Baseball was bitterly criticized for letting it rain last Saturday and Sunday, thus depriving thousands of people in Boston and millions more around the country from watching the World Series during choice weekend viewing time. That's not a joke, son. When baseball lets TV down—whether by its own fault or by an act of God—it's in trouble. Television is where the money is, and baseball has been turning itself inside out to satisfy the demands of the tube. When it fails—well, the networks promise everything and then cancel shows at the drop of a hat, don't they, baby?
Baseball created the pennant playoffs, which drastically reduce the excitement of the pennant races, with TV in mind; it changed the traditional Wednesday opening of the World Series to Saturday; it switched midweek games from afternoon to night; it began the final game of this year's Boston- Oakland playoffs at 5 p.m., a terrible time to start a game. These changes were made for one reason: TV said they would make for bigger ratings, which means more money.
But they meant, too, that baseball was putting itself more and more at the mercy of TV. "What else you want us to do, fellas?" you can hear Bowie Kuhn asking eagerly. Yet baseball is a unique sport in which change is resented and only begrudgingly accepted. Its slightly cranky, old-fashioned ways have a strong appeal, which may explain why nostalgia is so big in baseball. How many oldtimers' games do you see in football or basketball?
Baseball ought to be itself. It becomes cheap and embarrassing when it fawns before TV. It ought to remember that for 100 years it has been a terrific show but unpredictable; you can't put a Don Larsen no-hitter or a Bobby Thomson home run or a Roberto Clemente spectacular into a TV listing. Things like that can't by created by six writers, a director and voluble announcers. They happen. On a ball field. If TV is smart, it will be there when they happen, even if it's a cloudy Tuesday afternoon instead of prime time. And if TV is not there, that's the tube's hard luck. The game will still go on.
WE HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE
Fears that the world of sport is slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, disappearing into a vast commercial sewer are heightened by the arrival of the U.S. Basketball Association, an East Coast venture. A communiqu� from the new pro basketball league says bluntly, "Our main interest lies in selling advertising and getting people to watch our games exclusively on CATV." In other words, the USBA exists only as a sales medium. There is obviously no intention to present it as competition to the NBA or ABA, and the game itself—basketball, isn't it?—is incidental.
The logical progression, then, is for local newspapers to send business reporters to cover the sales figures and TV critics to appraise the show as it appears on cable television. No need to bother the sports staff at all.
A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN
"Isn't this an unusual way to sell tickets?" wrote our correspondent, who enclosed an advertisement for the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals, winners of eight games last year while losing 67 and tying five. The Caps' advertising approach is indeed unusual—and forthright, to say the least. "For as little as $4 a ticket," the ad says, "the least you'll feel is reasonably disappointed. And the most you'll feel is ecstatic, unadulterated, complete and total euphoria. Last year, everybody frequently expected the Capitals to lose. And we did lose. Frequently. But there were those nights, albeit few and far between, when we didn't lose. When we won. And when we win, you'd better be wearing a hat. Because the shouting and the screaming and the cheering just about blows the roof off of the Capital Centre.