Thoughts That Pop Into My Head While Watching the ALCS

So the Indians are up 3 games to 1 now, over the Red Sox.

While watching the game, and in particular in the 5th inning when the Indians tagged Tim Wakefield with a 7-spot to take a 7-0 lead, and with the knowledge that the next game is at Jacobs Field, too, it occurred to me that while the TV networks have obsessed over the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and various other big-market teams this year, we are getting ready to watch a Colorado Rockies vs. Cleveland Indians World Series.

And both teams will deserve to be there. More than that, both teams are good enough to deserve to win the whole thing.

And how many times have each of them been on national TV this past season? Maybe one or two?

Yet now, we’re supposed to feel the drama.  It’s Actober, dude!  With two teams that hardly anybody knows squat about, except for three tiny markets:  hard-core baseball nuts, and their two respective local fan bases.

Now the Colorado Rockies, I can understand not putting on national TV, since they were just a nice team in a small market. Nothing special, no compelling reason to televise a single game. Sometimes teams come from literally out of nowhere to surprise everybody in the World Series, and you can’t really fault TV for not having televised them.

But the Indians were, behind the Red Sox, probably the best and most consistent team in the superior American League this season.

We all understand that the main concern for TV networks is ratings. Ratings = ad revenue.  And obviously a team like the Indians, without much of a national following and in a small market, just can’t deliver the same ratings that a Yankees, a Cubs, or a Red Sox can deliver. So from that perspective, it is understandable.

But TV has an obligation to build an audience for its marquee events, too. It’s like TV coverage of track or swimming or other Olympic sports; how can they expect the audience to care about athletes in Olympic sports that are never on TV except once a year on Saturday afternoons? Apparently they think you can do this, by running a smarmy, cloying Jimmy Roberts piece before a taped event.  Can’t you just feel the manufactured drama?

And this is what baseball does today, too. They prep the announcers with factoids and colorful stories, and they show us graphics and video galore.  This is supposed to substitute for actual coverage, over time, which creates actual interest.

And in what may be the most annoying director’s technique ever, they use a series of tight face shots during dramatic moments of ballgames, in an attempt to turn a sport into a series of emotional reactions from individuals.

It’s all so TV-friendly:  Look! The manager is tense!! The pitcher is sweating!! This fan, she is hopeful!! This group of fans, they are nervous!! That team in the dugout, they are confident – or is it over-confident?! Oh, TV, thank you so much for providing the suspense for me, because I’m an idiot “baseball fan” who doesn’t implicitly understand that a tie game with runners on first and second and nobody out, with a 3-0 count on the hitter, is drama waiting to happen!! Oh, golly, I just can’t stand it!  Show me more faces!  Please!!

I thought we were watching a baseball game, where the action is on the field. I didn’t realize I tuned into a soap opera, where everybody emotes and that is what we’re all supposed to focus on.

My bad!

Gone are the days when kids could race home from school — or risk getting in big trouble at school by listening on a hidden radio via earpiece — to see the last inning or two of the World Series on TV. Not only that, they can’t watch at night much of the time, because the games don’t start until 8:00 or later for much of the country. It would seem that both God and common sense would dictate that baseball in October was meant to be played during the day.

But this is the televised sports world we have today: TV networks routinely ignore any sports programming that can’t deliver big ratings, in part because they’ve paid big bucks for the right to televise it in the first place. Sporting events are actually TV shows — and have been TV shows for a long time — placed into the programming day at times that work for the networks, to maximize ratings, and therefore ad revenue, with no thought for such things as a starting time of 5 PM affecting the ability of batters to see pitched baseballs aimed at their heads, or of the importance of getting kids hooked on the real drama that is World Series baseball.

And so, that is why we are lucky enough to get about 15 Yankees – Red Sox games on TV during the season, and the Indians might be on TV once. Depending on the weather.

Baseball coverage today is just another TV show.  We may wish it were something else.  We may hold on to the quaint idea that sports can still transcend TV.  But as for what baseball coverage today actually is?  Just.  Another.  TV show.

I think I need to stock up on the Scotch.

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