Favorite

The national pastime 

For readers who skip the sports page, an update: there are no New York teams in the MLB playoffs this season. The Mets were dreadful right out of spring training, while the Yankees high-salaried lineup succumbed to age and injury.

Prominent was tabloid bad boy A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez, the handsome third baseman whose well-publicized woes keep him in a dead heat with teen trollop Miley Cyrus for the title of America's Most Tedious Celebrity.

How long before they're photographed leaving a nightclub together?

But I digress. With no New York teams in the running, it follows that tout le monde has wearied of baseball. That's a French phrase signifying "everybody who matters."

Not you, Pittsburgh. Oakland? Fuggedaboutit.

It was therefore inevitable that the lordly New York Times would greet the playoffs with a mighty ho-hum in the form of an essay by Jonathan Mahler entitled "Is the Game Over?" Because the Super Bowl gets much higher TV ratings than the World Series, all the luster is supposedly gone from the game once called "America's Pastime."

Oddly, Mahler's main journalistic credential is "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning," his book about the serial killer "Son of Sam," the 1977 Yankees of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson fame, and owner George Steinbrenner — the Donald Trump of his time.

Anyway, never mind, as Mahler concedes, that baseball has achieved competitive balance and overall financial success it never enjoyed during its "golden age," i.e. when he (and I) were small boys. There have been seven different World Series champions in the past 10 years, only one of them the Yankees. By every objective measure except national TV ratings, the game's thriving.

Today he thinks NFL football has all the advantages. "Teams play only once a week, and when the postseason arrives, every game is an elimination game," Mahler writes. "But its real advantage is that it's louder, faster and more violent — which is to say, better in tune with our cultural moment."

It's an advantage to play only once a week? That's just one reason I've always regarded the NFL as a colossal bore. Sure the Super Bowl's a huge TV event in January, when half the country's stuck indoors, eager to get loaded and gamble. At most Super Bowl parties I've attended, people hardly watch except when the hardcore guys start yelling.

College football's much the same. Where I live in SEC territory, football fans devote months to obsessive chatter about the upcoming season. Then come three or four cupcake games, a handful of exciting conference matchups, maybe a bowl game, and then eight more months of phoning radio talk shows to gossip about high school recruits and conspire against the coach.

Are they even sports fans, these people? Some, sure. But a lot of them are mainly there for the identity politics and the party.

Meanwhile, I watch major league baseball almost every day from April to October — with occasional pilgrimages to the ballpark. I once overheard an impertinent woman ask my wife why she let me. Diane answered that she was a baseball coach's daughter, and sometimes watches with me. (I guarantee you she can name the Red Sox starting lineup.) She added that I don't supervise her pastimes, and that we do better when we don't try to push each other around.

Did she never tire of it? "Sometimes," she said. "But he's home. He's sober, and he's not out making a fool of himself in some titty bar."

Boys, if you get a chance, marry a coach's daughter.

So why does even the NBA's Game of the Week on ABC, Mahler wonders, get almost double the ratings of Major League Baseball on Fox?

It's the nature of the game, as New York-centric writers focused upon national TV ratings fail to grasp. See, I don't just watch baseball. I watch the Boston Red Sox. (To me, the MLB Extra Innings TV package is the greatest bargain in sports.) It's not a once-a-year spectacle. It's an imaginative commitment, like reading "War and Peace," one chapter at a time.

Not to go all literary on you. Baseball players are jocks, not English professors. Most highfalutin literary appreciations of the game go right by them.

I'm talking about the daily grind of baseball: the interplay of character and personality, and the thousand-and-one strategic and tactical decisions that make the game so uniquely absorbing to players and serious fans.

But incomprehensible to the once-a-year viewer who hasn't followed the story line.

Economically, it's in local broadcasts where loyalties abide and the game thrives. The national game of the week is an anachronism, dating to when it was the only baseball on TV. Me, I'm watching NESN. It follows that many fans lose interest in post-season play unless their team's involved.

Pretty much like Mahler and his fellow provincials at the New York Times.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Blaming Obama

    A couple of months ago, on May 10, President Trump invited two Russian diplomats into the White House to celebrate his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Megyn vs. Alex

    As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly's televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • Never wrong

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself — from whence my people emigrated after 1880.
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • No one in charge

    The American president has long been described with the honorific "Leader of the Free World." No more.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Blaming Obama

    A couple of months ago, on May 10, President Trump invited two Russian diplomats into the White House to celebrate his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Sorry, I have never written about Hillary Clinton's "blunders" in Benghazi. Since you call them…

    • on July 25, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • IBS, were you there in Benghazi to personally witness all of Hillary's blunders like you…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • If God felt it necessary to replace the ten commandments, he could do it like…

    • on July 23, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation