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The Major League Baseball Game of the Week (GOTW) is the de facto title for over-the-air, nationally televised coverage of regular season Major League Baseball games. The Game of the Week has traditionally aired on Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

Contents

Significance of The Game of the Week

When the national networks began televising national games of the week, it opened the door for a national audience to see particular clubs. While most teams were broadcast, emphasis was always on the league leaders and the major market franchises that could draw the largest audience.

History

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Origins

1950s

In 1953, ABC-TV executive Edgar J. Scherick (who would later go on to create Wide World of Sports) broached a Saturday Game of the Week-TV sport's first network series[1]. At the time, ABC was labeled a "nothing network" that had fewer outlets than CBS or NBC. ABC also needed paid programming or "anything for bills" as Scherick put it. At first, ABC hesitated at the idea of a nationally televised regular season baseball program. ABC wondered how exactly the Game of the Week would reach television in the first place and who would notice if it did?

In April 1953, Edgar Scherick set out to sell teams rights but instead, only got the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox to sign on. To make matters worse, Major League Baseball barred the Game of the Week from airing within 50 miles of any ballpark. Major League Baseball according to Scherick, insisted on protecting local coverage and didn't care about national appeal. ABC though, did care about the national appeal and claimed that "most of America was still up for grabs."

In 1953, ABC earned a 11.4 rating for their Game of the Week telecasts. Blacked-out cities had 32% of households. In the rest of the United States, 3 in 4 TV sets in use watched Dizzy Dean[2] and Buddy Blattner call the games for ABC.

In 1955, CBS took over the Game package[3], adding Sunday telecasts in 1957. NBC began its own Saturday and Sunday coverage in 1957 and 1959, respectively. In 1960, ABC resumed Saturday telecasts; that year the "Big 3" networks aired a combined 123 games. As ABC's Edgar Scherick later observed, "In '53, no one wanted us. Now teams begged for "Game"'s cash." That year, the NFL began a $14.1 million revenue-sharing pact[4]. Dean and Blattner continued to call the games for CBS, with Pee Wee Reese replacing Blattner in 1960.

1960s

By 1965, Major League Baseball ended the big-city blackout, got $6.5 million for exclusivity, and split the pot.

On March 17, 1965, Jackie Robinson became the first black network broadcaster for Major League Baseball. According to ABC Sports producer Chuck Howard, despite Robinson having a high, stabbing voice, great presence, and sharp mind, all he lacked was time.

In 1965, ABC provided the first-ever nationwide baseball coverage with weekly Saturday broadcasts on a regional basis. ABC paid $5.7 million for the rights to the 28 Saturday/holiday Games of the Week. ABC's deal covered all of the teams except the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies (who had their own television deals) and called for three regionalized games on Saturdays, Independence Day, and Labor Day. ABC blacked out the games in the home cities of the clubs playing those games. Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson, and Merle Harmon were the principal play-by-play announcers for ABC's coverage.

In 1966, the New York Yankees, who in the year before played 21 Games of the Week for CBS, joined NBC's package. The new package under NBC called for 28 games compared to 1960's three-network combination of 123.

NBC's Game of the Week

1960s

On October 19, 1966, NBC signed a three year contract with Major League Baseball. The year before, NBC lost the rights to the Saturday-Sunday Game of the Week. In addition, the previous deal limited CBS to covering only 12 weekends when its new subsidiary, the New York Yankees, played at home.

Under the new deal, NBC paid roughly $6 million per year for the 25 Games of the Week, $6.1 million for the 1967 World Series and 1967 All-Star Game, and $6.5 million for the 1968 World Series and 1968 All-Star Game. This brought the total value of the contract (which included three Monday night telecasts) up to $30.6 million.

