In 2015, Cubs postseason games were all on TBS. The consensus among most of us was that their coverage was pretty bad, as summed up in this article I wrote last October (and the poll attached had an overwhelming majority rank the coverage at two stars or lower on a scale of five).
The networks contracted for MLB postseason coverage through 2021 rotate the early rounds, so the National League games are (mostly) on FS1, Fox’s cable channel.
Since I’m at the games I’m not watching what most of you are, but I’ve seen the highlights. Suffice to say I’m glad my vantage point is the same as it is for me during regular-season games at Wrigley -- but yours isn’t, because TV executives, in their infinite wisdom (read those last two words with sarcasm) have decided: “If some is good, more must be better!”
“Some” in this case applies to pretty much everything the network does, from announcers (too many) to crowd and celebrity shots (look, we get it, Bill Murray’s a Cubs fan and has been for decades, but we don’t need to see his face on every single play) to camera angles that don’t really show us what we need to see.
Steve Rosenbloom of the Tribune — with whom, I might point out, I don’t often agree — nails it on this one, with an article titled “Why does Fox Sports hate baseball fans?”
Fox Sports’ broadcast of Cubs-Giants on its FS1 channel Friday night was a whole lot of odd, off-putting angles. The outfield shot seemed like the cameras were on the roof of Murphy’s Bleachers and the replays came from Uncle Morris using his first iPhone.
Here’s a good example of that “Murphy’s” shot:
That’s... too high. It gives you the perspective of... pretty much no one. That camera is located on a temporary platform that’s been constructed next to the bottom left corner of the center-field scoreboard. The shot below is from a camera house that’s pretty much been in the same place (reconstructed a few times) since the late 1950s and serves for every locally-televised Cubs game (this shot from the game on September 23):
That shows the proper relationship, it’s easy to see where the ball goes, and is at a height you’d want to have. Here’s one tweet describing Fox’s camera position perfectly:
is there a chance Fox doesn't have the rights to this game and they're actually pirating a security camera feed from across the street?— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) October 8, 2016
Fox did have at least one camera in the camera house in center field, and I’m not certain (having not seen the games on TV) how often, if at all, it was used. Most of the time, networks bring in extra cameras for postseason games. That’s useful for isolated replays on individual players, but it can also add to visual clutter.
Then there are things like the way Fox covered Javier Baez’ game-winning homer on Friday:
That’s a really deep high far fly ball... it’s going to land on the rooftop across the street... oh, wait. It just barely makes the basket. Granted, the wind did knock that ball down, but this kind of coverage -- following a baseball against a dark sky -- drives me nuts. The Chicago crews know to follow the fielders, as they’ll generally let you know by their actions and movements where the ball’s going to land. That’s a much better way of covering fly balls or home runs, and that way, when a home run lands, you get better crowd reaction, not to mention fielder reaction, which Fox nearly missed here (the forlorn look on Angel Pagan’s face).
And I haven’t even touched on the irrelevant blather, such as running a taped interview during Travis Wood’s home run Saturday night. Overproduction at its worst; the vast majority of in-game interviews are useless. I realize national networks are attempting to capture the interest of the “casual fan,” but this isn’t the way to do it, in my opinion, and doing it turns off those of us who are really into the games and want to see the focus on baseball.
I will say that Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz are a good broadcast team (haven’t heard them in this series, but have on other occasions). On this, I concur with Rosenbloom:
Say this for FS1, though: Vasgergian and Smoltz are excellent. Smoltz, in fact, is one of the best going. And MLB wonks should listen to his ideas for changing the playoff structure to benefit properly the team that finishes with the best record in each league.
And see if Smoltz has any ideas on camera work.
“Do Simple Better” is one of Joe Maddon’s slogans for this year’s Cubs, and they have done it very well. It’s a lesson that could well be learned by TV networks, too.