Category Archives: TV

New York vs. Boston again – but I’m OK with that

On these posts I’ve complained, whined and kvetched about how America’s major television networks and the media overall are obsessed with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us, and we have another Boston-New York matchup with the Patriots and Giants. The network executives must be mighty pleased that those two big northeastern markets are reprented, but NFL execs are always  pleased with whatever teams are playing.

The Super Bowl is the biggest thing in sports – in this country, anyway – and it will draw monster ratings even if Tennessee is playing Tampa Bay. The big game rules regardless of the market size of the competing teams.

In the NFL, talent is dispersed, dynasties are rare and most teams have at least a strong  hope every few years at getting a shot at glory. Except maybe the Cleveland Browns.

There’s a lesson for Major League Baseball in the NFL’s universal success. Football has unified national appeal. Baseball, while enjoying broad appeal nationwide, is at heart a region-by-region, market-by-market affair.  And the game pays a price for that.

My TV is too lame, so I can’t host a Super Bowl party

At a measly 36 inches on the diagonal, the low-def television set in our family room  is simply too pathetic for me even to begin thinking about inviting people over to watch the Super Bowl.

Our Toshiba is a hand-me-down from my brother. He gave it to us when he moved overseas back in 2001, when Tom Brady was in his second season with the Patriots and Eli Manning was making his mark at Ole Miss.

The TV darn near broke my back when I hauled it out of my brother’s New York City apartment and ‘rassled it  down the stairs to our family room in New Jersey. Muscle spasms aside, seeing that 36″ screen was a thrill  for somebody whose earliest television memory is of watching a modest black- and-white Admiral catch fire right as Mary Martin came onscreen in “Peter Pan” back in 1960.

The Admiral was replaced by a Zenith (“The quality goes in before the name goes on”), which was to be the set on which I would watch the first football game I can remember. That was the 1964 NFL championship game, in which my Dad and I watched the Cleveland Browns defeat the Baltimore Colts. Even that childhood TV experience was cut short. Electronic “snow” filled the screen late in the fourth quarter as the sun set and we lost the signal from the Toledo station carrying the game.

Although I’m sure it happened a few times, I’m hard pressed to remember watching a Super Bowl in my own home. It seems we’ve always been guests at the home of somebody with a bigger, more manly set. At a co-worker’s place in Omaha as Da Bears won Super Bowl XX. At the home of friends in the Bay Area as the Packers took Super Bowl XXXI. And so on.

This year, we’ll again beg the gracious hospitality of friends across town who have an HD set so big that it’s measured in meters. Wes Welker will appear actual size. And I’ll sit there in a comfy chair, goggle-eyed at the spectacle of punts and pixels, knowing that my TV is today and will be forever too lame to afford me the pleasure of walking over to my own refrigerator for a beer during the big game.

Taking the specialty relief pitcher to extremes

One of the aspects of baseball that must bore casual and haphazard fans is the game’s increasing reliance on short term relief pitching. Such maneuvers even test the patience of diehard fans like me.

It happened again tonight as I watched the late innings of the Giants-Pirates game. In the top of the eighth, the Giants put runners on the corners with nobody out. The Pirates replaced Evan Meek with lefty Joe Beimel to face Aubrey Huff, a left-handed hitter. Beimel retired Hough, then was sent off to make way for righty  Jose Veras, who would give up a sacrifice fly to Buster Posey and then got Pablo Sandoval.

In one half inning, the Pirates went through three pitchers. That’s hardly uncommon in close games, but it still bugs me, maybe more so while watching on TV because it means another commercial or two.

Way back in the late 60s when lefty Sam McDowell was the ace of the Cleveland staff, the Indians would occasionally pull him off the mound and park him at second base while a righty came in to face a right-handed batter. After the righty got his man (hey, it actually happened occasionally for the hapless Tribe of those days), Sudden Sam would come back to the mound to face another lefty.

That was crafty managing, and it was a kick to see a southpaw stationed in the middle infield.

Just once this season, I’d like to see a manager make that kind of move, rather than sticking to the stats and continuing the routine procession of righty, lefty, righty.

For Oscar night, a list of my favorite baseball movies

Oscar takes center  stage tonight at the annual Academy Awards, and this is a good time to reveal my list of favorite baseball movies. The list is just that: my favorites, influenced as much by sentiment and personal experience as it is by objective judgments on quality film-making.

A few ground rules: It contains movies that primarily focus on baseball, which leaves out “Mr. Destiny” and a few other favorites in which baseball is featured but doesn’t dominate. And the list contains movies that I’ve actually seen at the theatre, on television, on cable, or on DVD or tape. That leaves out a few good ones that I still have on my “must see” list like “Bang the Drum Slowly.”

“Lights, camera, batter up!”

1. Field of Dreams: Unquestionably my favorite. This movie conveys the transcendent magic of the game as it explores the role the sport plays in family relationships, particularly those of father and son. I love the book on which the movie is based (“Shoeless Joe”), but I love the movie even more. It is baseball perfection on film.

2. A League of Their Own: This highly entertaining tale of women’s professional baseball shows an amazing reverence for the game. It evokes an era long gone is splendid style.

3. The Natural: Another superb period piece, a story of “what might have been” and of redemption. Robert Redford, Wilford Brimley and the rest of the cast are superb.

