Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Some Days It's Not About You

Big city tabloid newspapers, where I used to earn my bread, and sports talk radio both thrive on baseball. This indisputable fact is weird, considering neither format fits the game at all.

Case in point, last night's Red Sox-Yankees game, yet another 3-hour plus installment of what's gone from baseball's most historic rivalry to its most geologic one. Had it been any other two teams, the moral of its story would have been New York 7-Boston 5. The end. Who do you like to make the NBA Finals?

Ah, but the Sox and Yanks aren't just any two teams. They have 4 tabloids and 4 sports radio stations to support. By all that's holy in Arbitron and the circulation department, those clubs CAN'T play a game devoid of deep meaning and vital import for the future.

New York and Boston play 19 times a season, so of course some of their games are instantly forgettable. The result is a 9-inning molehill transformed into the Himalayas of overanalysis.

Here's the real news of the game. 1. Yankee starter Jaret Wright hurt (again). This is fairly significant. 2. Aside from Mariano Rivera, New York bullpen still blows. Significant, but hardly new information. 3. Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez remain pretty good hitters. Heard about the Lindbergh baby?

Hard to conjure up a back page headline or two hours of jammed phones out of such thin gruel, especially in Boston, where the game's gruel was close to pure liquid. But nature doesn't abhor a vacuum as much as the media does.

Ergo, my former Herald colleagues scratched among various topics including managerial strategy to fill their alloted space, while on local talker WEEI, hosts were forced to ponder whether Ramirez had violated baseball etiquette by "showing up" New York pitcher Scott Proctor by standing at home to admire his massive 7th inning homer.

Baseball etiquette! Like a sport where people spit in public has such a thing. The game of Ty Cobb, Sal Maglie, and Pete Rose is now supposed to emulate the Court of Louis XIV. You can't show up a stiff anyhow.

The end result is that some astute baseball reporters and commentators made themselves look a little foolish today. It's not their fault. They were asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a box of Crayolas.

The big-city tabloid philosophy is that every event of every day ends in an exclamation point. The truth of baseball is exactly the opposite. With few exceptions, every game is supposed to be just like every other game. Look at the sport's most profound cliches. It's a long season. You can't get too high or too low. Baseball's philosophy is the Aristotlean search for the golden mean. Save those exclamation points for the playoffs.

Talk radio is misnamed. It should be scream radio. It lives off the emotionally overwrought. There are more of enough of such unfortunates among the Yankee and Sox fan bases to keep those stations profitable. But this skewed worldview turns otherwise sensible hosts into clown acts at warp speed.

Simply put, a Sunday NFL game gives the radio host an entire week to vent on what happened before the home team can get on the field once more and prove him and his listeners wrong. In baseball, an afternoon drive time rant can be rendered inoperative before the host gets home for dinner. Presto, he's instant horse's ass. After two homers and 5RBI in two games, methinks there's less "ARod the choker" talk in Gotham today.

The Sox and Yanks go again tonight. I wish my friends in the New York and Boston media all the best. Capturing fog in a first baseman's mitt is easier work than putting the exclamation points in a May ballgame.


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