Thursday, March 16, 2006

TV Director Coyle Changed The Way Viewers Watched Baseball

The next time you watch a baseball game on TV, say thank you to Harry Coyle.

Coyle, an oldtime TV director from the 1950's, was the first to use what is now a staple for all baseball telecasts: the centerfield camera.

Think about it. Imagine watching a game today without the comfortable pitcher-batter-catcher shot that is so wonderfully captured by the centerfield camera -- with its long, zoom lens. How disconcerting that would be!

Prior to Coyle's idea, baseball games were shot -- whether on TV or in newsreels -- from behind the plate, in the press box. Not a bad angle, actually. And since you rarely miss something you never had, it's doubtful baseball fans in the '50's clamored for a centerfield camera.

But Coyle fell in love with the idea. His video eye immediately appreciated the neatness of the shot's image. All you needed to see was in one frame: the pitcher, the batter, the catcher, and the home plate umpire. And while you could see those principals from behind home plate, there was one thing you could see with Coyle's centerfield camera that you couldn't from behind home plate: the ball's path after it left the pitcher's hand -- including seeing, for the first time, a curve ball curving, or a knuckleball dancing.

However, he had a difficult time getting permission from baseball to use the camera, for two reasons: The leagues feared teams could steal the catcher's signs if they merely kept a television in the dugout, and umpires didn't like the notion of viewers at home being able to legitimately argue their ball/strike calls. But after much persistence, and backing from his network -- NBC --Coyle's centerfield camera was granted the green light.

Coyle was also the director who placed a camera inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park during the 1975 World Series. Thus, he was able to capture the image of Carlton Fisk waving his homerun fair in Game 6.

Harry Coyle died a few years ago, but his centerfield camera is still very much alive.

Let's face it: we can't do without it now.
Third Basemen

10. Aurelio Rodriguez (Detroit). Okay -- a homer pick. But Aurelio was a brilliant fielder with a rifle arm. Just not much with the bat. I know he must have committed errors, but I don't remember any of them.
9. Graig Nettles (NY Yankees). Nettles put on quite a show in the 1977 World Series, but it was overshadowed by Reggie Jackson's three homers in the clinching sixth game. Nettles, though, put on a fielding clinic. One of the better homerun hitters in the 1970's.
8. Buddy Bell (Texas). Bell is a sleeper, but he had a cannon arm and had nifty glove work. No slouch at the plate, either. Played on a lot of bad teams, however.
7. Ron Cey (Los Angeles). The Penguin. Kind of a funny-looking guy, when you compare him to other third sackers of his time, but Cey waddled just well enough at third to get to most balls hit his way. Lots of pop in his bat.
6. Doug DeCinces (Balt/Calif). Power, arm, range -- but not a hit-for-average guy. Still, a competent third baseman. Supplanted Brooks Robinson in Baltimore.
5. Bill Madlock (Cubs/Giants). Not here for his glove, but "Mad Dog" was a terrific hitter. Provided spark to the '87 Tigers in their improbable run to capture the AL East flag. Later became the Tigers' hitting coach.
4. Pete Rose (Cincinnati). Wasn't sure where to put Rose, because he played so many positions. But I settled on third because it's the toughest one that he played. His hitting prowess speaks for itself. Better-than-average fielder at third, playing a lot of games on artificial turf.
3. George Brett (Kansas City). Brett batted .390 in 1980. That alone should put him this high, but Brett was a reliable fielder and, of course, a dynamite hitter. He took the teachings of hitting guru Charley Lau to the nth degree, and many of the Royals hitters became disciples.
2. Brooks Robinson (Baltimore). He barely makes the list because I only saw the last six years of his career. But he belongs because when you think of third base, you think of Brooks Robinson. Maybe the best fielding third basemen ever. Probably played a few years too long -- his last three averages were .201, .211, and .149 -- and not terribly consistent at the plate, but would you NOT want him as your third baseman?
1. Mike Schmidt (Philadelphia). Third baseman extraordinaire: he could hit with power, drive in runs, and he fielded admirably. With apologies to Robinson fans, I place Schmidt at #1. In the 1970's and '80's, Schmidt was one of the very best players in the game. Ended up with 548 career homers and 1,595 RBI.

Tomorrow: shortstops.


Blogger Lee Panas said...

I love the center field camera of course. I just wish they would not use it on every single pitch. A little variety would be nice. I realize that this is not Coyle's fault.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I agree to a certain extent, but it's clearly the best angle. Thanks for the visit and the comment!

4:01 PM  
Blogger Ian C. said...

I can't imagine a baseball telecast without the centerfield camera. And I didn't realize just how perfect it already was until ESPN tried that overhead shot for its "K Zone."

You got a better view of the strike zone, and the movement on several pitches, but it just wasn't as inclusive as the view we're now accustomed to.

12:36 PM  

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