Trapped in a Sportscast Siberia, Bob Costas Calls Game on Phone

“To the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees leading it, 4-0. They jumped on Hampton for a couple in the first, later Brosius with a homer down the line to make it 3-0, and then the slumping Paul O’Neill, an R.B.I. hit makes it4-0, which appears to be more than Roger Clemens will need …”

It was creeping toward 11 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22, and Bob Costas was delivering the play-by-play for Game 2 of the World Series between the Yankees and the Mets. Over the telephone. For a stranger.

“Off-speed breaking ball low from Glendon Rusch. A ball and a strike to Jorge Posada. Posada is I don’t know what tonight, because I don’t have a scorecard …”

Mr. Costas chuckled. The Subway Series was in high gear, and Robert Costas of Astoria, Queens, and Hicksville and Commack, L. I.–who rode the No. 4 train to Yankee Stadium as a child and grew up to deliver a eulogy at Mickey Mantle’s funeral–was nearly 1,000 miles away, in his home in St. Louis. There would be no chance for Mr. Costas to put his stamp upon this most memorable of New York moments. No chance, for example, for him to tell the nation what he thought of Mr. Clemens hurling a broken bat at Mike Piazza in the first inning tonight.

“There was no defense,” Mr. Costas said of Mr. Clemens’ bizarre outburst. “It will be interesting to see [what happens] when the game is over. What I hope Roger does for his own sake–before even being asked a question when he’s at the post-game press conference–I hope the first thing he says is an apology.”

Mr. Costas’ baseball season was over, since his employer, NBC, ended its season with the Yankees’ American League Championship Series victory. In fact, Mr. Costas and baseball could be over, period. NBC rejected Major League Baseball’s demands for its next television contract, and soon after, Fox spent $2.5 billion to snap up exclusive rights to the sport through 2006. As a result, Mr. Costas’ clean clarinet voice–at the peak of the 48-year-old broadcaster’s fame–may go the way of flannel jerseys, orange balls and the letters-high strike.

Mr. Posada, the Yankees catcher, dumped a single into right. Mr. O’Neill stepped to the plate. “O’Neill a year ago had the lowest batting average against left-handed pitching of any regular left-handed hitter in the major leagues,” Mr. Costas cooed over the telephone wire. “Yet this year he hit over .300 against southpaws.” He paused. “Rusch peering in at Piazza for the sign. Comes set–and delivers.…”

The pitch was outside, ball one. Mr. Rusch then got two quick strikes.

“One and two,” Mr. Costas said. “Or as [Vin] Scully would say, Onnnnne and two.” He began to imitate the sweet-as-cherries voice of Mr. Scully, his baseball predecessor at NBC. “And so Ruuusch from the belt, and the piiitch … swing and a drive passst the diiiving second-baseman and into the corner. Posada on his way to third. O’Neill sliiides into second with a double, and O’Neill, a slumbering giiiant, is now threeeee for four.”

Mr. Costas laughed again. He was doing the telephone broadcast at The Observer ‘s request, as a goof, so long as it was made clear he wasn’t trying to show up his colleagues at Fox, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. (“I don’t belong there,” Mr. Costas said. “It’s their game to do.”)

But there had to be some part of Mr. Costas that missed being in the booth in the Bronx, even if he insisted otherwise. He said that he understood NBC’s decision to pass on the baseball contract, saying it made financial sense for the network. He said it was tougher when NBC lost baseball the first time, to CBS in 1989, after a continuous run of 23 seasons.

“Starting in the 1990′s, it became clear that everything [in sports broadcasting] was up for grabs–it was just an auction, and every relationship was temporary,” Mr. Costas said. “Although I enjoyed doing baseball this time around [in NBC's most recent major league contract], it wasn’t as close of a relationship as before, because before we had the Game of the Week and it was kind of an ongoing thing. This [contract] was a little bit more of a piecemeal thing. It was still great, but it just wasn’t the same close relationship as it had been before.

