Watching all the baseball games on television this season has made one thing perfectly clear: baseball is fine, but the coverage needs fixing. The games are not as slow as your screen would have you believe. Sure, a single contest can eat up four hours of summertime, but no one snoozes when sitting at the ballpark. You feel alive, focusing on one player and then another, peaking at the scoreboard, studying the bullpens, detecting dugout contretemps, noticing a subtle defensive shift, amused by a jumpy on-deck hitter or a juking baserunner, the idiosyncratic coach or the spotlight-hogging umpire.
Television can see all that and more — but refuses. Why? Lazy? Complacent? Jaded? Take your pick. Television seems inattentive to the myriad subplots and cat-and-mouse intrigues. No player on the field is doing nothing. They lean, preen, plan, sneak, scheme, sulk, cheat. Human beings can be fascinating given half a chance. So it must be the folks who broadcast the game who are lethargic and pedestrian, not the game or its participants (save the incessant and obsessive Velcro adjusting). Eighty-one home games is a long haul. Directors and camera people get exhausted. With this shortened season, it’s a perfect time to experiment.
Here are 15 ways to juice up the old game. Not the bat or the ball or the biceps or the rules — just the coverage.
1. The Rehab. Do not mainline the pitcher. Break the habit. If the camera fixates on Corey Kluber for 20 seconds between pitches, and he throws 100 pitches, that’s a full half hour of watching a phiz with less expression than Keanu Reeves in a coma. Who wants to watch that? That a pitcher is determined to keep his feelings to himself is valid, but it does not make for thrilling television. After the first inning, cut to Kluber only when he begins his windup or greets a visitor to the mound or has a mental breakdown.
2. The Unholy Trinity. Do not get lost in the Bermuda triangle of pitcher-hitter-catcher. Sure, the centerfield shot is your bread and butter, but relying on it makes the game small and mundane; it’s essentially the same angle used in the 1960 Yankees-Pirates World Series. It has aged poorly. No depth of field. No sense of pitch velocity. No intensity. No shortstop darting back and forth. We need more cameras and more camera angles. Don’t cut back-and-forth willy-nilly, like bad concert footage, but thoughtful, instructive transitions. Take us behind-the-scenes to a place we cannot go: the stationary bicycle, the batting cage, the bullpen, the scouts section, or the announcers in the radio booth.
3. The Angles. It’s the fifth inning. Since batters have far less screen time than pitchers — they might be gone in one pitch or five–let’s stay on them between pitches, explore their rituals and quirks, tics and prayers. Does J.D. Martinez fill his mind or empty it when he mutters to himself? To whom is Aaron Judge pointing in the sky? The batter’s box never moves, so setting up a variety of angles can’t be very difficult.
4. The Defense. How many times has someone hit a laser beam past the pitcher’s head and you think “RBI single!” only to watch the shortstop make an easy catch and turn a double play? Show us the defense! Before every batter. And during the at-bat, after the batter fails to get the bunt down, or the runner steals second, or the count runs full. Show us the shifting shifts, please.
5. The Close-Up. In its infancy, television baseball had a sharper eye. They utilized the close-up to ultimate effect. They teased emotion and drama. They focused on the wrinkles of a furrowed brow. They may have revealed a soul or two. No one is saying every director has to be Eric Rohmer or David Fincher, but it’s not that hard to tell a cameraman to move in. They do that for a living. And then we can see a real live human being. We are accustomed to the C.U. — in selfies and indies and in the mirror.
6. The Cheat Sheet. Between batters, some outfielders stretch, some converse with the fans, some take a peek at the cheat sheet in their back pocket. What does that cheat sheet say? Why not shoot it before the game begins and show us what the centerfielder is reading. It might say S2: play shallower than normal by two steps. Or D3: deeper by three steps. Or G4: four steps into the gap. L and R indicate left and right. And announcers might explain why this is preferable to a coach moving around outfielders with arms waving.
7. The Fans. When a player hits a walk-off dinger, do not show us the fans in the stands. We know: they are happy campers. They are deliriously high-fiving. They are no doubt lovely, loyal people, but they are anonymous and interchangeable and predictable and who cares? We’d much rather see the competitive juices of the smug slugger rounding the bases or the funk of the failed pitcher or any of their teammates reacting to the shock and awe of the moment or the finality of defeat. Can the fan.
