Why Baseball Is Losing a Generation: Fox
In the ongoing analysis of the sticky mess that developed in Game 2 of the World Series, we're reading lots of very smart stuff about how the code of baseball inhibited Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa from getting the umpires to go after Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers for apparently using pine tar to alter the action of his pitches.
But what got me about the pine tar incident was how it was discovered: Through the maniacal devotion of Fox Sports to the extreme close-up. The network's camerafolk see the World Series as a chance to provide American viewers with a lengthy course on the shaving habits, twitches, grooming and emotions of the pitchers and batters who happen to be playing for the championship of baseball.
My son and I happened upon an ESPN Classic broadcast of the 1988 Series game in which Kirk Gibson hit his famous walk-off home run. What was remarkable about watching that NBC telecast was the lame graphics, the gentle pace of the broadcast (which happened, miraculously enough, to match the pace of the game itself), and, above all, camerawork that enabled the fan to understand what was going on in the game.
Ever since Fox took control of postseason coverage in 1996, we've become accustomed to that network's obsession with whooshing sound effects, gimmicky camera placement, and a fevered passion to show anything but the actual game of baseball. Some of the Fox silliness is just good fun: The camera placed in the dirt adds nothing to an understanding of the game, but it's fine once or twice a game. The mid-game interviews with the managers reveal nothing, but they're cute and alluring. The graphics are generally terrific, though why they insist on using postseason stats to the exclusion of actual season stats is mystifying.
But what makes Fox almost unwatchable, and what is having a terribly corrosive impact on the popularity of the game among the younger set, is the incessant display of extreme facial close-ups at every possible opportunity, right up to the moment when the next pitch leaves the hurler's hand. Any fan who doesn't know the game intimately--any child who is attempting to learn baseball on television--can only be at sea. Fox provides none of the context--none of the wider shots that establish who's playing where in a given situation. So, as splendid a play by play man as Joe Buck is, and as smart as Tim McCarver is (even if he does say so himself), it hardly matters, because the direction and camerawork deprive viewers of any sense of the wider game. Baseball is not simply a face-off between pitcher and batter. The other players in the field are in motion on every pitch; there are strategies and styles based on each batter's record and manner. But you'd never have any idea of this from Fox's facial obsessions.
The primary result for most casual viewers is that baseball comes off as a long series of duels between pitcher and batter, both of whom seem to be unusually trapped in their own freakish set of gestures and tics.
ESPN, in its coverage of the division series and the regular season, spares viewers this facial freak show, and shows the actual action on the field. The result is a far superior broadcast, but more important, a real education for new fans. Most local team coverage of games during the regular season also takes a calmer and wider view, making those telecasts slower and more in tune with the sport itself. It is only in the most important, final days of baseball's season that Fox's frantic folly takes over.
That, combined with the shamefully late start of World Series games, virtually squelches any chance for young kids to get into the game in any meaningful way. That is the ultimate tragedy of Fox's contempt for baseball.
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