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NBC GETS WHAT IT DOESN'T DESERVE -- GREAT ENDING TO SEVEN-PART, 28-HOUR SERIES

One of the things I did on my fall vacation was head to Cleveland to be part of World Series history.

Yes, I was in the stands for Indians pitcher Jaret Wright's 10-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in Game 4, the coldest game in the history of the fall classic.

I wasn't cold. Honest. Sure, I wore my long johns and the special insulated socks and boots that I wear to Bills home games.

But the wind wasn't bad and the only discomfort I felt came on the way to the game, when a Cleveland radio talk host suggested it should be postponed because it was going to be a few degrees warmer the next day and might hit 40. Like many in the crowd of 44,000, two friends of mine who took the day off for the game didn't want a postponement -- it would cost them either their ticket or another day off.

Presumably, Interim Commissioner Bud Selig thought of that when he decided the show must go on even if there were snow flurries in the air and it wasn't ideal baseball weather.

I found laughable the post-mortems that suggested playing the game was blasphemy and that the Series should be played in a neutral warm-weather site like the Super Bowl. The NFL's choice to play the Super Bowl in better weather is an economic decision. It hardly helps the quality of play, or we'd have had better games.

The truth is that almost all outdoor sports at any level end their season in less-than-ideal weather. A few days after returning from Cleveland, I shivered watching my daughter's high school soccer team play two playoff games after enjoying sunshine and warm weather throughout the season.

Playing the World Series at a neutral site is a radio talk show issue. It isn't going to happen and it shouldn't. Shortening the season so these games could be played earlier in October makes sense.

I also was discomforted seeing how much television was blamed during this World Series for controlling the sport. TV deserves some blame. NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer gets the Billy JoeHobert award for stupid candor for saying that he hoped the Cleveland-Florida series would end in four straight games because it was disrupting his regular prime-time series.

The comment really was intended to blame NBC's weak fall performance on something other than its lousy new shows and stupid programming moves. Baseball took a needless hit that undoubtedly damaged the Series' prestige.

TV also is behind the 8:20 p.m. first pitch that keeps East Coast viewers up past midnight but doesn't bother people who live in the Pacific, Mountain and Central time zones. "Monday Night Football" starts at 9 p.m. to enable West Coast viewers to get home, though there's talk of starting the games at 8 next season.

TV has taken some unfair hits, too, from people who don't understand the business. The suggestion that NBC would benefit if Thursday's Game 5 in Cleveland was postponed because it could carry its Must-See TV lineup (including "Seinfeld" and "ER") was foolish. Last-minute lineup changes never work. If NBC carried those shows, they could have lost as much as 30 percent of their regular audience.

If NBC really controlled baseball, Game 5 originally would have been scheduled on Friday, one of its weaker nights. The NBA is agreeable to such scheduling, often waiting three nights to play a game to help NBC out.

The strike a few years back, the $10 million salaries, the movement of players from team to team because of free agency, the Marlins' lack of tradition and the number of professional athletes involved in criminal proceedings or ugly situations undoubtedly have turned some people and sets off. At the end of the American League playoffs, Cleveland pitcher Jose Mesa needed to get Baltimore's Roberto Alomar out. Whom could you root for? Mesa, who joined the Indians in April after being acquitted in a rape trial, or Alomar, who started the season suspended for five games for spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck last season?

If the sad truth be told, the dominance of Hispanic American players in this Series may have hurt ratings a little, too. After all, nothing can be more American than insularity. After the Series ended, ESPN's Peter Gammons smartly suggested that baseball won't find young fans in the malls of New Jersey or California, but rather in the homes of Hispanic Americans (who understood the stars before their interpreters talked in post-game interviews).

The low ratings for the Series until Game 7 (which had an impressive 26.0 overnight rating) fueled the suggestion that baseball is in deep trouble. ABC's "Night-line" on Friday even asked, "Whatever Happened to the World Series?"

So what happens? Cleveland beats Florida in a terrific Game 6, 4-1, highlighted by a classic play by Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel, and then Florida beats Cleveland, 3-2, in 11 innings in what NBC's Keith Olbermann instantly calls "one of the epic games in baseball history" and Bob Costas calls "one of the great Game 7s in World Series history."

The announcers were up to the quality of the game, too. Costas had several good lines, frequently putting the game in historical perspective and reminding viewers of the pain that Indians fans and Marlins manager Jim Leyland have had to endure for decades. Costas also didn't hide his displeasure when the game's intensity was disrupted by the annoying promos he had to read for an NBC series. Analyst Joe Morgan was as sharp as usual, suggesting that the Marlins' Bobby Bonilla had screened Indians second basemen Tony Fernandez before Fernandez committed a devastating error that led to the winning run. Analyst Bob Uecker often belabored the obvious, but he made some decent contributions, too.

The night's best picture was of a victorious Leyland jumping into the arms of Bonilla, who suffered with him when their Pirates lost in the postseason.

If the ratings aren't history-making, they reflect how much television and society have changed. Baseball also suffers because it's the only major professional sport played without a clock. Don't blame TV entirely for four-hour games, either. Ohlmeyer doesn't ask batters to step out of the box or pitchers to stall. He doesn't want four-hour games.

The World Series really is a seven-part, 28-hour miniseries. The networks stopped making miniseries that long because of viewers' reduced attention spans.

Ironically, Ohlmeyer ended up with something much better than a four-game sweep: a seven-game series that ended in extra innings and made ABC's "Whatever Happened to the World Series" look awfully premature.

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