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Baseball announcers serve a number of functions. They're propagandists, cheer leaders, reporters. The six men who are the focus of this lively 50-minute tape are basically in their clerical-historical mode as they talk about their careers and the players whose feats they chronicled.
The tape is narrated by radio talk show fixture Larry King, whose hyperbolizing includes stating that the announcer's role is "one of the elements that make baseball the perfect game it is." Four of the men no longer regularly do baseball play-byplay: Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Brick-house and Curt Gowdy; Jack Buck still does St. Louis Cardinal games, and Ernie Harwell still covers the Detroit Tigers.
They're all authoritative sounding. (Disc jockeys clamor for attention; baseball announcers assume it, fitting into the game's alluring rhythm.) But Barber, the Mississippian who gained fame announcing Brooklyn Dodger games, remains especially pleasing to the ear. Barber also says he nearly quit the Dodger job when the team signed Jackie Robinson. (The suggestion is that he harbored prejudices as a Southerner or that he feared the situation would be too controversial.)
There is lots of old film footage as the announcers pick favorite players: Robinson (Barber), Babe Ruth (Allen), Ernie Banks (Brickhouse), Stan Musial (Buck), Ted Williams (Gowdy) and Al Kaline (Harwell). They agree (Allen abstaining) on the best they ever saw: Willie Mays.
Fans from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York and St. Louis, where these men became famous, will enjoy the tape most, but then as late as 1952,10 of the 16 major league teams played in those cities. A lot has changed since, including the fact that, as Barber notes, many announcers now are former players, reducing civilians' chances to get into the game. (J2, $29.95; 800-448-2449)
BASEBALL CARD COLLECTOR
The industrialization of baseball-card collecting has not been the happiest development of recent years.
This tape reflects many unfortunate aspects of that trend, with talk of market prices and speculative investing and such humorless, self-serving comments as this, from a California card-shop owner: "For the kids, we recommend them to get into all the new cards, because if you hold them long enough, they will reach this value right here, in the $8,000 to $10,000 range."
Ex-Yankee announcer Allen hosts on this tape also and has to sell such lines as this one about people lining up early for card shows: "I guess you can say the early collector catches the card."
There is an enjoyable, quick historical survey going back to cigarette company cards in the 1880s. The decade-by-decade review of cards, right up to this year's series, is fun, too, and it includes estimates of values for rare cards and complete sets.
If you can get past the notion that earned-run averages and slugging percentages are less important to many of today's collectors than capital gains taxes, you may be able to sit through all 60 minutes of the tape. (Best, $29.95; 800-527-2189)
OREL HERSHISER ON EXCELLENCE
It's presumptuous for a 30-year-old man whose only evident expertise is in accurately throwing a ball to be lecturing on how to live life in such broad terms. But darned if earnest, articulate Orel, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and hero of last year's National League play-offs and World Series, doesn't make his resin-bag-dry platitudes seem meaningful.
The 25-minute tape includes a list of steps toward excellence—get started, set realistic goals, establish priorities, practice what you want to excel at. There are brief interviews with other athletes, the most provocative of which are about accepting defeat. Golfer Betsy King says, "You have to be able to accept it: I gave it 100 percent, and it wasn't good enough." Former Oakland infielder Sal Bando says it's crucial to not let a failure affect concentration. Her-shiser recalls allowing 23 runs without getting an out in two straight minor league games, so when he talks of "fighting the good fight, staying the course" it comes across as jockspeak, all right, but valid-seeming jockspeak. (Horizon, $12.95; 818-841-9697 collect)