by Dell Franklin
I was nurtured and educated by a professional baseball player and former big leaguer from the age of 7 on, and because of this, whether I like it or not, the game throughout my 72 years has been an addiction and intoxicant, and for that I am grateful, even if it has distracted me from other more urgent endeavors and interests, though when all is said and done baseball probably takes precedent over politics, technology, the spread of nuclear weapons, gun control, the environment, more serious involvement in the economy, international intrigue, terrorism, and even my favorite pastime, boozing in the local pub.
So, since I live 225 miles from the nearest big league ball park and 100 miles from the nearest minor league park, and will scarcely attend a big league game anyway because of the hassle, and I’m not driving 100 miles to watch a minor league game, I watch a lot of baseball on TV, and feel blessed with Dodger and Angel games and ESPN and now the MLB.
What I love about watching baseball on TV is that I can work a crossword puzzle and read a novel or magazine and still watch the game, as long as I tune out these people in the commentating booths who will not shut up.
I do not need every intricacy of the game explained to me. I haven’t learned anything new from color commentators since Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver retired. Joe Morgan was no chatterbox, but, being a second baseman taught the game by the great Nellie Fox, he disclosed nuances and situations in a quiet subtle way, like an understated teacher.
McCarver, like Vin Scully, remained quiet when something exceptional occurred and let the scene play itself out. A former catcher, he made intermittent but very incisive comments in anticipating what was to occur, actually feeling the game at a gut-level and transferring it to the fan. I felt myself “thinking” the game along with McCarver. He was uncanny. He was not afraid to upbraid a player too dumb or selfish to play the game the way it was supposed to be played, or to expose the behavior of a hot dog desecrating unwritten protocol observed by ball players for over a century.
McCarver and Morgan were gems.
What we have now evidently are former players or former sportswriters perceived as experts who cannot shut up. The sports writers accumulate so much useless information and intrusive statistics you want to muzzle them. I like Tom Verducci, because, like most of us, he loves the game. But I don’t need him. Nor his ilk of excessive verbalizers on ESPN and MLB who never played the game.
More than anybody, I do not need Curt Schilling. Despite his tremendous knowledge of the game, he is a self-righteous know-it-all and oozes an authoritative and patronizing attitude that exclaims, “This is MY game, not yours, so listen closely and you might learn something.” I don’t like his goody-goody jingoism supporting war and maudlin displays of reverence for the troops. Leave that to the politicians.
Schilling, by the way, got in trouble with his opinions and has been temporarily replaced by a cliché-ridden female voicing the insulting obvious, no doubt the choice of ESPN corporate stooges obsessed with marketing. What they should do is clean house and stick the excellent Joe Buck with only Rick Sutcliffe, a knowledgeable and brutally honest ex-pitcher possessing the colorful personality and charm of one of his mentors, the great Don Drysdale.
In some cases, there are three people in a booth taking turns or talking over each other, squelching and smothering the game so that you have baseball tape flowing out of your ears, and then they consult the sportswriter down on the field with the latest trade or gossip or tidbit, and sometimes we have to look at them as they eat something you want, like a knockwurst smothered in onions and mustard, or as in Texas where these guys are wolfing barbcue ribs!
I’m going to miss Vin Scully. That cliché—“let the game come to me”—is Skully. Alone in the booth and needing no help, he early on establishes an easy flowing rhythm, a cadence, and drops fascinating incidents and anecdotes observed in the past that are attuned to what is happening. He does not opine, or critique, or explain, but points out, being too modest and humble a man to think he has the audacity to expound on the game and openly criticize a ball player, people he admires for their courage and incredible skills to play such a game he, Skully, knows is so heart-breaking and beloved. What Skully does is drop hints perhaps alluding to bad baseball.
Skully’s storehouse of knowledge and subtle involvement in the game is so profound and organic that it is a part of him as it casually pours out like good literature or understandable yet eloquent poetry, never pushed or stilted or obvious or show-offish or created to fill space because the game is “too slow” and the viewer so empty and stupid he cannot see or feel the same things he does and needs constantly to be entertained.
Vin respects the fan, understands the fan, gives the fan credit for knowing enough about the game and is sitting alongside the fan with an imaginary beer and cigar, making the game a little easier for the fan, a little more enjoyable, and taking nothing away from it.
With the playoffs and World Series coming up, the coverage and commentary will be so overdone and saturated, so drowned in statistics and technicalities that one will wonder how a simple game could become so complicated. §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He’s the author of The Ball Player’s Son, a memoir about his father, Murray Franklin, and the early days of big league baseball.