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Major League Baseball on NBC is the de facto name for a weekly presentation of Major League Baseball games televised on the National Broadcasting Company television network from 1947 to 2000. There have been several variations of the program dating back to the 1940s, including The NBC Game of the Week and Baseball Night in America.

Brief overview of coverage history

From 1947-1955 and again in 1965, NBC only aired the All-Star Game (beginning in 1950) and World Series. From 1956-1989, they aired the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week (or a variation of it prior to 1966, when NBC didn't have exclusive over-the-air rights). From 1994-1995, they aired games under the umbrella called The Baseball Network. And from 1996-2000, NBC only aired postseason games (three Division Series games in prime time, the American League Championship Series in even numbered years, and the National League Championship Series and World Series in odd numbered years) as well as the All-Star Game in even numbered years (years NBC didn't have the rights to the World Series).

To date, Game 6 of the 2000 American League Championship Series (October 17, 2000) was the last Major League Baseball game televised by NBC.

Early years


NBC's relationship with Major League Baseball technically, dates back to August 26, 1939. It was on that particular date that W2XBS (an experimental television station out of New York Citymarker which would ultimately become NBC's flagship station, WNBCmarker) the first ever Major League Baseball game was televised. With Red Barber announcing, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds played a doubleheader at Ebbets Fieldmarker. The Reds won the first 5-2 while the Dodgers won the second, 6-1. Barber called the game without the benefit of a monitor and with only two cameras capturing the game. One camera was on Barber and the other was behind the plate. Barber had to guess from which light was on and where it pointed.


By 1947, television sets (most with five and seven-inch screens) were selling almost as fast as they could be produced. Because of this, Major League teams began televising games and attracted a whole new audience in to ballparks in the process. This was because, people who had only casually followed baseball began going to the games in person and enjoying themselves. As a result, the following year, Major League attendance reached a record high of 21 million.

1947 also saw the first televised World Series. The games were shown in the New York area by NBC and sponsored by Gillette and Ford. The 1947 World Series brought in an estimated 3.9 million people, becoming television's first mass audience.


On October 3, 1951, NBC aired the first coast-to-coast baseball telecast as the Brooklyn Dodgers were beaten by the New York Giants in the final game of a playoff series by the score of 5-4 (off Bobby Thomson's home run).

On January 31, 1953, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox joined forces against St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck. The respective franchises tried to force the Browns to play afternoon games in an attempt to avoid having to share television revenues. A month later, Major League Baseball owners received a warning from Senator Edwin Johnson about nationally televising their games. Johnson's theory was that nationally televising baseball games would be a threat to the survival of minor league baseball. The owners pretty much ignored Johnson since the games on NBC in particular, were gaining a large and loyal following.

Another first for NBC during this period was the first color telecast of a World Series, the 1955 matchup between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.

In 1957, NBC started airing weekend Game of the Week telecasts with Lindsey Nelson and Leo Durocher calling the action; for a while, the backup team was Chuck Thompson and Bill Veeck. Chuck Thompson called baseball games on NBC from 1958-1961. Thompson worked with Bill Veeck in 1958 and then, Al Rosen the next two years. The Thompson/Veeck/Rosen games were technically, not backup games but a regional feed of the primary game to the southeast, where NBC had a different sponsor (e.g. National Beer) than for the rest of the country. NBC never had a true backup game until 1966, when they got network Game of the Week exclusivity. In the process, the brought in Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese for primary game, and Jim Simpson and Tony Kubek for the alternate (which was always shown in the markets of teams playing in the primary game) game.

The Game of the Week era


In 1966, the New York Yankees, who in the year before, played 21 Games of the Week for CBS joined NBC's package. The new package under NBC called for 28 games compared to 1960's three-network 123.

On October 19, 1966, NBC signed a three year contract with Major League Baseball. The year before, NBC lost the rights to the Saturday-Sunday Game of the Week (they only covered the All-Star Game and World Series in 1965). In addition, the previous deal limited CBS to covering only 12 weekends when its new subsidiary, the New York Yankees, played at home. Before 1965, NBC aired a slate of Saturday afternoon games beginning in 1957.

Under the new deal, NBC paid roughly $6 million per year for the 25 Games of the Week, $6.1 million for the 1967 World Series and All-Star Game, and $6.5 million for the 1968 World Series and 1968 All-Star Game. This brought the total value of the contract (which included three Monday night telecasts) up to $30.6 million.

On April 16, 1966 in New York Citymarker, about fifty baseball, network, and ad officials discussed NBC's first year with the Game of the Week. New York could not get a primary match-up between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees with Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese calling the action because of local blackout rules. Instead, New York got a backup game (or "'B' game") featuring Tony Kubek and Jim Simpson calling a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. That rule would be eliminated after the 1983 season.


