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Mudville: April 13, 2024 10:39 am PDT

Flip to YES

BY KEVIN KERNAN

John J. Filippelli is Mr. Baseball when it comes to baseball on television over the last 50 years.

In many ways, Filippelli, known as Flip throughout the baseball community, is responsible for how you watch the game today. His life’s work and innovations have molded the broadcasts.

All you have to do is Flip the channel to YES, where he is the President, Production & Programming Executive Producer.

“I think I’m good at one thing,’’ Filippelli told BallNine. “And that is recognizing talent in other people. I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to give opportunities to people whether it is in front of the camera or behind the camera. I was able to take chances with people and to see their careers turn out the way they did, that is most rewarding. I was in positions where I could effect change.’’

Filippelli is good at a lot of things.

It is not only in broadcast talent and behind the scenes talent he has hired through the years, it is the elements of the game viewers take for granted, innovations created by Filippelli.

He came up with continuous on-screen pitch counts at YES in 2010 so you no longer had to guess what the pitch count was while watching a game.

While at Fox Sports in 1996, Flip was the first producer (collaborating with the late, great director Bill Webb) to use the EVS machine to present viewers with multiple pitch packages, the model for the pitch-by-pitch packages that are so commonplace in the industry now.

Filippelli introduced normal speed replays with sound. Up until that point, replays were shown in slow-motion.

John J. Filippelli of the YES Network.

At NBC, working with legendary director Harry Coyle, Flip introduced the true “down the line’’ camera angle, allowing the viewer to look from home plate, straight down the left field or right field foul line. This is the shot you need for close plays at first and third or balls, including bunts, hit down the line.

At Fox, he was the first producer to deploy the “catcher cam.’’

When you think of big home runs, Filippelli was there as producer for Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 magical home run. He was there too for Mark McGwire’s No. 62, 10 years later.

I was at both of those historic baseball events as well.

Filippelli gets things done. He launched baseball coverage at three networks: YES Network, Fox Sports and The Baseball Network. In the 1998 World Series he introduced the “Super Shot’’ tight shots for plays at the plate. He has worked and nurtured young talent such as Joe Buck, Bob Costas back in the day, and later Michael Kay. He also worked with legendary voices Vin Scully, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola.

It was Flip who brought talk-radio simulcast to TV with Mike and the Mad Dog in 2002. He introduced “resume’’ graphics that provide a snapshot of the batter’s performance or personal highlights.

The achievements and innovations go on and on for Filippelli, who is the first person in television history to accumulate 100 national Emmy Award nominations and 100 local Emmy Award nominations.

So as you get ready to watch the Yankees on YES this Easter Sunday, you can begin to appreciate what John J. Filippelli has produced for the baseball fan.

Flip is a Brooklyn native. His father owned a bar across the street from Ebbets Field and Filippelli said players like Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe would stop by after games. Flip’s first job at the age of 16 was a vendor at Yankee Stadium.

In many ways Filippelli is still hawking his product, the Yankees on TV.

“We were producers and we loved the theater of it. We realized there was an outside shot of it happening but never thinking it would.”

When he was first getting into the business at NBC Sports, Chet Simmons quizzed the young Filippelli.

“They tell me you know a lot about baseball,’’ Simmons began the interview. “You couldn’t name me the entire ’61 Yankees could you? Name me 15 players from the ’61 Yankees?’’

“I can name them all,’’ Flip answered.

Retelling the story many decades later Filippelli told me, “I proceeded to name every one of the ’61 Yankees. The entire team.’’

That is how you ace the interview.

Filippelli said executive producer “Mike Weisman really took care of me. He was great.’’

Over time, Flip became a producer. He worked the World Series as an associate producer and in 1984 he became a full-time producer.

Flash forward to 2020 when he was inducted into the Sports Video Group’s Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

“I did quite a few World Series,’’ he said.

Filippelli was the producer for the NBC’s 1988 World Series and Kirk Gibson’s limp-off home run to win Game 1 for the Dodgers against the Mighty A’s, igniting the Dodgers surprise championship, the last Dodgers World Series victory in a full season.

