THE MOMENT of silence for the late Curt Gowdy on opening day this week was a reminder of one of the great figures in Red Sox broadcasting history. Sox management also chose to honor six members of the 1946 team that won the American League pennant that year. One of them, Bobby Doerr, is remembered as a star on the team from 1948, when Red Sox games were first televised.
So it is an irony that the Red Sox ownership, usually protective of the team's many traditions, has ended the 58-year practice of televising games on broadcast channels, a treat for generations of fans.
Gowdy's understated play-by-play, beginning in 1951, enhanced the baseball experience as more and more people bought TVs. For many fans who were young in that black-and-white era, recollections of pulling out rabbit ears and turning on a game are almost as evocative as the memory of watching the Sox at Fenway.
As recently as 2002, 77 games out of a 162-game schedule were available on local over-the-air broadcasts. The John Henry-Tom Werner ownership team, which took over in 2003, reworked the arrangement to put more games on the NESN cable network. Still, 28 games were available, every Friday night during the baseball season, on Channel 38.
But over the winter the Red Sox announced that all locally televised games will be on NESN, in which the Sox have an 80 percent interest. (The
Tom Werner, the Sox chairman, defends the move on the grounds that 94 percent of households in the region subscribe to cable or satellite TV. But what about the 6 percent, many of them of limited means? And a number of subscribers --
Support for the team transcends income levels in New England. At Fenway Park, the ownership acknowledges this by making sure some tickets are affordable to a family on a budget. Its television policies should reflect a similar sensitivity.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Werner compared the shift to NESN to the decision by ABC and the National Football League to shift Monday Night Football from the broadcast network to cable- and satellite-only ESPN. But there's plenty of pro football on broadcast TV, and the Monday Night program, while a 36-year tradition, was losing some of its audience and its potential to generate advertising revenue. The Red Sox have never been more popular, and Friday night baseball was highly profitable.
Werner said nothing can be done to change the arrangement this year, but the team ought to return Friday night baseball to broadcast television in 2007. We feel sure Curt Gowdy would be pleased.