Non-stop TV shots touch all bases, except those afield

PHIL JACKMAN

October 16, 1992|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

Back in the days when baseball started showing up on television with a little bit of regularity, they placed a camera high behind home plate and bolted it to the floor. It could scan right and left over a course of about 150 degrees. Primitive by today's standards, to be sure, but there was an advantage to that arrangement: The camera showed what was going on on the field.

These days, you get the idea if a gamecast director or producer is apprehended showing too much of the action (and inaction) between the lines, his next assignment will involve the frozen tundra, sled dogs and 20-hour days in Alaska.

Here's what's shown during a typical at-bat by CBS: Close-up of hitter, then pitcher. Shot from center-field camera. Close-up of hitter, pitcher and hitter again before switch to backstop camera. Shot of both managers in dugout, hitter, pitcher, thence to center-field camera. Close-up of unidentified person in the dugout doing absolutely nothing. Center-field camera shot of batter making contact before a quick and bewildering switch to a wide-angle shot. Then quick close-ups of an outfielder, the runner and a guy covering second base around another wide shot.

Talk about disorientation; what is this?

Network people always say they want to provide the viewer at home with the same sense of "game" as the person at the ballpark. But they fail miserably. When you're sitting in a ballpark, your eyes slowly scan a couple of acres of playing field, occasionally moving to check out the stands, message boards, etc. Rarely are there any quick movements until a batter rips a drive down a foul line.

The way TV sees it for us, though, the eyes -- around like a water bug avoiding overtures by a largemouth bass. We're here, there and everywhere between every pitch. And what is shown to the viewer is the obvious: Players scratching or spitting. Fans cheering when something happens. A kid sleeping in a parent's arms (after all, it is 11 p.m. and only the fifth inning). A manager managing.

They tell you not much is going on between pitches, which is the truth, but not why they feel a need to present the game as something other than baseball. Sometimes, the pictures and the patter by the announcers become so unnerving, one welcomes the commercials.

On second thought, maybe that's the whole idea.

* For all the chattering Tim McCarver does during a game, it's strange that he didn't say a word about Orlando Merced slowing himself down by watching the play unfold as he ran toward the plate trying to score Pittsburgh's third run in Game 7 of the National League playoffs Wednesday night. Did Merced being tossed out at home turn out to be important to the Bucs, or what?

Another bad play that didn't draw comment from the ebullient McCarver involved Atlanta's Mark Lemke standing 10 feet off third base with the bases loaded and one out and his team trailing, 2-0. A subsequent line drive to third base doubled him up.

In the play-by-play department, Sean McDonough, the kid that never misspeaks, is made to sound like one of the all-time greats in the business when he moves into the chair after Dick Stockton has worked a game.

The latter's idea of embellishing high drama is repeating incessantly, "The Blue Jays are three outs away from their first American League pennant," followed by two outs, one out, three strikes, two strikes, etc. . . . and he's positively ecstatic when he gets a chance to inform us, "Roberto Alomar could be the youngest player to ever win a championship series MVP." Wow!

* Don't forget, "Diamonds on the Silver Screen" is playing the AMC cable channel these days, and it's certainly worth a watch. As filmmaker Steve Stern puts it, "Baseball's great. You can do anything you want with it," and the industry has.

* WBAL Radio will be doing 25 Bullets games this season, split nearly equally between home and road games, a majority of them falling on Saturdays and Sundays when they become part of the station's "Sports Weekend" format.

About 30 tapes for the open Orioles announcing job have tumbled onto the desk of audition meister Jeff Beauchamp, and he and Jon Miller have been burning the midnight oil grading the aspirants.

"The job will go to an experienced major-league announcer," says Beauchamp, "and we'll be down to a short list in three weeks and expect to name a guy by Thanksgiving."

All things considered, the station should have this finding a replacement announcement business down to a science.

* Belated birthday wishes to Jim Palmer, who kicked off his 48th year yesterday by practicing for several hours on his "Mr. Microphone."

* The hockey game on ESPN tonight has Buffalo taking on the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning. The expansionists spent most of the week atop the NHL's Norris Division, which is stupefying considering the way all new franchises are stocked.

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