and every last one, great guys in their own rights. There is an ebullience that is sometimes warranted by events, at other times not. "This is some kind of ball game," Oakland's Red Rush will say during some kind of mild drama or other. Then he will observe a moment later; "This Sal Bando is some kind of player." Or later still: "This Rick Monday can sure pick 'em up and lay 'em down." Or: "Hey, the crowd is on the edge of its seats. This is some kind of crowd."
What makes such sensationalizing of the routine all the more striking is the silence that so often greets genuine news, as when Clete Boyer was suspended this season by Atlanta. Braves Announcer Milo Hamilton scarcely referred to the incident. Babies have been born in the stands during baseball games and people shot, but the cameras have looked stonily away, only to return later for closeups of little boys holding aloft homemade banners.
Baseball announcers share with the White House press corps an inhibiting occupational hazard. As St. Louis' Buck puts it, "You can't always say what you're thinking because you want to continue your contacts." Of course, the newspapermen who cover baseball must live with their sources, too, but telecasters tend to be even more sympathetic with the ballplayers. For one thing, they are generally in the same financial league as the athletes, their salaries ranging from less than $20,000 for a rookie announcer to $100,000 or more for a superstar like Scully. With such riches comes the fact that players and announcers alike are called upon frequently to transfer loyalties. Baseball's peripatetic Bobo Newsom had little, for example, on Merle Harmon, who has announced in succession, and always with home-town fervor, the Kansas City A's, Milwaukee Braves, Minnesota Twins and, currently, the Milwaukee Brewers.
There are other parallels. The TV men travel along with the players, sign autographs for the fans and serve the same masters. Announcers are hired either by the club or with its approval, and one of them, the Cubs' Brickhouse, even serves on his team's board of directors.
That the telecasters and the teams they profess to be objectively covering maintain something less than an arm's-length relationship appears to offend surprisingly few fans—and fewer announcers. Lindsey Nelson, the play-by-play man on New York Met telecasts, says, "Cab drivers, policemen and the man in the street all identify the broadcasters with the ball club. If I walk down Fifth Avenue I'm stopped often by people asking, 'What are you going to do about the Mets?' "
What Nelson and other announcers will probably do is more of what they have always done, and this means hawking illustrated team yearbooks, plugging bat days and T shirt giveaways and reminding anybody who might be inclined to drag himself out to the airport of the team's imminent return from a road trip at 3 a.m. They are also expected to sell the sponsor's beer and the ball club's tickets. If you seldom hear TV announcers urge motorists to "come on out for the second game," which used to be a standing invitation for radio listeners, it is only because they know that not many people are watching TV while driving around in their cars. Patient pitchmen that they are, they want you in the tent, but tomorrow will be just fine.
Baseball owners look upon TV not only as a source of riches but also as a promotional tool simply because so many of them are suffering from a severe case of empty seats. The current wisdom in baseball's high councils is that a relatively liberal TV policy on away games produces broadcasting revenues even as it reminds the home folks during long road trips that the team still exists. Except in populous TV markets like New York and Chicago, home games generally are telecast sparingly if at all. A special case is the Montreal Expos, who by showing fans enjoying themselves in cozy Jarry Park—most of the club's 18 televised games are at home—have educated Canadians about baseball, made Rusty Staub a national hero and, not least, helped sell a remarkable 250,000 Expo caps.
The need to incessantly promote the club inevitably affects coverage of the game itself, this at a time of widespread debate over television's performance in reporting the news. Baseball announcers are likely to be slower to blame every fumbled ground ball on a bad hop if viewers at home can clearly see otherwise, but anything resembling impartiality is extremely rare.