FanPost

Baseball. Is it boring? Or is its presentation boring?

I am a baseball fan, and that means that I, like a majority of people who are reading this post, are aware that other people find baseball boring. Figuratively, and nearly literally, every time I talk about baseball in a group of people, there is someone who tells me that baseball is boring. This perspective has resonance, as evidenced by major league baseball's attempts to limit game time this season.

Yet I have never found baseball boring. I am intrigued every inning. Every inning suggests a panoply of options, of things that may or may not happen, or assumptions validated or destroyed. It speaks to a portion of my own intellect that, while mattering little in the grand scheme, is challenged to understand what exactly is going on. I succeed, I fail, but I'm always challenged. To me, baseball is the antithesis of boring. But, rather than simply call people who consider baseball boring intellectually or emotionally inferior, for years I have tried to think about why this opinion seems to be so resonant. This past week, when the Mets played a game against the Yankees on ESPN, I came upon a likely conclusion.

People think baseball is boring because baseball on TV--for many fans--is indeed boring. Their opinion is rational. And it's not the fault of game lengths, or rules, or intricacies, or whatever. It's the fault of announcers who would take three hours to explain what grey means and what wrinkly entails rather than explaining what an elephant is and how it thinks. The elephant of baseball is a remarkably adapted and complex beast, with details and history that would boggle the mind: instead, we get HIS NAME IS DAN UGGLA and other simplistic garbage that is not only bad for the viewer, but bad for the game.

For backstory, I've lived in a lot of places, and for many years I had to watch baseball either on national broadcasts, or on Philly broadcasts, or on (kill me now) Florida broadcasts. The Florida announcing has been criticized as homerish, or unfair, but at bottom I have to say that it's neither of these primarily. Primarily, it's just plain uninteresting and thoughtless. In fact, I can say without qualification that Florida Marlins broadcasts are less thoughtful than Youtube Fail compilations or amateur porn (not that I know anything about the latter, but I assume).

I've also traveled a lot to places for work and leisure. For a long time in my life I tried to put on games while on the road for a sense of home, or a sense of killing time, just as a diversion as life on the road for work can be an alienating and lonely time. I love baseball and I've never disliked a game I've seen in person, be that in Petco Park at the end of a terrible season, in Port St. Lucie, or in the hallowed confines of Chatham in the Cape Cod League. That said, I've found that while traveling outside of New York watching games on TV on mute is often preferable to listening to the announcers. Why is that? Because the announcers are terrible. I don't fall into the trap of criticizing constructed narratives, because all narratives are constructed. Some are just constructed much better than others.

Take, for example, our own Gary, Keith, and Ron. Gary is something of the Galactus of baseball knowledge, and Keith and Ron, agree with them or not, know their stuff and share their experience with the viewer as you would someone you know and respect. Even if they were not celebrities, I'd get a beer with any of them. They care. Same with Mets radio. Howie and Josh handle the challenge of explaining the unseen game with expression and aplomb (and with the appearance of being an AA lurker, Josh, looking at you). They are, for lack of a more complex term, good at their jobs. It's not surprising that Mets fans continued a love affair with their broadcast teams even while their teams were terrible. These people made even bad baseball fun, and we recognized it.

My wife, not the world's biggest baseball fan (behind perhaps 8 billion other people), had this to say about GK&R: "You sit around and listen to Keith and Ron talk about shit for hours and hours, they talk about nothing. I swear they get drunk in the the place or wherever they sit, the skybox or wherever." This opinion, however, needs to be seen in context: that notwithstanding, she likes them. I know this because when I woke her up--at a time when she really didn't understand the resonance of the Mets in my life--to see Jose Reyes go for the cycle in 2006, she got it. She got the excitement. She saw me, but more than that she heard the GK&R reaction to what was happening and understood that it was significant.

That matters. That's how you make baseball fans. It's not a 2 hour 30 minute game versus a 2 hour 50 minute game. I think we'll all agree that we've seen two and a half hour moves that fly by and hour and a half movies that seem to go on forever. In the 1940s sociologists Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno criticized mass culture for being the product of commodification that rendered its messages cheap, anodyne, and interchangeable. I took a break from writing an analysis of their writing to watch the nationally televised Mets-Yankees game, and I agreed with that conclusion because it was undeniable. But in this context I disagreed with their conclusion that the average American would take that lying down. American viewers have a tendency to vote with their feet, and it became clear to me that the decades-long waning interest in baseball was the result of a rational reaction to the same boring ole crap, over and over again. Yeah, home runs can bring some people back, but they can't bring back the basic intrinsic entertainment value of the elephant once the focus on its skin has metastasized.

This is not a matter of sabrmetrics versus tradition, as each has something to contribute. I can understand objections to announcers running through wRC+ or UZR, but the absolute unwillingness to speak to analytics belies their commitment to explain baseball. They are bad at their jobs. They do not explain baseball in the same way that Maury Povich does not explain the intricacies of parenthood. I don't hate Joe Morgan, but I hate what he has come to represent: laziness in the stewardship of something that I consider a unique and wonderful pastime. Something that I want my son to understand and participate in has come under the alleged protection of people who I don't think are idiots, but who sure seem that way on TV. We need to drop the hero narrative and the focus on personal lives. Baseball players are people who are exceptionally good at an idiosyncratic skill set that is, in my opinion, worthy of praise. This is not heroism. Nor should we treat it as heroism, and spend half or more of our baseball coverage on this to the detriment of the vehicle that brought them to fame.

The game is more important, and ultimately more fulfilling, than whatever construct is thought up to feed the 24/7 news cycle in New Haven or New London or New Britain or wherever place it is that ESPN lives. On the broadcast the day after that game, GK&R decried the late night Sunday game as being detrimental to teams and baseball, and done for the ESPN contract. I think it's also worth noting that on the East Coast, these games run past the bedtimes of children who national games should be focused on. Then again, perhaps nothing is better at putting people to sleep than what they present. It's a damn shame that we don't think about this, because baseball is a good thing and something worth caring about. Focus on the game, focus on what it going on, focus on thought. Otherwise, I feel that it'll just be a circus of stadium food and remembrances of Jeter. And, let's face it, that's pretty damn boring.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process.