On October 13, 1971, the World Series held a night game for the very first time. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who felt that baseball could attract a larger audience by featuring a prime time telecast (as opposed to a mid-afternoon broadcast, when most fans either worked or attended school), pitched the idea to NBC. An estimated 61 million people watched Game 4 on NBC; TV ratings for a World Series game during the daytime hours would not have approached such a record number.

For World Series night games, NBC normally came on the air for baseball at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time for the pregame show (with first pitch around 8:20-8:25). However, in 1986 and 1988, for Game 5 of the World Series (on Thursday night), NBC did not come on the air for baseball until 8:30. This allowed them to air the highly rated Cosby Show in its normal Thursday, 8:00 p.m. timeslot. NBC went with a very short pregame show and got to the first pitch at around 8:40 p.m.

Monday Night Baseball

From 1972-1975, NBC televised Monday games under a contract worth $72 million. In 1973, NBC extended the Monday night telecasts (with a local blackout) to 15 straight.


Alternating coverage with ABC: 1976-1979
Under the initial agreement with ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball (1976-1979), both networks paid $92.8 million. ABC paid $12.5 million per year to show 16 Monday night games in 1976, 18 in the next three years, plus half the postseason (the League Championship Series in even numbered years and World Series in odd numbered years). NBC paid $10.7 million per year to show 25 Saturday Games of the Week and the other half of the postseason (the League Championship Series in odd numbered years and World Series in even numbered years).

Major League Baseball media director John Lazarus said of the new arrangement between NBC and ABC "Ratings couldn't get more from one network so we approached another." NBC's Joe Garagiola wasn't very fond of the new broadcasting arrangement at first saying "I wished they hadn't got half the package. Still, 'Game', half of the postseason - we got lots left." By 1980, income from TV accounted for a record 30% of the game's $500 million in revenues.


Alternating coverage with ABC: 1983-1989

On April 7, 1983, Major League Baseball, ABC, and NBC agreed to terms of a six year television package worth $1.2 billion. The two networks would continue to alternate coverage of the playoffs (ABC in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years), World Series (ABC would televise the World Series in odd numbered years and NBC in even numbered years), and All-Star Game (ABC would televise the All-Star Game in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years) through the 1989 season, with each of the 26 clubs receiving $7 million per year in return (even if no fans showed up). The last package gave each club $1.9 million per year. ABC contributed $575 million for regular season prime time and Sunday afternoons and NBC paid $550 million for thirty Saturday afternoon games.

  • 1983 - $20 million in advance from the two networks.
  • 1984 - NBC $70 million, ABC $56 million, total $126 million.
  • 1985 - NBC $61 million, ABC $75 million, total $136 million.
Note: The networks got $9 million when Major League Baseball expanded the League Championship Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven in 1985.
  • 1986 - NBC $75 million, ABC $66 million, total $141 million.
  • 1987 - NBC $81 million, ABC $90 million, total $171 million.
  • 1988 - NBC $90 million, ABC $96 million, total $186 million.
  • 1989 - NBC $106 million, ABC $125 million, total $231 million.

In 1985, NBC's telecast of the All-Star Game out of the Metrodomemarker in Minnesotamarker was the first program to be broadcasted in stereo by a TV network.

Additional notes
  • 1984 World Series - As champions of the National League, the San Diego Padres had home-field advantage (at the time, the NL automatically gained home-field advantage in even years of the World Series). But had the Chicago Cubs won the National League Championship Series (which appeared likely after the Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series), the Detroit Tigers would have gained home-field advantage despite the fact the American League's Baltimore Orioles had it the season before. NBC was contractually obligated to show all midweek series games in prime time, something that would have been impossible at Wrigley Fieldmarker, since the Cubs' venerable facility lacked lights at the time (they wouldn't install lights until four years later). Had the Cubs advanced to the Series, Detroit would have hosted Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 (on Tuesday and Wednesday nights), while the Cubs would have hosted Games 3, 4 and 5 (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday), with all three games in Chicago starting no later than 1:30 p.m. Central time.

The end of an era

After calling the 1988 World Series with Vin Scully, Joe Garagiola resigned from NBC Sports. NBC was on the verge of losing the television rights to cover Major League Baseball to CBS. Garagiola claimed that NBC left him "twisting" while he was trying to renegotiate his deal. Joe Garagiola was replaced by Tom Seaver for the 1989 season.

