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October Baseball

October 3, 2015

“But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy’s hopes
And then just crush ’em like so many paper beer cups

Year after year after year, after year, after year, after year,
‘Til those hopes are just so much popcorn for the pigeons beneath the ‘L’ tracks to eat”

– Steve Goodman, from A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request

*********

The final regular season baseball games are being played this weekend. The outcome of these games, as of those played since opening day six months ago, are inconsequential.

Real world matters, those with of any importance whatsoever, will be unchanged. The storm on the East Coast doesn’t care. Health care will still be expensive and for some, unavailable. The kids’ families up in Oregon will remain in shock. They’ve lost their loved ones forever and their anguish is unimaginable. Long and lonely lives of endless grieving have just started. “Stuff happens,” as Jeb Bush might tell them. It goes to show, a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth doesn’t always have a way with words.

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The refrigerator door. Every summer morning starts with coffee and baseball. Season schedules for the 2 Bay Area teams for handy reference. 162 games each. More than 180 days of box scores, radio and TV broadcasts. What will I do with all my free time?

Baseball is just a game. However, simply saying it here impresses upon me how hard a grip it has on me.

As much as I watch the Giants and A’s, it doesn’t bother me that neither of them came close to qualifying for the playoffs this year. I like to see them win and don’t care for when they lose. But five minutes later, it doesn’t matter much to me. And make no mistake about it, these are “my teams.” I just don’t see how making a serious “fan’s” emotional investment makes sense for me.

Every season, baseball swallows me up. This year was no exception. Day after day, since April 6, I’ve been under a trance. Reading box scores first thing in the morning over coffee. Dozing off in the soft green chair in front of a West Coast game at night. But with the playoffs starting next week, the end is near. After one hundred and eighty days, I’m only two days away from breaking free from this spell.

Everything changes for me in with the postseason games, however. The big cable TV companies make watching the games intolerable. MLB receives $800 million a year from these companies for broadcast rights to the playoff games. The cable companies in turn sell off advertising rights to other big companies, who in between innings tell us all about the good life available to us with their beer, cars, pharmaceutical drugs, and fast food. Consumption is the name of the game. But that’s always been the case and the constant onslaught of commercials from these companies is actually the least annoying aspect of sitting through a game. The worst of it is their production of an event.

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Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd were in the Cubs radio booth when I was a kid. These guys called a good game and helped me learn about baseball. I’m going to keep this postcard on my desk this month for good luck.

We don’t just get to watch the games anymore. Instead, everything we’re shown is manufactured by the big cable TV companies. It’s all scripted, from start to finish. Engineered to manipulate the viewers’ feelings and nudging them into going along with the story as they want us to understand it.

Oh, the players will still run, throw and swing bats. And the games will be played until one team wins. But that’s a just an inconvenience for these companies. If they had their way, for efficiency and full impact, they’d like to script the scores and plays also.

They will adopt to the play on the field as necessary, but ultimately will impose the story that they want us to hear. Their $800 million gives them that option. They pick out their stars and craft their narratives long before the first pitch. The messaging adjusts only as necessary to respond to results on the field. The broadcasters in the booth are carefully assigned and held to tight talking points. Even if they are knowledgeable about the game and are capable of giving us interesting insight, they cannot stray from the producers’ story lines. I would guess that they cannot even pick out their own neckties. They have nothing new to say from them from the first inning to the last. From the series opener to the series wrap up.

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Cubs and White Sox games on TV were part of the Chicago summer soundtracks when I was a kid. No graphics to speak of and grainy pictures sometimes, but excellent baseball announcers in the booth.

The graphics are excessive and generally unnecessary. They are overlaid on the screen throughout the game. We don’t need to know an updated pitch count every time the ball crosses the plate. Also, with these modern screens, we’re all able to follow the ball without an artificial tail to track its path. Fans have always understood the strike zone and are happy to create their own. That’s part of the fun of it. It’s between us and the umpires. We don’t need one more slapped up on the lower right quadrant of the screen underneath an insurance company’s or auto manufacturer’s logo .

These guys are always on the lookout for someone in the stands showing emotion to enhance their messaging and fit their script. The more emotion, the better. Anything to draw the people watching out at the sports bar, or someone like me, sitting in my soft green chair at home, into their narrative. Count me out. I want to watch a baseball game, not watch people.

