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A Dodgers-Mets game on ABC ‘Monday Night Baseball,’ until is wasn’t

New York Mets Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

A YouTube video over the weekend about a 35-year-old television decision got me down a research rabbit hole of sorts. It’s somewhat relevant now after Sunday’s Dodgers-Rays game was streamed exclusively on Peacock, which required a premium subscription for fans to be able to watch.

But in 1988, fans did not have that choice. Roughly a quarter of Dodgers games were televised locally each year, and the only national telecasts were on NBC’s ‘Game of the Week’ on Saturdays, and ‘Monday Night Baseball’ on ABC.

The season debut for ‘Monday Night Baseball’ in 1988 was on May 30. The first-place Dodgers were at Shea Stadium in New York to play the first-place Mets on Memorial Day. Al Michaels was on the call for the 8:05 p.m. ET start. For a few other markets, the Yankees were in Oakland to play the A’s, with Gary Bender calling that game for ABC.

After two and a half innings, the Dodgers and Mets were scoreless, and went into a rain delay. ABC switched over to Yankees-A’s in the interim.

The rain delay ended after 34 minutes, and starters Tim Leary and Ron Darling were back on the mound. Dodgers-Mets resumed, but ABC stuck with Yankees-A’s instead of switching back. From Sam McManis at the Los Angeles Times:

ABC producer Curt Gowdy Jr. said that as a general rule the network stays with the backup game if the delay is more than 30 minutes. “This time we were fortunate to have another attractive game, so we stayed with it,” he added.

At issue, especially on the East Coast, was that local affiliates would be able to air the local news right at 11 p.m., or as close to it as possible. But the calculated gamble backfired, because Yankees-A’s lasted 14 innings and ended at 12:43 a.m. ET, an hour and eight minutes after Dodgers-Mets was over.

Roger Fisher at the Tampa Bay Times blasted ABC for the decision.

“That decision is one of numerous cavalier moves ABC has made in its baseball coverage over the years,” Fisher wrote. “Even a half-informed baseball mind should understand that viewers of Dodgers-Mets or Yankees-A’s would be leagues apart on the game they preferred to see.”

What folks in Los Angeles and New York did not see on television was three straight hits off Leary in the third inning, including Dave Magadan bringing home a run on a single, followed by a Darryl Strawberry double.

John Shelby doubled home a run in the fourth inning, then in the ninth inning with the Dodgers down two runs, he homered off Darling with two outs. Randy Myers entered to get Mickey Hatcher on a flyout to end the game.

The Mets won two of three in that series, with the Dodgers capturing the finale. That would be the only win for the Dodgers during the regular season against the Mets, in 11 games.

The Dodgers did get the last laugh, however, beating the Mets in a thrilling seven-game NLCS. All seven games were televised by ABC, who didn’t switch over to another game even once.