4. For Love of the Game: Even with its “chick flick” aspects, it’s still a great baseball story. “For Love” gets inside the head of the pitcher (“clear the mechanism”) better than any movie I’ve ever seen.

5. Pride of the Yankees: Gary Cooper is perfect as Lou Gehrig. This is the best of its generation of baseball biographies, marked by triumph and tragedy and an always-supportive spouse who keeps the scrapbook up to date.

6. Major League: The top all-out comedy on my list, I can’t help but love this movie, a fantasy about the Cleveland Indians winning the pennant. Bonus: It was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium with Bob Uecker as the broadcaster.

7. The Rookie: This is a modern take on the plucky-player-overcomes-obstacles-and-the-odds to find success as a big leaguer, even if only for a brief time. Who among us doesn’t cling to the hope that given a chance, we’d make the team?

8. The Stratton Story: A great career cut down by a hunting accident, only to spur a great comeback.

9. The Winning Team: A great career derailed by alchoholism, only to spur a great comeback.

10. Bull Durham: I know this movie is tops for many fans. I like it well enough, but it didn’t move me.

11. Angels in the Outfield: Corny I know, but I still liked it. I’m still kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to be a crowd extra when the movie was filmed at the Oakland Coliseum.

12. Fear Strikes Out: It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen this bio on Jimmy Piersall, whose temper and inner demons tormented him. I watched this one with my dad, who told me about some of the crazy antics he’d seen from Piersall.

13. It Happens Every Spring: A bit on the obscure side, this film is about a magic formula that makes the ball avoid wood and hop over the bat. Bonus: A black and white film whose producers were so obsessed with realism that they painted the ball field grass green to make it more believable on screen. This was one of my dad’s favorites.

14. Mr. Baseball: I expected little from this movie about Tom Selleck as a washed up big leaguer making a go of it in Japan. It was surprisingly good.

15. The Sandlot: A nice yarn about a bunch of kids playing the game the way all kids play it, squeezing in a game wherever they can, hoping they don’t lose the ball.

16. Damn Yankees: This is one of the first baseball movies I ever saw, and I can’t recall liking it a whole lot. It did plant the seed of loathing the Yankees. While I’d never sell my soul in exchange for a Washington Senators’ pennant, I’m much more vulnerable when it comes to the Indians.

“Seinfeld” and baseball: A zany reverence for the game

During its long run on TV the “Seinfeld” show had a hilariously entertaining take on urban life, baseball included. With George working for the New York Yankees and the occasional Keith Hernandez appearance, “Seinfeld” embraced the game in its own zany way.

I was reminded that last night while watching a rerun of Episode 37 – The Letter, in which Kramer and Elaine go to a Yankees game with owners’ box tickets given to them by Jerry’s girlfriend of the hour, the daughter of the Yanks’ accountant.

Elaine, whose character hails from Baltimore (well, Towson, Md., actually), wears an Orioles cap to the game. The accountant comes by to say hello and suggests and then insists that Elaine remove the cap. She refuses and gets tossed from the game.

The incident sets up a similar situation involving Elaine’s boss that closes the episode.

I have scoured the Internet without being able to find a still from the show with Elaine in her Orioles cap, so I post  in tribute the generic cast shot above.

Don’t bother Tiger Woods, officer. He’s sleeping.

Before the Tiger Woods story erupted this Thanksgiving weekend, I’d been ruminating on the differences between elite athletes and us mere men and women. Highly paid pro athletes like Woods in golf or Alex Rodriguez in baseball or LeBron James in basketball exist on a plane at which most of us mortals can only gawk or to which at best we can only aspire.

Hardly a week goes by when some pro isn’t whining about his wretched lot and demanding to be traded from a team that doesn’t sufficiently suck up to his skills and whims. Last year Jay Cutler could no longer stomach the Denver Broncos and by continual harangues orchestrated his way to the Chicago Bears.

Whining about your misfortune seems almost a requirement in the NBA, where a decade ago we had the famous case of Latrell Sprewell trying to strangle coach P.J. Carlissimo of the Golden State Warriors. Sprewell was dealt to the New York Knicks and kept playing. The Warriors, in fact, seem to have more than their share of the tempermental. Chris Webber famously bullied his way off the team in the mid-90s, and this year Stephen Jackson wanted out and got it.

It’s the same in baseball and football, where top college players have turned up their noses at some NFL franchises even before the draft.

Could any of us get away with this kind of behavior in our workplaces or communities?

“Sorry, boss, I don’t want to work evenings.”

“Either I decide my own assignments or you’re going to have to put me in a better job at a better location.”

“I’m sorry, officer, but my husband is asleep and isn’t available to answer your questions about how at 2:30 in the morning he ran over the fire hydrant and crashed into the neighbors’ tree.”

This is the point at which I’d normally conclude by saying “Give me a break.” But I’m not eligible for such. I don’t make enough money.

Football Night in America – sacrilege

The show has been around on NBC for a few seasons, but only today as I awoke from a snooze brought on by 49ers, Raiders and Packers losses did I discover Football Night in America. It’s the show that airs before the Sunday night NFL game of the week, and I can’t recall watching it before.

The show, featuring the entertaining Dan Patrick, Peter King from Sports Illustrated and others, is pretty good. But I object to the title, a thinly veiled rip-off of the great, long-running CBC series, Hockey Night in Canada.

NBC, can’t you come up with something a little more original, eh?