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CNN Larry King Weekend

Interview With Bob Costas

Aired August 10, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the best TV sportscaster there is, Bob Costas. He's got his game face on and ready to play ball. Costas is next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Good evening. Great pleasure to welcome an old friend, friend of 25 years, who's considered by many to be the finest broadcaster in sports television.

Little stats before we get into baseball. Costas, since joining NBC in 1980, a wide range of assignments--play-by-play, studio hosting, in-the-field reporter; a winner of multiple sports Emmys; repeatedly named Sportscaster of the Year by the Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association; hosted--still hosts "On the Record with Bob Costas" on one of our sister networks, HBO; and of course is the host of the Olympics for NBC. And his book, ``Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball,'' published in March of 2000, appeared on the "New York Times" bestseller list.

Thanks for coming, Robert.

The subject is baseball. Let's get first things first.


KING: Are we going to have a strike?

COSTAS: I don't think so. I think that even Don Fehr, a very intelligent and capable man...

KING: Head of the Players...

COSTAS: Head of the Players Association--but highly ideological, to the point sometimes of being unreasonable. He and Gene Orza. Even they recognize that the game is, to a certain extent, broken, that the economics of baseball don't make sense.

They may not agree with the owners as to the extent of the problem, but they have to recognize, rationally, they have to recognize that there is a problem. Most of their membership sees that there is a problem with competitive balance that's different than anything that existed prior to this past decade.

Plus, they've got to take into account, even if they have no love for the owners, they've got to take into account what a catastrophe or work stoppage, if it took the form of a lock-out, would be, what it would do to the overall revenues of the game and, therefore, to the amount of revenue that ultimately is funneled toward them. It's not worth it to play a game of chicken.

KING: So you're saying you think there won't be a strike because the players don't want it?

COSTAS: I don't think the players have the stomach for it that they would have in the past.

Remember this, when they went out in '94, they thought it was going to follow the pattern that it had followed in the past, which is, ``Ah, we stay out. We miss a paycheck or two. The owners crumble.''

But whatever else was wrong with the owners' position--and there was a lot wrong with it--they didn't crumble. The only reason why the players prevailed is that they made an end run to the National Labor Relations Board, which then had a different composition, Democratic, than it does now, largely Republican; might be less sympathetic to them now. They found the owners guilty of an unfair labor practice.

But the owners had shown they were willing to blow off the World Series, take it right into the next season, and the players would've missed paycheck after paycheck.

Well, if they were willing to do it then, they'll be willing to do it now. The only thing that works against it, as Fay Vincent, the former commissioner, has pointed out, a lot of these owners, with the new ballparks and with the salaries they're paying some players, have heavy debt service.

And so, it might be part of the players' strategy, if they did go on strike, to think that the owners might not be able to sustain the loss of revenues because of the debt service. But leaving that one factor aside, I think the players know, if they walk, they'll walk for a long time.

KING: When we had both sides on in 1994--I think we did two or three shows at the height of this--people would ask--non-fans would ask me, ``These are millionaires arguing with billionaires. Why are they so vituperative? Why is the anger deep-seated?''

COSTAS: Yes. Well, it goes way back to the 1960s and '70s, when Marvin Miller, a brilliant man who should be in Baseball's Hall of Fame, headed the players' association. They had been exploited for decades and decades by the owners. And the owners of baseball then, instead of making intelligent concessions, fought them tooth and nail, lied, were incompetent on top of their dishonesty. And even though the players prevailed at every turn, there was always something the owners did to further the distrust.

Well, there have only been three people that have run the players' association since its inception--Marvin Miller, and now Don Fehr and his deputy, Gene Orza...

KING: The only names that I...

COSTAS: ... same three guys. They carry that whole history of anger and animosity. And many of the owners have always felt, in each subsequent negotiation, not, ``Well, let's carve out a reasonable position.'' It's ``Let's go to war again with these guys and get back what we lost the last time.'' That's always been the wrong approach, so they always bang heads.

And what gets frustrating for a reasonable third party is, if you could remove that history, remove that enmity, a reasonable person would step in now and say, ``Yes, all the victories the players won in the past were correct. We don't want to deprive them of free agency, deprive them of any of their rights. But we do need to tinker with this system so that it makes sense as a league.'' It would be easy enough to find a solution if you could remove the antagonism and distrust.

KING: What's the biggest difference now to eight years ago?

COSTAS: Well, you mean if they strike?

It was bad enough eight years ago, and people really were riled about it. But baseball got lucky. A few months after they come back, Cal Ripken has his great night, warms everybody's hearts, reminds them why they love baseball. Short time after that, McQuire and Sosa chase the homerun record. It was meaningful. The record had stood for 37 years; it had romance about it. Now the record is broken every five minutes. So, you know, if someone hits 80 homeruns, it's not going to have the same impact as it did at that time. There were also a bunch of new ballparks built during the mid to late '90s. That helped attendance. And there was a general boom in the economy.

Now, if they go out this time, you've got the last-straw theory. Yes, they've always come back, but remember, the last stoppage was the worst one, and people's patience has really been worn thin. So you've got the last-straw theory.

