The Classical launches in November, but the cruel folks behind it love baseball way too much to let the World Series pass without comment. Throughout the series, its writers will do a daily diary for Deadspin. Keep tabs on us @Classical.
As I imagine it, and I am imagining it, the day was bright and high-skied. Bill Clinton is president and in the brightest bloom of his pre-Beej-Heard-Round-The-World popularity, and it's a Saturday afternoon game, Mets and Rockies. This is not quite Tim McCarver's last year calling games for the Mets, but it's coming. He feels that, knows that. Things have been kind of tough of late, if he's being honest. Steve Phillips keeps showing up at McCarver's hotel room on the road, frantic, asking if this rash "looks like something I should get antibiotics for." Contract negotiations are slow, halfhearted. It's 1997, it's July, and Tim McCarver's heart, slowly and quietly, is breaking.
He's not showing any of this on the air, of course. Tim's himself, which means that he's punning and cackling and explaining common English terms—"When I say that Vinny Castilla is 'like a cat' at third base, I mean that he moves his arms and legs and body very deftly, not that he poops in a sandbox per se"—in unnecessary detail. But behind all that, or around or over it, he is deeply tired. And day games after night games are always tough and so maybe that's why he is hearing himself say something he didn't think he'd say as Walt Weiss squares to bunt against the Mets' Rick Reed in the fifth inning. "Kind of a funny choice to bunt here," McCarver hears himself saying. "It's early to be playing for one run, and you just can't take the bat out of a hitter like Walt Weiss's hands." And that is the last time on record that Tim McCarver disagreed with the decision to bunt.
Which, to a certain extent, is whatever. Of course Tim McCarver is goofy and mostly backwards and wrong nearly every time he opens his mouth. Of course Joe Buck is breaking his own records for drowsy superciliousness. People looking to televised baseball commentary for insight—really, for anything more than gracefully enunciated bridges between sponsorship bumpers—are looking in the wrong place, just as surely as they would be if they asked Dan Dierdorf for his five best novels of 2011. Everyone knows as much, which is fine. As annoying as Buck's fistful-of-Ambien disinterest and McCarver's retrograde nattering can be, they're not really supposed to be good, and we're not really supposed to listen to them.
Still, it's worth wondering why the ambient noise surrounding the World Series remains so stubbornly small and silly and sentimental, and so proudly and willfully backwards. It may be a silly thing to get upset about, given that much of this is simply the way baseball gets talked about at the macro-level—the homely virtues and rich heritage and ruminative languor and so on, the not-quite-bullshit that gets George Will at half-staff. Eric touched yesterday on Tony La Russa's goofy-grandiose paleoconservatism, but TLR wouldn't be able to get away with his Ph.D.-in-Phrenology routine if he weren't working in such a casually traditionalist environment.
And that, I think, is what makes some SABR-dudes come off so vinegary—the urge to reject all that stuffy, under-reasoned conventionality is the same thing that leads kids to stick Sharpie caps through their earlobes. It could be that Keith Law is just kind of a prick, I guess, but if he always seems a little too peevish about everything, it's probably because he's stuck living in a neighborhood of manicured lawns that are mowed hourly, happily, by McCarverian dad-types.
It is easy, and for reasons of sanity and enjoyment necessary, to tune out the television guys casually humping away at the old verities or getting misty about the easy virtue of the sacrifice bunt or marveling at La Russa's Deep Blue computational powers. McCarver, for one, seems to have tuned himself out long ago, and Buck always comes across as if he's reading an issue of Men's Health and only intermittently checking in on the game. Their words seem to come from a place outside themselves, delivered by armored car before the game from baseball's strategic homily reserve. Which makes announcers' jobs mostly tagging the appropriate homiletic superlatives to the right things—team-first virtue to the giving away of outs via bunt, fast-twitch strategic acumen to hyper-managing, little-thing intangibles to players lacking big-thing abilities. All of which means that baseball's sentimental dads, while not necessarily bad guys, cry out for the same treatment we give our own parents as they age into a backward-looking conservatism—a little bit of slack, if you're generous, but also an internal mute button. Of course, there's one of those on your remote, too.