How TV spoils baseball with inane commentators

Settled in for a cozy television evening of baseball, I noticed that the voice I was hearing was that of a "commentator" and not just the simple "announcer" I had long known. Lah-dee-dah! I have not been the same since.

I pressed the mute button to give a moment of silence to think about that, and woke up when my conjugal partner brought a cup of chocolate and a molasses cookie to say, "It's past bedtime and the Sox won in the 13th." A play-by-play commentator for baseball is fully as necessary as a no-school signal in the pig pen, and I continue to wonder what we'd see on TV if the people who run TV knew anything about what they aren't doing.

None of them seems to know that I watch TV with my mute button deployed, not only to eliminate the ads but to shield me from the inanities of the play-by-play. Happily, I know enough about baseball that I can tell a base hit to center from the plate umpire.

The other evening I was watching Cincinnati at Atlanta, and before I could press the mute the commentator said, "If he hadn't a-run down the line like he did, y'know, he wouldn't-a-been there like he was." This seemed to be a reasonable likelihood and I was disinclined to argue the matter.

My continuing study of TV sportscasts began with Howard Cosell, and it was in the second season that I found he was doing football. I thought he was giving a lecture at MIT, something like Stephen Leacock at McGill University in Montreal, and I suddenly felt, "How nice!" At last TV had produced a comedian, the way vaudeville and radio had produced Berle and Benny, and Bob What's-his-name.

Sadly, TV had relegated him to football, so he never enjoyed deserved popularity with the thinking masses and remained obscure as a born humorist. Just think what a different culture we'd have today if TV had put Cosell on at the Kadiddlehopper time and saved Red Skelton for football!

Well, nobody in the United States seems to know that football is not at all a sport, and isn't even football, which is. To waste a talent like Cosell on the modern brutal version of gladiatorial combat, as set to the hoopla and ballyhoo music of modern advertising, is an insult to gracious living.

Let's see; where was I? Oh, yes; baseball. Anybody who tunes in a televised baseball game will already know enough about baseball to watch without any commentator. He will not need the blarney-inspired oratory that tells him the Cubs' shortstop wore his sister's shoes all through kindergarten, or that Will Haves was stung by a bee during the third inning of the Tigers-Philly game in 1915. That Honus Wagner was kind to his mother and put her through high school is not essential to a pitching change in the bottom of the ninth in a 1 to 1 situation.

In Freeport, Maine, the town where I grew up, L.L. Bean was a great baseball fan. He came to all of our high school games, dropping a five-spot in the hat when it was passed.

He'd grown up in the age of darkness, and bought his first radio so he could hear the games at Fenway Park. His mail-order business grew and he became a celebrity, a self-made tycoon. And so it was that nobody came to town without buying something from Bean and stopping into his office to shake hands. So it was with Mrs. Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey, President Coolidge, and so on, and one day, Ted Williams. Ted was not yet up to 400-plus, but was on his way, and his name was known to Bean as more than a catalog recipient.

Bean jumped up, grabbed Ted's hand, and said, "Tell me what in the world made you swing that third pitch in the second last Tuesday?"

Nobody in television has the faintest about what goes on. They shove tennis, bowling, boxing, ballets, pool, and forest fires down our throats and think baseball is all the same.

One time, I left the sound on between innings to hear what the "trivia" question was, and the commentator said Babe Ruth never had a no-hitter. Fiddlesticks. Any baseball fan can tell you about Ruth's no-hitter!

It was in 1919. I wasn't there and it was before radio. The Babe was already considered the best left-handed pitcher in the American League, and was still with the Red Sox. It was a home game at Fenway, and he started against the Washington Senators, a team since lost in the far outfields. At that time the Braves were the senior Boston club, and drew better than the Sox, but for this game a goodly turnout was on hand to see the promising young Ruth do his stuff.

Babe went to work, threw four pitches to walk the first batter, and the greatly embarrassed manager yanked him. The relief pitcher was some unknown named Blodgett, or Hodge, or Hodgdon, and he came on all atremble at the thought of replacing the league's best. I have often thought what a gala TV game that would have made! And I have also thought how TV would spoil it by ringing in a commentator!

The runner on first, walked by Ruth, attempted to steal second on Hodge's first pitch, and was thrown out by the catcher. Then the relief pitcher retired the next 26 batters as they came up. So Babe did pitch in a no-hit game, and you can look it up.

But what does that have to do with a 16-to-3 laugher on TV between the Rattlesnakes and the Devil Rays and Goodyear Tires? What can a commentator add to a three-run homer?

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