8. The Stare. Managers are schooled in sphinx. They chew gum and spit sunflower shells and wisely reveal as little as humanly possible. On purpose. The blank Buddha gaze is part of their job description. They don’t want you or their players or the opposition to know what is bubbling inside their hearts or heads. They may be easy targets, sitting ducks, but rarely hit a visual bulls-eye. What can be gleaned from the incessant stare of Rocco Baldelli? Avoid managers. Unless they are banging a trash can or scolding a player or may be mic’d up.
9. The Wire. Mic all the players and coaches who welcome it. Athletes are more media savvy than ever and would love to share their thoughts and reactions. Live television is even more intimate and immediate than social media. Utilize an audio delay if necessary, just in case someone loses his mother truckin’ mind. Play the edited version during the next inning. Everyone wants to know what the hell a pitching coach tells a shell-shocked pitcher and how the pitcher responds. What does the first base coach tell Mike Trout when he gets walked for the third time?
Getting mic’d is no longer a gimmick best confined to spring training or a cross-town rivalry. And the more accustomed the players get, the more comfortable and open they will become. Let their personalities shine. Baseball is light years behind other sports in showcasing their people. Alex Rodriquez recently said, “I think, we as stewards of the game, have to take a lesson from last year’s All-Star Game…and absolutely open up the floodgates because the greatest part in the game, we’re not highlighting–the conversations that are happening real time in between the lines, in the dugouts, the strategies.”
10. The UmpCam. Affix a GoPro to the home umpire’s helmet or shoulder. Fear not. Surfers take them into the ocean. Give a GoPro to the third base ump, too. No one will care if the pictures are less than broadcast quality, if the pixels are not perfectly balanced. We are accustomed to hand-held wiggles and lightning static. It will add to the immediacy and the video verite. Use the technology that is both available and spectacularly inexpensive.
11. The Box Score. Everyone loves box scores. So put them on the screen at the start of every inning. Let us know what has happened without saying a word. It’s a historical capsule. Scroll it across the bottom of the screen, or display a traditional box score down the right-hand side of the screen. Give us something to read when the game takes a lull.
12. Inside Baseball. You have a lot of home games, so pick one player–or a scrub, a bat boy or a coach, a trainer, an announcer, a beat reporter or the GM–and follow him or her throughout the game. Start when he or she leaves home and guide us through his or her arrival and exercises and BP. It’s the game before the game. Pick a person and follow him or her. Let us join the daily journey. Some trips will be more fascinating than others, but all will enhance the understanding and appreciation of the game.
13. The Interview. Contrary to the long-held axiom that there are no stupid questions, there are indeed stupid questions! Lots of them. You hear them after most every game. “How does it feel?” is a stupid question when someone has just hit a walk-off grand slam. They feel like a million bucks. Or 20 million. Coursing through an athlete’s body is adrenalin, not poetry. He expresses himself with his physique, not his vocabulary. Do not ask, “How did your team come back in the ninth inning?” We know the answer. We just saw the answer: chemistry, luck, a key hit and an egregious error by the opposing shortstop. Try asking a different brand of question.
- How did you know slider or was that a guess?
- What intoxicant is your favorite for celebration?
- Who are you going to text first? Why?
- Who or what were you thinking about when you rounded the bases?
- Are you going to wash your socks? Your jock?
- What ritual did you perform today that you will repeat tomorrow?
14. The Prep. Vin Scully was outstanding, in part, because he did his homework. He knew more about each player than just the backs of their Topps baseball card or the press releases. He knew parents’ professions, best moment in Little League, pregame meal, the last book they didn’t read. To prepare for any lulls in the game, ask players on camera for their opinions about replays and launch angles and three-batter minimums for relievers. Interview the vendors, the coaches, the spouses. Have something up close and personal in the can to fill the lulls created by visits to the mound or minor injuries or while waiting for the official word from headquarters to ascertain if what you just saw was really what you just saw. You have all day, every day to prepare. The game is populated by people and people, once again, can be fascinating given half a chance and some screen time.
15. Last Idea: If producers, directors and cameramen are not tested regularly for performance-enhancing drugs, well, maybe, perhaps … just sayin’ … could they try some?
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox