The great thing about sports in general–and baseball in particular, I think–is that it turns adults into little kids again. It makes us marvel at amazing feats, believe in miracles…
/the theme from The Natural swells
Sorry, almost had a Costner moment there. Schmaltz aside, sports are fun because they can bring us unbridled joy and enthusiasm. We can all go a little nuts when our team wins The Big Game, pump our fists and proclaim THAT’S THE BEST DAMN GAME I’VE EVER SEEN!
And when I say “we”, I mean “the fans”. That should not include members of the media, who are paid to be impartial and stoic and have a sense of perspective during even the most thrilling moments. Jayson Stark of ESPN must have missed that day at J-school, because he busted out a column about game 4 of the NLCS that blew my mind with its complete lack of historic perspective or rational thought.
When last we met Mr. Stark, he was advising the Mets (via anonymous MLB scouts) to trade Jose Reyes. So his judgment is already suspect in my eyes. My opinion of him has not been elevated by his piece about Monday night’s thriller, entitled “Phillies walk off into history”.
He sets the scene with a series of one-sentence paragraphs, describing how the Phillies were down to their last strike when Jimmy Rollins belted a two-run double into the right field gap, completing a come-from-behind victory and putting Philadelphia on top three games to one in the series.
It was a dramatic win, to say the least. It deserves some dramatic prose. What it does not deserve is to be described as “an October baseball game that is going to be talked about for the rest of our lifetimes.”
If nothing else good comes out of these MLB playoffs (and nothing probably will, as a Phillies-Yankees World Series leaves me rooting for the meteor), they may force the league to correct two glaring deficiencies. The first is, obviously, the umpiring. I am 100 percent convinced one huge game this year will be definitively and adversely affected by a terrible call. There will be no room for debate as to whether this call cost a team the game, as there was with Phil Cuzzi’s brainlock in the ALDS. No, I’m talking about a blatant blown call at a critical moment in a deciding game of a series that shifts victory from one side to the other. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Then, hopefully, Bud Selig will be forced to reverse his idiotic anti-replay-expansion stance. We have the technology to make replay review work efficiently, it wouldn’t appreciably lengthen games (if anything, it’d shorten them, since it would prevent managers stomping out onto the field to scream about blown calls), and we could even use umpires to man the review booth/room/quonset hut. Selig is like an astronomer who refuses to use a telescope. “No way! Looking at the spheres too closely ruins their mystique! I’ll just keep using my magnifying glass to view Jupiter, thank you very much!”
The second one is less essential, but just as important to fans, in my mind. Hopefully, this postseason will force MLB to get new announcers for the biggest games of the year. Because right now, the play-by-play guys they’ve chosen are across the board terrible.
Just like bad umpiring, fans’ toleration of announcers’ hideousness is at an all-time low. Read any sports-related site and you will see nothing but contempt for the men who are supposed to be the Voices of Baseball. Spend an evening on Twitter during a game, and it’s hard to miss the embarrassment and anger inspired by bad play-by-play. That contempt is finally starting to find its way into the mainstream media, which gives me hope that some changes will be afoot by this time next year.
Chip Caray’s gotten the worst reviews, even though this is his second year doing the playoffs. The difference this year is that he’s calling Yankee games, thus exposing a large, vocal, passionate fanbase to his hideousness. Although it is somewhat curious that Yankee fans would object to Chip when they’re usually treated to Michael Kay. But when picking the announcer for the tentpole games of the postseason, shouldn’t you have higher criteria than “not much worse than Michael Kay”?
Joe Buck, on the other hand, receives few complaints. I think most fans feel that he’s been around for so long, there’s no point in slagging him. We’ll never be rid of him, we realize now. He’s like some small town mayor voted into office for 17 consecutive terms. No one bothers running against him anymore.
Buck and Caray are Legacy Broadcasters. They’re both the sons of beloved baseball voices. Between them, Skip Caray and Jack Buck had about 700 years of play-by-play experience. Add in Chip’s uncle Harry, and that’s quite a bloodline. One with an unhealthy amount of Budweiser and pork. (“If the moon was made of ribs, would you eat it?”)
So Chip and Joe were just sort of admitted to broadcasting, the way people are admitted to Harvard or Yale because everyone in their families went to Harvard or Yale. Merit had nothing to do with it. And just like the inbred blue-blood alumni of Harvard and Yale tend to grow up to do terrible things to our country, so too have Chip and Joe done terrible things to the game of baseball.