“So you know, I’m kind of at a different stage with all of this stuff,” Mr. Costas said. “Do I like it [baseball]? Absolutely. Do I crave it? No.”

Mr. Costas was asked if he really thought people would believe that. After all, he loved baseball so much that he recently wrote a book about it, Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball . Milwaukee bratwurst vendors continue to send him brats by the boxload, almost 20 years after he raved about them during a 1982 Cardinals-Brewers World Series game at County Stadium. He was known for keeping Mickey Mantle’s baseball card in his pants pocket. He spoke at the Mick’s funeral, for goodness’ sake. How could he possibly not be ripped up about losing baseball?

“I just … it’s not a trauma,” Mr. Costas said. The Fox telecast flashed to a slumping, elfin man sitting near the backstop in a Yankees cap. “Oh, there’s Regis!” Mr. Costas cried. “They couldn’t take a shot of him until Millionaire was over.”

Mr. Costas’ forced exile from baseball will invariably resuscitate the calls that he succeed Bud Selig as baseball’s next commissioner. In Fair Ball , Mr. Costas argues against the wild card and other 90′s gimmickry and makes a case for revenue-sharing and leveling the fiscal playing field. Respectful of the game’s past but not puritanical, Fair Ball made a lot of sense to a lot of people. Mr. Costas was asked if he had ever thought about throwing his name into the hat for the commissioner’s race.

“Well, I have never–” Mr. Costas stopped and looked at a bored-looking celebrity popping up on the Fox telecast. “Penny Marshall looks thrilled . Geez !” he said, laughing loudly. He then returned to the commissioner question. “I have never been coy about it. I have never said, ‘Oh, I’m not interested in it’ or ‘I don’t think they’d ever call.’ I have always and flatly said that I’m not qualified.”

Back in the Bronx, a reeling Mike Hampton plunked David Justice on the shoulder, a move that some saw as retaliation for Mr. Clemens’ actions in the first inning.

” Ohhhh, ” Mr. Costas said. “He [Justice] would be a likely target, wouldn’t he? If you are pissed at Clemens, and you are going to throw at somebody, you throw at either the hottest hitter or the catcher in a DH game. The Mariners threw at the catcher right away, they threw at Posada. McCarver’s saying the same thing.”

There will be other things besides baseball, Mr. Costas said. He is beginning a new show on HBO early next year. He described the show as “kind of a combination of a Nightline with 60 Minutes of sports and the Later of sports.”

“It will have some lengthy interviews,” he said. “Some will be issue-oriented, and some will just be with people of some interest or significance, kind of like a Later interview. And there will be some commentary.”

Mr. Costas also said he was interested in creating a new general-interest-type interview show, as he did with Later . “If I could find the right place to do it, I would really like to do that,” he said.

Another fan close-up appeared on the broadcast from Yankee Stadium. Mr. Costas howled. “Speaking of talk shows, here is Larry King!”

Mr. Costas has other sports obligations, too. There will be N.B.A. basketball, plus the Olympics. NBC has purchased the rights to the Olympics through, like, 4032. Mr. Costas plans to be in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Athens in 2004. And overall, he feels pretty good about the job the network did this September in Sydney. But he knows that NBC got hammered for its coverage, in particular for its syrupy athlete melodramas and its decision to air no live coverage of sporting events.

Some of the criticism of NBC seemed over the top, Mr. Costas said. “I don’t have a personal gripe here, because I have been very lucky generally in what has been said or written about me,” he said. “But there is almost a blood-sport aspect to it, where legitimate criticisms are exaggerated to the point of piling on, and other things, whether they make sense or not, become targets.”

Mr. Costas said he felt bad for his colleagues at NBC, whom he said were “busting their asses” in Sydney. Still, he acknowledged not everything on the Olympic telecast was his cup of tea.

“I don’t say this with any bitterness, but I think you would probably agree–and most people paying attention would agree–that if the Olympics had a larger dose of journalism and a larger dose of live interviews [and] those sort of things, it would be better for me,” Mr. Costas said. “But they were done the way they were done. It was still enjoyable. It was an honor to do it, and I did it the best that I could.”