There's not going to be another Ripken. There's not going to be another McQuire-Sosa. The walkout, if it happens, if there's a strike, has to happen some time in the vicinity of September 11th. It's going to look terrible. The economy is not in the kind of shape it once was. The novelty of new ballparks has worn off. It's going to hurt worse.

KING: OK, let's tick off some things.

What's the owners' biggest failing? I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) try to mitigate here. What's the owners' biggest...

COSTAS: The owners' biggest failing is that they carry too much baggage from before. I like Bud Selig personally, and I think he's a much more capable man than people give him credit for. But if you compared it to politics, Bud is a back-bencher. He's a congressman who can help you put together a coalition, but he shouldn't be your party's standard bearer.

George Mitchell, former Democratic senator from Maine who served on the Baseball (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Panel, made an interesting point to Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated. He said, ``Two hundred years ago, part of the requirements for leadership was that a man know how to handle a sword and ride a horse. Those weren't little bonuses, they were essential. Now, one of the prerequisites for leadership is that you be an effective and convincing presence on television.'' Bud not only isn't that, he's close to the opposite of that. So he has done a very bad job of making what should be a good case now for the owners. He doesn't articulate it well...

KING: The wrong presenter.

COSTAS: Yes. Plus he carries all the baggage: owner of a small-market team, the face of baseball when they went out in '94 and '95. And then, instead of honing in on the real issue, which is competitive imbalance, how the Kansas Citys and the Pittsburghs and the others don't have a chance, he's thrown out a lot of strawmen that the press and the players' association can pounce on: disputed claims of how much the industry loses overall; the contraction issue, they couldn't pull it off...

KING: Paychecks are going to bounce.

COSTAS: Paychecks are going to bounce, two clubs aren't going to be able to make their payrolls. The truth is that some clubs do have trouble, but they made their payrolls. So it undermines his credibility.

And look, one of the teams he wanted to contract, is now 18 games in front in the American League Central. He just looks silly.

KING: Players' biggest failing?

COSTAS: Players' biggest failing is that they confuse economic issues with moral issues. That's the way the former commissioner, Fay Vincent, put it. They, as I would put it, they confuse self-interest with high principle.

KING: Yes.

COSTAS: There was a time when they were fighting for real issues--when Kurt Flood (ph) fought for free agency, when they fought for the right to get a fair slice of the game's economic pie. Now we're talking about what should be a business deal, not a holy war.

And the truth is that even the Baseball Players' Association, which has been less cooperative than the football players' or the basketball players', even they agree to conditions that establish the premise that a league operates differently than other businesses in a free-market economy. You have roster limits, you have trades, you have schedules everyone has to adhere to.

KING: It ain't like the Hilton versus the Hyatt.

COSTAS: Right. It isn't like CBS versus NBC...

KING: Right.

COSTAS: ... not at all. So once those things are in place, you have to recognize, how can we make a deal that allows the players to make as much money as possible, allows them as much freedom as possible, but at the same time holds the league together with some sort of credibility as a competitive league, as a sports league?

KING: We're discussing baseball at the threshold here with Bob Costas. Who knows it better? Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Bob Costas, talking baseball.

OK. What if the uninitiated would have said simply, ``Why should there be any restriction on pay? What is there a salary cap for football and basketball? Why, if a man can earn it and someone wants to pay?'' There's no salary cap on me or you.

COSTAS: Right. Because it's a league.

I've always been on the side of the players, and I don't care if a player makes a zillion dollars. If you could show me a system wherein each team would have a reasonable chance to be competitive but every player made $10 million, that would be OK with me.

But we've reached a point where the revenue gaps, which used to be there but they were bridgeable--with ingenuity and luck, Kansas City could compete with New York, at least now and then--those gaps have exploded over the last 10 years.

Here's the most telling statistic that I've come across. In 1991, a decade ago, there were 26 Major League teams. Of the 25 that were not the Yankees, 19 of them had payrolls within 75 percent of the Yankees or even closer to 100 percent--19 out of 25. Now there are 30 Major League teams. Of the 29 not the Yankees, only two, Texas and Boston, have payrolls within 75 percent of the Yankees and 17, more than half, have payrolls less than half besides the Yankees.

Now, does management matter? Do the Yankees use their funds wisely? Yes. Are some small-market teams poorly run? Yes. But if you started from scratch, you would never allow a structure where one team, or several teams--because it isn't just the Yankees, Atlanta, Boston, the Dodgers in theory--have more revenue, a lot more revenue than other teams. You'd never allow a system where they start with that kind of competitive advantage.

KING: So you need the structure...

COSTAS: You need a structure. For example, fans--when people say fans just resent the size of players' contracts, I think that was true in past generations, but people are used to it now. They're numb to it or they accept it.

And the best example I can give you is, if Mike Tyson and Lenox Lewis each walk out with $17 million, $18 million from a fight, people may be amazed by that, but they don't resent it, because they understand that the promotion generates that kind of money; or if it doesn't, it's just a business miscalculation.

If Tom Hanks makes $20 million for a movie, they've calculated how much of that comes from New York, from L.A., from overseas, and what tiny slice of it comes from Tulsa or Fayetteville. But you still get the movie in Tulsa or Fayetteville.

