July 1993 - Suggestions From A Sofa Spud

There's nothing like being at the old yard to see a baseball game, and TV will never be able to duplicate that experience, even with Smell-O-Vision. In spite of that, a favored New England pastime is putting the Red Sox on the tube, kicking back, and drifting off into a well-deserved nap, fading in and out of consciousness as the drama on the field unfolds. Local fans are very fortunate to have TV access to all 162 Sox games -- a luxury few teams afford. TV38 and NESN deserve much credit for just being there.

Baseball is one of the hardest sports to televise -- the field is big, the ball is small, and things happen simultaneously on different parts of the field. While both network and local coverage of baseball have become much more sophisticated over the last few years, there's still significant room for improvement in the way TV covers baseball. Too often I wonder if the gang out in the truck pushing buttons has ever sat in the stands -- if they really understand the nuances of the game.

No camera is as clever as the human eye, but recent technical advancements and greater attention to detail have provided the opportunity for much better pictures. Like any new toy, the technology is sometimes overused. Zoom lenses that allow fabulous close-ups are being misused to follow the flight of the ball. If I'm in the ballpark, I can see the ball fly from an infielder's hand to the first basemen's mitt, and at the same time follow the runner down the base path. I know if it's going to be a bang-bang play. On TV, the current modus operandi calls for the camera to zoom in on the ball as it travels to first, completely ignoring the base runner. We see the runner enter the picture just as he is reaching the bag, not knowing until that moment how tight a race it's been. By pulling back on that common shot and showing both the ball and the runner, the picture becomes vastly more interesting and useful. Similarly, when a fly ball is hit to the outfield, zooming in on the stitches of the ball robs us of perspective, and tells us little about its flight. A waist-up shot of an outfielder making a catch leaves us wondering how far he had to run, and where he ended up.

And enough already with the crowd shots! After a Sox home run in Fenway, both TV38 and NESN lapse into a camera shot "formula" that always includes two pointless shots of the adoring throng. We all know what a bunch of people standing and clapping looks like -- that never changes. Show us more of the moment: The batter in his home run trot, the pitcher slamming the rosin bag into the mound, the opposing manager seething -- anything but the crowd!

Baseball differs from most other sports in that the act of scoring is frequently not the most critical element of an offensive sequence. When a gapper is hit with a man on second, we're fairly confident he's going to score. Seeing him round third tells us what we need to know -- we don't need to see him touch the plate at the expense of more significant action. While baseball directors as a group are getting much better at this basic concept, a recent NESN broadcast followed Billy Hatcher trotting all the way to the dugout, completely missing Mike Greenwell barreling head-first into a close play at second.

The way the score is displayed on the tube could use some improvement as well. An inning by inning tally is considerably more telling than a simple run total, especially in a high scoring contest. Why not use the long form every time the score is shown, instead of occasionally. Also, the score in the middle of the first inning is correctly stated as "Visitors nothing, home team coming to bat." Assuming no hits and no errors, that score should appear on your TV screen (and in the ballpark -- it amazes me how many major league scoreboards don't get this right) as:













The home team's score is not zero, they're "coming to bat." Likewise, the visiting team has not yet been in the field, so they have not had the opportunity to commit any errors. Picky, yes, but baseball rules are infinitely picky.

There's talk of eventually having interactive TV, where the viewer will control which camera shot appears on their home entertainment centers. That will go a long way towards letting fans see the game as it really happens, but it won't be completely satisfying until the right shots are called in the truck. Boston fans have a reputation of being among the most sophisticated and knowledgeable in baseball. We deserve TV coverage to match.

©1993 - 2005 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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