If the telecasts were on FOX Sports Midwest or KSDK or their predecessor, and they likely were, you witnessed first-hand the craftsmanship of Tom Mee. The last 15 years, he has sat in the director's chair for some of the most memorable games in franchise history.
In his new book, "Cutting the Game – Inside Television Baseball from the Director's Chair," Mee takes us behind the scenes into his fascinating world of the television truck and production team.
We learn about the interlocking roles of the over two dozen professionals who make up the crew, including Mee's long-time partner, producer Mike Helling, the special language used for precise communications, tradeoffs in camera placements and use of certain shots in certain situations.
"Hey, there's 25 guys on a major league roster and 25 guys on our telecast," Mee observed prior to a recent spring training broadcast. "We are all trying to do the same thing on the telecast, which is to put together the best product possible."
Throughout the book, the director relates the challenge and excitement of making 2,500 to 3,000 split-second decisions in bringing it all together for the viewer each and every game.
"The thing that we do that is so exciting in the TV truck is that we have one chance to get it right," Mee said. "We can't say, ‘Hey, throw the pitch over. Let's do it again.' You have one chance to do it right. In order to cover that, your commands have to be succinct, and therefore we have a code, if you will, that we use when cutting the game."
In fact, the first section of the book is entitled "Language of the Truck," intended to familiarize the reader with what follows.
To get a small feel for what Mee does on the job, watch this two-minute clip. Then imagine extending it by 100 for each game multiplied by 155 telecasts each season!
Remember that teacher you had back in grade school that somehow heard every word you uttered, despite the fact that there were 25 other students in the same room also chattering away? Well, Mee and his directorial counterparts are cut from the same bolt of cloth.
"You're constantly talking to the cameras," Mee said. "You are constantly talking to the video tape room – replays. You are talking to the announcers. I am cutting cameras, listening to the announcers as I cut my cameras. I am listening to the producer, who is calling replays or graphics… I hear everything. I hear them all."
One of the aspects of the game that Mee seems to enjoy bringing most to viewers is the hundreds of one-on-one battles each day. The director's philosophy is to "shoot the winner," meaning to keep the cameras on the player that prevails in each of these many confrontations.
"I believe the viewer wants to see the winners in every situation," Mee explained. "If I am watching a game and I see a ground ball out and the high home camera does not go to the umpire but pushes to the guy that made the out, I don't want to see that. He just lost. Show me the winner."
Mee's respect for the game, his co-workers and especially the viewers is a common thread throughout the book. The ultimate professional openly acknowledges a key aspect of his job is to attract and keep fans and ultimately help the Cardinals sell tickets. Production costs for each home game are approximately $35,000.
"We do have a lot of sponsorship," the director acknowledged. "This is another reason I am going to pat (producer) Mike (Helling) on the back. You are trying to do a baseball game. You have replays. You have 52 drop-ins, which is what we had last year. We are talking billboards, batting orders, everything that is sold… Mike is so good at putting them in that you don't even notice them."
Covering a Cardinals franchise blessed with iconic players like Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols offers Mee and his crew a unique opportunity to take the viewer even further into their persona and impact than the coverage of the average Cardinal player.
"Mark McGwire changed my home run cut," Mee admitted. "Before McGwire came around, the home run was ‘see the pitch come in, watch the ball go over the fence.' When McGwire was up, you expected a home run or something special every single time. The same with Albert. Every single time he bats, you expect something great to happen.
"So we changed our philosophy on coverage. We isolate cameras on different positions on the field - maybe the manager. We might isolate on the pitcher. What we liked to show when McGwire was playing and now with Albert playing is… something that even the people at the ballpark who are there don't see. And when we get that, man, that is a pretty cool feeling," Mee exclaimed.
Yet if everything goes as planned, the broadcast itself will not be noticed.
"If an umpire has a good game, you don't notice them," the director observed. "If the broadcasters have a good game, you don't notice them. If the producer and director have a good game, you don't notice them.
"There is certainly no such thing as a perfect telecast, but I think when the viewer comes away from the telecast and doesn't think, ‘Oh, that was a bad camera shot or that didn't make any sense what he said' or ‘Boy, that umpire blew a call.' When you come away from a telecast and just remember the game, then we've succeeded," Mee modestly concluded.
Mee, Helling and their crew succeed 155 times each season and Cardinals fans are the beneficiaries.
Exclusive for The Cardinal Nation / Scout.com subscribers: Listen to Mee explain the inner workings of his job and those of the members of his team.
To get your copy of Tom Mee's new book, "Cutting the Game – Inside Television Baseball from the Director's Chair," go to cuttingthegame.com.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
© 2010 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.