NBC's final edition of the Game of the Week was televised on October 9, 1989; Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs from Candlestick Parkmarker. Vin Scully said "It's a passing of a great Americanmarker tradition. It is sad. I really and truly feel that. It will leave a vast window, to use a Washingtonmarker word, where people will not get Major League Baseball and I think that's a tragedy. It's a staple that's gone. I feel for people who come to me and say how they miss it, and I hope me."

Bob Costas said that he would rather do a Game of the Week that got a 5 rating than host a Super Bowl. "Who thought baseball'd kill its best way to reach the public? It coulda kept us and CBS-we'd have kept the 'Game'-but it only cared about cash. Whatever else I did, I'd never have left 'Game of the Week'" Costas claimed.

Tony Kubek, who teamed with Bob Costas since 1983, said "I can't believe it!" when the subject came about NBC losing baseball for the first time since 1947.

Arthur Watson, president of NBC Sports, said in a statement that NBC had aggressively bid to continue its 41-year involvement in baseball and was deeply saddened when learning of CBS' deal.

The Baseball Network: 1994-1995

After a four year hiatus, ABC and NBC returned to Major League Baseball under the umbrella of a revenue sharing venture called The Baseball Network.

The Baseball Network kicked off its coverage on July 12, 1994 with the All-Star Game out of Pittsburghmarker's Three Rivers Stadiummarker. The game was televised on NBC with Bob Costas, Joe Morgan, and Bob Uecker calling the action and Greg Gumbel hosting the pre-game show. Helping with the interviews were Hannah Storm and Johnny Bench. The 1994 All-Star Game reportedly sold out all its advertising slots. This was considered an impressive financial accomplishment, given that one thirty-second spot cost $300,000.

After the All-Star Game was complete, NBC was scheduled to televise six regular season games on Fridays or Saturdays in prime time. The networks had exclusive rights for the 12 regular season dates, in that no regional or national cable service or over-the-air broadcaster may telecast a Major League Baseball game on those dates.

In even numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series. In odd numbered years the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate.

The long term plans for The Baseball Network crumbled when the players went on strike on August 12, 1994 (thus forcing the cancellation of the World Series). In July 1995, ABC and NBC, who wound up having to share the duties of televising the 1995 World Series as a way to recoup (with ABC broadcasting Games 1, 4, and 5 and NBC broadcasting Games 2, 3, and 6), announced that they were opting out of their agreement with Major League Baseball. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. Both networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th century.

Five years after The Baseball Network dissolved, NBC Sports play-by-play man Bob Costas wrote in his book Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball that The Baseball Network was stupid and an abomination. Costas wrote that the agreement involving the World Series being the only instance of The Baseball Network broadcasting a national telecast, believed that it was an unprecedented surrender of prestige, as well as a slap to all serious fans. Unlike the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association the so-called Big Two of North American professional sports leagues, the National Football League and Major League Baseball had nationally televised all playoff games for decades. While he believed that The Baseball Network fundamentally corrupted the game (except in Costas' point-of-view, the sense that the fans steadfast, spaniel-like loyalty), Costas himself acknowledged that the most impassioned fans in baseball were now prevented from watching many of the playoff games they wanted to see. Costas added that both the divisional series and the League Championship Series now merited scarcely higher priority than regional coverage provided for a Big Ten football game between Wisconsinmarker and Michiganmarker.

Trouble at NBC: 1996-2000

Despite of the failure of The Baseball Network, NBC decided to stay on with Major League Baseball but on a far more restricted basis. Under the five year deal (from 1996-2000) for a total of approximately $400 million, NBC didn't televise any regular season games. Instead, NBC only handled the All-Star Game, three Division Series games, and the American League Championship Series in even numbered years and the World Series, three Division Series games, and National League Championship Series in odd numbered years. Also around this particular period, NBC adapted composer Randy Edelman's theme from the short-lived FOX series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. as the main theme music for their baseball telecasts. It should be mentioned however, that for their 1996 All-Star Game coverage only, NBC used Edelman's "Emotions Run High" from the film The Big Green as the baseball theme.


In 1997, just before the start of NBC's coverage of the World Series, West Coast entertainment division president and former NBC Sports executive producer Don Ohlmeyer came under fire after publicly announcing that he hoped that the World Series would end in a four game sweep. Ohlmeyer believed that baseball now lacked broad audience appeal (especially in the aftermath of the 1994 Major League Baseball strike). As opposed to teams from the big three television markets (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) in the country, the 1997 World Series featured match-up of the upstart Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, who made their second World Series appearance in three years. In addition, Ohlmeyer feared that the World Series would disrupt NBC's efforts to attract enough viewers for its new fall roster in order to stay on top of the ratings heap. Ohlmeyer said "If the A&E channel called, I'd take the call." Game 5 fell on a Thursday, which had long been the highest rated night on NBC's schedule, if not on all of television.