NBC, replacing CBS, traded a circus for a seminar. Pee Wee Reese said "Curt Gowdy[5] was its guy (1966-1975), and didn't want [Dizzy] Dean - too overpowering. Curt was nice, but worried about mistakes. Diz and I just laughed." Falstaff Brewery hyped Dean as Gowdy in return said "I said, 'I can't do "Wasbash Cannonball." Our styles clash'"-then came Pee Wee Reese. Gowdy added by saying about the pairing between him and Reese "They figured he was fine with me, and they'd still have their boy."

To many, baseball meant CBS' 1955-1964 Game of the Week thoroughbred. A year later, NBC bought ABC's variant of a mule so to speak. "We had the Series and All-Star Game. 1966-1968's "Game" meant exclusivity," said NBC Sports head Carl Lindemann. Lindemann added by saying "[Colleague] Chet Simmons and liked him [Gowdy] with the Sox and football"-also, getting two network sports for the price of one. As his analyst, Gowdy wanted his friend Ted Williams. NBC's lead sponsor, Chrysler said no when Williams, a Sears spokesman, was pictured putting stuff in a Ford truck.

A black and white kinescope (saved by Armed Forces Television) of a July 12, 1969 between the Philadelphia Philles and Chicago Cubs is believed to be the oldest surviving[6] complete telecast of the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week.

1960s ratings

The Nielsen ratings for the Game of the Week from 1966-1968 as well as the World Series fell by 10 and 19%, respectively. Only the All-Star Game nixed the seemingly growing view that baseball was too bland for a hip and inchoate age. Almost half (48%) in a 1964 Harris Poll named baseball as their favorite sport. Unfortunately, just 19% did a decade later. Part of the problem was that exclusivity began. Lindsey Nelson said "Think of the last decade. Mel, Buck, Diz-and one guy replaces 'em." As viewers grew tired, the Sporting News got so many unfavorable letters (mostly concerning their problems with Curt Gowdy)-"atrocity...a pallbearer...baseball is not dead, no thanks to Gowdy"-it routed them to NBC. Harry Caray wrote "As spectacle, baseball suffers on [TV]." He added by saying "The fan at the park [talk, drink, take Junior to the john] rarely notices the time span between pitches. Not to the same fan at home." Although not necessarily responsible, Gowdy was held accountable, becoming, as he did, more visible than even Dizzy Dean.

1970s

In 1976, NBC paid $10.7 million per year to show 25 Saturday Games of the Week and the other half of the postseason (the League Championship Series in odd numbered years and World Series in even numbered years)[7]. NBC would continue this particular arrangement with ABC through 1989.

Joe Garagiola was pushed to succeed Curt Gowdy, who by 1978 was reduced to being a roving World Series reporter, as NBC's #1 play-by-play announcer (and team with color commentator Tony Kubek) in 1976. NBC hoped that Garagiola's charm and unorthodox dwelling on the personal would stop the a decade-long ratings dive for the Game of the Week. Instead, the ratings bobbed from 6.7 (1977) via 7.5 (1978) to 6.3 (1981-1982). "Saturday had a constituency but it didn't swell" said NBC Sports executive producer Scotty Connal. Some believed that millions missed Dizzy Dean while local-team TV split the audience.

Scotty Connal believed that the team of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek were "A great example of black and white." Connal added by saying "A pitcher throws badly to third, Joe says, 'The third baseman's fault.' Tony: 'The pitcher's'" Media critic Gary Deeb termed theirs "the finest baseball commentary ever carried on network TV."

In late 1979, Milwaukee Brewers announcer Merle Harmon left Milwaukee completely in favor of a multi-year pact with NBC. Harmon saw the NBC deal as a perfect opportunity since according to The Milwaukee Journal he would make more money, get more exposure, and do less travelling. At NBC, Harmon did SportsWorld, the backup Game of the Week, and served as a field reporter for the 1980 World Series. Harmon most of all, had hoped to cover the American boycotted 1980 Summer Olympics from Moscow. After NBC pulled out of their scheduled coverage of the 1980 Summer Olympics, Harmon considered it to being "A great letdown." To add insult to injury, NBC fired Harmon in 1982 in favor of Bob Costas. Incidentally, long time NBC Game of the Week announcer Curt Gowdy replaced Harmon, who was working with ABC a year earlier.