If Oprah Winfrey gets X in syndication fees, Seattle pays a proportioned amount, New York pays a proportioned amount. But if you were the Oakland A's and your revenue is here, and Miguel Tejada is as good as Derek Jeter, and the Yankees revenue is here, you still got to pay Miguel Tejada the same amount as Derek Jeter or he's going to walk to one of the handful of places that can pay him that.

KING: So what can we do? Does the league compensate part of it? Should baseball take revenue away--I mean, they get revenue, right, from teams that make over a certain amount?

COSTAS: Yes. Yes, the only...

KING: Except Tajada in Oakland.

COSTAS: Right. The only other example I'd give to nail that down: The weatherman in Milwaukee, even if he thinks he's as good as the weatherman in Chicago, doesn't say ``Pay me as much'' because the market won't sustain it.

But the first baseman for the Brewers wants the same wants the same amount of money as the first baseman for the Cubs if he hits the same number of homeruns. So you got to recognize that it's a league and it has certain peculiarities.

KING: NBA and NFL and NHL are a kind of socialism. I mean, the players are partners with the owners.

COSTAS: Not exactly, but closer to. The advantage the NFL has is that the largest source of revenue, by far, is network television money, so it's easily divided. And the NFL's network television money is larger than baseball, basketball and hockey combined. So the lion's share of it can be easily divided. They established the precedent back in the early 1960s with Pete Rozelle, and it serves them well.

And local broadcast revenues, since all games are televised on network, local broadcast revenue is insignificant. Whereas the Yankees local broadcast revenue is over $100 million a year and growing, and in Pittsburgh it's a pittance compared to that. And there's just no way--I don't care how smart you are--there's no way you can make up that gap year after year in a small market.

Now, does Minnesota or Oakland occasionally break through? Yes. But the problem is, if Jason Giambi was a Yankee, he'd never leave. Jason Giambi up and left Oakland. The problem is, holding your team together even if you catch lightning in a bottle under this system.

KING: Guys may leave Minnesota next.

COSTAS: If they don't reform their system, they will.

KING: But Minnesota can sneak in, with a farm (ph) system, young catchers (ph), and do it.

COSTAS: And do it short-term and make baseball look silly, because baseball openly talked about contracting them. And Minnesota really isn't a small market by definition. The Twin Cities are about the same size as, let's say, St. Louis, a thriving baseball market. They drew $3 million back in 1992 when baseball didn't have a screwed- up system. So they're not a bad market, like Montreal. If you fix the system and got the right ownership in there, Minnesota could thrive.

KING: Can we attain competitive balance?

COSTAS: I think you can attain what they really should be referring to, some sort of equity of opportunity. I don't think you're looking for every team to be 81 and 81, or a different team to win the division every year. That's not going to happen. But you do want a system that allows a team, with a little luck and with some ingenuity not only to build a contender but to hold the team together.

You know, a lot of people say, ``Well, the Yankees, a lot of their players are homegrown.'' Yes, they are. They came up through the farm (ph) system. But the Yankees never have to worry about losing a player they want to keep. And then they add not just superstars, like Clemens and Mussina and Giambi, but they add spare parts, just throwing money around that other teams don't have. An extra $5 million, $6 million for Raul Mondesi, fine. If Raul Mondesi doesn't work out, we write it off. It's a business loss.

Forget about small-market teams, middle-market teams, like the Cardinals, they don't have that kind of leeway. They can't afford to make as many mistakes as the Yankees can make and just swallow those mistakes.

KING: OK. The question might be, what suggestions would you make?

COSTAS: Well, everyone's talked about the need for more comprehensive revenue-sharing. I think that premise...

KING: Meaning the teams with more should share with the teams that have less. The NFL does that.


KING: In a sense, right?

COSTAS: Yes. Whether it should be just the large-market teams transferring it to the smaller-market teams or whether there should be a pool created in which everybody contributes half of their revenues.

KING: Right now, what is it? If your salaries total over $80 million, you pay 10 percent? COSTAS: There's a complicated formula that, more or less, it's the--there's a handful of larger-revenue teams transferring money to teams...

KING: And that goes into a pool and is divided among the teams?

COSTAS: Among the smaller-market teams. But there's no provision that requires to spend it on players, so many of those smaller-market teams actually have a better bottom line year to year than the larger-revenue producers because they're just putting it in the bank.

If you have a revenue-sharing system that works, you've got to compel teams to spend a minimum amount on payroll, and I think that's what the owners have suggested. The players are resistant to it because they think if you compel a minimum, the next step is that you'll impose a maximum.

KING: But wouldn't it be a pretty good idea to say every club must have--you can't be a team unless you have a $75 million payroll or whatever, you can't own a team?

COSTAS: I think the ideal is to try to create a system where there's no more than a two-to-one ratio between the highest paying club and the lowest paying club.

Revenue-sharing is one way around it. Another way to enhance the competitive balance is you could declare that each team in the top half of revenue can freeze a certain number of players each year and the teams on the bottom half can pick a player or two off their roster. You could give the lower teams additional draft choices. You could allow them to trade draft choices, which they can do in basketball and football.

KING: So there are certainly ideas.

COSTAS: There are ideas besides just transferring money. Transferring money is the biggest part, but there are lots of different ideas. One that I found intriguing is creating what would be called a commissioner's fund from network television money or whatever.

