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Major League Baseball on ABC

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File:BaseballABC's Wide World of Sports.jpg

The American Broadcasting Company presented Major League Baseball in various forms circa 1953-1965 (ABC Game of the Week), 1976-1989 (Monday Night and Thursday Night Baseball), and 1994-1995 (Baseball Night in America). ABC has not televised Major League Baseball since Game 5 of the 1995 World Series.


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. 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 call the games for ABC.

In 1957, CBS added a Sunday Game of the Week. ABC's Edgar Scherick said "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. 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 (ABC) 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 two regionalized games on Saturdays, Independence Day, and Labor Day. ABC blacked out the games in the home cities of the clubs playing those games. At the end of the season, ABC declined to exercise its $6.5 million option for 1966, citing poor ratings, especially in New York.



Under the initial agreement with ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball (1976-1979), both networks paid $92.8 million. ABC paid $12.5 million per year to show 16 Monday night games in 1976, 18 in the next three years, plus half the postseason (the League Championship Series in even numbered years and World Series in odd numbered years). 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).

Major League Baseball media director John Lazarus said of the new arrangement between NBC and ABC

Ratings couldn't get more from one network so we approached another.
NBC's Joe Garagiola wasn't very fond of the new broadcasting arrangement at first saying
I wished they hadn't got half the package. Still, Game, half of the postseason - we got lots left.

In 1976, ABC would pick up the television rights for Monday Night Baseball games from NBC. For most of its time on ABC, the Monday night games were held on "dead travel days" when few games were scheduled. The team owners liked that arrangement as the national telecasts didn't compete against their stadium box offices. ABC on the other hand, found the arrangement far more complicated. ABC often had only one or two games to pick from for each telecast from a schedule designed by Major League Baseball. While trying to give all of the teams national exposure, ABC ended up with way too many games between sub .500 clubs from small markets.

Just like with Monday Night Football, ABC brought in the concept of the three-man-booth (originally comprised of Bob Prince, Bob Uecker, and Warner Wolf as the primary crew) to their baseball telecasts. Said ABC Sports head Roone Arledge:

It'll take something different for it to work - i.e. curb viewership yawns and lulls with Uecker as the real difference so Arledge reportedly hoped.

Prince disclosed to his broadcasting partner Jim Woods about his early worries about calling a network series for the first time. Prince for one, didn't have as much creative control over the broadcasts on ABC as he did calling Pittsburgh Pirates games on KDKA radio.

On the June 8, 1976 edition of Monday Night Baseball, Prince returned to Pittsburgh, where he had been exiled from for over a year. Although Prince received a warm reception, Prince was confused when the next day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read:

Ratings are low, negative reviews rampant.

Bob Prince was gone by the fall of 1976, with Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, and guest analyst Reggie Jackson calling that year's American League Championship Series. (Warner Wolf, Al Michaels and guest analyst Tom Seaver worked the NLCS.) On the subject of his dismissal from ABC, Bob Prince said

I hated Houston, and ABC never let me be Bob Prince.

Howard Cosell said of Bob Uecker that he was the only person in the series to have his reputation helped. Cosell, who hated athletes-turned-announcers, considered Uecker to being the exception. Cosell gloated that

The man's bigger than the game, bigger than the team, bigger than the league, bigger than the sport. They talk about a new commissioner, if I had my pick, it would be you, Bob Uecker.
Uecker replied by sighing and telling Cosell that he wished he "had the time."


File:1979 World Series ABC Sports Graphic.JPG

In 1978, Baseball Hall of Famer Don Drysdale joined ABC Sports with assignments such as Monday Night Baseball, Superstars, and Wide World of Sports. In 1979, Drysdale covered the World Series Trophy presentation. According to Drysdale

My thing is to talk about inside things. Keith [Jackson] does play-by-play. Howard's [Cosell] role is anything since anything can happen in broadcasting.
When ABC released and then rehired him in 1981, Drysdale explained it by saying
If there is nothing to say, be quiet.
Ultimately, Drysdale seemed to be slowly phased out of the ABC picture as fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer was considered ABC's new poster child "[of] superior looks and...popularity from underwear commercials."


File:1981 World Series Trophy Presentation.JPG

1983-1989 television packageEdit

On April 7, 1983, Major League Baseball, ABC, and NBC agreed to terms of a six year television package worth $1.2 billion. The two networks would continue to alternate coverage of the playoffs (ABC in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years), World Series (ABC would televise the World Series in odd numbered years and NBC in even numbered years), and All-Star Game (ABC would televise the All-Star Game in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years) through the 1989 season, with each of the 26 clubs receiving $7 million per year in return (even if no fans showed up). The last package gave each club $1.9 million per year. ABC contributed $575 million for regular season prime time and Sunday afternoons and NBC paid $550 million for thirty Saturday afternoon games.

  • 1983 - $20 million in advance from the two networks.
  • 1984 - NBC $70 million, ABC $56 million, total $126 million.
  • 1985 - NBC $61 million, ABC $75 million, total $136 million.

Note: The networks got $9 million when Major League Baseball expanded the League Championship Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven in 1985.

  • 1986 - NBC $75 million, ABC $66 million, total $141 million.
  • 1987 - NBC $81 million, ABC $90 million, total $171 million.
  • 1988 - NBC $90 million, ABC $96 million, total $186 million.
  • 1989 - NBC $106 million, ABC $125 million, total $231 million.
File:Ronald Reagan and Howard Cosell.JPG

On June 6, 1983, Al Michaels officially succeeded Keith Jackson as the #1 play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Baseball. Michaels, who spent seven seasons working backup games, was apparently very miffed over ABC Sports taking their sweet time with making him their #1 baseball announcer. Unlike Keith Jackson, whose forte was college football, Al Michaels had gigs with the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants before joining ABC in 1976. TV Guide huffed about Keith Jackson by saying

A football guy, on baseball!