1980s

On September 26, 1981, the scheduled Major League Baseball Game of the Week between the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers had ended, and the NBC affiliate in Buffalo, NY, WGRZ, picked up the network's backup game, a Houston Astros-Los Angeles Dodgers contest in which Nolan Ryan was pitching his lone National League no-hitter. However, the coverage suddenly ended just as the ninth inning started, when the local station cut away to regular programming. WGRZ felt duty-bound to present a naval training film--Life Aboard an Aircraft Carrier. (Baseball Hall of Shame 2 (1986), by Nash and Zullo; pp. 108–09)

By 1983, Joe Garagiola had stepped aside from the play-by-play duties for Vin Scully while Tony Kubek was paired with Bob Costas on NBC telecasts. The New York Times observed the performance of the team of Scully and Garagiola by saying "The duo of Scully and Garagiola is very good, and often even great, is no longer in dispute." A friend of Garagiola's said "He understood the cash" concerning NBC's 1984-1989 407% Major League Baseball hike. At this point the idea was basically summarized as Vin Scully "being the star" whereas, Joe Garagiola was Pegasus or NBC's junior light.

When NBC inked a $550 million contract for six years in the fall of 1982, a return on the investment so to speak demanded Vin Scully to be their star baseball announcer. Vin Scully reportedly made $2 million a year during his time with NBC in the 1980s. NBC Sports head Thomas Watson said about Scully "He is baseball's best announcer. Why shouldn't he be ours?" Dick Enberg, who did the Game of the Week the year prior to Vin Scully's hiring mused "No room for me. "Game" had enough for two teams a week."

Vin Scully had to wait over 15 years to get his shot at calling the Game of the Week. Prior to 1983, Scully only announced the 1966 and 1974 World Series for NBC (during the time-frame of NBC having the Game of the Week) since they both involved Scully's Dodgers. Henry Hecht once wrote "NBC's Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek, and Monte Moore sounded like college radio rejects vs. Scully."

When Tony Kubek first teamed with Bob Costas in 1983, Kubek said "I'm not crazy about being assigned to the backup game, but it's no big ego deal." Costas said about working with Kubek "I think my humor loosened Tony, and his knowledge improved me." The team of Costas and Kubek proved to be a formiadable pair. There were even some who preferred the team of Kubek and Costas over the musings of Vin Scully and the asides of Joe Garagiola.

One of Bob Costas and Tony Kubek's most memorable broadcasts came on June 23, 1984. The duo were at Chicago's Wrigley Field to call an unbelievable 12-11 contest between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Led by second baseman Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs rallied from a 9-3 deficit before winning it in extra innings. After Sandberg hit his second home run in the game (with two out in the bottom of the 9th to tie it 11-11), Costas cried "That's the real Roy Hobbs because this can't be happening! We're sitting here, and it doesn't make any difference if it's 1984 or '54-just freeze this and don't change a thing!"

The end of an era

NBC's final edition of the Game of the Week was televised on October 9, 1989; Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs from Candlestick Park. Vin Scully said "It's a passing of a great American tradition. It is sad. I really and truly feel that. It will leave a vast window, to use a Washington word, where people will not get Major League Baseball and I think that's a tragedy." Scully added that "It's a staple that's gone. I feel for people who come to me and say how they miss it, and I hope me."

Bob Costas said "Who thought baseball'd kill its best way to reach the public? It coulda kept us and CBS-we'd have kept the "Game"-but it only cared about cash." Costas added that he would rather do a Game of the Week that got a 5 rating than host a Super Bowl. "Whatever else I did, I'd never have left "Game of the Week"" Costas claimed.

