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

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

  • No leash

    Living as I do in the remote provinces, I often find myself fascinated by the cultural advances of America's great metropolises. Last week, for example, The New York Times featured an entertaining column urging people to walk cats on leashes. If I tried that, I'd definitely have a fight on my hands.
    • Dec 13, 2018
  • Herd shifts

    Some years ago, I watched a herd of nine mares stampede across a pasture on a friend's farm. It was an impressive spectacle, like that seen from the rail at a racetrack.
    • Dec 6, 2018
  • Dems on deck

    Much of what I know about politics I learned from sports. If you want to know what's going on in a baseball game, for example, you've got to know not only the score, but the inning, number of outs, what runners are on which bases, who's batting, who's pitching, who's on deck, and who's warming in the bullpen. I could go on.
    • Nov 29, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • An apology from McCain

    What you do with the lowest point in your life is probably going to define you for the rest of your days. So it was with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose funeral Saturday will be the iconic religious spectacle of our time, though probably not the great national awakening he hoped it would be.
    • Sep 6, 2018
  • Embarrassed

    Perhaps you recall the last time a French politician angered a certain kind of hairy-chested American nationalist. In February 2003, Dominique de Villepin, France's conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, cautioned the United Nations General Assembly about the sheer folly of invading Iraq.
    • Nov 15, 2018

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • No leash

    Living as I do in the remote provinces, I often find myself fascinated by the cultural advances of America's great metropolises. Last week, for example, The New York Times featured an entertaining column urging people to walk cats on leashes. If I tried that, I'd definitely have a fight on my hands.
    • Dec 13, 2018
  • Herd shifts

    Some years ago, I watched a herd of nine mares stampede across a pasture on a friend's farm. It was an impressive spectacle, like that seen from the rail at a racetrack.
    • Dec 6, 2018
  • Dems on deck

    Much of what I know about politics I learned from sports. If you want to know what's going on in a baseball game, for example, you've got to know not only the score, but the inning, number of outs, what runners are on which bases, who's batting, who's pitching, who's on deck, and who's warming in the bullpen. I could go on.
    • Nov 29, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Sex and Trump

    No one, least of all Donald Trump, should be surprised when sex puts him in mortal jeopardy, which seemed to be the case last week when his personal lawyer pleaded guilty to violating the law by arranging $280,000 in hush payments to a porn actress and a Playboy model who were prepared to tell voters about having sex with him.
  • Hope and change LR

    While I was away, Frank Scott Jr. won a historic victory in a runoff with Baker Kurrus to succeed Mark Stodola as Little Rock mayor.
  • No leash

    Living as I do in the remote provinces, I often find myself fascinated by the cultural advances of America's great metropolises. Last week, for example, The New York Times featured an entertaining column urging people to walk cats on leashes. If I tried that, I'd definitely have a fight on my hands.
  • Beware of 'unity'

    Beware the sweet lull of that siren song calling for "unity" and for us to "come together." It's the latest incarnation of the call for "civility," and just as dangerous.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: No leash

    • Love this. So funny- so very hard to do.

    • on December 13, 2018
  • Re: No leash

    • The local Humane Society surprised me this week when it marched in the Arkadelphia Christmas…

    • on December 13, 2018
  • Re: Herd shifts

    • Answer: The Russian hacking story was the basis for the whole "Russians are on Trump's…

    • on December 12, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation