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NBC'S BOB COSTAS is touring the nation's newest baseball parks during his final season covering the sport for his network.

A couple of weeks ago, he was in Buffalo and visited Pilot Field.

"I loved it," said Costas. "It has the charm of an older ball park and the amenities of today."

Today, Costas visits Toronto's SkyDome, which is a symbol of the changing face of baseball in Canada. He and Tony Kubek are assigned to work NBC's game of the week between the Blue Jays and Detroit (noon, Ch. 2).

The face of baseball will be changing in the United States next season. CBS is taking over network coverage from NBC, which will mean the end of the game of the week as we know it.

Unfortunately, it also means that Costas won't be one of faces in the announcers' booth.

And despite a recent Sports Illustrated column that suggested the contrary, not all broadcast faces are alike.

Costas was feeling defensive about the Sports Illustrated column, which longed for the days of Howard Cosell. Costas felt the column practically suggested that Costas, CBS' Brent Musburger and ABC's Al Michaels were the same person.

"You can make $83 million a year and be carried around by servants all year long, but you still don't deserve to have your reputation maligned," said Costas.

He shouldn't have worried -- baseball fans know the difference between Costas and Musburger and few long for the days of Cosell. Costas probably couldn't feel any worse about NBC's losing baseball next year if he lost the Mickey Mantle card he carries in his wallet.

Baseball is it

As good as he is as a pregame football host or chatting with Chevy Chase in the middle of the night on his interview show, Costas lives for baseball.

"I'd give everything (assignment-wise) for baseball," said Costas.

Next year, CBS' Musburger will be doing play-by-play with Tim McCarver, who is moving over from ABC. The McCarver switch was predicted here the day CBS earned the baseball rights. You just knew ABC wouldn't prevent him from switching networks.

Isn't Costas a little envious of McCarver's luck?

"I'm happy for him and happy for the viewers," said Costas, who was in Buffalo to roast Paul Maguire. "Because Tim is so good and at least we'll now have him on the upcoming World Series."

He realizes he wasn't in the same position as McCarver. McCarver's value to ABC is almost entirely restricted to baseball. Costas can do it all.

Boss is a fan

His versatility may be even more valuable at the new NBC Sports.

Dick Ebersol recently was named president of NBC Sports. He fired Mike Weisman as executive producer and replaced him with Terry O'Neil.

Ebersol obviously is a Costas fan. He created and produced Costas' late-night interview show, "Later."

Costas also was a fan of Weisman's. After all, Weisman was in power during the ascendancy of Costas' career.

"I had a strong emotional reaction to Mike leaving," said Costas. "He was a brilliant television producer, but also a great guy. His legacy will be one of achievement and decency.

"At the same time, I understand the reasons for the change. Sometimes, tough and unpopular decisions have to be made. Ebersol has a different philosophy. Ebersol greatly admired Mike. At the same time, based on what he wanted to do, Terry O'Neill had a closer philosophy and working approach. Dick feels that some of the stuff on NBC's plate plays more to Terry's strengths than Mike's."

New programs planned

In an attempt to fill the programming void NBC will have next baseball season, Ebersol has announced a series of planned spring and summer programs.

They include seniors golf events; recaps of the greatest fights ever; a masters all-star baseball game; a baseball game in Havana between the United States and Cuba; a figure skating tour of champions; Michael Jordan, Joe Namath and Wayne Gretzky playing in a celebrity golf event; and a flag football game between Roger Staubach's old Dallas Cowboys and Kenny Stabler's old Oakland Raiders.

NBC will be presenting the kinds of events that local affiliate Channel 2 has traditionally declined to carry.

A USA Today report had Costas very interested in working in several elements of the replacement programming.

"Some of them are good, but better suited for another broadcaster," said Costas.

He feels the Havana baseball game "is the most attractive on the schedule. The atmosphere ought to be incredible."

NBC also has floated the idea of carrying games involving a proposed new baseball league, which would field teams in many cities that are starving for expansion baseball.

Standing by tradition

Costas makes it clear he doesn't want anything to do with such a league if NBC is involved.

"Baseball is about fan loyalty and about context," said Costas. "It is a game within a season, an at-bat within a game, records, tradition, history. It is not a one-game spectacle. Each game only derives its meaning from context. The only thing that league would accomplish is to make some players rich, drive salaries up and make the present owners miserable. As far as that league having any chance to survive, none whatsoever."

Like most people at NBC Sports, Costas has read O'Neil's current book, "The Game Behind the Game." O'Neil made a spectacle of himself detailing his days as executive producer at CBS Sports. Many industry insiders feel O'Neil comes across as an egomaniac who took credit for every good idea at CBS.

"He doesn't lack for self-confidence," admitted Costas. "Regardless of whether someone thinks he overstated his own side, you also see running through the book a very strong understanding of the dynamics of television and the process of getting an idea through to its proper execution."

Meeting new standards

O'Neil also makes it clear that he considers himself a journalist first, an entertainer second. That would seem to indicate the man Costas came to Buffalo to roast (Maguire) better do his homework.

"Everyone will have to be prepared," said Costas. "Terry O'Neil is going to hold everybody to a very high standard. Journalism is being prepared, knowledgeable and gathering information first hand and not just from the press guide."

He expects O'Neil will add a solid team of reporters to augment the staff of "NFL Live!," NBC's pregame football show. He realizes that sometimes the humor overwhelmed the show's content.

"I expect it will be a somewhat different show this time," said Costas. "Often the show tilted one way or another and I couldn't influence it back to the proper balance."

Losing the balance

Without baseball next year, Costas' life really will be out of balance.

Who knows, by the time NBC gets back into baseball maybe Buffalo will be included. Does Costas think Buffalo will make the big leagues?

"I hope so," said Costas. He said one problem is the fact Buffalo is a natural American League East city and the National League will expand first.

"I'd rather see it (expansion) in a town like Buffalo, where it would be tremendously appreciated on an emotional level, as opposed to other areas that want it as part of the community portfolio," said Costas. "Here, it is more from the heart."

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