BASEBALL ON THE WEB
CAN'T GET TO THE
GAME -- OR THE TV -- YOU CAN ALWAYS
GET A PITCH-BY-PITCH ACCOUNT ON YOUR PC
By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch
July 11, 1999
In 1933, future movie star and president Ronald Reagan sat down at a microphone at WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa. Reading from pitch-by-pitch accounts over a Western Union ticker, he "re-created" the action of Chicago Cubs baseball games.
Seven decades later, the digital version of that service and modern competitors allow wired workers and people otherwise strapped to their computers to follow the Cardinals -- or any major-league team -- pitch by pitch, in real time and in more detail than the young Reagan ever dreamed possible.
Internet re-creations, from CNN/SI, Yahoo!, Total Baseball, CBS/SportsLine and ESPN, require a computer and an Internet connection with either a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser of version 3.0 or higher.
The data come from the Elias Sports Bureau, AllSport and SportsTicker. The latter is a 24-hour sports news and information service from ESPN Inc. and Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal. It's the successor company to Western Union's Baseball Ticker, which was begun in 1909.
The Ticker was so instrumental in the coverage of baseball in those pre-TV years that it rates a permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Rich Alessandri, vice president and general manager of SportsTicker, said the modern service began five years ago with pitch-by-pitch service from every ballpark.
"Then, as the Internet began to develop and explode, other people developed the applications to take that data and display it," he said. "We just act as a collection pipe."
The pipe is fed by more than 700 "event-site" reporters armed with laptop computers. It runs to clients round the world, from Internet, cable and broadcast outlets to newspapers, Las Vegas casinos and the sports teams themselves.
Web operations such as CBS/Sports-Line are at the other end of the digital pipe -- and pipeline workers are not required.
"We've developed proprietary software that totally automates the Webcast," said Dan Smith, SportsLine's technology vice president. "Our software integrates the information from each of those data providers into a single interface that describes the progress of the game on a detailed, pitch-by-pitch basis." Player movements, stats and scores all update automatically. You can switch to another game that's more interesting, or join a baseball chat.
"Fans who miss games can access our season archive and replay any game they choose," Smith said.
Here are some of the highlights of baseball Webcasts:
HOW: Click "Baseball," then "scores and schedules" and the start time or inning for the game you want. A new Web page opens, and, if the game has started, a GameCast option will be there to click on.
GameCast will open in a smaller window and will refresh automatically as new data are fed in.
OVERVIEW: The display is fast and friendly. The game status page shows the diamond, the defense, the pitcher and batter, their records vs. each other, lineups and either a batter-by-batter or pitch-by-pitch summary.
Other tabs present a running box score and a game summary. You joined the game in the fifth inning? Read what you missed.
UMPIRE'S CALL: It's a triple!
HOW: A baseball schedule is on the left of the screen; find your game and click on the start time or inning. Click on the GameChannel icon on the next screen, and it will open.
OVERVIEW: The Yahoo! site is graphically rich; it's the best-looking of all the sites, and it offers the same information as the ESPN site.
But the Yahoo! site has two features other sites don't: The window shrinks to a matchbook-size panel so you can follow the game while you work elsewhere in your system; and the page for each game includes links to a Major League Baseball audio broadcast and team-related pages.
And as with the other services, almost everything is clickable. Want to see Mark McGwire's stats? Click on his name in the lineup, and a page devoted to him opens.
UMPIRE'S CALL: Even though it takes relatively more computer resources, it's a home run.
CBS/SportsLine's Baseball Live
HOW: Click "MLB," then "Baseball Live." (You can also get the SportsLine service via the Major League Baseball site, at http://www.majorleaguebaseball.com).
OVERVIEW: The information is there, but getting it can take a lot more work. Choose the "unpersonalized" version to see whether you like it. There also is a Shockwave version that requires a plug-in player (it's free); and the game screen can be customized for as much data as you want. CBS/Sportsline also wants users to sign up, fill out a questionnaire, pick a user name and password, and take part in a rewards program. It's optional.
UMPIRE'S CALL: A double, but only because this ump has had problems getting Shockwave to work.
Total Baseball's TotalCast
HOW: The day's game schedule is on the main page; click on "TotalCast."
OVERVIEW: The game window has links to lineups, a running box score, fielding charts and stats. The main window toggles from a pitch-location view -- you want to know that ball 3 was high and tight, right? -- to a field view.
UMPIRE'S CALL: It's a double!
CNN/Sports Illustrated's LiveCast
HOW: Click on "Live" for that day's games, select the league and game, and click on "Livecast."
OVERVIEW: There is one window and nothing else to click on other than the teams involved. You see the inning-by-inning score; the batter; pitch count; and what's happened in that inning; and lineups.
UMPIRE'S CALL: It's a single --simple and direct.
BUCK AT BAT BEATS BYTES
Internet baseball Webcasts are a treat for the eyes.
But for the ears, try radio over the computer: The home team's radio broadcast of every major-league game, every day, is available over the Internet. That includes Tuesday's All-Star Game from Fenway Park in Boston.
Go to http://www.majorleaguebaseball.com and click on Live Game Audio. A game schedule appears on the next screen; click on the broadcast.com logo, and you've got a seat for the game.
You need a sound card and speakers or headphones; at least a 486 PC or Power PC Mac; a 14.4 Kbps Internet connection or faster; and either a Real Player or the Windows Media Player. Real Player comes with later versions of Windows 95/98/NT.
If it's not installed, look for the Real folder in the Program Files folder on your hard drive. Likewise, the Windows Media Player probably is on your computer, also under Program Files.
If not, you can download one or both players, for free, from the game schedule page.
Internet video is still not very enjoyable for people with 56K or slower Internet connections, and nobody is broadcasting full games in real time -- yet.
But many of the Web sites offer clips and plays of the day, including the Major League Baseball site, sports sites such as ESPN.com, and national and regional news outlets.
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