So the commissioner has this fund, and he can use it, but you'd need a different commissioner who the players trust. And that's not how they feel about Selig. But let's say that it required $12 million for the Kansas City Royals to keep Mike Sweeney--not to acquire someone else's player, but to keep their own very good player--and the commissioner determined that the Royals could afford to spend $8 million, he could give them the other $4 million out of the commissioner's discretionary fund.

Then Sweeney still gets what he's worth, but he can stay in Kansas City. If he decides to leave and go to the Yankees, it's because he likes the monuments at Yankee Stadium, not because the Yankees are just buying him.

KING: More with Bob Costas right after this.


KING: We're back with Bob Costas.

We'll touch some other bases in a while, too, but the main emphasis tonight is what can we do about baseball. And again, if you joined us late, Costas, despite all these problems, is predicting no strike.

Are you saying also settlement this winter?

COSTAS: I think they'd have to be moving toward a settlement for the players not to strike

KING: You have been mentioned, so who'd be a good commissioner?

COSTAS: Well, I would not be a good commissioner, because I don't have the administrative background and the business acumen. The analogy I use is, if you think someone's a good political columnist, that doesn't mean you think he or she should be senator or president, you just hope that the senator or president is reading the columns. So I've contributed what I could to the discussion.

KING: So does that mean you would turn it down?

COSTAS: Oh, yes. And I--A, I think it's a moot point, it would never be offered. But I would turn it down.

But I think that I've influenced the discussion to some extent. A lot of what I was saying seven, eight years ago, among the few who were saying it, are now almost givens in the discussion, so I feel good about that.

KING: When you wrote the book you upset some people.

COSTAS: When I wrote the book I upset some people. And now, interestingly, much of what was in the book is now a given. It's almost a starting point.

KING: All right, who'd be a good commissioner?

COSTAS: A lot of people talk about Rudy Giuliani. He may have bigger fish to fry. But if you think for a moment about Giuliani as a baseball commissioner, he'd have to toss his Yankee hat aside. He's an inveterate Yankee fan, and that may be endearing for New Yorkers, but the reforms that the game needs would hit at the Yankees' competitive advantage. They'd still have an advantage, but it wouldn't be as overwhelming as it is now.

KING: Giamatti was a big Red Sox fans, as big as Giuliani is a Yankee fan.

COSTAS: Right. But when Giamatti was the commissioner, there weren't steps required that would have in any way impacted the Red Sox, whereas this is not solely about the Yankees, but it's largely about the condition that the Yankees represent.

KING: Does his status and personality, the Giuliani type, fit the job?

COSTAS: I think for a lot of people it would. The ideal is if the commissioner is jointly selected and jointly paid by the players and the owners. I think the players would be less interested in that than you might think.

KING: Really?

COSTAS: They prefer--they may not like Selig, but they prefer that there be a clear delineation, that the commissioner works for the owners and that we have our own interests that are represented by Fehr and Orza.

KING: But they'd rather not it be an owner, do you think?

COSTAS: Yes. You know what? The only sense in which I think it has helped the players that Selig is the commissioner is that it gives them so many openings...


... to follow red-herring arguments rather than get to the heart of it.

KING: In other words, he's an easy opponent.

COSTAS: He's an easy opponent. He gives them a number of targets. There are real and perceived conflicts of interest. There have been stumbles down unproductive paths. He's made points that are highly questionable instead of honing in on the real issue.

I said years ago that what they should have done was find a credible commissioner who was effective on television, and that person should have made, on EPSN probably, the equivalent of a baseball state of the union address in which he disavowed--he or she disavowed all the past positions of the owners: ``The players historically have been right, the owners historically have been wrong, but that doesn't have to perpetually be the case. Here is the situation now.''

And the fact is that if the players would put aside the history lesson about all the dishonesty and bumbling of the owners in the past, if you brought in the most capable and intelligent and objective third party, that person today would actually have a position closer to Bud Selig's than to Don Fehr's.

KING: Would George Mitchell be a good one?

COSTAS: I think George Mitchell would be a good commissioner. I think a guy like Ron Shapiro...

KING: The agent.

COSTAS: ... who was a player agent, represented Ripken and Eddie Murray and Kirby Puckett, who was always known as someone who understood both sides of the argument and someone who understood that the essence of negotiation isn't to beat your opponent's head in, but to arrive at a deal that's mutually beneficial, it's OK to leave a little something on the table if both sides walk away happy and enriched. And these negotiations need more of that attitude.

KING: Why wouldn't they accept right now a middle person whose decision is final, an arbitrator agreeable to both sides?

COSTAS: I don't know. If I had to guess--first of all, I think the reports that we get now and the tone--and I'm not in those rooms when they're negotiating--the tone seems to be that they're looking to avert the head-on collision, they're looking to work something out, that both sides realize, regardless of how they feel about each other, that there's too much at stake.

So maybe they don't need an arbitrator. But if they did, I really suspect, in the past, that the players thought that they could do better going head to head with the owners than they could with the decision of an arbitrator.

KING: Supposing President Bush, former owner...

COSTAS: Right.

KING: ... a big baseball fan...

COSTAS: Right.

KING: ... in fact, a baseball nut...

COSTAS: Right.