In 1998, Bob Uecker abruptly left NBC Sports before a chance to call the All-Star Game from Coors Fieldmarker in Coloradomarker. Uecker underwent a back operation in which four discs were replaced. For the remainder of the contract (1998-2000), only Bob Costas and Joe Morgan called the games. Also in 1998, NBC's coverage of the ALCS was the highest rated for any League Championship Series since before the 1994 strike. NBC averaged a 9.4 rating for the six games, which was a 6% increase than the network's coverage of the 1997 NLCS in the same time slot. The rating was 13% more than FOX's ALCS coverage in 1997 and 12% more than NBC's coverage in 1996.

The Jim Gray/Pete Rose interview

In 1999, NBC's field reporter Jim Gray, who had previously covered Major League Baseball for CBS, came under fire for a confrontational interview with banned all-time hit king Pete Rose. Just prior to the start of Game 2 of the World Series, Gray pushed Rose, who was on hand in Atlantamarker's Turner Fieldmarker to accept the fan voted honor of being named to MasterCard's All-Century Team, into admitting to betting on baseball games while as manager of the Cincinnati Reds ten years earlier. After NBC was flooded with tons of viewer complaints, Gray was forced to clarify (much less apologize) his actions to the viewers at home prior to Game 3. Regardless of Gray's sincerity, Game 3 hero Chad Curtis of the New York Yankees boycotted Gray's request for an interview live on camera; Curtis had hit a game winning home run to send the World Series 3-0 in the Yankees' favor. Curtis said to Gray "Because of what happened with Pete, we decided not to say anything."

Despite the heavy criticism he received, Gray offered no apology for his line of questioning toward Rose:

It should be noted that in 2004, Pete Rose would admit to betting on baseball (along with other sports) while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.


In 2000, NBC was caught in the dilemma of having to televise a first round playoff game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics over the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore. NBC decided to give its local stations the option of carrying the debate or the baseball game. If the NBC affiliate decided to carry the debate, then local Pax affiliate could carry the game. NBC also placed a crawl at the bottom of the screen to inform viewers that they could see the debate on its sister channel MSNBC. On the other end, FOX said that it would carry baseball on the two nights when its schedule conflicts with the presidential or vice presidential debates. NBC spokeswoman Barbara Levin said "We have a contract with Major League Baseball. The commission was informed well in advance of their selecting the debate dates. If we didn't have the baseball conflict we would be televising it."

Although there has not been confirmation, anecdotal reports indicate that many NBC affiliates in swing states (i.e., Michiganmarker, Ohiomarker and Pennsylvaniamarker) chose to air the debate over the baseball game. This is an option that CBS affiliates did not have in 1992, when that network refused to break away from a baseball game that had gone into extra innings to the first Clinton-Bush-Perot debate. Like NBC and FOX would do in 2000, CBS cited its contract with Major League Baseball.

During NBC's coverage of the 2000 Division Series, regular play-by-play man Bob Costas decided to take a breather after anchoring NBC's prime time coverage of the Summer Olympic Games from Sydneymarker. In Costas' place came Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray, who teamed with Joe Morgan before Costas' return for the ALCS.

Baseball leaves NBC again

In September 2000, Major League Baseball signed a six year, $2.5 billion contract with FOX to show Saturday baseball, the All-Star Game, selected Division Series games and exclusive coverage of the League Championship Series and World Series. 90% of the contract’s value to FOX, who is paying Major League Baseball $417 million per year, comes from the postseason, which not only attracts large audiences, but also provides an irreplaceable opportunity for the network to showcase its fall schedule to people who don’t otherwise watch much TV.

Under the previous five year deal with NBC (1996-2000), FOX paid $115 million while NBC only paid $80 million per year. FOX paid about $575 million overall while NBC paid about $400 million overall. The difference between the FOX and the NBC contracts implicitly values FOX's Saturday Game of the Week at less than $90 million for five years. Before NBC officially decided to part ways with Major League Baseball (for the second time in about 12 years) on September 26, 2000, FOX's payment would've been $345 million while NBC would've paid $240 million. Before 1990, NBC had carried Major League Baseball (in some shape or form) since 1947.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol added that it wasn't cost-effective for NBC to be putting out the kind of money that Major League Baseball wanted.

