Friday, October 27, 2006

I know it's been a while since I last updated this blog. I've been more than a little depressed by this World Series. The Cardinals winning is not good for any one. I think we can all agree that no one in St. Louis really deserves to be happy. When your chief landmark is a big freestanding arch with no particular significance (I know the arch represents the gateway to the West, but it's still pathetic), you live in a loser town. No way around it. Given the choice between living in Missouri and death, I'm taking death.

A lot of people wonder why the World Series ratings are so low. Part of it may be the fact that the Tigers and the Cardinals did not get the national TV exposure during the season that the New York teams received. Part of it may be the fact that the Cardinals were dreadful this season. They finished two games over .500, and they went on an amazingly boring run in the playoffs. Part of it might be that baseball is no longer America's pastime. The NFL is the big sport now.

One thing that has not received enough attention is the network itself. FOX does an atrocious job of packaging and presenting baseball as a television sport. It is difficult to make baseball work as a TV sport, there is a lot of dead time in a baseball game. Do we really need to see managers spit and scratch themselves while the pitcher and catcher sort out the sign, the hitter steps in and out of the batter's box and boring announcers try to be amusing and fail miserably? But that is what we get. There are those who maintain that the beauty of baseball is that there is no clock. I disagree. With a clock there might be more consistent urgency, more motion and more action. Is that a bad thing?

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have no business broadcasting games, together or separately. Think about it. Ask your friends (provided, of course, that you have any). Find some one who is willing to admit that they like these guys calling games. Is there one person in America not related to Buck or McCarver that looks forward to their brand of broadcasting? They have no charisma, they are boring, predictable and dragging the games down. The network attempted to bring some life to the booth for the championship series by including Luis Gonzales. That was a colossal failure.

Then there is Scooter, the annoying (to say the least) animated baseball endeavoring to explain the various pitches to the casual fan. Will any of us who saw it ever recover from Jeff Suppan's ill fated appearance with Scooter, rebroadcast during Game 3? I think not. I know he was trying to be funny, but I can't forgive him for failing so drastically. And if my name were Suppan, and you called me Soup, there would be both consequences and repercussions.

Baseball is really dying before our eyes. Yeah, they set an attendance record this season. That's nice, but when your marquee event's TV ratings decline year after year you have a serious problem. Crowning 7 different champions in 7 years may point to parity and competitive balance, but have teams leveled up or leveled down? I think baseball has leveled down. There are no great teams, and very few great players. There are even fewer compelling stories. When we look back on this postseason, will we remember it for having one of the weaker champions of all time, or for it bringing the demise of Steve "Psycho" Lyons?

As I type this, FOX put a fitting signature on this evening's broadcast. Joe Buck finally revealed the ultimate mystery of baseball. His final thought: "There can be only one champion." No way! Really? I was under the impression that there could be 13 or 14 or an infinite number of champions. And as the credits roll, what does FOX play? A cover of U2's One. And a very bad one at that. Apparently they couldn't get the Kenny G cover of Juicy by the Notorious BIG (I am aware that was also a cover).

This World Series was terrible because the media built up the Tigers until we were sick to death of them. And then the Tigers, whether because of the layoff, the team buying into the media coverage and letting down or a combination thereof, bombed and bombed badly. Now we have the Cardinals as a reigning World Series champion, and who cares? No one likes the Cardinals because they are eminently dislikeable.

Maybe Albert Pujols is the best hitter in the world, but he has no personality. He's not marketable the way Jeter or Ortiz or even Manny can be marketed to the masses. He has all the charisma of the Frankenstein monster in the original cinematic version. Then there is Jim Edmonds, the least likeable centerfielder since Ty Cobb. Duncan, Taguchi, Belliard, Molina, Rolen, Spezio. Those names don't exactly leap off the page, do they? Even with that stupid red beard on Spezio.

David Eckstein, the All American boy (Jim Leyland's words, not mine)? More like that hall monitor that always ratted you out for breaking whichever of the insipid rules elementary schools use to thwart the creativity of the individual (I was less than a model student as a youngster), without, of course, the bear mace and religious fervor that made Cartman such a success in a recent South Park. And if proud NH product (as though that weren't a massive contradiction) Chris Carpenter ever despairs of living free, I won't miss him should he try the other half of New Hampshire's glorious motto.

If you can't tell by now, I wanted to see the Tigers win. Alas, Placido Polanco didn't want to hit. The Tigers pitchers didn't want to field their positions correctly. And Curtis Granderson wanted to play centerfield like a drunken sailor in Game 3. There is more blame to go around, as is always the case with a catastrophe of this magnitude, but there isn't enough time to get into it now. I'll just have to deal with my disappointment.

Before I sign off, I think this point must be addressed. Jim Rome, among others, has discovered a disturbing trend in America today. Shawne Merriman tested positive for steroids, and it isn't as big a deal as the baseball steroid witch hunt. This double standard exists for two reasons. First, we expect more violence from our football players so we are willing to look the other way when they enhance their natural gifts with banned substances. We also focus so much of our energy on our fantasy teams and football gambling that we look the other way in these cases.

There is another way to look at it. Perhaps we reacted to the Merriman suspension the way we did because the NFL has a history of suspending players for steroid use that goes back more than two decades, and not until Congress wasted time and millions of dollars in a farce two years ago. I'm sure I'm wrong though, because my way of thinking would require Jim Rome and his followers to step down from the soap box and spare us the anger of the righteous. I don't think any of us want to live in world like that.

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