Now a few words about Fox’s coverage of this last-man-standing World Series…
The story line is that both pitching staffs are gassed, and the hitters are enjoying a feeding frenzy the likes of which we seldom see. Pitchers are dying out there, worse than bad stand-ups. It might be the first World Series where even the outfielders should wear helmets.
This makes for some riveting TV, all right, and Fox has done a largely commendable job on this historic and hysterical series. Usually, the test of a baseball telecast is the ability to fill idle moments. In this case, Fox must be gasping for air just trying to keep up. Largely, it has.
Alpha dog Joe Buck is good, though many viewers seem to dislike him, if only for the fact that he is not his legendary father.
Say it ain’t so, Joe, but they dislike you just because you’re not Jack? That’s unfair, because the kid does a fine job, though once in a while he should take a breath already.
John Smoltz is a likable analyst, with superior pitching insights in a series where the decomposition of both staffs is a major plot point.
Additional props to Fox for its engaging studio show. It hasn’t missed a step with the departure of Pete Rose. David “Big Papi” Ortiz has become the Shaq of baseball, a real character who adds a sly sense of fun.
And what’s with Alex Rodriguez? Why is it so troubling to see this flawed prince excel so quickly in television? Still, he is comfortable, articulate and fluent in the subtleties of this highly nuanced game. It’s likely a matter of time before he joins Buck and Smoltz in the booth. I’d put him up there for a Game 7.
On two fronts, Fox’s coverage seems open to the constant second-guessing that is so prevalent in baseball.
The network’s replay work has been stellar, but like many production teams, they just can’t seem to be ahead of the game on where defenses are set. At some point, a “shift cam” inset would seem to be in order.
More maddening is Fox’s inability to show where outfielders are positioned in game-on-the-line situations. The Dodger outfield was too deep when the Astros won on that single Sunday night. Sure, there were two outs, and the Astros were bopping the ball all over the place. But the Dodgers stayed deep, so that a simple base hit was mortal.
Fox got some of this, but too often ignores outfield positioning in critical moments.
The Fox crew also missed George W. Bush’s quick first pitch, which seemed an early sign that the night was not going to go according to anyone’s script.
As with movies, directors of live sports telecasts are the visionaries and the most-important players. It’s a visual medium after all, and the director in the truck controls the content, the pacing, the tone. In both stadiums, Fox could’ve done a better job establishing a sense of place. In any event, the action on the field is only part of the story.
One day, fans at home will have access to every camera angle and be able to “punch up” their own games. In essence, everyone will be a director, and you will spend an entire game focused on Yasiel Puig, or the bullpen, or what’s going on in the dugout.
Till then, we just need more overall shots of the entire field.
Fox’s graphics team could also do better, with more data on the cumulative damage to both pitching staffs. You don’t have to be a stats geek to want to know total pitches per pitcher in the series. Even the sensational Clayton Kershaw seems on his last legs. Again, this is the story line, and we could use some more statistical clarity.
Baseball is best when there is blood in the water, and there is plenty of that here.
So give Fox a solid B so far, with a chance to ace the final game or two. Extra credit for capturing the mirth, poetry and majesty of the game the way the great Jack Buck once did, visually and in words.
Like son, like father — it’s a generational game, after all.
Now, a few words about the game of baseball…
It is a haunted, awful sport. There is voodoo in its soul. The ball is hard because the sport is hard … brutal, bewitched. (The images of a distraught Kershaw in the dugout after he left the game in the fifth inning are testimony to that). Inside a major league baseball, there might be termites.
Running a marathon is a breeze compared with playing a full baseball season. By now, the players look like they have been thrown across pavement. Ever slide into second base at full speed, beneath a moron in medieval shoes, as a baseball screams past your ear at 80 miles per hours?
I know, it sounds like one of your high school dates. But it’s baseball. Baseball is worse than high school. And it offers some ridiculous and painful ways to get to second base.
Still, as with parenthood, or romance, or theater, or the violin, when baseball is wonderful, it is wonderful beyond words. It is Longfellow. It is Updike. There is an elegy in its long pauses. The murmur of the crowd is maybe my favorite song.
Baseball either builds character or destroys it, but like uranium, the game is never inert.
Consider last year’s crown princes, the Chicago Cubs, now watching it all from their couch, just like you. No wonder the sport is based around drinking.
Yep, like life, baseball can be an awful, haunted endeavor. The season goes on forever. And it ain’t over till it snows.