It was raining in black and white on one monitor and snowing in color on another. "We want the 15 best seconds of hard snow," ABC producer Chuck Howard said into a microphone.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, everyone in Baltimore, except the men in the ABC truck, was trying to forget the weather. If there was anywhere at Memorial Stadium you could have forgotten the wind, the rain and the snow, then being exhibited simultaneously on three of the 34 monitors, it was inside "the truck."
It is a trailer, actually, packed snugly with $3 1/2 million worth of electronic equipment (according to unit manager Steve Israel), a hanging lantern of fly paper, and some of the best electronic talent money can buy.
It's not much, but they call it home.
ABC brought two trucks (and rented a third), 14 cameras, a helicopter and nearly 100 technicians to Baltimore to televise the 1979 World Series. That is just about twice the number of cameras used during the regular season, and at twice the cost according to Chuck Howard.
In the front of this portable studio, producer Howard and director Chet Forte are getting ready for the show, two hours away. They are trying to decide when to use some of the pregame interviews taped by Howard Cosell. "I don't want to do anything in the first inning," said the producer."I hate to interrupt Keith's (Jackson) flow."
Tapes are whirring on the bank of monitors in front of Howard. One monitor is dark except for the words: "Last night." The talk turns to the previous evening when the network, as well as the people in the stands, took a bath because of inclement weather that ultimately forced the postponement of the game. Nielsen ratings faired poorly. "There are no heroes in television," said Forte, "only ratings."
In the center of the bank of monitors are two large color screens. The one on the right, marked "live," showed the "program picture," what the viewer at home sees. To its left is the preview monitor, on which the director can screen the shots he may want to use next.
Technical director Bill Morris sits before a console lit up with three decks of orange, yellow and white effects buttons, dissolve levers, a green oscilloscope and red digital numerals. It looks like a pinball game on tilt. Morris can make it look like Don Drysdale is standing in the stands instead of the booth; he can reduce the picture on the screen to one-sixth its size; he can punch up one of a thousand prepared graphics ("None of them trivial," said unit manager Israel), and "wipe" out the screen in 48 different ways.
There are football wipes, rotating wipes and circular wipes. Tuesday night was a total wipe.
"Roone always wants us to use the curtain wipe," Morris said. "He feels it's theatrical. You open to the replay and close to live action. He doesn't want to gimmick it up."
Forte is speaking to cameramen over the "p.l.s" -- "private lines" in the trade: "Do you read the truck? Do you read the truck?"
Chuck Howard is becoming frustrated. "The lines of communication are not working," he barks. In television, you are nowhere without communication.
It is 6:29. One of the monitors reads: "Note: everything is under control."
If the American League is the junior circuit, ABC is the junior network in terms of baseball coverage. ABC began televising "Monday Night Baseball" in 1976. This is only its second World Series.
"Four years ago, we were atrocious," Chet Forte said. "I don't think we took baseball seriously. We didn't do a good job. But we have constantly improved."
"Four years ago, NBC was the premier network. They still do it well. But I think we have improved to the point where we do it better than they do."
Chuck Howard said, "We're on a par with them visually. I think we're ahead on announcers."
Don Ohlmeyer, executive producer of NBC Sports, and an ABC expatriate, said, "That's quite an admission. It's the only thing they're on a par with . . . On everything else, they say they're better."
"Baseball," said Howard, "is not an easy game to televise." Unlike football and basketball, which are essentially linear games, baseball is a game of intersecting planes, angles, geometry. And television, as Ohlmeyer said, "does not have peripheral vision."
"The game does not lend itself to TV," Howard said. "We are in 14 different places and can see the guy's reaction on the bench when the home run is hit or show the close-up at the plate on a close play.
"But the ability of the eye to focus and see so many different things at a baseball stadium is almost impossible to recapture on television."
No matter how many hand-held cameras (two) and tape sources (seven) it brings to the game, a network can only take you to one part of the party at a time.
"Baseball is easy until you get men on base," Howard said. "It is not difficult to document the pitcher, the batter and the catcher. But when you have a dual focal point of a guy running around the bases and the ball in play and not a lot of time to resolve it, or three men on base and the focal point can be anywhere, that's when it's difficult to show what the guy in the stands can see with his eyes in four or five seconds."
For the director, having the bases loaded means "making a lot of cuts" quickly, said Forte. In order to compensate for what one camera cannot see, the television people must have good camera positions and fast reflexes.
Bill Morris, the man who pushes all the buttons, said, "When your reflexes go you're out." In the truck, as on the field, "You're only as good as your last game."
If the people who cover the games talk like those who play them, there is a good reason: To know it is to cover it well.
Like a manager, Howard must be "able to anticipate the flow of the game" in order to know what camera to cut to.
Harry Coyle, the veteran NBC director, talks about "playing the percentages. With a right-handed batter up (who is likely to pull the ball), you keep one camera on the third baseman and one on the shortshop."
In the ABC truck, Morris speaks of "setting the defenses": knowing which cameraman is responsible for "covering" each play. In the dress rehearsal that takes place before each game, Morris said, "Chet Forte will remind each cameraman what to do when there is one on and one out."
Forte's team of cameramen is, he said, "built around the camera position high behind home plate (C-2)." That is the "coverage camera," the "shot that follows the flight of the ball. It is used," Forte said, "75 percent of the time" and "it is the toughest camera in TV sports."
The cameraman is able to rest only on strikeouts.
The center field camera located beyond the outfield wall -- on Drysdale's favorite -- "shoots back" at home plate over the pitcher's shoulder and is used to show the confrontation between pitcher and batter. "If you're not strong up the middle," Forte said, "you have nothing."
The best place to see a ballgame is, finally, at the ballpark. Only there can you truly see both its strengths and weaknesses.
If ABC's cameras could not -- or would not -- catch the entire Pittsburgh outfield standing with its hands in its pants pockets, well, you could certainly see a player's breath crystalize as he cursed the weather.
When John Lowenstein came up in the bottom of the first inning of the first game with the bases loaded and hit a perfect double play ball to second-baseman Phil Garner, it wasn't only the Pirates that had trouble handling the ball.
While the cameras were busy following the runners in scoring position and the errant Pittsburgh throws, Lowenstein, who had rounded first base too far, was scurrying back to the bag. He slid back safe when shortstop Tim Foli dropped the ball, but the folks at home did not see it. There was simply too much going on to show it all.
When Lowenstein struck out in the bottom of the second against left-handed pitcher Jim Rooker, the coverage was a thing of beauty.
Shot from the center field camera (located to the left field side of dead center), the contrast between the pitcher's sweeping motion and the batter's sweeping swing, held together in a single frame, made any explanation as to why managers play percentages (lefties versus lefties, as far as pitching advantage is concerned) superfluous.
In the top of the ninth, when Dave Parker kicked the ball out of shortstop Mark Belanger's glove on a pick-off play, ABC used three replays (the most it used all night) to show exactly how he did it.
Parker filled the screen, nodding in assent with the umpire's call and heaving a vaporized sigh of relief before the sound of the crowd's displeasure even reached all the way down the left field line.