BY KEVIN KERNAN
Here is something baseball needs to do to regain ground with their fans.
It’s not complicated. Just hit the Easy Button.
Bring back This Week in Baseball.
The timing is right. You already have a platform in MLB.com and, in addition to that, the regional sports networks – that might go under and taken over by MLB – will need content.
You just have to take a look at some of the “sports programming’’ that is being broadcast today, like Pro Pickleball, to realize there needs to be a reboot of the show that celebrates baseball.
An entertaining baseball show about baseball and not mathematics would be worth watching. Yes, there are many baseball shows on TV now, but most of them, like the game, have become so analytically based they are boring.
There is no humanity to them.
A fast-moving show with good writing, highlights, bloopers, quick interviews and a history lesson about baseball, showing the personality side of the game; and not just a numbers-crunching host touting new-age statistics, percentages, launch angle and spin rate like so much of your programming today, is sorely needed.
Baseball should be fun to watch, it should not be a lesson in advanced calculus.
I say all this today because in an effort to get a real baseball fix in the first week of January and not just a winter baseball talk show about numbers and guesses where free agents will wind up – and more guesses on what trades might be made or the latest signing of a fourth starter (at best) being paid No. 1 starter money because the people in charge of baseball have not been able to develop starting pitching, I sought out This Week in Baseball on YouTube.
It was such a pleasure to watch, not only bringing back great memories but watching the ballet and the physicality that used to be baseball.
I watched the first episode from 1977 and one from the third week of the season in 1984 and both of those shows were fantastic. They pulled you in right from the beginning with the wonderful music of TWIB’s opening and the banners screaming: “Personality, Action.’’
There was Pete Rose with a head first slide into third base right between the fielder’s legs and then a double play being broken up by a Yankee runner with his spikes head high in the air.
The opening theme is called Jet Set. The closing crescendo is Gathering Crowds.
A fine British gentleman named John Scott composed Gathering Crowds and had no idea about baseball when he wrote it in 1974, but he understood the human condition. Mr. Scott played flute on a song for a little British band called the Beatles. That song was “You’ve got to Hide Your Love Away,’’ written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Jet Set was composed by Mike Vickers, who was an original member of Manfred Mann. Two Brits writing baseball theme music.
Baseball has travelled far from Vickers’ inspiring opening song from someone who was in Manfred Mann to today, where there is a fake Manfred Man runner in extra inning games, created by Rob Manfred to further dilute the authenticity of baseball.\
Yes, only at BallNine.com will these things be pointed out.
To this day I am so glad I never knew Mark Fidrych’s spin rate, but I did get to know how much he loved baseball and the fans - and that was all that mattered.
That opening song put you in the mood: Let’s Go!
Let’s see the personalities of the players and the fans. From colorful Mark Fidrych fixing the mound to acrobatic Ozzie Smith making a spectacular play at shortstop, it was all there to watch and enjoy – and most of all, smile about.
When TWIB first started in 1977 I was a college senior and played baseball for Ramapo College. I was really into the game.
To this day I am so glad I never knew Mark Fidrych’s spin rate, but I did get to know how much he loved baseball and the fans and that was all that mattered.
Here is something else. Each show featured a terrific history lesson about the game.
A 1984 episode delved into Hillerich & Bradsby and the making of Louisville Sluggers, visiting the factory in Louisville, Kentucky on the 100th anniversary of the company. Perhaps that episode sparked my interest in the making of baseball bats. While researching a story in 2013, I discovered that the model of bat Derek Jeter used his entire career was a P72. Jeter told me at the time the reason he used that particular brand of bat was “because when I signed, it was shaped like my aluminum bat that I used in high school and my entire career I’ve never swung another bat. It just felt right.’’
All 3,465 hits of Jeter’s Hall of Fame career came with that model of bat. Jeter thought the “P’’ in the P72 bat stood for Perez as in Tony Perez. It actually stood for Pinkham. Here is the story.
