Monday, April 28, 2008

Thanks For The Memories

In case you missed it, WGN will rerun their "Cubs Forever" retrospective next Saturday night. It’s billed as a tribute to 60 years of WGN television broadcasts of Cubs baseball. It’s actually more of a tribute to just 60 years of Cubs baseball and has very little to do with WGN.

There are parts of it that are outstanding. The discussion of the no-hitters of Burt Hooton, Milt Pappas and Ken Holtzman are superb. In fact, some of the video shown may be the first time this video has been seen since the games were actually broadcast.

For example, there is the story from Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter where Hank Aaron launched a home run to break up the no-hitter. Legend has it that the ball was actually over the stands but was blown back into play by a howling wind and allowed Billy Williams to make the catch preserving the no-no.

Holtzman’s and Williams’ recollections are great. But, for the first time, you actually see the video. Aaron’s ball was smoked like a cheap Swisher Sweet. Williams stayed with the ball and seemed almost shocked when he realized the ball wasn’t going to be bouncing down Kenmore.

They also show Milt Pappas’ reaction to Bruce Froemming’s ball four call with two outs in the 9th when Pappas was a strike away from a perfcet game.

For video like this, the special is worth watching.

But very little of it has to do with WGN. Sure, they talk about Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse and Arne Harris. But they also talk about the scoreboard operations. What does that have to do with WGN? They talk about the Sandberg Game right down to Bob Costas’ call of the homer on NBC. Yes, NBC.

Where’s the stuff on how WGN made the Cubs special via the innovations WGN brought to the game? Why don’t they explain that Harris was the first to use the center field camera? Where’s Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreux? Where’s Dewayne Staats? Where’s Milo Hamilton? OK, he’s an assbag, but the rest of them were instrumental in determining the brand that is the Cubs and how WGN transmitted that to us.

What the show starts to feel like, especially when you get to the last segment, is that this is a farewell letter from WGN. Given the flux of Tribune Company’s ownership of the Cubs and even WGN and given the increasing number of games on cable, it’s pretty obvious that WGN and the Cubs will have a very different relationship in a short period of time. This came off as an early farewell.

It’s well done and worth watching, but the title of the show doesn’t match what we see. And it doesn’t give WGN enough credit for the way they are responsible for the superb broadcast we see today for all baseball telecasts. They should have spent some time on that more than talking to the guy that owns the Eamus Catuli building.

But, if you’ve never seen Lee Weyer’s signature “lampshade” strike call on Joe Orsulak on a pitch from Rick Sutcliffe in September 1984, this is appointment television.

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