Weird rules, masked baserunners, piped-in sound, cardboard cutouts of dogs, whatever, it’s still baseball
When the quarantine nightmare started and they canceled the world, I repeatedly said that if I could just have a baseball game to watch every night, I’d be able to make it through. Now baseball is back, and, you know what? I was right!
For three hours a day, I lock down everything but my couch and some snacks and soak in a long, occasionally boring baseball game. I go to bed thinking about home runs and plays at the plate instead of social disorder. In the morning, I look at the standings instead of the COVID-19 death statistics. There’s nothing I can do about the pandemic except try to not get sick. It’s a lot better to focus on something fun.
There’s been a surprising lack of enthusiasm among sports media about baseball’s return. The course of this season has been epically strange and often pathetic. But I still don’t get the “they shouldn’t play” mentality. The Ringer interviewed a bunch of sportswriters right before Opening Day and one of them said, about the return of sports, “I think it’s absurd.” Three weeks into the season, Fangraphs interviewed an epidemiologist.
“With every passing day and new positive COVID-19 test, the 2020 MLB season looks shakier and shakier,” went the lead.
But does it? The Miami Marlins are the most disease-ridden team in the history of sports. MLB paused their season for what seemed like a decade. They forcibly bused the Marlins from Philadelphia to Florida. The team raided a non-existent waiver wire for clean bodies. And then they came out and won three straight games and are in first place. That’s one of the great baseball stories of all time! No one from the Miami Marlins is going to die. For writers to spend all their time COVID concern trolling is like Homer witnessing The Iliad and saying “well, there’s a plague on the beach. I’m going to sit this one out.”
Of course all this makes me somewhat uneasy. I find myself somewhere on the scale between the typical gaslit liberal sports journalist and the bearded trolls at Barstool Sports who make a living writing headlines like “Mike Trout Gives Me a Dad Boner.” It’s hard for anyone to follow the baseball news and not conclude that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is a step-on-a-rake dipstick who doesn’t have the best health interests of his players at heart. But as a lifelong baseball fan, I’m still so grateful to have a daily game to break up the monotony of the most disruptive global cultural event since World War 2.
Baseball moments I’ll Always Forget To Remember
So what’s it been like as a viewing experience? Not perfect. But good enough. I’m a lifelong Dodgers fan, so I’ve mostly been watching the local Dodgers broadcasts, with their excellently likable announcing team of Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser. Joe and Orel refer to COVID-19 here and there where appropriate, but mostly they just yuk it up about barbecuing in quarantine and focus on the game action. Baseball doesn’t allow them to travel with the team. When the Dodgers are playing in Arizona, they’re sitting in a booth in Los Angeles. Occasionally they make a reference to looking out upon a dark Dodger Stadium and make cryptic comments about “ghosts,” which is kind of fun. Because they’re watching it on TV like the rest of us, they don’t always have the sharpest angle on contested plays. But they mostly make it as seamless as possible.
As for the actual look of the games themselves, it’s amazing how quickly you get used to empty ballparks, unused pitchers sitting in the stands wearing masks, and cardboard cutouts of dogs in the stands behind home plate. The piped-in noise sounds like actual noise, and real people are still playing the organs. It’s a sad reminder of the shadow-country we’ve become if you think about it, but why think about it when you’re watching baseball?
For the national broadcasts, Fox has been OK, despite their weird insistence on using shots of computerized fans in the stands.
ESPN has been typically horrible. On Opening Night in July, as the Dodgers and Giants played baseball during one of the most historically weird circumstances in sports history, the network cut away to an inning-long Zoom interview with A’s third baseman Matt Chapman. It was the kind of filler segment you hear during mid-day shows on Sirius/XM MLB Radio. If Karl Ravech and Alex Rodriguez had been live on CNN on 9-11, they would have been discussing A-Rod’s playoff memories as the towers fell. Down with ESPN baseball coverage.
Beyond that, though, I’ve seen some great baseball moments. Baseball’s new extra-innings rule may be totally “whack,” as Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger put it, but the Dodgers and the Astros still had a rippin’ 13-inning game, capped by Edwin Rios’ epic two-run homer. Mookie Betts made an incredible throw to nail a Diamondback at third, and last night, Chris Taylor threw out an evil Padre at the plate to win the game. Then there was Will Smith decapitating a fan cut-out with a home run, the best baseball decapitation since The Naked Gun.
Baseball! Every day until the end of October, virus willing. I call upon the powers of Dr. Fauci to keep the season open, no matter what. And for those who continue to say there shouldn’t be sports right now, that we have more important things to worry about, well, Joe Kelly would like to have a word.