Pitchers should get up to speed on allowing 'Catcher Cam' use

Media Watch

September 19, 1997|By Milton Kent

You already know that Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina declined to allow Fox to use its "Catcher Cam" during Saturday's Orioles-Yankees telecast, but he wasn't the only one to firmly -- but wrongly -- thumb his nose at technology.

Reliever Alan Mills let catcher Lenny Webster know before Sunday night's ESPN game that if Mills got in, he wanted Webster to remove the mask that held the camera.

When Mills was inserted in the sixth, Webster continued to wear the camera-attached mask, and viewers got to see Chad Curtis' two-run homer through the camera. However, when Mills returned for the seventh, Webster went back to his conventional mask, and ESPN's "Mask-Cam" was done for the night.

Before the game, Mills said he was concerned that the camera's position would approximate a batter's perspective enough to give the hitter an edge, particularly if things like the pitcher's delivery or release point or the positioning of his hands could be captured on tape to be reviewed.

The refusals by Mills and Mussina to allow the camera no doubt got a spur from Atlanta's Greg Maddux's similar stance last month in a game against St. Louis, though you also have to believe that the pitchers were loath to show the Yankees, whom they might see again in the playoffs, anything that could be used against them in the high-stakes atmosphere of the postseason.

"From the fan's perspective, it's a great addition, but if you're on the inside, it might not be such a great thing," said Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles.

Hoiles, who wore the lightweight camera-mask for Fox two weeks ago, said he would only do so after consulting with that game's starter, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller, and if the pitcher raised an objection, he would not wear the mask.

Tim Scanlan, ESPN's coordinating producer for baseball, correctly points out that any number of cameras, camera angles and technical devices could, in theory, give an advantage to a hitter.

"We speak to Major League Baseball and the players' association on a weekly basis. This is the first time that a visual device has been used on the field and it's a useful tool," said Scanlan. "The goal was to educate viewers as to the relativity of speed, and I think we do that, but if a pitcher has a real problem with it and it causes a distraction, then we won't use it."

It's difficult, from this perspective, to grasp how it could be a distraction. It isn't as if ballclubs don't already pay advance scouts good money to give hitters the kind of information pitchers claim the camera will give. And with virtually every game already on local television, a pitcher's flaws can be exposed for the cost of a good VHS videotape, much less a pricey camera.

The world hasn't stopped turning since the NFL allowed sideline reporters to work during games, no doubt, over the objections of their coaches, whose whacked-out conspiracy theories make director Oliver Stone seem like a member of the Junior Paranoiacs League. Pitchers need to get over it and let the

networks do what they reasonably can to bring viewers back to (( the game.

Radio waves of change

Starting next season, baseball on the radio will be heard nationally on ESPN Radio, ending a 22-year association between the game and CBS Radio.

Under the terms of the five-year deal, announced yesterday, ESPN will carry all postseason games, including the World Series, a weekly Saturday game and a Sunday night contest, as well as the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Gala.

ESPN will also carry additional games on holidays and Opening Day and coverage of the winter meetings, major award announcements and this year's expansion draft.

"This is really good, because these guys really do it right," said Jeff Beauchamp, station manager at WBAL (1090 AM), which has both CBS and ESPN radio programming and will take the new baseball package.

Truth Squad, Week 3

The hottest rumors from Sunday's NFL pre-game shows revolved around the possibility of two franchise shifts.

CNN's Peter King reported that if the Minnesota Twins get a new stadium from the city of Minneapolis, the Vikings would be forced to move, and their new home would be in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Fox declared that the New England Patriots would shift their operation from Foxboro, Mass., to Providence, R.I., by 2000. We'll check on the progress of both these "developments" in the next four weeks or so.

Around the dial

ESPN's coverage of the Davis Cup semifinals pitting Australia against the United States from Washington this weekend marks a significant anniversary in the outlet's history, not to mention one of the commentators.

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