CBS baseball analyst Tim McCarver's prognosis for the post-season: ''The Athletics and the Reds are the two best teams in baseball, and Pittsburgh's got an awfully good ball club that does well against left-handed pitching,'' he told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. ''If the Pirates make it, they could give the A's trouble.'' Fans may hear McCarver eat those words or make good on them when CBS begins its coverage of the playoffs and World Series on Oct. 4.
McCarver, whose colorful anecdotes and interesting insights have won him praise from purists and casual observers alike, is the star of CBS' baseball lineup. The only four-decade catcher in major-league history (1959-80), he attributes much of his analytic skill to that experience behind the plate: ''I've got the same view [now], only a few stories higher. I was trained to always study the defense, and I was the only player who faced the other way so I could see everything.'' McCarver's broadcast partner, play-by-play man Jack Buck, has been the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals since 1954. Both broadcasters will call the National League Championship games and the World Series. Longtime CBS sportscaster Dick Stockton and Jim Kaat, formerly a standout pitcher for the Minnesota Twins and a teammate of McCarver's in Philadelphia in the late '70s, will cover the American League games.
This is the first time in 25 years that CBS has broadcast major league baseball, and Nielsen figures show viewership down 6 percent from last year, when NBC and ABC had rights to the games. NBC's ''Game of the Week'' was a Saturday-afternoon institution from 1965 through 1989, and CBS has found that a tough act to follow. CBS carried the first of its 16 regular-season games on April 14 and the second a week later, but didn't show another contest until June 16. CBS' post-season broadcasts, part of a $1 billion, four-year package, offer the network a new chance to work the crowd and convince fans that CBS is committed to top-quality baseball coverage.
The network will also use the playoffs and the Series as opportunities to tout its new fall entertainment programs, of course, but it's hard to imagine any sitcom being nearly as exciting as Rickey Henderson stealing a base.