Baseball and the People Who Talk About It (A Commentary on Commentary)


Thank goodness for broadcasters. Can you even imagine what it would be like to watch a three-hour game on television without them? Sitting there, hearing only the ambient sounds of the ballpark, watching the game unfold without any real-time descriptions of what you're seeing? (Except, of course, for the in-house commentary from your significant other, who regularly makes such insightful remarks as, "Why is called a 'full count'?", "Did that guy really just scratch his crotch on national TV?", and "Are you going to mow the lawn sometime this summer?")

Of course, at one point, broadcasters were absolutely necessary. Back in the days when baseball games were only broadcast on the radio, you had to have SOMEONE on the air to let you know what was happening. And since one of the cardinal rules of radio broadcasting is "never, ever allow 'dead air'," the guys in the radio booth had to fill up the empty silence between plays with colorful commentary about the number of people in attendance, the weather conditions, speculations about what the pitcher was going to do next, and Belle Tire advertisements.

When Bill James finally invented baseball statistics, broadcasters suddenly had a plethora of things with which to fill the dead air between plays, and suddenly the games were filled with sporadic injections of increasingly random and highly situation-specific facts: "Jones is batting .298 against Yellowhammer," "The Short Sox are 24-18 in games played at home," and, "This is Bernstein's 15th straight game in which he has struck out five or more batters in six-plus inning starts while facing two consecutive left-handed batters with more than 3-inches of facial hair, not counting games pitched in Pacific Time Zones."

Apparently the public appreciates this immensely, as evidenced by the number of sports shows, books, and endless blogs that take these statistics and examine them from endless angles - sure, Bernstein may be doing well in 15 games against 2-or-more lefties with facial hair, but his K/9+BB/15-over-IRA-interest-yield drops dramatically in parks where the infield grass has been cut 3-or-more days prior to the game day.

(Speaking of - ARE you going to mow your lawn sometime this summer? Also, the trash needs to be emptied, and the car needs an oil change.)

This emphasis on game analysis led directly to the invention of the "post-game show," in which grown men wearing uncomfortably loud ties will spend the next 60 minutes telling you exactly what you just spent three hours watching. These shows invariably feature a front-man, who is usually hired for his diction and ability to talk non-stop for up to four days (remember, "dead air" is BAD!), as well as a sidekick, who is usually a former baseball player who may or may not have ever passed a remedial English exam, but whose opinion is respected because he was once a mediocre-to-dependable player who actually made it to "The Big Show."

The front-man's job is to let his teeth sparkle directly into the camera, and tell you what took place in the game you just watched, while the sidekick's job is to offer performance-specific analysis. Unfortunately, the rules of professional broadcasting prohibit the sidekick from sharing his actual analysis ("Holy fart-knockers, Bill, he hit that ball into the next county!"), and so he must recycle the same well-worn, safe commentary that he used in the last game.

When asked for his opinion on a pitcher's great performance, the sidekick will tell you, "Whompdinger just had all his pitches working today, he was able to get on top of the ball, he went after the batters, he mixed his speeds, and he just proved again that he's a competitive player who likes to win ballgames." (Note: if the pitcher in question lost the game, the sidekick will simply say, "He didn't have his best stuff today," and then find six other nice things to say about the pitcher.)

If asked about a particularly good batting performance, the sidekick will say, "You know" - prefacing sports commentary with "you know" is required by law in 38 states - "Smackington is just seeing the ball really well right now, he's waiting for pitches, he's keeping his hands in and driving the ball to all fields, because he's just a competitive player who likes to win ballgames."

As a member of the average viewing audience, I would absolutely love it if the commentators would ditch the boilerplate script for once and just say what they're thinking. "You know, Sideslinger pitched the same [expletive] game he always pitches, but his team actually scored some [expletive] runs today, so he won." Or, "[expletive] if I know, Bill, you want to know why Wallbangs had a 4-for-4 day at the plate? He swung the bat, he got lucky enough to hit the ball, and he got even more lucky that those balls didn't fly straight at a fielder, and he got on base - he's been so lucky today that I might actually let him pick my lottery numbers for tomorrow." And better still, "Bill, you ask me these same 'softball' questions every night - you do know that during the games I'm actually in the ConglomuCorp suite, watching old reruns of 'The Sopranos', right?"

And yet we listen to all of it, and we watch to the bitter end. We listen to the game-caller tell us that the batter is hitting .678 in day games while wearing a wrist-guard, we listen to the color commentator spin yarns and spew folksy sayings that all-too-often involve food ("cheese," "mustard," and "sauce" readily come to mind), we watch the post-game front-man unload pallet after pallet of flashy charm, and we listen to the sidekick make authoritative pronouncements about a player's grit, determination, and ability to deliver "a quality performance."

Why do we do this? Why do we endlessly soak up the same generic commentary, day after day, knowing that it will never, ever change, and that the commentators will hardly ever say anything of real interest?

Because as long as we're listening, we have an excuse not to mow the lawn.

(This post was brought to you by Ace Hardware, and by Rod Allen's neighbor's lawn.)

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.