The final regular season edition of NBC's Game of the Week, by the way, was televised on September 30, 1989. That game featured the Toronto Blue Jays beating Baltimore Orioles 4-3 to clinch the AL East title from the SkyDome. It was the 981st edition of NBC's Game of the Week overall. Tony Kubek reacted by saying "I can't believe it" when the subject came about NBC losing baseball for the first time since 1947. Coincidently, from 1977-1989, Tony Kubek (in addition to his NBC duties) worked as a commentator for the Toronto Blue Jays.

NBC's Game of the Week facts

The Seattle Mariners only appeared on NBC's Game of the Week twice, in 1979 against Boston and in 1981 against Detroit. NBC never aired a Saturday afternoon game from Seattle, though the network did telecast the 1979 All-Star Game played there.

On April 7, 1984, the Detroit Tigers' Jack Morris no-hit the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park; the game was the 1984 season opener for NBC's baseball coverage, and it was the only no-hit game thrown in the series' history.

NBC's Game of the Week announcers

CBS takes over (1990–1993)

CBS alienated and confused fans with their sporadic treatment of regular season telecasts[8][9]. With a sense of true continuity destroyed, fans eventually figured that they couldn't count on CBS to satisfy their needs (thus poor ratings were a result). CBS televised about 16 regular season Saturday afternoon games (not counting back-up telecasts) which was 14 less than what NBC televised during the previous contract[10]. CBS used the strategy of broadcasting only a select amount of games in order to build a demand in response to supposedly sagging ratings. In addition, CBS angered fans by ignoring the division and pennant races; instead, their scheduled games focused on games featuring major-market teams, regardless of their record.

Marv Albert, who hosted NBC's studio baseball pre-game show for many years said about CBS' baseball coverage "You wouldn't see a game for a month. Then you didn't know when CBS came back on." Sports Illustrated joked that CBS stood for Covers Baseball Sporadically. USA Today added that Jack Buck and Tim McCarver "may have to have a reunion before [their] telecast." Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News took it a step further by calling CBS' baseball deal "The Vietnam of sports television."

NBC play-by-play man Bob Costas believed that a large bulk of the regular season coverage beginning in the 1990s shifted to cable (namely, ESPN) because CBS, the network that was taking over from NBC the television rights beginning in 1990, didn't really want the Saturday Game of the Week. Many fans who didn't appreciate CBS' approach to scheduling regular season baseball games believed that they were only truly after the marquee events (i.e. All-Star Game, League Championship Series, and the World Series) in order to sell advertising space (especially the fall entertainment television schedule).

Regular season (Saturday afternoons: April-September)

Year Network Rating
1987 NBC 5.9
1988 NBC 5.5
1989 NBC 4.9
1990 CBS 4.7
1991 CBS 4.1
1992 CBS 3.4
1993[11] CBS 3.4

Hiatus period (1994-1995)

[12]

From 1994-1995, there was no traditional Saturday Game of the Week coverage.

The Fox era (1996-present)

Comparing and contrasting CBS' ratings for the Game of the Week for 1992-1993 with Fox's ratings since 1996.

Major League Baseball made a deal with the Fox Broadcasting Company on November 7, 1995. Fox paid a fraction less of the amount of money that CBS paid for the Major League Baseball television rights for the 1990-1993 seasons. Unlike the previous television deal, "The Baseball Network," Fox reverted to the format of televising regular season games (approximately 16 weekly telecasts that normally began on Memorial Day weekend) on Saturday afternoons. Fox did however, continue a format that "The Baseball Network" started by offering games based purely on a viewer's region. Fox's approach has usually been to offer four regionalized telecasts, with exclusivity from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. in each time zone. When Fox first got into baseball, it used the motto "Same game, new attitude."

Like NBC and CBS before it, Fox determined its Saturday schedule by who was playing a team from one of the three largest television markets: New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. If there was a game which combined two of these three markets, it would be aired.

In Fox's first season of Major League Baseball coverage in 1996, they averaged a 2.7 rating for its Saturday Game of the Week. That was down 23%[13] from CBS' 3.4 in 1993 despite the latter network's infamy for its rather haphazard Game of the Week schedule.