KING: ... said to both sides, ``Come to the White House. I love this game. I realize it's not national security, but it's important. Go into that room, and I'm telling you settle.''

COSTAS: He told me a year ago, President Bush told me a year ago, and this was even before 9/11, the mood of the country had changed and priorities shifted even further, he told me then, early in his presidency, that he would not interfere in any way, that he thought it was a mistake for Bill Clinton to have attempted to do so in the mid-'90s, and that the parties should work it out.

KING: Because?

COSTAS: Because he felt that the president could not be effective. Maybe because he knew that butting heads with the players' association through the years has been a tough, a tough nut to crack.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) butt heads with them.

COSTAS: Right. And I think that the players' association would probably, despite the respect for the office of the presidency, would perceive Bush as inclined toward the owners because he was an owner himself. KING: The other side, you couldn't turn down going?

COSTAS: You'd have to go. If you didn't go, especially this president, with his level of public approval in wartime, if you didn't go, you'd look terrible. Just as both sides will look terrible if there's a work stoppage, regardless of the causes, in the vicinity of 9/11.

KING: Are you encouraged by the unions coming up with a steroid proposal?

COSTAS: Yes, yes. You know, I think whether it's steroids, whether it's revenue sharing, the particulars can be worked out by intelligent people. A lot of these are arcane financial arrangements that minds steeped in economics--not you, not me--will have to come up with.

But if you can agree on the idea that performance-enhancing drugs have had a negative effect on baseball, then you can craft exactly what the policy should be. What drugs should we test for? What should the penalty be?

If you can agree on the idea that a league has to have revenue- sharing and that there have to be some restraints on salaries, then you can sit down, roll up your sleeves, and go through all the particulars of what shape that agreement should be.

KING: We'll be right back with Bob Costas on this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. Don't go away.


KING: We're talking baseball with Bob Costas, who, again, thinks there will not be a strike, but lots of changes are needed.

COSTAS: Yes. You know, Larry, when I said I think there won't be, that doesn't mean I'd be shocked if there were. I'm looking 60- 40, 70-30 against, just by the general tone and by common sense. You know, there should be enough middle ground. Common sense says that after all this, after all this history of head bashing, there ought to be a way to work this out.

KING: And you want to bang their heads together sometimes.

COSTAS: You do.

KING: I mean, as a fan.

COSTAS: You do.

KING: Come on. I mean, you've got a good thing going here, having a great year in baseball.

COSTAS: A lot of interesting things happening. You gnash your teeth over both sides. You know, you say to the owners, ``Why don't you make a clearer, more lucid and compelling case? It's there to be made.'' Then you say to the players, ``Why don't you see that this isn't about principle anymore? It's a practical economic deal.''

When I hear some player reps, not just fundamental (ph) players, but the guys who are supposed to really know the issues, and it's laughable. When I hear Barry Zito, who is a very good left-handed pitcher for Oakland and kind of a zany, latter-day Bill Lee guy--which is nice, baseball needs characters. But he's a player rep, and he actually said, ``There's nothing wrong with the baseball business. It's never been better. We don't want to change a thing. And if the fans understood the issues, they'd side with us.'' What a combination of ignorance and arrogance that is.

Look, we're not trying to take back all the hard-won games of the players. But if you think the game doesn't need to be changed, what planet are you living on?

KING: Why is that union so small?

COSTAS: It never lost, and...

KING: But I mean, what keeps the players--I mean, these guys, they're making--what keeps a $10 million guy saying ``I'll give up my pay''?

COSTAS: Peer pressure and Fehr and Orza making it clear to them that the whole history of the union is.

Think about it. We're talking about thousands of players over time and a wide range of personality types. During that period of time, you've had everything from John Birchers (ph) to black militants and everything in between have worn baseball uniforms. But they've all agreed on one thing. Whatever Marvin, Don or Gene says, I'm for it. And if anybody, if anybody utters a peep in dissent, at least publicly, they're a Benedict Arnold.

And I suspect--I don't know about now, but certainly through the years, I think dissent has been few and far between among the players. Basically, they are giving their marching orders, and they follow. And since they are 8 and 0 or 9 and 0 against the owners, they don't break ranks.

KING: And now I'm going to give you a gavel and you can be commissioner by edict. That is, you can change anything you want. You and George Bush were the only two people I know against the wild card. George Bush voted against it.

COSTAS: Right.

KING: You complimented him.

COSTAS: Right, right.

KING: Do you now agree it's smart?


KING: Still don't? COSTAS: No. People will say now...

KING: You have interest in Houston and Cincinnati and in Los Angeles.

COSTAS: Yes. Right. But teams that otherwise would be out of the race...

KING: Are in.

COSTAS: ... are in...

KING: Some say (ph) even (ph) the Mets.

COSTAS: ... because of the wild card. But it's a double-edged sword. It's sort of like if you could add a room to your house, that would be nice. That's the wild card. But if you have to destroy the best part of your house to add the room, it's not a good decision.

You can't have dramatic pennant races. Boston and the Yankees-- Boston is closer to the wild card than they are to the Yankees. Houston and St. Louis last year, the last weekend of the season in St. Louis, head to head separated by game. They're just jockying for position, because the loser is going to be the wild card.