Keith Jackson was unavailable for several World Series games in 1979 and 1981 because of conflicts with his otherwise normal college football broadcasting schedule. Thus, Al Michaels would do play-by-play for games on weekends.

In 1985, ABC announced that every game of the World Series would be played under the lights for the biggest baseball audience possible. Just prior to the start of the 1985 World Series, ABC removed Howard Cosell from scheduled announcing duties as punishment for his controversial book I Never Played the Game. In Cosell's place came Tim McCarver (joining play-by-play man Al Michaels and fellow color commentator Jim Palmer), who was beginning his trek of being a part of numerous World Series telecasts. Prior to joining Al Michaels and Jim Palmer in the booth, Tim McCarver's most notable assignment for ABC Sports was working as a field reporter during the 1984 National League Championship Series (with Don Drysdale, Earl Weaver, and Reggie Jackson in the booth).

Reportedly, by 1985, Howard Cosell was considered to be difficult to work with on baseball telecasts. Apparently, Cosell and Al Michaels, got into a fairly heated argument following the conclusion of their coverage of the 1984 American League Championship Series due to Cosell's supposed drunkenness among other problems. Rumor has it that Michaels went as far as to urged ABC executives to remove Cosell from the booth. Ultimately, Al Michaels went public with his problems with Howard Cosell. Michaels claimed that

Howard had become a cruel, evil, vicious person.
File:ABC Camera 1985 World Series Celebration Royals.JPG

By 1986, ABC only televised 13 Monday Night Baseball games. This was a fairly sharp contrast to the 18 games to that were scheduled in 1978. The Sporting News believed that ABC paid Major League Baseball to not make them televise the regular season. TSN added that the network only wanted the sport for October anyway.

1987 World Series scheduling conflictsEdit

File:Al Michaels 1987 World Series.JPG

There have been a few occasions when two Monday Night Football games were played simultaneously. In 1987, a scheduling conflict arose when Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins went to Game 7 of the World Series (which also aired on ABC), making the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome unavailable for the Minnesota Vikings' scheduled game (against the Denver Broncos) that Sunday.


In 1989 (the final year of ABC's contract with Major League Baseball), ABC moved the baseball telecasts to Thursday nights in hopes of getting leg up against NBC's Cosby Show. After braving the traumatic Loma Prieta earthquake and an all-time low 16.4 rating for the 1989 World Series Al Michaels took ABC's loss of baseball to CBS as "tough to accept." Michaels added that

baseball was such an early stepchild at ABC and had come such a long way.
Gary Thorne, who served as ABC's backup play-by-play announcer in 1989 and was an on-field reporter for the World Series that year (and covering the trophy presentation in the process), simply laughed while saying
Great reviews, just as ABC baseball ends.


Main article: The Baseball Network

After a four year long hiatus (when CBS exclusively carried the Major League Baseball television rights), ABC returned to baseball in 1994.

Under a six year plan, Major League Baseball was intended to receive 85% of the first $140 million in advertising revenue (or 87.5% of advertising revenues and corporate sponsorship from the games until sales top a specified level), 50% of the next $30 million, and 80% of any additional money. Prior to this, Major League Baseball was projected to take a projected 55% cut in rights fees and receive a typical rights fee from the networks.

After NBC was finished with their post-1994 All-Star Game six week baseball coverage, ABC (with a reunited Al Michaels, Tim McCarver, and Jim Palmer as the primary crew) would then pick up where NBC left off by televising six more regular season games. The regular season games fell under the Baseball Night in America umbrella which premiered on July 16, 1994. On the subject of play-by-play man Al Michaels returning to baseball for the first time since the infamous 1989 World Series, Jim Palmer said

Here Al is, having done five games since 1989 and steps right in. It's hard to comprehend how one guy could so amaze.

In even numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series. In odd numbered years the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate.

ABC won the rights to the first dibs at the World Series in August 1993 after ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson won a coin toss by calling "heads." Ken Schanzer, who was the CEO of The Baseball Network, handled the coin toss. Schanzer agreed to the coin toss by ABC and NBC at the outset as the means of determining the order in which they'd divvy up the playoffs.

The long term plans for The Baseball Network crumbled when the players went on strike on August 12, 1994 (thus forcing the cancellation of the World Series). In July 1995, ABC and NBC, who wound up having to share the duties of televising the 1995 World Series as a way to recoup (with ABC broadcasting Games 1, 4, and 5 and NBC broadcasting Games 2, 3, and 6), announced that they were opting out of their agreement with Major League Baseball. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. Both networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th century.

ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson, in announcing the dissolution of The Baseball Network, said:

The fact of the matter is, Major League Baseball seems incapable at this point in time, of living with any longterm relationships, whether it's with fans, with players, with the political community in Washington, with the advertising community here in Manhattan, or with its TV partners.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


Major League Baseball on national television
Contract history: Sports television broadcast contracts | Major League Baseball television contracts
Broadcast partners: ABC | CBS | ESPN | FOX | NBC | TBS (Braves TBS Baseball) | USA | The Baseball Network | Extra Innings | The Baseball Channel
General media: Major League Baseball Game of the Week | Monday Night Baseball | DayGame | Wednesday Night Baseball | Thursday Night Baseball | Sunday Night Baseball | Baseball Tonight | Major League Baseball: An Inside Look | This Week in Baseball | The Baseball Bunch
Ratings: World Series television ratings | ABC | CBS | FOX | NBC
Broadcasters by event: World Series | American League Championship Series | National League Championship Series | All-Star Game | American League Division Series | National League Division Series
Landmark events: Cable television | Broadcasting firsts | Telecasts technology

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