In 2004, Fox's Game of the Week telecasts only appeared three times after August 28, due to ratings competition from college football. One unidentified former Fox broadcaster complained by saying "Fox is MIA on the pennant race, and Joe [Buck] doesn't even do [September 18's] Red Sox-Yankees. What kind of sport would tolerate that?" By this point, Joe Buck was unavailable to call baseball games, since he became Fox's #1 NFL announcer (a job he has held since 2002). The following two seasons saw similar interruptions in Fox's September coverage.

In 2006, Fox signed a new multi-year contract with Major League Baseball; one of the terms of the deal was that, beginning with the 2007 season[14], the Saturday Game of the Week coverage was extended over the entire season rather than starting after Memorial Day, with most games being aired in the 3:30-7:00 P.M. (EDT) time slot, changed to 4:00 to 7:00 after Fox cancelled its in-studio pre-game program for the 2009 season.[15]

Television broadcasters throughout the years

The Game of the Week on radio

From 1985 to 1997, the CBS Radio network aired its own incarnation of the Game of the Week, broadcasting games at various times on Saturday afternoons and/or Sunday nights. In 1998, national radio rights went to ESPN Radio; while that network concentrates primarily on Sunday Night Baseball coverage, it does air selected Saturday afternoon games over the second half of the season, as well as Opening Day and holiday broadcasts.

Earlier, the Mutual Broadcasting System and Liberty Radio Network had aired Game of the Day broadcasts to non-major-league cities in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Announcers

CBS

ESPN

Liberty

Mutual

A Games and B Games

The A Game is generally the nickname for the baseball game that's broadcasted to approximately 80% of the country. The B Game (also known as the Backup Game) only aired in the participants' home markets. For example, if the Cubs were playing the Cardinals, only the Chicago and St. Louis television markets would get a chance to see the game. The B Game also generally existed as a backup in case of rainouts/delays at the A Game.

Previously (i.e. pre-1980s), NBC typically had the A Game going to most of the country (but not to the markets of the participating teams). While the B Game only went to the home markets of the teams in the A Game. In those days, the TV rules did not allow a market to see its local team play on NBC. However, in situations where the B Game got rained out, the rules would relax.

In the early years of ABC's Monday Night Baseball broadcasts (circa 1976), the rules changed to allow the home market of the A Game's road team to see the A Game. Meanwhile, the A Game's home team got the B Game.

