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BEFORE his exposure widens dramatically during CBS' coverage of the major league baseball playoffs and World Series, Sean McDonough might be best identified as:

a.) The guy who wore a cowboy hat while covering the luge during CBS' coverage of the Winter Olympics.

b.) The play-by-play man who tried not to act stunned while working with candid analyst Bill Walton during the NCAA basketball tournament.

c.) Will's son.

If McDonough is hardly a household word, it is probably because CBS' regular season baseball coverage enters so few households. He has spent the last six months as the play-by-play man alongside analyst Tim McCarver on CBS' top baseball team.

He and McCarver will cover the National League playoffs starting Tuesday night and then the World Series. Before he turned 30, McDonough was named to replace the legendary Jack Buck, who didn't have a terrific World Series or terrific chemistry with McCarver last season.

The two Macs -- McDonough and McCarver -- felt instantly that this TV marriage was made in baseball heaven.

"It's been so natural," McCarver said before a recent Toronto game in the SkyDome. "We went to Yankee Stadium in early April to do a practice game. We were supposed to do seven innings but we did four and I turned to Ric (producer Ric LaCivita) and said, 'that's enough isn't it? This is going to work.' We both knew that the minute we started talking.

"We like and respect each other and know what our areas are. We know when it is time to blend and entertain and when it is time to inform and report."

After working with Walton, McDonough can't be stunned by anything McCarver says.

"The first game I did with Bill was Pittsburgh versus Georgia in the 1991 tournament," McDonough said. "A Georgia player fouled out and Bill said, 'that's a break for Georgia' (suggesting the Bulldog player had been performing so poorly). I looked at him. It was candidly refreshing but at the same time I had mixed emotions because it is a college kid we're talking about. But I like working with Bill and I hope I do the tournament next year with him."

McDonough will be the second-youngest broadcaster -- Vin Scully remains the youngest -- to call a World Series game. How young is he? Two of his friends are young movie stars -- Matt Damon of "School Ties" and Billy Baldwin of "Backdraft."

Not that McDonough looks young. His lack of hair helps him look older. Does he view being bald as an advantage?

"I think so," said McDonough as he relaxed between doing his own interviews with Blue Jays David Cone and Dave Winfield. "It was more of a benefit when I got the Red Sox job (he remains their play-by-play man on Boston's WSBK-TV). People in Boston were surprised to learn that I was 25 because I looked so much older."

The Olympic hat covered up his dome.

"I wore it after talking with my fashion consultant team of my mother, my sister and Lesley Visser. They all said they liked it. A Boston Globe writer said I looked like a 'dweeb.' "

Not many dweebs call World Series games at 30. Of course, McDonough also called a Rose Bowl in junior high.

When he was growing up in suburban Hingham, Mass., McDonough used to do practice games with his tape recorder in front of his television. One day, he taped a ninth grade social studies assignment -- an interview with a local politician -- over a broadcast. He brought the interview to class, where it was to be played.

"When the interview ended my broadcast of the Rose Bowl came on," said McDonough. "I was embarrassed. The teacher thought it was hilarious and let it play and the class was laughing hysterically. I don't think I was very good."

He refined his act at Syracuse University (Class of 1984), where as a sophomore and junior he and Western New Yorker Greg Papa (now the voice of the Golden State Warriors) were the broadcast team for the minor league Syracuse Chiefs. The Chiefs were carried for two years on the student station, WAER-FM.

"Any student who wanted to, broadcast his call into a tape recorder and all the tapes were submitted," explained McDonough. "The station management and baseball management would pick the two or three they wanted to do the games."

McDonough and Papa won the auditions for two years and made $14 a game. McDonough was hired by the Chiefs for a third season after the games moved to a commercial station.

"It was lucky for me that the games went to a commercial station and the team asked me to stay. It was the summer after my senior year and I wouldn't have been eligible to do it because it was for a student (at WAER). Timing is everything. That's definitely an example of it."

