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Wishing that baseball was more like the World Baseball Classic is to fundamentally misunderstand baseball


With the end of the World Baseball Classic comes, I hope anyway, the end of Jon Paul Morosi’s columns shaming baseball and baseball fans who aren’t as into it as he is. If it is, though, he’s saved a good one for last.

After saying that baseball is rarely as entertaining, passionate or captivating as it was in the final round of the WBC — and that this may be because the U.S. team wasn’t there — Morosi lays his cards on the table:

The Dominicans and Puerto Ricans didn’t give us a glimpse into baseball’s future. They showed us what the sport should be right now, with fervor that burned bright even on a cold, drizzly night at AT&T Park: Flags waved. Horns honked. Whistles blew … However briefly, baseball acquired the Did you see that? quality more commonly associated with football and basketball. The kids like that stuff, you know … now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings: Home-run stylings, excessive celebrations, grand spectacles of individual expression all verboten. The Code, as enforced by managers and players, makes it so.

In saying this — and saying that regular major league baseball should emulate the WBC in these respects — he’s ignoring the fundamental nature of the regular baseball season. He’s ignoring that the WBC lasts eight to ten games, not 162. He’s ignoring that it is utterly impossible for WBC-level intensity to last for six months. He’s ignoring that one the great joys of baseball is the slow build of intensity over time. An intensity which ratchets up once the pennant races get serious and then maintains over the course of the playoffs.

But he doesn’t need me to tell him this. One of the guys he himself quotes — Puerto Rico coach Carlos Delgado — says as much:

“It’s very hard to keep this intensity level over the course of 162 games,” acknowledged Carlos Delgado, the former All-Star who served as a coach for the Puerto Rican team. “I’m not saying players do not play with passion during the season, but it’s hard to do this, day in and day out. There’s a different set of emotions. You’re playing for your country. You’re only playing six or seven games. The fans get into it. It’s a great event, a great competition.

And it is a great competition. I’ll take issue with the relative importance of the thing and many of its technical aspects, but in and of itself it is great fun, it is of great importance to fans outside of the United States and, yes, it is quite intense. I have doubts it will turn into a World Cup level thing, but if it does good for baseball.

But it’s one thing to acknowledge and enjoy (as Morosi clearly does, much to his credit) the unique nature of the World Baseball Classic and another thing altogether to believe that (a) its unique nature should be the norm in regular season baseball; and (b) if it is not the norm, it is to regular season baseball’s detriment. That’s where Morosi is here, and that’s why I take issue with him.

Despite his approving nods to football and basketball in the column, baseball is not football and basketball. Or hockey or soccer for that matter, to which he also alludes. It is not “the national competition.” It is “the national pastime.” It is a game which can and often does fade into the background over the course of months as opposed to demanding that we drop what we are doing and Take Notice. It is the soundtrack or score to the summer for most people. The accompaniment which complements our days and nights, not the concert or main event which demands that we block out those days and nights and refrain from other obligations. It is always there, not as a loud roar, but as a steady, comforting hum that maintains no matter what else is going on in our lives, and thank God for that, because our lives can and often do carry plenty of drama and intensity of their own.

Those who disparage baseball — and there are many — frequently claim these things to be the very problem with the game. But baseball’s calm and steady nature and its, eventually anyway, slowly-building intensity are features, not bugs. To suggest that the very aspects of baseball which make it unique and enjoyable to so many people constitute its essential problem is to fundamentally misunderstand its essential nature.

That is where Morosi seems to be. In a place where he misunderstands that the WBC and regular season baseball are entirely different things, each of which would not be what it is if it attempted to approximate the other. In his efforts to pit the two against one another and, by extension, to pit the feelings and motivations of the supporters of the two events against one another, and in rush to conclude that one side is sorely lacking, is to miss the bloody point entirely.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.