It's 1 a.m. Do you know where your husbands/wives/children are? Well, if they're baseball fans on the East Coast or in the Midwest and it's the wee smalls of Wednesday or Saturday, they may be in front of the TV set watching the late game on ESPN. Or, as broadcaster Chris (I'll Go To The End Of The Billboard Charts To Find A Nickname For A Player) Berman calls it, " California Dreamin'."
ESPN's new omnipresent baseball coverage is a dream come true for fans, provided they have cable. In the first two weeks of the season alone, ESPN covered 25 national and regional games (in 15 "exposures," or time slots). At last, baseball coverage to lose sleep over.
While this blanket coverage may seem too much for some people, it justified its existence last Friday night, when ESPN cut away from the main Dodger-Astro game to pick up the perfect-game-in-progress by the Mariners' Brian Holman. A lot of hearts were broken, coast-to-coast, when the A's Ken Phelps homered with two outs in the ninth to ruin Holman's perfect game and shutout.
The $400 million contract that the network signed with major league baseball last year gives it the right to televise as many as 175 games a season through 1993. The basic schedule calls for a Sunday night game (with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan at the mikes), a Tuesday night doubleheader ( Sean McDonough and Ray Knight, Berman and Tommy Hutton), a Wednesday night game ( Gary Thorne, Norm Hitzges and, starting next week, Mike Lupica) and a Friday night twin bill (Steve Zabriskie and Jim Palmer, Thorne and Hitzges).
"I hope there aren't too many people out there watching every minute of every game," says ESPN's director of production, Steve Anderson. "I would assume most of our viewers have clickers in their hands. We expect them to switch to other channels during our coverage. That's why we do so many updates."
ESPN has thrown so much effort, manpower and money into this venture that it's hard to complain about the coverage. It would be like a kid whining that there's too much licorice in the candy store. So with that in mind, here are capsule reviews of the members of ESPN's starting lineup:
Jon Miller The nation is now finding out how good the Orioles' superb radio man is.
Joe Morgan Some of us are still trying to recover from the incompetence of ABC's 1988 American League Championship Series team of Morgan, Gary Bender and Reggie Jackson. That debacle wasn't all Morgan's fault, though, and he has already shown refreshing candor.
Sean McDonough He sounds a little like a road company Bob Costas.
Ray Knight The former caddy for Nancy Lopez comes across as straightforward and perceptive. He may also have the most distinctive Southern accent in baseball broadcasting since Red Barber.