Friday, April 8, 2011

Calling the game

If today’s post seems even more spastically disjointed than usual, I apologize in advance, but I also have a reasonable excuse, namely a whole lot of manic energy with nowhere good to channel it. Today has a very last-day-of-school feel to it since it’s not only my last day before going on paternity leave but also the day I need to finish packing up my desk because the agency’s office move will happen in my absence – but I’m the only person who is operating under those exact conditions so the vibe isn’t pervasive throughout the cubicle farm so much as in my own head. My wife and I are both hanging on to as much optimism as we can about a 100% unassisted labor naturally beginning this weekend, but at the same time my wife is pretty certain that today is not the day unless things really ramp up out of nowhere. So, huge changes on the horizon but not a lot I can do about them anyway. Let’s talk baseball.

For many years, before the advent of the YES network on cable, my dad would watch the Yankees games on tv with the sound muted. I always thought this was a little odd, all the moreso given that he grew up in the halcyon transistor-radio age of America’s pastime when there was sound but no pictures, and he had completely swapped sensory inputs. But his reasoning was simply that on the national broadcasts the commentators often showed slight favoritism to whoever-was-playing-against-New-York and took cheap shots at Steinbrenner’s organization whenever an easy opportunity presented itself. This may or may not have been true, and may or may not even have any inherent verifiability since the whole premise is layer upon layer of subjectivity, but in any case I came to respect my dad’s decision. Really what he ended up doing was creating a kind of home experience that was akin to being at the ballpark in person, where you can see the game but not hear any running commentary. And he only talked about why he watched the games audio-free when I asked him about it; in other words he wasn’t constantly grinding the axe about Joe Buck and Tim Carver’s pandering to the slight majority of baseball fans who are Yankees-haters, he just steered clear of it and enjoyed his fandom quietly, which is kind of refreshing.

So I respected what he did and why but never took up the practice myself, because I always felt like I had so much to learn from the announcers and commentators who could really analyze and break down what was happening on the field. Since I never played baseball in any organized way there were a lot of finer points of the game I was clueless about. Over the years I think I’ve caught up to the point where I can hold up my end of a reasonably intelligent conversation, and in that time I’ve gotten so used to the (real or imagined) tone of the broadcasts (a steady between-the-lines implication that goes something along the lines of reveling in every Yankees failure and belittling every accomplishment as nothing more than what you’d have to expect from the game’s most outrageously outsized payroll) that I’m simply habituated to them, and let the talking heads in the booth fill my living room with steady patter not because I need it but because it’s always been there.

BUT! I’m no longer entirely sure I can maintain my cultivated indifference any more. Because I am a few pages away from finishing Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, and while it has been an exhilarating tour through the institutionalized misconceptions and self-defeating conservatism of the modern MLB the one thing that sticks in my craw hardest right now is: Joe Morgan is a bloviating moron.

All right, I might forgive him if he grew back the sweet sideburns.
Joe Morgan calls baseball games on ESPN, of course, and for a long time I’ve thought he was kind of a kook, but Moneyball (at least the paperback edition I’m reading, which has an afterword that allows the author to comment on the reaction the book got in MLB circles when it was initially published) calls Morgan out for some foolishness that I really have a hard time suffering. Moneyball, I’ll say again, was written by Michael Lewis. It focuses a lot on the behind-the-scenes strategies of the Oakland A’s as engineered by their GM Billy Beane. Lewis portrays Beane as kind of a mad genius flouting conventional wisdom, and Lewis often looks at the rest of the baseball establishment and seems to ask “why don’t the rest of these guys wise up to what Beane has figured out?” Joe Morgan, in an interview after the book came out, referred to it as a book that Billy Beane wrote. He was, as far as can be determined, not being ironic. He was corrected and told Beane gave access to Lewis but Lewis wrote the book. In a later interview, after being corrected, Morgan again attributed (or more accurately, accused) Beane with authorship, not to mention egomania. Oh and did I mention Morgan was spouting off about all the things Billy Beane shouldn’t have said in the book he wrote, when Morgan himself had never even bothered to read the book? I assume by now y’all know that willful ignorance is quite high on my personal list of Things That Rankle. I mean, dang.

So yeah, Lewis’s account is going to make it hard to take Morgan seriously as a reputable broadcaster (and it was already somewhat difficult). Lewis himself, on the other hand, is all right in my book. I think he has officially made it to my other personal list, Folks I Would Gladly Buy A Beer For So We Could Hang Out And Talk, where he joins Dan Savage, Sarah Vowell, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman. Yes, they are all writers which I am sure comes as an utter and world-tilting shock.

Anyway, thankfully the possessors of the golden pipes who watch from the broadcast booth are not so important to baseball season as the baseball itself. And the season is only a week old but already shaping up to be a doozy. I’m happy that the Yankees are (over an admittedly small sample-size of games, but still) consistently winning 2 out of 3 per series, especially since they tend to start slowly in April. And I’m happy for the O’s who have jumped out to a 5 and 1 lead of the AL East, admittedly mainly because that makes my wife very happy. The television has of course become almost exclusively a baseball-delivery appliance and we’ve had very little reason to curse and scream at it thus far. We were on a collision course for that becoming half-inevitable, as the Yankees and the O’s are playing against each other next week but – surprise! The opening match of the series is the evening of induction day, so we’ll have other more important things on our minds than our respective teams’ middle relief. Still, it’s a long season, and here’s to it being a good and memorable one.

(Speaking of next week I may or may not post something shortish on Monday but will with almost complete certainty go dark for a while after that. Catch up when I can.)

(Oh and ha ha guess what? Looking for a picture of Joe Morgan online led me to the info that he isn’t calling ESPN baseball games this year after all. So I won’t need to actively avoid him. I can safely disdain him while listening to entirely different people’s self-aggrandizing quasi-commentary. Cool.)

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