Monday, June 20, 2011

BroadCasting

The cleanup man whips around and yells something at the pitcher, his furrowed brow and flexed neck muscles ready to explode. Hesitating, the ump decides not to issue a warning. The slugger finally makes his way down to first base. Two guys on, two runs in, only one out...


Listening to the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball goons regurgitate the nerd lingo dictated into their earpieces, I can’t help but feel a sad longing for the days of Joe Morgan. But remember, he was fired from the network. Probably for the best. Well, actually, not really. The best voice in the game, Jon Miller, was also canned. But still, there was something soothing about Morgan's voice and the fact that my grandpa always thought he was the world's greatest player - and by extension - announcer.

Vin Scully is now the last dinosaur of baseball broadcasting and it wouldn't surprise me if Dodgers brass hovers around the old man after every game, asking him about his health while offering him some deep fried garbage. Baseball television broadcasts are in a disturbingly clone-like era where Fox seems to have replicated the Buck/McCarver two-headed monster in each city. At least Morgan and Miller were silly and different. Will Fox dare to give Scully the hook at some point if he shows a similar unwillingness or inability to become a corporate stooge? Morgan was not willing or able. In fact, I'd like to think the conversation between Morgan and ESPN went something like this:

ESPN: Mr. Morgan, we’d like for you to repeat the statistical information given to you in your earpiece, word-for-word.


Joe Morgan: What the fuck are you talking about?


ESPN: Listen, Joe… The game is changing; how we look at the game is changing. There are a lot of hard-working people coming up with new and better statistical categories for evaluating productivity. And you need to cooperate here. We’ll have our statisticians tell you what to say and all you have to do is repeat it; just throw it out there for the audience to latch onto.


JM: I don’t need to be told what to say, like some goddamn puppet. I’ve been around this game my whole life. Don’t you think I know how to evaluate a player based on my intimite knowledge and experience of the game? I can sense when a player is pressing; you can feel it in your belly when the runner on first is gonna steal; my instincts tell me more about how a pitcher should approach a batter in a given scenario, far more than new-age stats will ever do.


ESPN: We’re not asking you to do this Joe; we’re telling you this is part of your new job responsibilities as a color commentator. You’d be wise to read up on the new stats and get familiar with the terminology.


JM: I’m not gonna sit around repeating a bunch of numbers babbled in my earpiece all game, throwing me off and preventing me from sittin’ back and observing all the little things between the lines. I know what I’m talking about here.


ESPN: Joe, this is the direction in which the network is already going full-speed ahead on, and you’re just holding us back at this point. Perhaps it’s best if you reconsider your position with us.


JM: I’ve been doing Baseball Tonight for over 20 years, helping to make it the most popular weekly baseball event on tv, and this is how you show your appreciation and loyalty?


ESPN: We’re giving you a chance to keep your job by adapting to our new vision on how to announce baseball games based on Sabermetric research.


JM: No. You’re telling me how I should perceive the game and forcing me to communicate my observations in quantifiable statistical categories instead of letting me continue to describe the qualitative aspects of movement, process, situation, and sensibility.


ESPN: For the last time, Joe, we’re not asking you to get on board with us. We’re telling you where the ship is sailing and expecting you to do your part or find another job.


JM: Then sail your fucking ship as far away from me as fast as you can. I’m done.






...alas, the conversation was probably nothing like this at all.


Listening to Bobby Valentine talk about the great left-field play of diminuitive Brett Gardener last night, he stumbles over some strange sentences whispered into his earpiece,

“Gardener is second in the league to…Parra…uhh…among left-fielders …with…uh…thirteen…runs…uh…prevented. Yes, thirteen runs saved.”

Obediantly repeating the words like a good corporate stooge, but sounding like a tool in doing so. “He’ll learn,” the ESPN producers cry, “at least it’s better than Morgan not broadcasting anything we tell him to say.”

Orel Hershiser talks exclusively about pitchers and their challenges and accomplishments. He’s not been heard from for an inning or two, as he’s probably been told to recite and record a prepared interlude constructed between innings on pitch sequences to specific batters and how to approach a hitter the second and third time around. Suddenly, we hear his voice, after a prolonged absence, chime in with haste and overconfidence to tell us about how and why Sabathia attacks Soriano, pitch-by-pitch.

Don't get me wrong; the dutiful dictation done by these three elderly, wealthy, white men in stiff suits, starched shirts and in their square booth is more informative and analytical than an old Jon Miller/Joe Morgan broadcast, without a doubt. But in their attempts to analyze and criticize every nuance of the game and to quantify as many variables as technologically possible, they fail to let the game reveal anything surprising or unexpected to them or to us; they don’t allow themselves enough time to enjoy the game being played right in front of them. And we sure as shit don't feel like part of a conversation.

The aesthetics of the game are wiped away; style no longer has any substance. Personality is only interesting in so far as it can be absorbed into the Monoform. Nick Swisher with a shit-eating grin on his face sure looks good in those Norelco shaver commercials, eh guys? And he’ll make a great tv personality one day, so watch out – he might be here in the booth sooner than you think!

Grooming and manipulating and engineering forces, like the Emperor, to succomb to the dark side (negative, reactionary forces). Or striving to constrain or destroy positive forces (affirmative, active forces) by breaking them up – like the Jon Miller/Joe Morgan tandum – out of a deep-seated resentment toward human interference; nothing more than rusty cogs in the corporate machinery.

So baseball fans are relieved of an old stick-in-the-mud announcer, too damn stubborn to bend toward this new nerdball movement. Yet, we're left with a trio of petty, stiff and sanctimonious dweebs doing what they’re told, keeping an air-tight broadcast free of any unanticipated variables that might fuck with their pre-fabricated storylines; constraining and controlling the interpretation of the game to a single monolithic narrative, replete with a televisual grammar and logic that works the audience over, pounding us in the gut again and again with the same silly sequence of shots – strike three, zoom-in on pitcher who struts around the mound in confidence, cut to batter walking back to dugout with head down, then looking toward the field as if staring at the pitcher (“I’ll get you next time”), but is actually just passively watching the replay on the jumbotron; cut to establishing shot of stadium for an enthusiastic endorsement of some corporate product; cut back to centerfield camera for the next at-bat; repeat.


Why don’t we ever get to see how the infielders throw the ball around-the-horn after a strikeout? How they might be getting into the game, and if they look tense or playful when doing so. We need to hear the silence of between-inning breaks; the hum of the stadium organ, the murmur of the crowd as they do “the wave”, the indecipherable words of the p.a. announcer low and soft in the background; and the sight of the grounds crew working the infield over, players running out to their outfield positions to toss lazy fly balls to each other, the pitcher’s warm-up throws, the batter studying the pitches from the on-deck circle, “coming down!”…

And I continue to wonder why me and my buddies can’t have a crack at announcing games. Spontaneous, but well-informed. Teaching about the new statistical categories as one of many ways to appreciate the game. Full of humor and wit and exuberance. Aware of mistakes made, but highlighting the achievements and positive contributions done on the field. And with a lot more audience-involvement.

For starters, challenging baseball fans to discuss forming a Fans Union together so we can, among other things, claim the right to overthrow bad television and radio announcers that make listening to our hometeam a painful obligation instead of the stirring and thought-provoking experience it can potentially become.



The catcher has been out to talk with our hurler. He says little. Each man knows what is needed. First pitch fastball on the outside corner for strike one. Second pitch fastball away. Third pitch fastball inside, fouled off. Fourth pitch slider low and away. 2-2 pitch, changeup, low...

It's a grounder to short...6...4...3...double play. Mercifully ends the inning.

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