Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Yawner", My Butt

Image credit: Screenshot from Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

There are times when I have to agree with King Kaufman about Fox Sports' devotion to baseball:

Fox, which pays billions to broadcast baseball's biggest games, doesn't particularly like baseball or care about its traditions. That musty little lineup ceremony, essentially unchanged for decades, takes up a good six or seven minutes that Fox would have to endure without running some lame, packaged, quick-edited feature about nothing, except when it's about a product tie-in.

Fox hates baseball, exhibit 3,442

That article was written three years ago, but little has changed since. After the Dodgers won Sunday's National League Championship Series (NLCS) game against the Phillies, Fox commentator Ken Rosenthal wrote this about what was no doubt supposed to be a brushback pitch to Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino:

Victorino objected that the pitch was in the direction of his head and not his ribs, though FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver, a former major-league catcher, pointed out that a pitch over a hitter's head actually is less dangerous than one behind it.

In any case, a series that threatened to turn into a yawner suddenly could become a barnburner. The Phillies aren't going to stop pitching inside, and neither should the Dodgers. If hitters protest, so be it.

Dodgers stand up to Phillies in Game 3 win

For those who might not familiar with baseball, but are reading this anyway, a "brushback" pitch is a pitch that comes close to a batter. Major League pitchers can throw a ball as fast as 100 miles per hour (160 km/hr). The baseball travels roughly 60 feet (less than 20 meters) from the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand until it gets to the batter. That means that the batter has about two tenths of a second to decide what kind of pitch it is, where the ball is going, and whether he should swing at it, and then swing. It's an athletic feat at the very edge of what human beings can accomplish. Even a moment's hesitation, such as the sort that can be instilled in a batter by reminding him that the ball could quite easily hit him, can be the difference between his hitting the pitch or letting it go by. The brushback pitch isn't meant to hit a batter. It just reminds him of the possibility.

The danger, as in the case of the pitch to Victorino, is that the ball might actually end up hitting the batter, or making him duck out of the way to avoid being hit.

I wonder what Rosenthal's been doing while he's been at these games. He certainly hasn't been watching them. The first two games, while they were won by the Phillies, were nail biters for Phillies fans. For Dodgers fans, they were no doubt frustrating losses. The Dodgers have a terrific batting lineup. It's so good, in fact, that they can afford to keep All Star infielder Nomar Garciapara on the bench most of the time. Even Friday's 8 - 5 Phillies win was closer than it should have been.

This series has been anything but a yawner. If Rosenthal thinks it only got interesting after a bench-clearing brawl, he needs to start commentating for a different sport. Maybe hockey.

Only the game Rosenthal was referring to was a blowout, and even that one could have been won by the Phils, given how they came back from a similar deficit yesterday. In yesterday's game, Philadelphia hitters finally got to LA's excellent bullpen to come from behind. They won thanks to two home runs from Victorino and Matt Stairs, a 40 year-old journeyman who joined the club in late August.

I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on Fox Sports. After all, if it weren't for them, all the playoff games would probably be on cable, and I couldn't even watch them. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver do a decent job of calling the game, at least when they're not distracted by random happenings in the stands. Nevertheless, I still find that I'm nostalgic for the time when NBC carried the games.

Bob Costas wouldn't have thought this series was boring.

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