Leslie Wayne Pinkham played in the 1950s and his career was cut short by a freak off-season thumb injury. Les was the player the P72 was originally modeled for and Leslie’s son Leslie William Pinkham also played pro ball, also using that style of bat. Like his dad, Bill Pinkham was a catcher, a top Reds prospect who hurt his shoulder, ending his career before it really began.
Bill’s son, Zeke, Leslie Wayne’s grandson, was a catcher too and played at the University of Louisville in the ACC and batted .324 in 2019. In wood leagues he used the P72 as well.
In my personal tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory I got to go into the hallowed bat vault and see all the original bats, including the P72 that was first made in 1954. The room is known as “the Fort Knox’’ of Louisville Slugger.
I also got to see Hank Aaron’s original model, the A99 and my favorite bat, of course, was the M110; Mickey Mantle’s bat. The M does not stand for Mantle, however, it stands for Eddie Malone, who played for the White Sox and came up with that particular model in 1944.
Fascinating stuff and TWIB was there to give baseball fans a peek at the process.
In the show, Billy Sample was showing off his Louisville Slugger and requested a bat with wider grain. “There is one thing I would like Louisville Slugger to do for me on their 100th anniversary,’’ Sample said, holding up his bat. “Most people consider that a good bat has wider grain because you use less wood and it makes it more solid, but lately my grain has been looking like typewriter paper, it’s real thin so make this one tree trunk for me next time, okay Louisville?’’
Sample hit a career low .247 that season with the Rangers but must have gotten better wood the next year as he batted .288 as a part time outfielder with the Yankees.
After that Sample comment, Mel Allen noted, “You know the man who is considered the purest hitter of all time, he paid more attention than anybody.’’
The film then shifts to stacks and stacks of bats-to-be – called billets – with a Louisville Slugger spokesperson saying, “Ted Williams evidently was a perfectionist and he used to come to our plant in Louisville and actually crawl through our timber yard and pick out his own raw timber.’’
Williams was the last man to hit over .400 in a season. Then Williams is on camera talking about why he used a lighter bat. “It gives you a chance to wait longer and the longer you wait the less chance you are going to be fooled,’’ said the Splendid Splinter.
That is followed by players from 1984: Bobby Grich, Paul Molitor, Larry Bowa and Ron Cey explaining why they all use a lighter bat.
Real baseball information.
All the bats were turned by hand into the 1980s at Louisville Slugger. Bat maker Dennis Luckett, who was the last worker there to turn bats by hand, told me in 2013, “It used to take 15 minutes to make a bat by hand. With this machine we can make 12 bats in that time.’’
TWIB often highlighted Red Sox-Yankees series, when it was an incredible rivalry. One highlight featured a car crash collision at home plate between Butch Hobson and Thurman Munson, yes, Thurm held onto the ball.
There was Red Sox love, too.
“Somehow the home runs are always sweeter against the team in Pinstripes,’’ Mel Allen said after a George Scott home run.
It also was fun to see Yankee Stadium with no moat dividing the fans.
In the opening episode of TWIB in 1977, they delve into the history of Wrigley Field. Once again I want to emphasize that TWIB was much more than highlights, it taught you about the game and the history of the game and there is nothing like that on TV these days even though there are so many baseball shows.
Each episode was so well done and there was Mel Allen doing his narration. This was baseball’s version of NFL Films. One of my favorite stories of all time that I wrote was a visit to NFL Films and spending a day with the legendary Steve Sabol. But that is a football story for another day.
The purpose of This Week in Baseball was to entertain and educate the fan and show history like that 1977 show that featured Wrigley Field, the Wrigley Field of yesteryear with no lights, simple bleachers and lots of ivy-covered walls… and some great Cubs from the past.
Then came the harsh truth with piano music that seemed fit for the movie “The Sting’’ playing in the background as Mel Allen said, “But the last pennant came in 1945, since that time the Cubs have suffered baseball’s longest drought without a flag, 32 years. In August of this year Ernie Banks will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here is Ernie’s 500th home run seen in this historical piece of film. To Banks it came on a day like hundreds of others in his splendid career or as he would say, ‘On a beautiful day to play baseball at beautiful Wrigley Field.’’’