The cameras moves predictably throughout the stage and cast. Pitcher, batter, fan in the stands, manager in one dugout, manager in the other dugout, celebrity in the stands, umpire, star player on the field, runner on base, a star players’ wife or parents in the stands, another star player in the dugout, then another on the field, pitcher, batter…

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With my brother. In 1984, he met up with our cousin to watch a game at Wrigley Field wearing a cap he picked up in North Dakota. His cap, right out of a county farm bureau report, said “Stand Pig Farm of Mayville, ND.” Norman was a regular at Wrigley for many years. He dutifully replaced the pig farm cap with the Cubs cap shown here. A story I heard for the first time last weekend and am still chuckling about.

Replay after replay. A fielder’s catch until it’s etched into our brains. A home run shown from every last angle. Everything in slow motion – plays on the field, player walking off the field, player clapping his hands, player praying to the skies, umpire making a call, fan crying in the stands. Enough already!

This is not how I watch the game when I go out to the yard and I’d rather not watch it that way on TV either. With all the fancy technology available with our TVs, I want the feature that allows me to watch the baseball game, not their manipulative and overdone “product.”

So, the playoff games will have to go on without me. I’m a free man after tomorrow. (Come February, Opening Day won’t come quickly enough.)

The Cubs broke my heart when I was a schoolboy. As with so many others from Chicago, their 1969 slide from the top left a mark on me. They were supposed to win the World Series that year, but instead ended the season in a distant second place behind the upstart New York Mets. The Cubs have teased fans six times since then, but never made it to the World Series.

The big cable TV companies have already written their predictable story about the Cubs. We all know it by heart, but nonetheless, they will hit us over the head with it for as long as the Cubs are in contention.

If the Cubs win it all, great! If not, I can wait another year. I will be keeping an eye on it and in spite of my strong distaste for the $800 million guys, I’ll tune in now and again this month to watch the Cubs play. After all, as one of many fans still walking off the disappointments we’ve endured with the team, isn’t that my role in this whole tale?

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This past summer at Wrigley Field. “Sweet Swinging” Billy Williams is also shown on that 1972 Chicago Tribune TV Guide above.

48 Comments
  1. Great job, Bruce. As far as the “Stuff Happens” comment. It just goes to show how far we’ve degenerated as a society that a well-known presidential candidate believes that responding to tragedy in the same why your friendly neighborhood sociopath might choose to do, in order to score political points with like-minded sociopaths, is the new norm.
    Good luck to your Cubbies (from a Mets fan.)
    -Bill

    Like

    • Bill – Yes, I really don’t believe that Jeb! can really believe that this was the best thing to say when the families are grieving. And in the context, maybe it’s not even what he really meant. He is just so unsure of himself and grasping for something he can’t even describe himself in order to be popular with certain people who he believes control his future. This is not very becoming. We should expect better from a leading candidate who will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to be elected.

      When I was a kid, those in my circle hated the Mets. Were you in NY when they overcame the Cubs that year? For a little more on that season, see my blog post titled, Thief.” If you were a young Mets fan, you may enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, I was only six-years old in ’69, so I have virtually no memory of that year at all. It was around ’73-”74 that I really got into the Mets. But I will take a look at your previous post.
        Cheers, Bill

        Like

  2. I don’t watch baseball, but I have my own escapes. The crazier this world gets (or maybe it’s always been crazy, but I’m just more aware of it as I get older), I realize how vital those escapes are. We need things that bring us pleasure. Things that will be there for us when we need a time-out from the crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carrie, Of course, you are absolutely right about that. And hats off to the person who knows that these escapes can pay dividends all around and then go out and find the pleasure.

      To take it a little further, who’s to say that these pastimes are just diversions? Some might even claim that avocations and simple activities are integral to a good life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. Anything that brings us happiness boosts our feel-good hormones, and that’s always a good thing.

        Like

  3. Sometimes I read something and wonder if the person writing it is living in my head. This is one of those times. I live and breathe Giants baseball from the first pitch of the first game until they are eliminated from the postseason hunt. I consider myself a baseball fan, but my fandom really begins and ends with my team, and some of the storylines that fill every baseball season. When it comes to the post season, if the Giants aren’t there, I find the whole thing insufferable and it’s almost entirely because of the need for the broadcasters and announcers and commentators to turn every post season game into THE MOST COMPELLING THING since … well … there is nothing that compares to each and every pitch and twitch during the post season. I am so tired of the need to overdramatize and overanalyze the whole thing. so, generally speaking, unless there’s a really good storyline … like when the Red Sox finally won, or maybe this year, if the Cubbies make it further than the first round … I’ve got better things to do than watch the post season. And I’m a baseball fan. I wonder if the powers that be realize how many of us they lose by how they have turned the postseason into something other than just the game.