“Costas was working as a reporter in the Dodger dugout,’’ Flip recalled of that game. “He told us that Gibson was hitting underneath. He heard the ‘thwack!’’ from the cage and alerted us. Mike Weisman and I and Harry Coyle, the director, we just decided we would build the drama in case Gibson hit. He was the one weapon the Dodgers had; their offense was pretty limited. Gibson couldn’t really stand, much less hold a bat. We sort of kept hope alive that he would appear in the game, never knowing that he actually would. We were producers and we loved the theater of it. We realized there was an outside shot of it happening but never thinking it would.’’

Drama built.

“He literally was swinging the bat with one hand,’’ Flip said. “Harry was a great director, really the first baseball director. Harry was a pioneer. To sit next to him was amazing.’’

Then the Gibson home run miracle happened.

“Coyle made the decision to keep the camera on Gibson,’’ Filippelli said. “Had he not done that we would not have the shot of Gibson pumping his fists going around second base.’’

Baseball gold that will live forever. As Gibson swung on the 3-2 Dennis Eckersley backup slider, Vin Scully offered a simple call for the ages: “High fly ball into right field – she is gone!”

The Dodgers beat the A’s on the strength of that two-run blast and then won the World Series in five games. Gibson and his limping trot around the bases with the double fist pump became part of baseball history.

As for the McGwire home run in 1998 that broke Roger Maris’ single-season record – historic in its own right at the time before all the steroid information came out – Filippelli, working for Fox Sports, was in the truck with director Billy Webb and used the Gibson home run as a template.

Filippelli said to Webb, “‘If McGwire hits a home run, I want to cover this the way Coyle covered Gibson and that is I want you to stay on McGwire. I want it to be his moment, I want to see what he is seeing. We just stayed on McGwire. That was all a result of Gibson and having been there.’’

Filippelli said, “Billy Webb and Harry Coyle were the two greatest directors in the history of baseball television and I got the chance to work with both of them. I think I did my best work as a producer with Billy Webb.’’

YES, experience mattered on September 8, 1998.

As Filippelli wanted, the camera never left McGwire as the behemoth lugged around the bases, congratulated by Cubs players and at home plate there was Big Mac hoisting his son Matt high over his head. The camera continued to stay with McGwire as Busch Stadium erupted over and over into cheers. McGwire bear-hugged everyone in a Cardinals uniform and then did his celebration with the Cubs Sammy Sosa as fireworks exploded overhead. McGwire climbed into the stands to hug the Maris family and offer words of praise for Roger to them.

The camera stayed on McGwire.

Filippelli and Webb showed the tension and drama of October baseball in many ways.

“You got four eyeballs, the producer has two and the director has two, and you’ve got like 25, 26 cameras, you’ve got 25 tape machines, there is so much to look at, you just can’t do it with one set of eyeballs,’’ Filippelli explained. “We came up with a system where everybody was sort of helping us and we had to make those decisions.’’

There were many shots of tension-filled fans. They also knew when to stay on the field. “You can’t miss anything,’’ Filippelli said.

“One of the reasons I think I am in the Hall of Fame is full speed replays,’’ Filippelli said. “I used to say ‘Why do we want to show speed in slow motion?’ Speed should be shown in real time so I really pushed that and if you want a case in point, go back to ’96 and watch Joe Girardi fly around those bases. That’s one of the first full speed replays ever done in Fox’s first World Series. I wanted the sound, too. I wanted to be able to hear the crowd explode, the crowd be in the moment.’’

The camera stayed on Girardi. In many ways replays write the history of baseball.

“David Hill (president of Fox Sports) pushed for the sound because TV sets were getting bigger, speakers were getting bigger, it really was the advent of sound so David Hill said we needed to push the sound, so he put mics in bases, mics in walls, mics in dugouts, so we could really hear the sounds of the game, the slide into the base, the thwack of the bat, the explosion of the crowd,’’ Flip explained.

Pitch counts on the screen came into vogue because of Filippelli.

“I was the first one to ever do a pitch count. I was with YES and I was in the truck watching the game and I kept asking for the number of pitches,’’ Filippelli said. “Because pitch counts were becoming a thing, 100 and you were gone. I wanted to track that and I got so tired of asking for it, I said, ‘Okay, here is what we are doing, put the number up there and let Michael Kay explain, the number on your screen is the number of pitches the pitcher has thrown to that point. Leave it in there.’’