And that's not a fluke. You know that it's impossible, to really understand it, it's impossible for any of the three best teams in the league to ever have a significant battle for first place. You will never have even a watered-down equivalent of Bobby Thompson or Bucky Dent. You'll never have that ultimate drama. And you can't even have then anticipation of it.


KING: ... will be the wild card.

COSTAS: Right, the wild card race is actually, actually supercedes division races, unless the division race is between teams so mediocre that they have no shot at the wild card. And that's not just true of the last weekend of the year, it's true, if you'll understand it, in July or August.

KING: The only thing that could diffuse that is if Boston and the Yankees are a game apart, and Anaheim and Seattle are a game apart, it's the last weekend.

COSTAS: Yes. You can always make up some scenario, but you lose the great dramatic pennant races.

Now, this is what might surprise you. A lot of people mistakenly said that I was against the wild card because I'm a traditionalist.

KING: A purist.

COSTAS: A purist. Which is either an oversimplification at best or flat wrong at worst. I think if you have this system, they'd be better off adding two more playoff teams, but giving the two best teams in the league a first-round bye. Then at least you have degradations of difference. You have rewards that make finishing first worthwhile.

You look at the NFL. They play a tenth as many games as baseball. And yet, if you're the best team in the conference, even by the narrowest of margins, look at the difference. You get a bye. You get home field in a sport where it's 100 percent, because there's only one game per round. If you're the wild card, you play the extra game. You're on the road all the way through. It's a much more difficult road to the playoffs to the Super Bowl.

Now you can be the wild card, you can be 20 games worse than the team in first place. Look at Atlanta, look at the record they have this year. You know what their advantage is over whoever sneaks in, in a weak division of the wild card?

KING: None.

COSTAS: Virtually one extra home game in a sport where it doesn't mean that much.

So to me, to me, there's a question of competitive integrity and also the drama that used to separate pennant races, which were unique to baseball, from mere playoff qualifying which you have in other sports.

KING: Interleague play?

COSTAS: Interleague play is not a bad idea, but they overdid it. Too many games that don't mean anything. People focus on Yankees- Mets, and even that they've overdone. They should probably cut it to three games a year instead of six, so that the novelty doesn't wear off. But nobody cares if Minnesota plays at San Diego. That game is probably worse than if you had an extra game with another National League opponent of San Diego.

KING: So how would you do it? Just rivals?

COSTAS: I'd emphasize rivals. And then I'd toss in a sprinkling of games, where, over the course of three or four years, every team would make at least one visit to every other team...

KING: So a National League team could see an American League team?

COSTAS: Yes. The idea of it is that if you were in St. Louis up until last year when he was playing, that Cal Ripkin would come to St. Louis once every three or four years, and that would be special and those games would sell out.

What's really bad now is, they play interleague games immediately before and immediately after the All-Star game. I'm doing the All- Star game in 2000 with Joe Morgan. I said, ``Joe, here's Tom Glavin facing Nomar Garciaparra. When have I seen this before? Oh yeah, Thursday.'' (LAUGHTER)

Remember, when we were younger, it wasn't--not just when you were kids, up until maybe 10 years ago you say, ``Hey, wait a second, Juan Marichal against Roger Maris in the All-Star, this is great. You know, Whitey Ford pitching against Willie Mays.'' Now it's all too common.

KING: But attendance was up at interleague games over the regular games, was it not?

COSTAS: Yes, although interleague games start as summer begins, when school is out and you have lower attendance in April and May. So it's a little bit of a false comparison.

KING: The thing (ph) about (ph) Bob Costas, you always have an answer.


We'll be right back with more of Bob Costas and other things in baseball, and his career as well. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Bob Costas.

Let's touch some other bases. Who do you like this year? There's some interesting teams--Anaheim, Minnesota, surprising teams.

COSTAS: Seattle is strong. Oakland has the pitching. If they get into the playoffs, they've always got a shot. The last two years they barely missed derailing the Yankees.

KING: Boston's got Floyd. Can Boston do it?

COSTAS: Boston is in the mix somewhere. Still got the hex, you know, the curse of the Bambino that's in there.

You know, you still have to like the Yankees. They have so much depth, depth in pitching. You know, Rivera is not as dominate as he has been, and he's been hurt this year, so that gives other teams a ray of hope.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see a rematch, because Arizona, once they get into--rematch at the World Series--once Arizona gets in the playoffs and a seven-game set, you're looking at Schilling and Johnson at least four times and maybe five.

KING: What about the Braves, surprise you?

COSTAS: They surprised me quite a bit. Because last year when Arizona knocked them out of the playoffs, they looked like a team that was on its last gas. The last dying embers of a great decade-long run. And then this year, they've just come back like gangbusters. And, of course, they have good pitching too, very good pitching. KING: What happened to the Mets?

COSTAS: You know, they thought they bolstered their team. Jeromy Burnitz, 35-homerun guy in Milwaukee, he's been nothing. Mo Vaughn has heated up of late, but he's been a big disappointment. And Roberto Alomar went from being a great player to just a good player. All their deals backfired on them. And their pitching is in the dumper.

KING: And are you a Cardinal fan? You live in St. Louis. You broadcast the Cardinals.