    Like

    • They have made it hard to watch. “Un-watchable.” Is that a word? Maybe not. So let’s just go to unbearable. I don’t think the $800 million guys really care about a real baseball fan. They know that they keep more than the lose. Those (like you) that drop off are offset by the casual watchers, which is why they want the big market teams to go far. There couldn’t be a bigger story than the Cubs and Yankees in the 2015 World Series nor a better chance to manipulate viewers. Now that would be a marketers dream.

      I’m good with the Giants losing this year. It’s just natural, but still hard to see Cain, Hudson and Lincecum on the fringes. I always enjoy watching Peavey pitch and of course, Bumgarner is amazing. To my surprise, our infield is shaping up to be one of the best.

      Like

      • I was waiting for you to say it, Bruce. Real fans don’t need the extra drama, the strike zone boxes, the update on pitching numbers…but you aren’t the target audience. The only way for those billionaires to keep their billions is to drag in the casual watchers, who are easily distracted by insurance commercials and who need the carefully developed script to help them keep up with the game. Your baseball has been hijacked.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The reality is that there aren’t enough “real” baseball fans left to make televised games worth it to the advertisers. So, I get what is going on, but yes, it has spoiled watching the game for the real fan.

        Without the endless injuries, the Giants would have won the division this year. Hopefully, they’ll improve their starting pitching and their new offensive stars will continue to excel next year.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. great post Bruce. I often wonder about being uprooted and rooting for a new team. Congratulations on Cubbies. I hope the feeling stretches all the way to the World Series. It would be quite a story to witness Theo Epstein as the GM or whatever his role is…first impacting tthe Red Sox to win after all those years and then the Cubs after all their years and as a side note, but related to great stories, Epstein’s grandfather and great uncle wrote the screen play for Casablanca.

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    • I left Chicago when the only way to keep in touch was the SF Chronicle and other local papers. While curious about the local teams and fascinated by the new ball parks (so, so different from the Platonic Wrigley Field) the Cubs were my team for a long time. It wasn’t easy to keep up with all the ins and outs of the team, but it never entered my mind to not try. It wasn’t until years later, when wouldn’t you know it, my very young son didn’t get the idea of cheering for a team 2,200 miles away and got me hooked on the A’s and Giants. It only made sense. For him and me. For many reasons. Now, with a gazzilion pitches later and not quite the emotional requirement for a “winning team” that I had as a kid, I’m perfectly content tuning in first to the A’s and Giants.

      Still, there’s absolutely nothing that can replace my first team. There’s still good reason to hope. And so, I’ll pull out my 1984 Cubs jacket Wednesday and do my part to make sure Jake Arrieta pitches one more gem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting that you moved from a two team city to a two team city. It’s been a while since you were in Chicago, but from what you remember, do you think the soft core civil war is more heated in Chicago or San Francisco/Oakland? And does your son feel the need to choose a side?

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        • I’ve lived in towns with no baseball teams and towns with two. I prefer the latter arrangement. My son, who pulled me over to the Giants when he was in grade school, still follows them, but prefers the A’s now. I can’t really compare how the SF/Oak fan question plays against the North Side/South Side acrimony in Chicago. Let’s commission a study. Bring in LA and NY teams also.

          Like

  5. Enjoyable baseball read. Hey, is that Andy Carey’s voice I hear ? Batted .321 in 1953. Or is that Dizzy Dean throwing peanuts from the broadcast booth at Mantle in the on deck circle again ? Pulling for the Yankees as usual but don’t expect much as their bats are “dead with lead”. Being a Yankee is the most difficult and stressful team of which to be a player. See, for New Yorkers a team is expected to go all the way and win the whole shabam (or is that shebang?). If not the team’s nothing but a bunch of disgraceful losers. Glad for ARod this year. I think he’s really trying to repair his rep and really cares about being remembered as a Yankee great. Since Yankees have had so many LOB they will have to win with HR’s and respectable pitching. I have been waiting by the phone in my Yankee jacket, cap and with my Mel Stottlemeyer glove hoping for the call from “the office” to come up to DH or at least pinch hit but no rings yet. They may have found out I’m 66 and can barely “run” to the bathroom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carl, stay by the phone. With all of these “special events” and such that MLB makes up, I think they ought to finally make the call. This one will be called “Carl the Yankees fan added to the playoff roster brought to you by Ford and it’s new 2016 F-50, the official MLB pickup truck for those of you watching this game on ESPN, the world leader in sports available to you on Comcast, the world’s largest cable and broadcasting company in the world, who is proud to bring you more sports than any of you could watch in a lifetime.”

