Before there was Monday Night Football – the most popular prime time sports program in TV history – there was almost Monday Night Baseball.
Fifty-four years ago this week, when Major League Baseball owners were meeting in Phoenix, AZ, officials were pushing the television networks hard for a Monday night baseball package. The plan was for one of the major TV networks to pony up $20 million – $1 million for each club – to carry two games each Monday night. There would be a west coast feed and an east coast feed and the package would start in the 1965 season.
The idea was eventually tabled, however, when both NBC and ABC said they did not have enough time to clear programming for the games. CBS, which had recently purchased the New York Yankees, said it was not interested. Owners hoped to revisit the issue in time to launch a package in 1966, but it never came to be.
Of course, in September of 1970, Monday Night Football debuted on ABC. Coincidentally, ABC Sports President Roone Arledge considered preeminent baseball broadcaster Vin Scully for the play-by-play job, only to change his mind, when he determined the verbose Scully would not fit well in a three-man booth, a relatively new broadcasting concept. The PBP job went to Keith Jackson, as he joined Frank Gifford and Howard Costello in the booth.
MNF became so popular in its early days, many city and town councils across the USA, which scheduled Monday night meetings, moved them to other nights or scheduled them earlier on Mondays, so that board members could get home in time for the 9:00 EST kick-off.
As for baseball, it eventually launched a less-than-successful Monday night package in 1976 on ABC. Baseball’s presentation, however, lacked the panache of MNF, leaving one to wonder what might have been, had MLB beaten the NFL to the punch, more than a half century ago.