Jackpot.

“Within a week the whole industry was doing it.’’ Filippelli said. “We got copied a lot, whether I was at NBC or Fox or the YES Network.

Through the decades Flip has worked with other legends, too.

“I also got the chance to work with Curt Gowdy Sr., Tony Kubek was a sideline reporter,’’ Filippelli said. “ I worked with Tom Seaver as an analyst, the start of a lifelong friendship I had with Tom.’’

Filippelli worked the 1986 Mets-Red Sox World Series.

Flip joined YES as its first employee in 2001. His task was mighty: From scratch, build all on-air elements of a television network in just five months before its March, 2002 launch.

Again, Filippelli launched baseball coverage at three networks: Fox Sports, the Baseball Network and YES.

He loved working for the Baseball Network, but the timing was bad. “The (1994) strike killed it,’’ he said of the challenge of producing as many as 14 games a night.

John J. Filippelli was inducted into the Sports Video Group Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in December of 2021.

In 2001 one baseball owner reached out to Filippelli, who was working for ABC, a persistent fellow named George Steinbrenner.

“George called me and said, ‘I need you to start a network,’’’ Filippelli recalled.

He had known the Boss through the years and Randy Levine as well. He told Steinbrenner: “This is going to be really difficult, you know how hard it is to start a network. What’s the timetable? About a year?’’

“No,’’ Steinbrenner answered. “Four months.’’

“You’re going to start a television network in four months? That’s not possible,’’ Fillippell said.

As the baseball learned, anything is possible with George Steinbrenner.

In typical George fashion, he said, “We know you can do it.’’

Filippelli talked it over with his wife, Gina, and told Steinbrenner, “Okay. I love baseball. ABC did not have baseball. So I signed my contract and literally the next day was 9/11. We all know how horrific 9/11 was, so against that backdrop we had to try to start a network that would have been difficult under any circumstances – but under these circumstances, it was nearly impossible.

“All I had was a yellow pad and four months’ time to put a television network together. We had no staff, no studios, no mobile units, no technical infrastructure … We barely made it, and it looked like a network – and it was a network and we never looked back. We became the gold standard because George told me, ‘Do what you need to do.’’’

The goal was lofty from the beginning.

“I wanted to do it like a postseason game,’’ Filippelli said of the quality of production. YES launched on March 19, 2002. “The quality of the network should mirror the quality of the New York Yankees,’’ he said.

The Yankees had won World Series in 1996, ’98, 99 and 2000, and in 2001, came up just short in seven games against the Diamondbacks.

Great people were hired, like his first hire, Ed Delaney, a master on the technical end.

The YES Network has become the most watched regional sports network in the country 18 of the last 21 years, the regional home of the 27-time World Champion Yankees. There is basketball too and other talented hires like Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok. The network has won 146 New York Emmy Awards since Filippelli walked into the door to start it all from scratch.

Yankee broadcasters are welcomed every day into the homes of fans, everyone from Michael Kay to the tremendous lineup of hosts and analysts of today: David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Joe Girardi, John Flaherty, Todd Frazier, Jeff Nelson, Meredith Marakovits, Nancy Newman, Bob Lorenz, Jack Curry and Chris Shearn. It is a team. Through the years, Filippelli also hired the first woman game producer in Carol Langley and the first woman baseball analyst in Suzyn Waldman.

“It’s not about history, I was just looking to put the right person in the right job,’’ Filippelli said.

There was pressure, especially back in the day when the Boss was The Boss, including the hiring of Michael Kay, shifting him from radio to TV, Steinbrenner would be looming over each and every decision.

“I believed in all these people, they just needed a chance,’’ Filippelli said.

Filippelli then laughed as he remembered: “George used to always say to me, ‘Okay, okay, but if it doesn’t work, it’s your ass.’ He used to say that to me every day.

“YES became a power house,’’ Flip added with pride. “We changed the way regional television was done.’’

YES, it all worked out.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • Van Oliver

    great article about a man who most fans do not even think about while watching a game. Flip certainly belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    March 31, 2024
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