McDonough paused twice during the interview to talk to the general manager of the Chiefs and his son, who both were at the SkyDome watching Syracuse's parent team.

"I really think that (doing the Chiefs games) was the most important thing that has happened in my career development because it was three years of experience on one level below the major leagues at a very early age. Plus just the opportunity to do over 400 games over a three-year span.

"When people ask, how did I get the Red Sox at age 25 and CBS at age 30, I point to that. I looked at it the same way a player would look at it at Triple A. The next logical step was the major leagues. I felt that way at 23. I was a finalist for a job with the Cubs when I was 22."

He admits there were some advantages to being the son of Will McDonough, the respected sports writer for the Boston Globe who worked for CBS before moving to NBC.

For one thing, Sean always drove down the Thruway from Syracuse to visit his dad when the New England Patriots played the Bills in Rich Stadium.

"I'd stay with my dad and a lot of my friends would stay at Papa's house," said McDonough. "I was at the Roland Hooks game. All the Bills fans were leaving, muttering under their breath. We're (his Patriot friends) all laughing, high-fiving each other and down the Bills go, they throw a long pass (to Hooks) and the Bills win."

Sean says his father's reputation also helped him land a job working as a work study aide to former Syracuse football coach Dick MacPherson, who was a friend of his father's.

"I never would have introduced myself to coach MacPherson if I didn't know he and my dad had a relationship," said McDonough. "I'm sure the fact I was Will's son contributed to him making the offer."

But it is one thing to get a minor student job out of friendship and quite another to get a major job at a local TV station or a network that way.

Still, when McDonough was named the Red Sox broadcaster in 1988, charges of nepotism were tossed around.

"My father had no relationship with the station that I do the games on," said McDonough. "As the general manager of the station said, 'what was the benefit for him to hire Will McDonough's son?' Even if he was best buddies with Will McDonough, you're not going to put his son on at age 25 out of friendship for something that important."

CBS certainly had no reason to do Will any favors after he bolted to NBC.

Dad hasn't been able to protect his ambitious son from the inevitable criticism that comes the way of any broadcaster. After hearing McDonough work only two innings in April, former Monday Night Football director Chet Forte proclaimed McDonough "boring."

"What if I watched five minutes of a Monday night game he directed?" said McDonough. "If there were a couple of glitches, I might have thought he was the worst director in the history of sports. I don't let that (criticism) bother me."

Millions of Americans will be making their own judgments over the next few weeks. Since it is unclear whether CBS will continue doing baseball after next season, McDonough could look on his work this year and next as another audition to impress the networks that might grab baseball from CBS.

However, McDonough expects CBS to retain some part of the baseball package after the 1993 season, when the current money-losing contract ends.

"CBS told me when they hired me that one of the reasons they wanted someone young like myself is that they view this as a long-term commitment," explained McDonough. "They hope that Tim and I are going to form a team for a long time. If they were just looking for a two-year stopgap they probably would have gone for somebody more nationally well-known and who would be well-received, which is what they sort of did with Jack (Buck) the last time."

Sean, whose play-by-play role models are Dick Enberg and Pat Summerall because they don't draw attention to themselves, says he doesn't feel any pressure to be funny to counteract the boring charges.

"No, that's (funny) the way I've been on Red Sox games for the past five years. It is a sport that allows the occasional humorous comment. We've had a lot of good chuckles on the telecasts this season. I think it's a dangerous thing to intentionally try to be funny."

His dry wit scored during the American League's runaway victory over the National League in July's All-Star Game in San Diego. With the AL up by nine runs and the NL loading the bases, McDonough cracked: "The tying run is still in Encino."

Does McDonough plan to do anything different for the larger audience?

"You obviously are aware a lot more people are watching and that might raise the blood pressure a little bit," McDonough said. "If you have any pride at all, I don't think it matters if there are 10 people watching or 10 million."

No matter what kind of reviews he gets, McDonough probably can't be any more embarrassed than he was after calling the Rose Bowl.

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