Here’s the thing, though: If you put a gun to my head, I’d take Chip Caray over Buck. Yes, Chip Caray gets things wrong and his knowledge of players is extremely limited and his impoverished vocabulary means he uses certain words constantly (like “fisted” regardless of whether the ball was actually fisted or not and without any seeming awareness of the double meaning). Worst of all, he used to be a Braves broadcaster. But even allowing all of that, I’ll take Chip over Joe, if I have to take either.
Because if Chip Caray has nothing else going for him (and he might not), when he does play-by-play, he sounds as if he likes baseball. He seems to understand that there are exciting moments in a game that should be reacted to with a certain level of enthusiasm. He can at least do this simple, obvious task.
Joe Buck can not. Because Joe Buck fucking hates baseball.
There’s an old saying: The worst day at the ballpark is better than the best day at the office. Joe Buck does not understand this saying. Because every moment spent in the vicinity of the game is a torturous hell to him. He is trapped in a purgatory of his own making, and he does not rage against its walls. He resigns himself to apathy, because caring would be pointless.
When Joe Buck calls a game, he simply tells you what happened. After each pitch, he says “ball one” or “strike two”. Each time the ball is put into play, he says “grounder to short” or “single to left. No embellishment whatsoever. Every second he spends in a broadcast booth is destroying him, and he transmits that horror in every breath of his chilling, soulless play-by-play work.
It’s as if the playoffs are being called by a vampire. And not a sexy Twilight/True Blood vampire, either. A classic vampire, devoid of life, envious of the dead, wanting to take everyone else with him into his cold nether-region of the damned.
But I will thank Joe Buck for one thing. His complete apathy in the face of the year’s most exciting games provided the best moment of the playoffs so far. It came in game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday. You’ll be forgiven for missing it, because it came at a moment that you (unlike Buck) were wrapped up in because you found it exciting.
Top of the ninth, two outs, game tied at 2, Mariano Rivera on the mound in his second inning of relief. Torii Hunter at the plate. Future Hall of Famer versus dangerous hitter. Rivera falls behind 2-0, then gets two swinging strikes. The crowd is on its feet, cheering between the raindrops. Finally, Rivera throws his signature cutter, right on the inside black, and freezes Hunter. Called strike three, inning over. Mariano walks back to the dugout in his typically subdued way, a totally contrast to the fans, who are going ballistic.
This is the kind of moment a broadcaster lives for. Athletic theatre of the highest order. It is a sliver of time screaming out for either profundity or silence. What did Joe Buck say?
“What. A. … Game.”
I absolutely lost it. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed since I heard Tom Scharpling and Paul F. Tompkins discuss the Gathering of the Juggalos. It was so awkward and unsure of itself and tragically incompetent, I almost applauded.
It was delivered in the same tone as Comic Book Guy sneering “Worst. Episode. Ever.” Joe Buck actually paused between “a” and “game”, as if he forgot what he was going to say next, or someone clogged up his robot RAM with too much information and he was slow to process it. FATAL ERROR. SOME DATA MAY BE LOST.
Faced with an epic moment in a thrilling playoff game, this was the best Joe Buck could do. Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution rests.
Clayton Kershaw–the Dodgers’ starter for game 1 of the NLCS–looks like a very young, slightly more athletic version of Tom Waits.
I have no joke for this. Believe me, I tried to find one. Maybe it’s just funny enough that a fireballing southpaw resembles the whiskey-soaked bard of hobos, drunks, and drunk hobos. Seriously, look at this pic of Kershaw:
Now peep this pic of a young Tom Waits, back when his voice sounded only slightly demonic:
Not convinced? How ’bout this clip of Mr. Waits on Fernwood 2 Night?
I wonder if Kershaw also lives at the corner of Bedlam and Squalor.
Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know him as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Brett Favre’s Top Ten Best Retirements. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can also follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.
This is one of my favorite times of year. Watching the leaves change color. Seeing the kids off to school again (the ones still in the house, anyway, and the ones still talking to me). The fun of not knowing if my Kia will start once the temperature drops below 55 degrees.
Best of all, I love October baseball. But my enjoyment of the first round of the playoffs was ruined this year. And no, it wasn’t because those darn Yankees won again! And no, it wasn’t because my wife knocked over the TV when she stumbled home in the dark at four in the morning. In fact, something about the way it hit the ground made all the colors on the tube turn different shades of dark purple, which was kind of interesting.
