The Baseball Network was everybody’s dartboard last week because of its plan to regionalize the telecasts of playoff games. Bu on the eve of this not-so-grand experiment it looks as if things mightn no be so terrible.
Things, however, will be weird.
Beyond the ironclad decision to telecast teams’ games in their own markets, there is no recognizable formula being used to determine which regions get which games.
If an area is not in a participating team’s market, it seems that something as simple as where another team’s ace pitcher grew up could determine which game it gets.
But don’t get mad. The Baseball Network is aiming to please.
The entire state of Louisiana, like most of the Southeastern United States, will get Atlanta-Colorado - except for Baton Rouge. Cleveland slugger Albert Belle went to school there at LSU, so that city will get Cleveland-Boston.
Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda is from Norristown, Pa., so that must be why Philadelphia will get the Los Angeles-Cincinnati game. Not necessarily because TBN will try to show American League games in A.L. markets and National League games in N.L. markets.
Hartford will get the Red Sox and Indians because of its proximity to Boston, but because many Connecticut residents commute to New York to work, the city might get the Yankees against Seattle for Game 2.
“If Hartford were to come back to us and ask for the Yankees,” said Ed Markey of NBC Sports, the TBN partner carrying Games 1 and 2, “we would try to be flexible and give them the game they want.”
In Miami, Tampa and Fort Myers, Fla., the Yankees will be aired instead of the Braves because there are a large number of transplanted New Yorkers in those cities.
Ohio presents the biggest challenge to TBN because it is the home of both the Reds and the Indians. Northern and eastern Ohio will get the Indians, and the rest of the state will get the Reds.
In some locales in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, TBN will show something other than Reds-Dodgers.
“All those areas surrounding Philadelphia,” Markey said, “will get (the Mariners) against the Yankees.”
The most requested series is the Boston-Cleveland matchup, but it is as controversial as it is popular. It galls baseball fans that, after winning 100 games to post the best record in the major leagues, the Indians have to play a team that won 86 games, the third-highest total in the majors. Why shouldn’t the Indians be playing the Yankees, who are the wild card team, or the Mariners?
“They won 100 games,” Markey said of the Indians. “Albert Belle hit 50 homers. They haven’t been in (the postseason) in 41 years. Cleveland is a very good baseball story.
Wild card question
Several baseball purists - some would call them snobs - have spent the last several days griping about how the wild card scenarios ruined the game. What cave have these guys been living in?
There was riveting action on ESPN and ESPN2 on Sunday as teams battled down to the wire for playoff slots. It was infinitely better than pennant races being practically decided by the end of August. Perhaps those snobs - er, purists - like nodding off during meaningless games in September.
At least their numbers are few. A recent Associated Press survey of 1,008 people showed that 46 percent of the fans think having the wild card is a change for the better, while only 12 percent consider it a change for the worse.
The overnight ratings - which cover the 33 top markets - for Friday night, the final night of NBC’s “Baseball Night in America,” showed the wild card to be a smashing success.
“The numbers in the wild card cities have been phenomenal.” Markey said. “Seattle went through the roof.”
While Ken Griffey Jr. and Seattle went at it with the Texas Rangers, the ratings meter for Seattle surged toward the red, hitting 26.5 with a 48 share (percentage of television sets in that area tuned to the Mariners).
There were also big numbers in Cleveland (20.0, 32 share), Denver (14.8, 28) and Los Angeles (10.9, 18).
In the biggest and toughest market in America, New York, the Yankees pulled an extraordinary 7.6 with a 12 share.
“The whole idea of the wild card was to try to rekindle excitement in the month of September,” Markey said. “If Seattle wasn’t in the hunt, I doubt they’d get those kind of numbers.”
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