Thus far, the MLB Network has played things pretty much by the book. A Hot Stove show, incessant World Series highlights, the occasional poorly chosen retrospective. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing remotely daring.
But they have been daring in one respect: their news crawl.
Watch any news network these days, and you will see a news crawl. Nearly all of them employ the present tense, as in OBAMA ISSUES STATEMENT ON ECONOMY or BRETT FAVRE CONTEMPLATES RETIREMENT, NAPS. In fact, I would say all of them do, except that I haven’t seen every network in the entire world. Don’t worry, I plan to.
But when you watch the MLB Network, their news crawl only uses the past tense. As in RICKEY HENDERSON ELECTED TO HALL OF FAME or ATLANTA BRAVES SIGNED DEREK LOWE TO RIDONKULOUS CONTRACT.
This completely flies in the face of News Crawl Protocol. And yet, it’s more grammatically correct. Because these events, for the most part, are not ongoing events. They are finite things that have been done and will not be repeated.
The use of the present tense is journalism shorthand, used in headlines and quick blurbs at the top of broadcasts to stress the URGENCY and IMMEDIACY of the news. Technically, it’s grammatically incorrect. But we’re used to present tense being used in this manner, so we don’t think twice about it.
In fact, when I first noticed the MLB Network opted for past tense, my first instinct was that someone had screwed up. My Copyeditor’s Sense detected something wrong. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was everyone except MLB who was wrong.
And that is the last time you will read the words ‘everyone except MLB was wrong’.
I applaud MLB Network, because I’m sure there was somebody in that style meeting who fought to keep present tense, because past tense sounded weird. And this visionary said, “NO! We will single-handedly undo 8 years of News Crawl Grammar Tyrrany!”
Or, knowing MLB, they picked a style with little regard for tradition or public preferences and just ran with it. In either case, kudos!