      I’m sure the Yankees can whip up a uniform to match that jacket and cap for you. It may be too late to put Mel Stottlemeyer’s number on the back, but whatever number is available is going to have to be good enough. You will be the fan who gets to suit up for the Astros series. You may have to get to the yard a little early to find your locker, try on the uniform, loosen up and make sure that you know the quick routes from the dugout to the bathroom. Then, just make sure that you keep ready for when Girardi needs you to pinch hit or even start as DH. Oil that glove. It would be a shame if you didn’t take a few ground balls after batting practice.

      Like

  6. Compwhiz 3001 permalink

    Yeah, the pre-scripted narrative on the Cubs that the networks are going to club us to death with will be intolerable. Goats and cats and the Bartman! Can’t wait for the “longest streaks without a championship” info graphics.

    Also watch for a 60 Minutes-style piece on the godlike powers of Theo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The outline was written long ago and the third draft is now being circulated for final comments. We’ll hear about how Ernie isn’t here to witness, the Wrigley family, the gumption and determination of the new family, the renovation, the scoreboard, the new kids and strength of the farm system, interviews with Fergie and Billy Williams (without room for listening to their answers). The problem is that although there is plenty to talk about, these modern media systems don’t allow for anything interesting. It’s all canned. Anything original from a producer or announcer is considered a deviation and is not tolerated.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Like you, I often feel bad that I spend so much time following baseball and reading the box scores when there are far more important things going on in the world. But, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding a little joy in a simple game … it makes everything else a little more bearable, I guess.

    A close friend of mine lives in Mayville, North Dakota. It is a very small and cold place. Good luck to your Cubs! 🙂

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  8. Low odds that anyone would have a reference to Mayville, ND. I didn’t until last weekend. I only wish I could see what the cap looked like all those years ago.

    Baseball is a wonderful game. I’m hooked on it and that’s okay. But it is nice to shed it every fall.

    Like

  9. kdk permalink

    Baseball loyalties and habits die hard. As far back as I have memories they include snapshots of my dad’s devotion to the Cubs: a game on the car radio, the Tribune folded to the box scores, Brickhouse’s voice on the TV in the background of a sunny Saturday afternoon. He recently told me a great boyhood story about driving in from their farm in Diamond Lake for once-a-year outings to Wrigley Field with his dad, grandfather, and older brother. That would have been for a stretch of years around 1930. He’ll be watching next week for sure; at 93 he’s been waiting forever. Maybe this time …

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    • KDK – I love the story about the long drive. That is a really long drive. Hours of anticipation. And now, years of the same. For this alone, this is a good reason for the Cubs to win. For once, let’s take care of things.

      Like

  10. My friend Ken, is already pushing me to join him down in Arizona this coming spring, Bruce. And although I find my entertainment in other ways, I may join him for a game or two.

    I’ve always felt that one of the challenges that sports announcers, or any type of media personality, including newscaster, face is how to fill the endless hour with chatter, and how often that leads to drivel.

    Do you like to listen to your games on the radio?

    Great post, as always. –Curt

    Like

    • I had the same question about radio, Curt. A Rod Sox fan I dated for awhile swore by radio, after growing up in Boston, sitting on the back steps of the house, listening to his favourite radio personalities calling the game. It seems like that would be one way to dispense with a lot of the modern glitz.

      Like

      • As a child, Crystal, before TV entered our lives, I remember my mother listening to the Sacramento Solons on the radio, and how excited she would become. “Bye, bye, baby” the Solon’s radio announcer (Tony Caster) would shout, and in our minds we would envision the baseball disappearing over the fence. It was definitely a different way of envisioning the game. It is sort of like reading the book instead of seeing the movie. –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

    • I watch TV and listen to radio. We are fortunate here in the Bay Area to have very good broadcasters for both radio and TV. The Giants broadcasters must be the best around.

      Like

  11. Bruce, forgive me for all my comments on this one. Your passion comes through and it’s compelling. You have engaged me! Consider it a compliment to your writing skills.

    I had a thought that I’d recommend a book. You did say you’d have some free time coming up. I suspect it’s completely out of your typical interests, but what you are writing about here is one of the central themes from The Hunger Games. The book left me at times in shock for it’s seemingly coincidental portrayal of the worst of modern American society. It is gripping and intense, exciting, hopeful, validating, and really well-written – AND it’s a young adult novel so you’ll finish it in two days. It’s worth a try. The second and third books of the series are not as good, but I read them to find out how it all ended. The first stands on its own.

    If you don’t know the story, it’s a society in which there are scattered poor districts supporting District 1, the Capitol District, in which wealth and ignorance abounds, and entertainment reigns supreme. Your lament about scripting a tale disconnected from reality reminds me of when the two heroes of the story, a boy and a girl, are fighting for their lives in a televised deadly game, but are forced to play a romance amidst it all, in order to gain advantage. What really matters is lost in the face of wealthy people who want to make entertainment for the dull masses.

