Bill Webb was a historic figure in baseball, changing the way fans view the sport on television. But working with him, you never would have known.
All of us at MLB on FOX are mourning Webby, whom we lost Tuesday at age 66. We’re also telling stories about the wise-cracking, no-nonsense, lovable grouch of a director who joined FOX Sports shortly after its inception in 1996 and became a mentor and inspiration to so many of us.
Some of the Webby stories I can share. Many I cannot. But the one that defines Webby to me occurred a few years back, when I was taping my weekly “Full Count” video for FOXSports.com before a Saturday broadcast on which I served as the field reporter.
Webby was often in my ear while I taped, sitting patiently in the production truck as I stumbled through two or two dozen takes. He always would joke with me, saying things like, “Good rehearsal,” after I finally got a segment right, or challenging me to report a “real” story that would expose something unflattering about a certain person in the game for whom he had no use.
On this one day, he barked, “Straighten your bow tie” – an unusual order coming from a man who usually showed little interest in attire, including his own.
I laughed and responded, “What are you, our fashion coordinator now? Winning 15 Emmys or whatever isn’t enough?”
Webby shot back, “26,” or whatever the actual number was at the time – FOX won 30 national Sports Emmys, 12 for production, with Bill in the director’s seat. He also won many more Emmys on the local level, bringing his total number to more than 40.
I started laughing but then it struck me: I had never heard Webby talk about Emmys before. I didn’t think he cared about Emmys. But our producer, Pete Macheska, later told me that Webby was quite proud of his honors, and occasionally vocal about them in a lighthearted manner.
Rest assured, he never got carried away.
Webby loved his crew and loved his job. The rest of it, well, he had a word for it. Two syllables. Started with a “B” and rhymed with “full.” One of his milder profanities, to be honest.
Webby missed the past two World Series, the first while battling cancer, the second after tripping on stairs in his home and fracturing his pelvis and ribcage. The 2015 Series involved the Mets, the team that employed him during the regular season. The ’16 Series, Cubs vs. Indians, was simply one of the most memorable of all time.
As heartbreaking as Tuesday’s news was – I cried for much of a 2½-hour drive across Florida, knowing the end was near – I might have been sadder the day Webby told me, “All I ever wanted was to direct a World Series at Wrigley,” knowing he could not.
No director presented a baseball game better, as explained by this story on Webby’s induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame last December. None had as artistic a touch, as strong a vision, as keen a feel for the dramatic.
Webby directed 17 World Series. The late Harry Coyle, who pioneered the way games look on TV, directed 36. Many of us at FOX believe strongly that both should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
It’s quite a feeling, knowing you’re working with a legend, and we were all fortunate to learn from Webby the director. But mostly, we’ll remember Webby the man – a larger-than-life figure, a true original, one of those people who refused to take himself too seriously and did not suffer fools gladly.
Lest anyone think Webby was just a curmudgeon, allow me to conclude with another of my favorite memories, from early in my career at FOX – the 2006 World Series, if memory serves correct.
Webby and I were alone in the truck hours before a game. The night before, I had screwed up something. I can’t remember exactly what it was, and it wasn’t something anyone would have necessarily noticed – more of an error of omission than commission, as I recall. But I was still brooding about it the next day, and I told Webby as much.
He didn’t scold me. He didn’t comfort me. He just said, in his typical matter-of-the-fact manner, “Ah, don’t worry about it, there’s another game tonight.” Sounds like nothing, I know. But coming from him, it meant the world.
In January, I visited Webby at a rehabilitation center near his New Jersey home; he basically was bed-ridden, struggling to walk. He asked me, “When’s our first game?” and I tried to figure it out, not yet knowing our weekly broadcast schedule. Then he asked, “What about the rest of the month?” and I tried again to determine where we would be.
I thought, “Well, this is good, he wants to come back” – and he did, he truly did. Webby loved nothing more than being in the truck, sitting next to Pete, presenting a game as only he could.
What a loss is it for the FOX family that there will be no more games with the great Bill Webb in the director’s chair. What a loss for everyone who loves watching baseball on TV.