In Cooperstown leading up to Induction Sunday, I would always make a point to visit with the wonderful Mr. Ernie Banks, just to brighten my day.
Allen brought the Cubs tribute to a close, saying that on “April 12th of this year, P.K. Wrigley died at the age of 82. It’s a loss to Chicago, a loss to baseball, it’s a shame he couldn’t live to see his Cubs right now. He may not have believed it and some still can’t believe it. The Cubs are soaring.’’
Those Herman Franks Cubs didn’t soar for long, finishing 81-81, fourth place in NL East. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Cubs would have their World Series day in the sun with Joe Maddon as manager.
Throughout the years of TWIB there were highlights and bloopers. In this day of social media the highlights are out there immediately, but there really is no context to present day highlights. They come out of nowhere and are gone in an instant on your X feed.
By compiling highlights and bloopers with strong writing, film and music all put together as a theme, TWIB offered something so special that every show made it worth watching no matter what baseball team you liked.
That could easily be done in 2024 and done even better with all the microphones and high def cameras available today. You have to find the right narrator and have writers who can put together a sentence without relying on numbers and percentages. Some numbers are worth it, like record-breaking numbers – but we don’t need to know every single rotation of the pitch or every single exit velo.
It’s gotten to the point of numbers overkill.
Let me know who you think could be the new Mel Allen. Warner Fusselle, who died in 2012 and at the time was the voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones, also did a terrific job following the legacy of Allen.
Great voices. Great show.
I clicked on a 1984 show highlighting the Tigers’ hot start. At one point in the game at Fenway they showed the scoreboard with an upside down five in the first inning for the Tigers with Mel Allen bellowing, “The scorekeeper lost track of the Tigers attack as Detroit took firm hold in the East while the Red Sox got off their worst start since 1972 at 3-6. The Tigers were also purring on defense, matching a Major League record with six double plays in the game. Most courtesy of Lou Whitaker at second and Alan Trammell at short.’’
“Of the 26 teams, I can honestly say this,’’ noted Tigers manager Sparky Anderson. “There is no other team that can put four people up the middle that matches our club. We are the best club defensively right down the middle.’’
And up the middle defensive strength remains a baseball truth. Sparky had Lance Parrish at catcher, Trammell at short, Whitaker at second and Chet Lemon in centerfield.
The heart and soul was in right field in Kirk Gibson – and that team won 104 games and the World Series, sweeping the Royals in three games to get to the Series and then beating the Padres in five games.
“The Tigers have pounced on everybody with all the ingredients, gritty defense, good pitching and hefty hitting,’’ Allen added. In that one sentence he summed up the Tigers. That was music to a Tiger fans’ ears, something you wonder if they will ever hear again.
Forty years later the keys to victory remain the same.
Later in the show you got to see pinch-hitter Jerry Narron hit a home run for the Angels against the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum. Narron is now the catching coach of the Angels, a lifetime spent in baseball. There also were multiple highlights of Tony Gwynn hitting and stealing bases. “Go Tony Go,’’ yelled Allen, and those 1984 Padres would make it to the World Series with Goose Gossage throwing multiple innings saves as GM Trader Jack McKeon built the team with young stars and key veteran additions.
In that show they also showed a real live sorceress trying to take the spell of losing off the Indians at cavernous Municipal Stadium. “Has an evil spirit been haunting Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium,’’ Mel Allen wondered. “The bewitched and bewildered Indians brought in a self-proclaimed sorceress to lift the curse allegedly cast by Bobby Bragan after he was fired as manager in 1958.’’
It didn’t work.
Cleveland still hasn’t won a World Series since 1948.
There is always hope for a better year and as Mel Allen proclaims in the opening of the show: “Let’s bring it all home as Major League Baseball presents This Week in Baseball.’’