COSTAS: I filled in for Jack Buck some years ago. I don't broadcast their games anymore.

You know, I really am honestly not a fan of any one team avidly. If there is a team that I root for, it's the Cardinals, because I live in St. Louis. They're a good organization. And my kids would like to see the Cardinals make the World Series, so, you know.

KING: You grew up a Yankee freak, though, right?

COSTAS: Yes. I grew up in New York as a Yankee fan.

KING: Still have a Mantle card?

COSTAS: Still have the Mantle card from 1958.

KING: Is that a valuable card, by the way?

COSTAS: I think it's probably worth a couple of hundred dollars. But, you know, when we were kids, I never heard a kid say, ``Hey, Hank Aaron, what's that worth?'' You knew what it was worth, emotional value.

KING: That's right. But you could trade three for it.

COSTAS: Right. I'll trade you Bob Perky (ph), Wes Covington, Hector Lopez and Norm Seaburn (ph) for Willie Mays. What are you nuts? But I'll flip you for them.


KING: And we'll put them in our bike wheel, spokes.

COSTAS: Right. But you never put Mays or Mantle on the spoke of your bike. Bubba Morton was on the spoke of your bike.

KING: Correct.


COSTAS: Woody Held I put on the spoke.

KING: You mentioned Jack Buck. The national audience got to know him through... COSTAS: Yes.

KING: .. Monday Night Football, on the radio, and Sunday (UNINTELLIGIBLE) knew mostly through baseball.


KING: How great was he?

COSTAS: He was incredibly great. And as excellent as he was on national radio and television, you would have to have been around St. Louis to really understand game in, game out, his wit, his compassion, the honest sentiment that came out. He was the best banquet MC I ever saw. And guys like that--Ernie Harwell, Bob Prince, Vin Scully still going strong in L.A--they become a part of people's lives in a way that it's not possible anymore.

I guess the best example is within the Buck family. Joe Buck, Jack's son, is as talented a young guy to come along in this business as I've seen in a long, long time. He has, in some areas, better ability than his dad. He's more of a master of television than his dad was. But if Joe Buck, for some reason, spent 42 years as the voice of the Cardinals, like his dad did, they wouldn't be the same 42 years with radio being so important, and before television encroached, and all the highlight reels and everything and a different feeling about the game.

He went, Jack Buck, from Musial to McGuire and all stops in between. That's just never going to be possible anymore.

You know, when Chick Hern passes away, yes, Chick Hern was great. But if Chick Hern was 30 years old and starting out today, he'd still be excellent, but he couldn't get into people's minds and hearts the way the did then because everything's changed.

KING: When Ozzie Smith hit that homer, that would be his second homer of the year, second homer of a career, and Jack Buck yelled, ``Go crazy, go crazy,'' why did purists consider that great broadcasting when others might say it sounded like Homerville?

COSTAS: You know what? You got to be the guy who can pull it off. Why can some comics be off-color but it doesn't seem gratuitous and vulgar? Because there's some charm or something about their presence or something about the quality of their delivery that allows them to address a subject in a certain way, and it seems heavy-handed with somebody else.

Buck had the credibility. He had the great delivery and voice, and it was spontaneous. It wasn't like he scripted it. It wasn't like he had it at the ready.

KING: Like Russ Hodges: ``The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant.''


KING: Everything was in that, right?

COSTAS: You know, as great as that moment was, as much passion as there was in New York for baseball and that pennant race, if you don't have Russ Hodges call--there aren't that many people who know Bobby Thompson and Ralph Franca (ph) are today, you know. I was born the next year. But I almost feel as if I was in the ballpark because of Russ Hodges.

KING: In our remaining moments, we'll ask about Chick Hern and Costas' own career. Why didn't he go elsewhere, like ESPN, ABC, because he loves baseball, and NBC don't have it. We'll be right back.

COSTAS: It don't?

KING: It don't.


KING: We're back with Bob Costas.

Chick Hern was special.

COSTAS: He was, obviously, a great broadcaster. A very, very nice man.

KING: The national audience didn't know him as well as...

COSTAS: That's right. That's right.

KING: Vin Scully is an L.A. treasure, but the national audience knows him from all the games on NBC and CBS Radio.

COSTAS: With Chick, the national audience really knew him because the Lakers were so often in the finals or deep into the playoffs, and whatever network was doing the games would take a moment almost every game, put the camera on Chick, and Marv Albert or me or whoever was doing the game would talk about Chick. But the average guy in Peoria doesn't have a Chick call in his head the way they have those Jack Buck calls and Vin Scully.

KING: His brilliance was what?

COSTAS: His brilliance was he had perfectly descriptive phrases, many of which he coined himself--''finger roll,'' ``air ball,'' ``slam dunk,'' ``no harm, no foul.'' He had a rat-a-tat style that was perfectly married to the rhythm of the game he called. And he had boyish enthusiasm. And of course he had longevity.

You know, someone asked me about it the day after he died. I said a guy like Chick Hearn, Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, their broadcasts are bulletins and flashbacks at the same time. It's today's game, but when you hear their voice you're a kid at the same time.

KING: Well said. Now, Costas, why didn't you take the baseball deal and go ESPN- ABC?

