Bill Webb, whose direction of baseball broadcasts nationally for Fox Sports and locally for the Mets featured exceptional anticipation and rapid camera cuts to heighten tension, died on Tuesday in Morristown, N.J. He was 70.
His wife, Cynthia, said the cause was complications of cancer.
As a director at Fox and for SNY, the local cable home of the Mets, Webb made split-second decisions as he stitched the narrative of a game from live action, replays and graphics on dozens of screens in a production truck.
“The main thing that I try to do is bring the game up close and personal,” Webb said last year in an interview on Sports Video Group’s website upon his selection to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. “First, I try to be creative in setting the drama between the pitcher and batter, and then let the drama build as you get further into the game.”
He added, “It’s my job to put those people at home in the best seat in the ballpark, not in the cheap seats.”
Webb, known for his unruffled manner, accelerated the pace of his direction in the late innings of close games by cutting with urgency to different angles and using extreme close-ups and split-screens. Much of it was designed to enhance the drama in the 20 or 30 seconds between pitches and portray the anxiety felt by players, managers and fans.
The practical result of his direction during a game was to speed up some of the moments without action.
It was Webby time, which he loved,” Pete Macheska, who produced games at Fox with Webb, said in a phone interview. “In crunchtime, he’d just say he wants faces — tight shots of players and fans praying. You’d try to sell him on something else, like some sort of graphic, but you might as well forget it; you’ve got no shot. It was his ballgame, and he wasn’t listening to you.”
One of Webb’s signature moments was his direction of the aftermath of Aaron Boone’s 11th-inning home run to win Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series for the Yankees over the Boston Red Sox.
For four minutes, Webb wove together dozens of images to show the parallel joy of the Yankees celebrating on field and the misery of the Red Sox, which he embodied in regular cuts to the disconsolate pitcher Pedro Martinez in the Boston dugout, his head covered by the hood of his sweatshirt. Every so often, Webb showed the Fox booth where Boone’s brother, Bret, a guest analyst, quietly watched.
Gregg Picker, SNY’s senior coordinating producer for Mets games, worked beside Webb, watching him process the story line of a game from a bank of screens.
“What stands out for me with Webby,” he said in an interview, “was that I felt nothing was going to be missed. If you had a pivotal moment in a game, where runners are on first and third in a one-run game, I could count on him showing the catcher coming out in front of home plate to flash defensive signs, the manager pulling over whoever he was going to pinch-hit with, and the tension of the guys in the bullpen waiting to see if they were going to be summoned.”
William Howard Webb was born on Jan. 6, 1947, in West Orange, N.J., to Howard Webb, who worked in advertising, and the former Nancy Burtt, a secretary. Webb attended the University of Tennessee for one year before being hired at what is now WWOR-TV, which serves the New York City area. Working in the station’s traffic department, he “rotated the commercials and put the commercial cards in the deck,” he told Sports Video Group.
He began working on Mets broadcasts at the station, which owned the team’s television rights, and eventually became the director, building a relationship with the analyst Tim McCarver.
Last year, McCarver said that Webb’s interest in the intricacies of baseball helped amplify his commentary. Webb once asked McCarver why the second baseman and shortstop were communicating with their gloves over their mouths. McCarver, a former major league catcher, told him that they were deciding who would cover second base on a ground ball to the pitcher with a runner on first base.
“He would ask me questions like a real neophyte, but he wasn’t,” McCarver said. “He used his curiosity to learn how to be better.”
Webb also worked at ABC Sports, directing horse racing and other broadcasts as well as the “Wide World of Sports” anthology series, and at MSG Network, where he directed Yankee broadcasts before he joined Fox in 1996 and SNY in 2006.
Lung cancer kept Webb from directing the World Series in 2015, and he had planned to return for the 2016 Series. But he had another setback when he was injured in a fall at his home just before Game 1, preventing him from returning.
“I’ve always said nothing beats the postseason,” Webb said in October. “Every pitch means something. I miss that.”
Webb’s absence from last year’s Series prompted Joe Buck, Fox’s lead baseball announcer, to hold up a placard in his honor during the Stand Up to Cancer tribute to survivors and victims in Game 4. Webb’s lung cancer had gone into remission, but the cancer returned in his brain.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters, Samantha and Erin; his son, Matthew; his sister, Anne Lacey; and his brother, Frank.
Gary Cohen, a former Mets radio announcer, said that Webb helped nurture him when he turned to television as the Mets’ play-by-play man on SNY. He told the station on Tuesday, “He was the Vin Scully of directors.”