This year, I couldn’t enjoy the postseason because so many people were complaining about the umpiring! Everywhere I turned, it was “how could you possibly blow that call” this and “these umps should be fired” that. Maybe I’m just a forgiving sort, but I’ve always believed that those who have never called a guy out at first who was safe by a foot should cast the first stone.
I’m not saying mistakes weren’t made. But I’ve heard some people say that we need to expand instant replay, and that’s just insanity. They added instant replay to the games this year on home run calls, and it totally ruined the mystique of the game. There used to be intrigue on every long ball hit down the lines, as you wondered whether the umps would call it correctly or not. And it wasn’t just on close calls, either. No, you had to hold your breath on homers hit seven rows deep on the second deck! I guess that mystery is gone from the game forever now!
Some people say that umpiring mistakes could be overturned quickly and definitively with instant replay. As if the point of umpiring is to get things right! The umpire’s job is to act as the authority figure on the field, and serve as the thick black line between baseball and chaos.
Umpires have to call the plays as they see them, or think they saw them, or as they think should have happened while they were daydreaming. And then, when the manager comes storming out of the dugout, they must stand there and insist they are right, no matter how unsound their reasoning might be. And if the manager presses the issue, they must eject that manager, so that he can go back to the dugout and punch a Gatorade cooler with all his might and wind up on SportsCenter.
This is the majestic ballet that makes the sport we love possible.
I think we’ve all forgotten something in this modern world of speed and convenience. Umpiring mistakes are a time-honored baseball tradition. Don Denkinger in 1985. Richie Garcia in 1996. Rick Reed in 1999. Can you imagine what would have happened if we robbed ourselves of these treasured memories, just because we were in such a rush to get things “right”?
And even if we do institute replay, who’s to say it will even work? I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but technology has never done anything good ever. Take my newspaper, for instance. A while back, they started compiling all the stories and images and ads “electronically” on something called a “server”, instead of typesetting all this stuff by hand. It was supposed to be quicker and make everything easier, they said.
Well, what do you guess happened? One day, without warning, the server shut down and we couldn’t put the paper out for a week! And all because I tried to forward the editor-in-chief this important-looking email from some Nigerian prince.
Instant replay could work well every time. Then again, it might not. But when it comes to umpires, I know that they blow calls. We could take a system that is definitely imperfect and replace it with one that just might be imperfect. Can we really take that chance?
NEW YORK–Yankee fans nationwide rejoiced Tuesday, as their team finally emerged from the wilderness and ended their playoff drought. The Bronx Bombers hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007, a staggering lapse that tried the patience of even the most die-hard loyalist.
“Today is all about the fans, after all we’ve been through,” said Brad Dunphy of Toms River, 26, one of the hundreds of fans who celebrated the occasion at the Hard Rock Cafe in the new Yankee Stadium. “We went almost two years without making the playoffs. You realize Bush was still president back then? I don’t think Obama had even been born yet.”
“Two years. That’s like, 104 weeks,” chimed in Brad’s friend Pat Sullivan of Yonkers, 25. “Think about this: Back then, I was really into Rush. Now, I’m kinda over them. That’s how long ago that is. Crazy.”
Dunphy concurred, “Dude totally used to be into Rush.”
“I got a real good feeling about this team,” Sullivan said. “I think they could go all the way. This has gotta be one of my favorite Yankee teams ever, and I’m a fan from way back, all the way to 1996.”
“We stuck with this team through thick and thin,” Dunphy added. “Like last year, when they were just an okay team. And those first couple of weeks this season, when A-Rod was hurt and Teixeira couldn’t hit for shit, and I called up WFAN and said Girardi and Cashman should be fired.”
After last night’s 6-5 win in Anaheim, Derek Jeter praised Yankees fans for their loyalty. “They’ve always been there to support us, in both the good times and the slightly-less-good times,” the shortstop said.
Not everyone in New York was elated, however. For instance, Frank Lopez, 29, a Red Sox fan from Washington Heights. He was “dragged” to the Stadium by Yankee fan friends, and was not in a celebretory mood.
“These people don’t know about suffering,” Lopez tsked. “You wanna talk about suffering? How about the Sox? They went all of 2006 without making the playoffs! That’s even longer ago than 2007! Some people got no perspective.”