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    • Crystal, I’ve heard “The Hunger Games” for years now and never investigated what it was all about. This sounds perfectly grim. And sadly, metaphorically accurate. Dystopia one can imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Unbearable is a name for what television companies have done to many things, sports included. Nice article, Bruce.
    Mat

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mat – they do seem to have nothing but contempt for someone who needs more than the bland that they offer and disregard for the way that it could be (probably without as much effort as they put into their production),

      Like

  13. Alas…”There is no joy in Mudville.” But we are pretty damn stoked back here in Chicago, my friend! Snap out of it! Go Cubs! 😉

    Like

    • As you should be! I’ll pull out the 1984 jacket to help the team get through this.

      How about that card of Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau and the Trib TV Guide? Pristine museum pieces from our early “Wait-til-Next Year” era.

      Like

      • That card of Vinnie & Lou is priceless!…as is the pic of you and Mick! And yes, please be watching the game Wednesday night with that shiny, blue jacket on. All hands on deck, my good friend! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I always enjoy reading your insights on things… especially baseball 🙂

    Like

    • As you very well know, there’s so much that could be said about this wonderful game. One of these days, I may have to start out a post with the superb way that you put it, “But when you find yourselves repeatedly drawn back together during the most tumultuous of times, then you know it’s meant to be.” – Precious Sanders

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Mayville? That’s in the sunbelt of North Dakota! It’s still bikini weather in November in Mayville.

    OK, I jest. Just about anywhere in this state gets pretty frigid and the Red River Valley sees an unbelievable unrelenting wind. Our windchills up here by the border might be a little worse but it’s a fine line.

    Bruce, you may be the only Cubs fan I know of that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out. I’ve met far too many that are more in love with that “lovable loser” image than actual baseball fans. Hell, I put up with four 90 plus losing seasons from my Twins until this year and I never want to face that kind of a drought again. Yet a number of Cub fans adore being on the losing end. I can’t understand that. If I was from the North Side I’d be ANGRY 24-7. Or have defected to the Cardinals.

    Like

  16. It’s a small world, Jerol. I suppose that you wouldn’t expect to find a Stand Pig Farm cap mentioned over here at Ram On. Nor would we expect one out at Wrigley.

    The Bikini belt of North Dakota, you say. Well, as the big beer conglomerate will tell us, “find your own beach.”

    I was telling someone over the weekend, as I watched Nolasco knocked out in the second or third inning, that I think I could be a Twins fan if I lived back there. For some reason not very clear to me, both the Indians and Twins are the Central AL teams I like to watch.

    The Cardinals. What a machine. Steady as it goes.

    Like

  17. This is so beautiful that i have already told some people about it’
    ( have you any interest in travel though, do check my blog)

    Like

  18. The announcers for the playoffs are terrible….but 20 times better than Mike Krukow!!! 🙂

    Go Dodgers!

    Like

    • I like watching the Dodgers play, particularly when they are at home. I still have not listened to enough innings from Vin’s booth and do not like to think about the day that’s no longer possible.

      And I try to watch Greinke and Kershaw whenever possible. Just like I do with Bumgarner. These are some of the special players in the game.

      I don’t know if the Dodgers can beat the Mets. I have my doubts about that, but of course in a short series, anything can happen. Just for desert however, I’d like to see the Cubs beat the Mets for the NL pennant.

      Like

  19. I really appreciate this post. I don’t quite ‘get’ people who watch baseball with bated breath (thus, they need a lot of long breaths). My son-in-law is one of those people. He has Red Sox season’s tickets. He now drags his three little kiddies to the games (their seats are waaaay up there), and every once in a while, his mom-in-law (me!). Like the kids, I love the spectacle at Fenway: the wave, the Neil Diamond Caroline love-fest, the junk food. And the sun, ahhh, the sun on a hot summer’s day. But the game? Too much foot dragging, shoulder rounding, spitting, and not enough plain hitting. But, despite that, I appreciate the game more when I read your blog posts about it. I feel the nostalgia, the ‘fun’ of watching the sport, the statistics of it, and mostly, I think the ‘season’ of baseball. And I’m totally with you re the playoffs. Turn ’em off, even when they’re ‘my’ team (Red Sox when I live in Boston, Giants when I live in S.F.). It’s too too much of everything BUT baseball.
    So, glad you’re a free man again until next spring. 🙂

    Like

  20. Good work. Nice post!

    Like

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