Orioles-Yankees games highlight differences of baseball networks

Media Watch

September 16, 1997|By Milton Kent

If you were lucky enough not to be one of the 95,000 fans who suffered through the two Orioles-Yankees blowouts this weekend at Camden Yards, but rather took them in on television, you got to see the work of two networks, Fox and ESPN, that clearly cherish the sport, but approach it in very different ways.

The matchup of the two best teams in the league drew each network's No. 1 production and announcing team, and the contrasts couldn't be more startling.

Start with Fox's John Filippelli, 46, who heads the baseball operation for the network, is a gregarious type who provides a human face to the word "animated."

Filippelli, a four-time Emmy award winner at NBC where he produced that network's Saturday Game of the Week for 10 years before coming to Fox last year, runs a telecast that is, in a manner befitting the network he works for, brassy and engaging.

"We have some tools at our disposal and some little nuances that we think the fans will enjoy," Filippelli said.

The Fox broadcast, manned in the booth by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver with guest analyst Bob Brenly, is heavy on equipment, with microphones located in just about every conceivable place, and a few you might not imagine, including in the bases, on

Yankees manager Joe Torre and along the outfield wall.

The 18 manned and robotic cameras at the disposal of Filippelli and director Bill Webb, likewise, are everywhere, including on the mask of a catcher, though for Saturday's telecast, Orioles receiver Chris Hoiles would not wear the camera at the request of starting pitcher Mike Mussina.

"Nobody at Fox came into this thinking that we were going to reinvent the wheel. We just want to give it a little bit of a face lift, and the game needed a little bit of a face lift," said Filippelli. "By doing the catcher-cam and putting the microphones in the bases, and microphones on managers and coaches and hot zones and spray charts, maybe we've redefined it a little bit and raised the bar a little bit. And that's great."

nTC Meanwhile, ESPN's Phil Orlins, 33, quietly sits in front of his bank of monitors and calls out commands in a manner more befitting the image of a librarian than a television producer.

Orlins and his team, which includes former Orioles radio announcer Jon Miller, do a telecast that no doubt appeals to the "seamhead" fan, the guy who can rattle off batting and earned run averages at the drop of a cap, and is dependent on its announcer team, Miller and Joe Morgan, to move the show.

"Every time we walk out of the truck, I feel like some little things went wrong, there was a technical mistake or whatever, but 90 percent or more of the time, I walk out feeling, especially if it was an exciting game, that as far as the real basic things that make the show work, we do achieve that," said Orlins.

"Most of that comes off what Jon and Joe do in the booth and how we respond to that. I do feel like if it was an emotional game, I always walk away feeling like we caught that emotion. I walk away feeling almost always that Jon and Joe have been knowledgeable, insightful and personable on the air."

The two sides circle each other, sometimes from town to town, with a manner of respect for the other's approach, but with a clear sense of pride in how they attack the game.

Said Filippelli: "I don't view it as competition, like they got this and we didn't, or we got this and they didn't. We all need to work together. We need to join hands and work together. We need to be larger than that. Any kind of petty differences that did exist among networks, I would like to think that that's all gone now.

"It should be gone, because we have a larger agenda. That is that the viewer should receive -- a relaxing enjoying and entertaining show. Informative, yet entertaining, because our larger agenda is to have people watch baseball games, and whether they watch it on Fox or ESPN or NBC, as long as they're watching, it's good for the industry. That really has to be the overview."

Whatever their differences in style and approach, what Orlins and Filippelli agree on is that any production is dependent on the quality of the game that is being covered.

If that's the case, both networks got gypped by the Yankees and Orioles, who, in true 1997 form, gave national audiences two groaners of games that threw severe challenges as the telecasters.

In Fox's case, the rapidness of Saturday's 6-1 Orioles win left Filippelli with over 20 minutes of air time to fill, an eternity by television standards. It required a skillful juggle between the network's Hollywood studio and the Camden Yards truck, but they managed.

Meanwhile, ESPN's problem was of the other extreme. Sunday's 8-2 Yankees victory disintegrated quickly, but dragged on, forcing Orlins to "empty the bucket" and use virtually every sound bite and feature to hold whatever audience hadn't tuned into the New England-New York Jets football game.

"There's not a thing in the world you can do to make those last three innings seem like you're in what a playoff game was going to be like," said Orlins. "The important thing was the first four or five innings when it was good. Hopefully it felt like it was a big atmosphere, and pretty interesting baseball going on."

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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