TIP OF THE CAP

How Houston Astros would do well to use Fox’s blueprint

The Astros could learn a thing or two from Fox's All-Star Game broadcast. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

Many times television falls flat when it tries to use technology to make games more enjoyable for viewers. For example, that camera angle where TV shows whether a checked swing should be called a strike … every one of them looks like the bat crosses the plate.

When TV interviews the manager for two minutes during the game, the manager says absolutely nothing worth hearing. It’s like they all went to the Craig Biggio School of Platitudes – “Framber is sharp tonight and we’re hoping he gives us seven good innings.”

Really? So you’re hoping Framber pitches well? Thanks for that.

Are baseball fans really interested in BABIP (batting average on balls in play), ERA+ (earned run average adjusted to reflect home ballpark and league environment), FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching, outcomes that have nothing to do with fielding), and ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average)?

Remember when Fox debuted its FoxTrak during hockey games, using glowing pucks that left a comet trail? That lasted only two seasons, from 1996 to 1998. Fun fact: NHL referees change the puck, on average, every three or four minutes. I didn’t know that.

But I must say, Fox did a brilliant job on baseball’s All-Star Game this week, especially mic’ing up pitchers and catchers. Fox has put a microphone on position players in the past, but this was the first time viewers got to eavesdrop on the dialog between battery mates, where real strategy and head games are played. Position players are reactive, they go where the ball goes. Pitchers and catchers dictate where the ball goes.

Fox wired the right pitchers and catchers, too. Toronto fireballer Alek Manoah let viewers share his excitement as he struck out William Contreras, Joc Pederson and Ronald Acuna Jr. in the second inning.

“Here we go, there’s one!”

“There’s two!”

“Right down the middle but we’ll take it. Three punchies! Let’s go!”

Major Leaguers call strikeouts “punchies?”

The conversation between pitchers Gerrit Cole in the AL dugout and Max Fried in the NL dugout was funny, agreeing that pitchers should never get in the batter’s box, although Cole proudly pointed out that he has three home runs in his career.

The dialog between Yankee pitcher Nestor Cortes and Yankee catcher Jose Trevino was fascinating, showing the trust between teammates. Maybe not what fans expected, Cortes was the one calling the pitchers.

“Backdoor cutter.”

“Heater up and in.”

Trevino mostly provided encouragement.

“What are you thinking?”

“Get it there!”

Fox’s telecast of the All-Star Game was so introspective and captivating, maybe, but probably not, MLB will allow local teams to put microphones on players so they can show off their personalities. Astros games already are entertaining, mic’ing up players would propel AT&T SportsNet Southwest into must-see (and hear) television.

Wouldn’t it be terrific to hear Geoff Blum, who’s got the balls to do it, asking Jose Altuve, “Whenever the camera is on you, you’re biting your nails … do you have any nails left? Are you chewing nubs by this point?”

Or Blum putting Justin Verlander on the spot, “Are you seriously considering leaving the Astros after this season? The Astros paid you $66 million over the past two years when you were sidelined with Tommy John surgery. Didn’t you hear Klay Thompson on the ESPYS expressing his gratitude to Warriors management for sticking by him when he was injured? Don’t you owe it to the Astros to stay?”

Here’s one I’d love to hear, put a microphone on manager Dusty Baker during a game. Ask him, “Why do you rest multiple players on the same day, especially at home when Houston fans are paying to see their favorite Astros? Why can’t you give players their days off on the road?

Last Friday, the first-place Astros were heavy -205 favorites to beat the last-place A’s at Minute Maid Park. Baker kept Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Martin Maldonado on the bench. Gurriel is hitting nearly .300 during July, Maldy is hot, and Altuve is … well, Altuve, the most popular player on the team and greatest Astro ever.

The lowly A’s upset the Astros, 5-1. Who knows if the Astros would have won if those three had played, but their chances would have been better. Replacing Altuve in the lineup, Mauricio Dubon entered that game hitting .198, and went 1-4. Subbing for Gurriel, J.J. Matijevic was hitting .154 and went 0-2. Catcher Korey Lee went 0-3.

Beating the A’s counts just as much as beating the Yankees in the final standings. The Astros lost a game they could/should have won. And the hometown fans, some who were attending their one and only Astros game this season, didn’t get to watch Altuve. Not fair to the fans who matter most.

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