Best: Fox, ESPN hoping Yankees-Dodgers is blast from past

FILE - Reggie Jackson connects for his third

FILE - Reggie Jackson connects for his third home run against the Dodgers to become "Mr. October." Each of the homers came off a different pitchers. Jackson would win World Series MVP as the Yankees won the series in six games against the Dodgers. (October 18, 1977) (Credit: AP)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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It's a peculiar rivalry, to the extent that it is one at all anymore, with the teams having met only once in a non-exhibition setting since 1981 - for an interleague series in 2004.

"I retired 10 years ago, and I never played the Yankees [as a Dodger]," said ESPN's Orel Hershiser, who spent 13 seasons in Los Angeles beginning in 1983.

"For me, Yankees-Dodgers is Reggie's home runs , Reggie sticking his hip out [in the '78 Series]. Maybe you can get Bill Russell or Steve Garvey or Ron Cey on the phone.''

Hershiser wasn't being flippant, just realistic.

"I think it's going to be 45-year-olds and above going, 'Wow, this is a big series,' '' he said of three games that begin Friday night at Chavez Ravine.

But even if that is so, the histories of the franchises and sizes of their markets easily make it attractive enough to justify what TV types have planned.

After Friday night on YES, the series moves into prime time on Fox Saturday and ESPN Sunday.

The matchup was a no-brainer for national television, but the fact that Fox is showing it to 70 percent of the nation carries particular importance for the network.

This is the second of two experimental prime-time Saturday windows this year - after one in May that featured a Yankees-Mets game - and Fox would like to increase that number in 2011.

Ed Goren, vice chairman of Fox Sports Media Group, is working with MLB and Fox's entertainment division to make that happen. Analyst Tim McCarver is all for it.

"I think it's great; I love it,'' he said, adding that he preferred night games even as a player. "I can't speak for Ed or the network, but from my standpoint, I would love to treble the number of prime-time games and have six or eight.''

Big ratings this season would help. The network won the age 18-49 demographic in May and finished with 2.7 percent of homes and 4.3 million viewers, both way up from a typical afternoon.

With better matchups and lesser network competition, the numbers figure to be better this time.

Unlike the 51-year-old Hershisher, Goren, 66, has a personal connection to the rivalry, having grown up in Brooklyn and spent his youth around the Dodgers when his father, Herb, a sportswriter, covered the team.

But even now, as a TV executive, he believes the echoes of the past resonate.

"Not to the level it once did, let's be realistic,'' he said. "But I do think there still is a sense of rivalry, and the fact Joe Torre is in the Dodgers' dugout adds a little spice to it.''

Ah, Torre. See? There is a subplot for viewers under 30, too. These will be the Yankees' first games against him since he left after 2007 - and since his controversial book about the team came out early last year.

Hershiser and McCarver praised Torre's work in L.A., Hershiser calling it "fantastic'' given the challenges he has faced and McCarver adding, "I think everyone knew Joe's qualifications as a winner from his days with the Yankees, but to be in the playoffs two times his first two years here? I don't think anybody predicted that. I certainly didn't.''

Like Goren, McCarver, 68, is old enough to remember the really old days of Dodgers vs. Yankees. And Torre or no Torre, he believes the mere sight of those two classic uniforms will draw fans to their TVs this weekend.

"The lore of baseball is familiar enough with enough people,'' he said, "to understand the Yankees and the Dodgers represent two special franchises.''

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