Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time-Series Problem

The cruel genius of the baseball postseason is that it gives fans a small taste of the sportswriter's life-namely, the part dealing with sleep deprivation.

Fans never understand why sportswriters root for games to go quickly and covertly pull for the team that's ahead. Then comes October, and the 8 p.m. and later starting times dictated by baseball's venal surrender to the even more venal television broadcasting industry. (By the way, nice going TBS! Technical difficulties on a live broadcast? What is this, 1951?).

And then fans, those who have day jobs anyhow, discover the merits of fast games and big leads. Those equal earlier bedtimes. A game that ends before midnight equals something approximating a night's sleep and a workday spent in less of a blur. Economists estimate that every pitching change and throw over to first base in the playoffs puts this nation significantly further towards recession.

The alarm for this former reporter's day job goes off at 6:30 a.m. Since I am a neutral in the Rays-Sox series, I'm pulling for either side to put up a five-spot in their half of the first tonight. Or second, or any inning before 11 p.m. I love baseball, but pardon me, I love my health and consciousness slightly more.

Ah, but when the World Series starts Wednesday night, very late thanks to Fox's belief that this country is yearning for more exposure to Kevin Kennedy, I will not be a neutral. The Phillies are my team, and honor requires I stick through every minute. Whether they play the Sox or Rays, the Phils' lineup and pitching staff is very close to a guarantee the Series will contain at least one xx-xx final score and a time of game well past the four hour mark. I'll bet it won't be the Saturday night game, either.

The Globe had a story about the Sox fans who gave up and went to bed before the Game Five comeback. Those people were sorry they had missed it, which I understand, and embarrassed they had, which I don't. There is nothing shameful on refusing to tolerate abuse. What baseball does to postseason fans is, quite literally, physical abuse. Then baseball wonders why the ratings aren't all it wishes.

There are two rules of sportswriting, one whose provenance is lost in antiquity, the other formulating by the late, great Leonard Koppett. Rule One, of course, is "no cheering in the press box." Rule Two is a corollary to Rule One, "You're allowed to root for yourself."

The fans who gave up on the Red Sox Thursday night weren't front-runners. They were rooting for themselves. Baseball should be ashamed it puts that dilemma in front of its best customers.

But then, if baseball was capable of shame, the sport would've dissolved itself around 1911.


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