COSTAS: Well, yes, they made a very nice offer that included baseball games, but the biggest baseball games, the kind that I have done through the years at NBC, are all on Fox--All-Star games, playoffs, World Series. So I could have done some regular season games at ESPN and...

KING: They would have had you and Jon Miller, the cream of the crop.

COSTAS: Not together, but on different nights. Right. Right.

KING: Not bad.

COSTAS: And ESPN actually wanted me to do a show that they called a Larry King of sports show, once a week, half sports guests, half non-sports guests, the way I do now on HBO. Except on HBO it's just 12 weeks out of the year. They wanted to do it like 40 or 45 weeks out of the year, and then there would have been some work for ABC News.

And it's something that earlier in my career I might have taken, but the schedule was kind of overwhelming, and I don't want to spend that much time on the road anymore. I'd rather have more time at home.

KING: But you may be--well, Keith Olbermann at CNN probably would be number one as a talent in unused talent.


But you may be the best-known underutilized talent in America.

COSTAS: Well, I do...

KING: You're underutilized.


KING: We don't see you enough.

COSTAS: Well...

KING: You did the NBA this year, right?

COSTAS: I did the NBA Finals, because it was--and I filled in on a handful of games when Marv Albert had an automobile accident. This was our last time around at NBC. And I'll still host the Olympics every other year.

KING: You do the Triple Crown.

COSTAS: The Triple Crown horse races. And if you have HBO, then I do ``Inside the NFL'' starting his fall on HBO... KING: Oh, that's right, you're the host of ``Inside...''

COSTAS: ... with Cris Collinsworth, Cris Carter and Dan Marino.

KING: Lenny Dawson left?

COSTAS: Lenny Dawson and Nick Buoniconti had a great long run, and now they've changed the show...

KING: That'll be a fun show for you.

COSTAS: It'll be a fun show. Getting back to football in that form will be good.

KING: Do you like HBO?

COSTAS: I love HBO. And, you know, a good part of my decision was that you can do things on HBO that you can't do elsewhere. They really have a great track record with sports documentaries, ``Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.'' They have a dedication to journalism and commentary in sports that you don't find at the networks.

KING: Why only 12 weeks?

COSTAS: Trying to figure that out ourselves. We are gently suggesting that the show...

KING: I mean, it's nuts. It's such a good show. Why not...

COSTAS: I think it's a show that could very well...

KING: You did a half-hour show recently with Barry Bonds...

COSTAS: Right.

KING: ... Tom Cruise...

COSTAS: Right. And George Carlin, in the same half-hour.

KING: ... and George Carlin in the same half-hour.

COSTAS: And even though there are no commercials on HBO, a half an hour isn't enough if you're going to book guests like that.

KING: Is it fun working on a no-commercial network?

COSTAS: Yes, yes, it is. When we had Vince McMahon and Bobby Knight once, we just kept--the show was an hour that year, and we did McMahon for 29 uninterrupted minutes, ran a 10-second bumper so I could move from one part of the set to the other, and then did Knight for 20 uninterrupted minutes. And that's, you know, that's a freedom you don't have elsewhere.

They do good work at HBO, and I'm happy with what they're doing with the show. And if they expand it so it's more than 12 weeks, then I'll be happier still. KING: How much fun is the Olympics? Or is it tough and at times tedious?

COSTAS: Not tedious, but tough. And, you know, I accept--you can't accept all the benefits, all the various benefits that come with being on the air and having the kind of jobs I have, and not accept some of the drawbacks. You can work behind the scenes maybe to make things better.

The Olympics are a tremendous honor, they're a great assignment. In some ways, they occasionally send a false message about me, because I think people will always associate the most familiar name and face with the general tone of things. And so, occasionally I'll pick up a newspaper, read a story about the Olympics, I don't think it has anything to do with me, and then all of a sudden I'll see a reference: ``Well, time for another maudlin Bob Costas feature.''

I may be many things, but I'm not maudlin. In fact, I'm always pulling on the other end of the rope, I'm always trying to get them to take the melodrama and the violin strings down a bit. And I try to communicate that to the audience, and perceptive people get it.

But if you're introducing a piece that's a little over the top on the soap opera, and if you're surrounded by that, and if there aren't enough opportunities within the broadcast to do the kind of commentary that I do here or that I can do on HBO, then you don't get to show enough of yourself.

I usually anchor solo. It's hard to be as humorous as you'd like to be just looking into the camera. You know, a lot of times I'll be hosting the Olympics, I get off some kind of line, and you hear the cameraman in the corner laugh, and I go, ``Hey, thanks a lot.'' You know, it's like you're broadcasting into a vacuum.

I think it'd be better for me if I could do more interviews, do more commentaries and interact with other people more. It's still great, but it could be better.

KING: Only got a couple seconds. Root for the United States?



COSTAS: Appreciate the United States, don't root.

KING: Only we could pull this off in the same weekend, Costas and Anna Nicole Smith tomorrow. Does that thrill you?

COSTAS: It does, as long as you don't bring a camera into my bathroom.


I draw the line there. KING: Bob Costas on this edition of Larry King Weekend. Let's hope he's right about the baseball strike. Anna Nicole Smith tomorrow on Larry King Weekend.

Thanks for joining us. Have a great rest of the weekend, and good night.