References

  1. ^ The era of baseball broadcasting that began in 1953 should have given the owners a foretaste of what was to come, but it didn't. That year the first Game of the Week telecasts began on ABC.
  2. ^ Naturally, broadcasts were banned from all major league cities. With the irrepressible Dizzy Dean at the microphone it rolled up incredible ratings anyway: 11.4 percent of all households with sets and 51 percent of all sets in use. That translated to 75 percent of all sets in use outside of big league cities. There was no doubt that the colorful Dean, with his demented grammar, malapropisms, and rambling yarn-spinning, was the program.
  3. ^ In 1955, a slick advertising agency move landed the Game of the Week for CBS; as Curt Smith says, "the most transforming baseball series in television's show of shows…was born." Two years later a group of Sunday games was added to the schedule. Thanks to broadcasting, baseball was on its way to becoming a truly national game, although ironically the broadcast blackout persisted in big league cities.
  4. ^ Then came football. The upstart NFL (and its wise leader Pete Rozelle) realized that TV was the way to build fan interest. Baseball's less progressive owners still feared "giving it away," preferring local and regional efforts. As Harold Rosenthal explains, "Football fans were sold as National Football League fans-network television made them that way…. In Appleton, Wisconsin, a guy would turn on the tube and watch the Giants play the Browns…. Baseball fans were brought up to follow the Cardinals or Giants or Tigers…the local coverage mattered, the local announcer." When the NFL signed a lucrative contract with TV in the early 1960s, guaranteeing coverage, and with all the NFL teams sharing the wealth, Major League Baseball wanted to follow suit. Baseball executives asked for millions, but they didn't get it. What they got was the ABC Game of the Week featuring 28 telecasts a season, with each club receiving $300,000.
  5. ^ As Curt Smith explained, "By 1966, instead of watching as many as 123 games on three networks, a majority of American viewers could behold only 28 telecasts on one network." The "common good" policy was a mistake, but baseball hadn't figured this out. They changed networks, moving to NBC, and the fans got a new announcer. "Curt Gowdy emerged for an entire generation of listeners as the national signature of baseball broadcasting," asserts Curt Smith. "From 1966 through 1975, he called play-by- play for every All-Star Game, every World Series game, and virtually every regular season network game." That list doesn't include Gowdy's work on 7 Super Bowls, 7 Olympic Games, 12 NCAA basketball championships, 13 Rose Bowls, the Pan Am Games, and 20 years of The American Sportsman. But Gowdy couldn't bring in the ratings. His highest regular season rating was still two full points below Dizzy Dean 's first year (even with Dean's ban from major league markets), and it dropped 15 percent by 1970; Gowdy's World Series ratings fell by nearly 20 percent, although it was certainly no fault of his own. Solid, professional, and competent, he was just never exciting. People never talked about him as they did about Dean or other announcers, and he was definitely overexposed. Meanwhile, football was coming on strong. In 1969 pro football televised three times as many games on network TV as baseball. By 1969 not even all the baseball postseason games were broadcast nationally. The NFL was not only growing; it was promoting. NFL highlight films featured thrilling action, rich drama, and the golden voice of orator John Facenda.
  6. ^ Surviving World Series Telecasts
  7. ^ In 1975, baseball announced a new kind of TV deal. Coverage of the World Series, playoffs, and All-Star Games would alternate between NBC and ABC. The networks saw the advantages: postseason baseball play was the perfect time to begin promoting the new fall TV season. Dual network coverage also brought an element of competition without economic overtones-quality of coverage. Then came October 21, 1975. The Boston Red Sox, unable to win a World Series since 1918, were on their way to a loss in six games to Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine". But a three-run pinch-hit homer by Bernie Carbo tied the game in the eighth, and in the twelfth (by then it was 12:34 a.m.) Carlton Fisk hit a solo shot over the "Green Monster" to win the game. Sixty-two million people saw it, and television couldn't have planned it better, because as Fisk hit his homer, the camera in the left field scoreboard followed him, not the ball, and on replay the audience saw Fisk furiously trying to wave the ball fair. It was the first-ever home run reaction shot. The next night, 75,890,000 people watched the seventh game, and baseball was definitely back. In 1976 baseball received revenue from radio and television approaching $51 million. Lou Harris said in 1977, "For the first time since 1968, more sports fans in the country follow baseball than football." Ten years later baseball received $350 million.
  8. ^ Baseball Sells Out Fans As CBS Bucks Tradition
  9. ^ VIEWS OF SPORT; Fight Baseball's TV Fadeout
  10. ^ The 'Game of the Week' must be saved. Your move, Commish
  11. ^ By the time the much-maligned CBS/MLB contract came to an end in 1993, the Saturday Game of the Week was drawing about 40% fewer viewers than NBC garnered just 5 years earlier - heavy erosion even by the standards of the cable era.
  12. ^ Only after two seasons of the ill-fated Baseball Network (and a players’ strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series) did the Game of the Week return on Fox, with 18 Saturday windows starting in June and extending through the remainder of the season.
  13. ^ Although the return was generally welcome, 1996 ratings for Fox were about one-third lower than the CBS levels from 1993 - numbers which were considered anemic by MLB standards at the time. Only the steroid-inflated home run craze of 1998 moved the ratings needle in any significant way, but those gains were short-lived. By 2007, the Game of the Week had drawn its smallest audience since 1996 with younger demos hitting all-time lows.
  14. ^ Fox - April 7, 2007
  15. ^ Los Angeles Daily News: Fox cuts MLB pregame show in '09

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