In 2001, Bob Costas claimed that despite still loving the game, he now felt a certain alienation from the institution. By the time that NBC lost Major League Baseball for the second time in 12 years, the sport endured a strike, realignment, the wild card, and NBC's complete loss of the regular season Game of the Week. Costas would add that since NBC only did a few games each year and he lacked the forum that he would eventually have (HBO's On the Record with Bob Costas, Inside the NFL, and Costas Now as well as Costas on the Radio) to express his views, he to some extent, started editorializing in games.

When asked about whether or not the fact that NBC no longer had the baseball rights was disappointing, Bob Costas said "I'm a little disappointed to lose baseball, but that's the way the business is. And it's not nearly as disappointing as it was when we lost it at the end of the '80s. Because then it was like baseball was the birthright for NBC. ... (Baseball is) not going to affect any decision that I have in the future. It's nowhere near as devastating as a decade ago. Different circumstances, different time. I miss it a little bit but not a lot. I am very philosophical about this stuff. I have had wonderful opportunities in my career and no one wants to hear me complain about anything."

In 2009, Costas would become a contributor and occasional play-by-play announcer for MLB Network.

Future of Major League Baseball on NBC

A June 4, 2006 article from Broadcasting & Cable stated that FOX may have considered a partnership with another network for the next contract. NBC was the only network named in connection to a possible partnership in the article. The setup being suggested was similar to the last time NBC had the rights to baseball, that being NBC getting some League Championship Series games and alternating the World Series and All-Star Game with FOX, who may or may not have kept the Game of the Week.

The New York Times however, reported that NBC was unlikely to get baseball, as they would have to preempt up to three weeks of National Football League coverage on Sunday nights. But the NFL usually does not schedule a Sunday night game on the second night of the World Series, (also a Sunday) which meant that NBC was completely not out of the question (however, the following Sunday, which would possibly be Game 7 of the World Series, a Sunday night NFL game is scheduled). In addition to this, other Sunday playoff games, such as the ALCS and NLCS could be pushed to the afternoon. This might not be appetizing to baseball, as major playoff games would go up head-to-head against highly rated afternoon NFL games (as opposed to today's system, where only one game out of two for the day would go up against network NFL fare).

On July 11, 2006, FOX and Major League Baseball signed a seven-year contract which gives the network exclusive coverage of the All-Star Game and World Series through 2013. Also, FOX will retain the FOX Saturday Baseball Game of the Week and will broadcast one League Championship Series every year. This will rule out baseball returning to NBC until at least 2014, as the two annual showpiece events will not be available in any contract the network might obtain before then.

Major League Baseball has scheduled the World Series to begin on Wednesday, October 24, eliminating any need NBC might have had to preempt Sunday Night Football twice.

Major League Baseball on NBC Radio

For many years, NBC Radio also had a role in Major League Baseball coverage. The network shared World Series broadcast rights with CBS beginning in 1927, with All-Star Game broadcasts added in 1933. The Mutual network joined NBC and CBS in 1935; the three networks continued to share coverage of baseball's "jewels" in this manner through 1938, with Mutual gaining exclusive rights to the World Series in 1939 and the All-Star Game in 1942.

In 1957, NBC replaced Mutual as the exclusive national radio broadcaster for the World Series and All-Star Game. The network would continue in this role through 1975, with CBS taking over the rights the following year. NBC Radio did not air regular season games in this period (save for the three-game National League pennant playoff series in 1959 and 1962); nor did the network cover the League Championship Series from 1969-1975, those series instead having local team radio broadcasts syndicated nationally over ad hoc networks.



  1. The New York Times - 1939
  2. The New York Times - 1947
  3. The New York Times - 1951
  4. The New York Times - 1966
  5. The New York Times - 1960
  6. The New York Times - 1966
  7. The New York Times - 1957
  8. The New York Times - 1967
  9. The New York Times - 1968
  10. The New York Times - 1975
  11. The New York Times - 1973
  12. The New York Times - 1976
  13. The New York Times - 1979
  14. The New York Times - 1980
  15. The New York Times - 1983
  16. The New York Times - 1984
  17. The New York Times - 1985
  18. The New York Times - 1986
  19. The New York Times - 1987
  20. The New York Times - 1988
  21. The New York Times - 1989
  22. A Billion-Dollar Bid By CBS Wins Rights To Baseball Games
  23. The New York Times - 1994
  24. The New York Times - 1995
  25. The New York Times - 1996
  26. The New York Times - 2000
  27. RikerDonegal's Super-Hero Themes
  28. The New York Times - 1997
  29. News Home
  30. The New York Times - 1998
  31. The New York Times - 1999
  32. Anti Jim Gray
  33. CNN/SI - 1999 MLB World Series
  34. The New York Times - 2006
  35. [1]

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