Here’s our next installment in the parallel evolution of baseball and the novel! This week the boys determine that sports, as an aesthetic expression, much like the novel or other art, can be characterized by two features: the immediate and the eternal. How do some of the bigger changes in baseball reflect this idea? How many jingles make an appearance? And how much does football suck? A lot!
It’s time for fresh content! Baseball has been underway for about two weeks–what has been happening? The boys open up a new line of thinking that compares the parallel emergence of baseball and the novel and what their co-evolution can teach about their forms and how they change. But first, the boys examine the historical antecedents to these forms and what it means to have an educated observer. Who is the best judge of the standard of baseball? Listen to find out! Listen to reinstate the belief that football sucks!
Here’s the thrilling conclusion to a three-part series! More wonderful parallels are drawn, in artful terms, between music and baseball (and the loathed football). Most poignantly, football’s helter-skelter toggling between sport plays and palliative announcer babble mimics today’s confusing experience in music clubs where DJs play 30-45 seconds of songs and talk in between. Why go out to hear music if you only hear an unfulfilling portion? Because you’re a football fan, of course! A new jingle debuts! A timeless adage persists! F*** football!
This week continues last week’s conversation about popular attention on sports/music and how art forms diverge and others take over. We learn all sorts of great things about how crappy football is: it’s in danger of flaming out because it’s a cheap re-re-re-re-packaging of a genuine article (i.e. honest sports), its construction is totally unsustainable because it’s just cut-up zazz with filler zazz, and don’t look now but that guy’s ankle is broken. Interestingly enough, baseball has somehow both diverted into the province of the analyst nerd fan and passed into permanent relevance as timeless leisure. All this talk of timelessness reminds us–football forever sucks!
March 26, 2017
Another season is upon us, and Major League Baseball (MLB) has once again made attention-grabbing changes to its game. Lately, these changes have aimed to improve pace of play. The insinuation behind these so-called “improvements” is that the game is embarrassingly, and terminally slow. This, despite the game’s popularity across three centuries, record profits, and hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.
MLB wants “faster play” and more “excitement”. Here’s another way to say what they mean: “we want baseball to be more like football.” Football, in some ways outperforming baseball, is the envy of MLB executives, and they have taken the simplistic and conciliatory view that by adopting football-like qualities, they can narrow the gap between the sport leagues.
In this year’s rule change, MLB thinks it’s ok to skip the four-pitch intentional walk and send the batter straight to first base. Basic math suggests this change will have an infinitesimal impact on the pace of a game, or the average length of games. The intentional walk hasn’t caused a competitiveness problem, or a risk of injury, or any other reason to change this rule. In fact, it preserves the mechanics of the game: four balls pitched equals a walk. Ironically, the intentional walk is quicker than the average at-bat.
But the intentional walk feels slow, and the theory is that this rule change will affect this perception of “slowness.” In doing so, MLB is sacrificing a piece of the healthy part of the game to fix a sick one—a sort of Tommy John surgery performed in the executive suite. But a better approach would be for MLB to combat the perception of slowness with the tools of perceiving: words and images. Talk about how great the game is! Talk about baseball’s adherence to its timeless aesthetic and respect for its rules. Continuing to talk about how baseball is slow is like fighting a fire by talking about how hot the fire is. Douse it with positive water!
There’s no doubt football is winning the perception game, especially on TV. It seems perfectly built for it. Baseball, on the other hand, is not so perfect for TV. But Baseball does not need to change the way its game is played merely for a perceptive error. Baseball is better viewed at the ballpark; let’s take a lesson from there. What do most people do at the ballpark during intentional walk? Boo, check their phone, look at the stadium, talk to their friends. These things can happen during an intentional walk on TV. Focus on the crowd, or the batter warming up, instead of deleting it from the game!
Changing the intentional walk rule won’t silence baseball’s critics. Think of who is mocking baseball for its ‘slowness.’ Is it the father and son in the stands? What about the content fan, relaxing with a frosty beverage? How about the scorekeepers and stat counters? No, this rule change is aimed at the casual fan who thinks baseball is dull, probably while longing for football. If MLB takes away the intentional walk, these “fans” will just find another part of the game to mock, like how dumb the batter looks when he confusedly steps up to the plate only to be waved down the baseline. Or perhaps they’ll mock a sport that’s willing to sacrifice its integrity, its legacy, its aesthetic wholeness merely to silence a few braying malcontents.
Not only does baseball’s gameplay suffer from this rule change, but the prized chatter produced by it suffocates important discussions. There are real problems afflicting baseball that deserve much more attention and remedial action than the intentional walk. The list is long: too many pitchers throwing their arms out, the low number of African-American youth playing the game, the time between innings stuffed with needless filler. There are also great ways to improve the way the game is perceived. There are beautiful possibilities in the way the broadcasts might train their cameras on the action, or tell stories of players, or discuss history, none of which would come across as cloying and craven attempts to cure “slowness.”
MLB should wake up and smell the turf. They’ll be pleased to know that by burnishing the game’s thrills and glittering its action with zazz, at the expense of its real problems, turning the public away from true issues, true human cost, and matters worthy of remedy, baseball is closer to being football than it thinks.
What becomes of a treasured art form? To answer this, the boys trace broad trends in baseball and music, using jazz as a historical parallel. A group-based art form, with internal dynamism, mutual reliance, and also experimentation, but always within a resilient structure, is more enjoyable. An art form practiced under the pretense of a group, but that actually highlights the individual, strains–and breaks–the so-called “form” and obscures the fun, even if the individual achieves a lot. In other words, what happens when players push their art form, and what happens when they break it? A broken form?–in so many ways that points to football!!
Until baseball begins, we examine our analytical framework and ask: is aesthetics a two-way street? Do timeless aesthetics tell us about players’ actions, or have the players’ actions told us what the aesthetics are? This episode took three weeks of conversation to create, but it’s distilled to around 20 minutes! Check out the seamless linking of different periods of time, and the unbroken tradition–of late–to debut a new jingle! But all you need to know is the phrase “a priori knowledge” is uttered! Who could want anything more? We could: and that is, to say, “suck it, football!!”
Let there be no woe in this time between football’s wretched grip on our attention and the liberating thrust of freedom that baseball bestows upon America–Steve and Keith preview this year’s baseball season! That’s to say, they rehash last year’s theme of pace of play because an interesting article points out how this issue is mostly in the minds of the league and not a pox on the game. Like we’ve said all along: baseball takes care of itself; it’s much more the portrayal of the sport when the crowd feels it’s boring, than the truth of the game itself. But don’t lose focus on the true message: football sucks!!
In honor of the zany unpredictability of the Super Bowl, the boys hilariously flip their format by asking their future selves questions–from the past! Ironically enough, however, the Super Bowl turns out to be entirely predictable! Hilarious! Listen as Steve and Keith, who admittedly suck at football, foil the so-called edge-of-your-seat suspenseful action of this aesthetically decrepit sport by nearly predicting the exact outcome of this dull and unsurprising game. Does this mean they don’t suck at football?? One thing’s for sure: they don’t suck at jingles. A new classic debuts at the end, and don’t forget football sucks!
We’ve spent over five seasons on this podcast ranting in florid detail about the aesthetic atrocities of football, but how do you communicate these ideas to a football fan? It’s difficult to bridge the gap, and perhaps that difficulty stems from the mixed identity of the NFL, portrayed in its contradictory areas of market outreach: from fitness to fast food, family to violence, primal to science. “This sport is stupid” says Keith, and we couldn’t say it better ourselves, unless we say “suck it, football!”