Home runs are flying out of the park at a record pace during the ongoing MLB playoffs, but in the empty stadiums the big sluggers are taking a back seat to a tiny piece of tech when it comes to capturing the imagination of fans watching on television.
Base Cam, a revolutionary innovation from Turner Sports, is giving viewers a never-before-seen perspective of the game during the American League Championship Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros. Inserted at a 45-degree angle in the bases, two cameras enable fans to see up and down the baselines at regular intervals, including during double plays, steals, tagging up after a fly ball and close plays that involve a judgment call by the umpire.
"Philosophically, we're about creating as much access to the players, the game and the field as possible," Turner Sports' chief content officer, Craig Barry, said in an interview with MLB.com.
"Over the course of the past couple of years, we were trying to be really thoughtful about technology or enhancements that would bring editorial value to our broadcasts. We went through a rigorous testing process with MLB to see if the cameras were stable and making sure that the picture quality was good."
Base Cam was used in two of the three bases during the American League Division Series. For the ALCS, all three bases have access to the technology.
"You try to think about all the variations that the camera will work for, but the truth is some other variation could bubble up," said Barry. "We might also capture a great play at shortstop or a diving play right near the base, so it continues to be an experiment and an innovation that we think will both add value and bring the fans closer to the action."
The debut of Base Cam comes on the heels of MLB doubling the isolated cameras available for video reviews to 24 this postseason. The high-frame-rate cameras stream directly to the replay operations center and ballpark video rooms.
MLB instituted video reviews in 2014 after years of embarrassing umpire calls, such as the infamous one that denied Detroit's Armando Galarraga what would have been the final out of a perfect game.
There were 1,275 reviews during the 2019 regular season, including 1,051 requested by managers that averaged 1 minute, 46 seconds. Among those calls, 603(47 percent) were overturned, 310 (24 percent) were confirmed and 352 (27 percent) were allowed to stand.
Meanwhile, ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC averaged 1.8 million viewers for broadcasts of this year's expanded wild-card round, drawing far more viewers for 16 games, but vastly down on average from the single-knockout contests in previous years.
The most-watched game was the New York Yankees' opening 12-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sept 29, which averaged 2,642,000 viewers despite taking place opposite a US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.