"You're stuck!" taunted Joe Buck jokingly as he and Tim McCarver announced Fox's new TV deal with Major League Baseball. "You're stuck with us for the next seven years!"
Thanks for understanding, Joe. That's exactly how it feels.
That's how it felt during the as-usual goofy opening to Tuesday night's All-Star Game, which the American League won 3-2 on a two-run ninth-inning triple by Michael Young of the Texas Rangers. There were shooting stars flying over various parts of the U.S. -- stars, as in All-Stars, get it? It was players' mug shots in the middle of star shapes.
I'm guessing those cuties in bathing suits and making out in that convertible were stars of Fox teen dramas, but the idiocy of Fox's approach to baseball coverage makes me so weary I just didn't have the energy to look into it, even though, at 8:02 p.m. EDT, I knew I had a long, long, long way to go before the first pitch of Tuesday's game, allegedly scheduled for 8:20.
First pitch was at 8:43. Man, it must stink to be a baseball-loving kid in the Eastern and Central time zones. When I started caring about baseball my bedtime was 8:30. As late as middle school I was supposed to be in bed by 10. If I'd grown up on the East Coast instead of the West and Fox had existed and had the baseball contract back then, I'd have never seen beyond the fourth inning of a big game.
I don't think my interest would have survived to the age when I could set my own bedtime.
But we're stuck -- stuck! -- with Fox now, for six and a half more years. The extension pays baseball about $250 million a year, down significantly from the current $417 million-a-year deal. It includes eight more Saturday games -- good news for Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals and Cubs fans, I guess.
And the good news is that Fox has dropped the League Division Series and will only broadcast one of the two League Championship Series per year, alternating leagues.
The four Division Series were picked up by Turner, which will put them on TBS. That network will also carry a new package of Sunday games, and will cease to be a national broadcaster of Atlanta Braves games. The remaining LCS are still up for bid.
Fox dropping half of the League Championship Series is good news because, really, isn't anybody better at broadcasting baseball than Fox? I tried to think of a network that was more annoying in its coverage than Fox during the 43-minute wait for the game, but failed.
We all had to wait because, as always, Fox has way better things to do on a baseball broadcast than to broadcast baseball.
Fox hates baseball, and if it could figure out a way to broadcast baseball without showing any actual baseball, if it could all be sappy music and slow-motion highlights somehow, like that by-the-numbers review of Pirates history, it'd probably pay twice as much for the privilege.
But Fox doesn't have that choice, so eventually it has to get to the game, and folks, you may have heard, This Time It Counts. With home-field advantage in the World Series at stake, there's an intensity, an excitement, that's palpable.
"If you think this is just an exhibition game, guess again!" shouts Jeannie Zelasko as the pregame festivities glacier on. "Check out the excitement in the clubhouses less than an hour ago."
Cut to a shot of the National League clubhouse, with players draped all over couches and easy chairs, barely staying awake as manager Phil Garner of the Houston Astros awkwardly gives a speech it looks like a TV producer put him up to giving:
"The other thing I'd like to tell you is we've been catching a lot of heat about the National League been gettin' thumped a little bit this year. I think our All-Star team is as good as they come. So obviously we want to win it this year."
I'm going to interrupt here so you don't fall asleep, the way it looked like the entire Central Division contingent had done. Words lying here flat on a computer screen simply can't do justice to the total lack of energy, verve or excitement in Garner's voice and manner. I think the words "So obviously we want to win" can be found in the great locker room speeches of Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Morris Buttermaker.
Ready to listen back in? Need to splash some cold water on your face? OK, here we go.
"Those of you that are in the hunt, lookin' at a chance to go to the World Series, home field makes a big advantage. So let's take advantage of this opportunity. We obviously want to win. Let's get that pride back in the National League. The bottom line is this: No matter how wild the hog, let's bring home the bacon."
........... bacon ...
WHA?!? Sorry. I was sleeping there. Really, really get weary over the way Fox covvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv
Sorry, fell asleep again.
Now here's Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox, manager of the American League squad, in an equally funereal clubhouse, talking on a cellphone.
