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The Last At-Bat for ‘Game of the Week’

The Baltimore Sun

Nine hundred and eighty games ago, NBC telecast its first baseball “Game of the Week.” Saturday the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays played the “Game of the Week” finale -- at least for four years, the period of CBS’s baseball deal.

NBC featured a retrospective in its pre-game show, but here’s some other nostalgia.

When NBC’s “Game of the Week” debuted in April 1957:

--Major-league baseball still was played at Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Griffith Stadium.

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NBC’s first telecast, an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers, featured 23-year-old slugger Henry Aaron and a 26-year-old utility infielder named Don Zimmer.

As NBC ends its run (interrupted for a year in 1965, when ABC had baseball rights), fans may reflect on the brave, new world of televised baseball with some trepidation. Sure, ESPN will have 175 games a year, but CBS will carry a mere 12 regular-season games.

If it seems CBS paid $1.1 billion not to televise baseball, well, we should remember that what the network really bought were the lucrative, ratings-grabbing postseason games. And if it seems the ESPN package is moving the sport away from the blue-collar fan long held to be, at least in myth, the backbone of the game’s support, well, those fans aren’t the ones who sit in the sky boxes and extra corporate seating of new stadiums.

Perhaps “Game of the Week” long has been an anachronism -- frequently low-rated, with unappealing demographics. But, for 32 years, every Saturday during the baseball season, it was there. And now it will be gone.

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“For those people who will not be able to get cable and are baseball fans, it’s tragic,” Vin Scully, longtime voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers and an NBC baseball announcer for seven years, said in a news conference this week. “To be deprived of it on a consistent basis is sad.

“I feel sad for baseball and those who will be deprived.”

Quite a few people will be deprived. Cable television is available in about 75 percent of the country’s television households, and about 55 percent receive ESPN, cable’s biggest channel. But a quarter of the country can’t get cable, and another 20 percent chooses not to -- and many of those holdouts must be going without for economic reasons.

And economics has much to do with the demise of “Game of the Week.”

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Scully said of the huge CBS contract, “I guess it’s a warning that the pot’s about to boil over. What that will do to the local packages is what I really wonder about.”

What CBS will do with baseball is something many others are wondering about. “I think all of us need to lay back and let it happen,” Scully said.

However, he said NBC set a standard for baseball broadcasting.

“They were committed to baseball,” Scully said. “The NBC Sports department had a genuine love affair with baseball. When they look back over the years at NBC and the way they did it, they’ll say, ‘That’s it.’ ”

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After the last out Saturday, regular Saturday viewers could say the same thing -- “That’s it.”


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