Game 2 slogged onward. Mr. Costas detests late-running games, calling them “a huge problem for baseball.” How many kids missed Mr. Justice’s Game 6 homer against Seattle? he asked.

Mets reliever Rick White was now in the game. He threw three straight balls to Scott Brosius. The cameras flashed to Derek Jeter. “Derek Jeter smiling at the prospect of a 2-0 lead,” Mr. Costas said.

Mr. White reared to throw. “The pitch,” Mr. Costas teased. Mr. Brosius cocked his bat and swung. “He swings on a 3-0 pitch and hits it high and deep to right! This will get a run home! The catch is made just shy of the track. Posada tags and scores. Scooting over is O’Neill. It’s 5-0 Yankees. Or something like that.”

It was getting close to midnight. Mr. Costas was asked if the Mets stretched the Yankees to a Game 7, if he would consider hopping a plane back to his hometown.

Bob Costas thought about it for a second. “If there is a Game 7,” he said, “I might not be able to stay away.”

Tonight, Game 4 of the 2000 World Series . [FOX, 5, 8 p.m.]

Thursday, Oct.26

On a recent Thursday morning, a gaggle of reporters, P.R. folk and television executives gathered on the seventh floor of the Viacom building in Times Square to hear the results of several polls conducted by MTV and Nickelodeon on how teens and young adults–a.k.a. that frisky, unpredictable viewer demographic–view the political landscape.

To discuss the results, CBS assembled a panel that included twentysomething Erica Terry of MTV’s Choose or Lose political team and a lot of othersomethings: Linda Ellerbee; former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry; Tamala Edwards, a writer for Time magazine; and Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart. Dan Rather served as moderator.

The event began with a 20-minute presentation of the poll findings. The most disturbing disclosures? A quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds cannot name both Presidential candidates without prompting, and only 30 percent were able to name both Vice Presidential candidates.

Following the presentation, the panel moved up to the brightly colored cushy chairs on the small stage.

After eliciting opinions from Mr. McMurry and Ms. Edwards, Mr. Rather turned to Erica Terry and asked her to be “the voice of the street.” Ms. Terry responded that the candidates needed to “give a little more love to the kids.”

The comment really irritated Mr. Stewart. The comedian launched into a tirade against Generation Y. “In the past 40 years we’ve gone from J.F.K. to TRL, ” he said, referring to Total Request Live , the hit MTV show hosted by Carson Daly.

“I don’t like them; I’m tired of them,” Mr. Stewart, 37, said. “To hear people say ‘They don’t speak my language’ makes me want to puke.”

Mr. Stewart rampaged on. “The worst thing we can do is to try to figure out what kids want,” he said. “We have to go back to the truth. Look at Ralph Nader–what is cornier than a guy who founded safety belts? But kids are flocking to him because he’s not about crap.” –Deborah Netburn

Tonight, Mr. Stewart hosts The Daily Show , also not about crap. [COM, 45, 11 p.m.]

Friday, Oct. 27

If the Subway Series has your blood pressure soaring, imagine what tonight’s N.H.L. joust between the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes will do. [FSN, 26, 7 p.m.]

Saturday, Oct. 28

Tonight, Game 6 from the Bronx. Or if there’s no game, a two-hour blast of Cops . [FOX, 5, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Oct. 29

In a perfect world, tonight you are watching Game 7 of the 2000 World Series , starring the Yankees and the Mets. In an imperfect world, you are watching the movie Casper, starring Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman. [WABC, 7, 7 p.m.]

Monday, Oct. 30

Tonight’s episode of Wow! The Most Awesome Acts of Earth II should feature footage of the Mets’ Armando Benitez retiring the side in order. [FAM, 14, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Oct. 31

Those aren’t trick-or-treaters pounding on your door. Those are the police, here to arrest you for watching a repeat of The Facts of Life . [NICK, 6, 10 p.m.]