"I'll try to play everyone. Hopefully, I can do this, but I'm not promising anyone." Wait, he's not talking on a cellphone, he's just scratching his ear. He must be talking to his players, who aren't in the shot.
Oh, there they are, lounging in front of their lockers or -- well, either someone's lying on the floor or White Sox coach Tim Raines has a severed head near his feet.
"I'm going to try to manage this game like it's the last game of the World Series, because somebody in this clubhouse will be helped by you guys in the World Series."
Boy, win one for the Gipper, eh?
We'd get other clues that, for all the hype about the World Series home-field thing, the people involved with this game care who wins about as much as beer-league softball players care who wins a Sunday game. That is, they want to win, they're kind of into it, but it's not like they're going to lose sleep, or ever give it another thought, if they don't.
Just before the game started, Fox broadcast more tape of Garner addressing his troops in the locker room. I'm guessing the cameraman nodded off and the tape just kept rolling as he drooled onto his shirt collar. Waste not, want not.
"From my standpoint, I'm going to stay out of it," Garner is saying as there are literally no signs of life among the prone and supine ballplayer figures arrayed around him. There may have been some kind of nerve gas attack.
"There are not going to be any signs. You do what you want to do. This is your game. This is where you strut your stuff. If you feel like stealing a base, that's your thing, steal the base. If you're a power hitter, we're not taking pitches. If it's 3-and-0, you're swinging if you want it. You got it. So, there are no signs. Play your game, do your thing, strut your stuff."
Really sounds like a manager who's going all-out to win a ballgame doesn't it?
Both managers would later spend a half inning chit-chatting with Buck and McCarver. Guillen revealed his signs when it was his turn. "Bunt" (makes bunting motion with both hands) "and run" (waves his arm).
After the fourth inning the game was stopped to present an award to Roberto Clemente for his great play and good deeds. Of course, Clemente died at the end of 1972. The All-Star Game has been played in Pittsburgh twice since then, the first time in 1974, when memories of Clemente's tragic death in a plane crash were fresh.
It's not clear to me why nobody thought of honoring the great man by presenting his widow, Vera, with an award then or in 1994, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that Fox didn't start broadcasting baseball until 1996, and it never would have occurred to anyone before then to stop a baseball game -- one that counts! -- after the fourth inning for a six-minute ceremony of the kind usually reserved for the rubber-chicken circuit.
The ceremony itself was nice enough, and some of the Latin ballplayers and coaches seemed genuinely moved. Guillen was wiping away tears from the start. But counting the two commercial breaks, one on each side of the ceremony, the break between innings was 11 minutes, and the fifth inning started at 10:02 p.m. EDT. Good night, kids.
Did someone say two commercial breaks in one half inning? Plus the chance to create a Very Special Moment during a baseball broadcast that involved something other than broadcasting baseball? I get it now.
The National League, which hasn't won an All-Star Game since the first Clinton administration, took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning, but the A.L. staged a two-out rally against San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, a single by Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox, a double by Troy Glaus of the Toronto Blue Jays and Young's triple, and the N.L. trailed 3-2 going to the bottom of the ninth.
The Senior Circuit managed a rally against Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, thanks to an error by third baseman Jose Lopez of the Seattle Mariners.
Third baseman Jose Lopez? Lopez is a second baseman, though he has played third in two of his 197 major league games. Troy Glaus is a third baseman. Oh, there's Glaus playing first base, where he's played exactly zero games in his big-league career, though to be fair he's played 18 games at shortstop, and if you can play short you can probably play first.
But do you test that theory out in a big game? Or in an exhibition game. Hmm.
It all worked out for the American League when Carlos Lee of the Milwaukee Brewers flied out to end the game. Afterward, Fox's Kevin Kennedy interviewed Glaus and asked him about that ninth-inning ground-rule double that had set up Young's game-winning triple.
"You've been an MVP in the World Series before," Kennedy said, desperately shilling one last time for the idea that this time, it counts, "that was pressure. Were you feeling the pressure out there in that last at-bat?"
"Yeah," Glaus said. "Nobody wants to make the last out of anything."
Even a regular-season game. Even an exhibition game.
Seven more years of it, kids. We're stuck.
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