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It's Only a Game, Goddamn It 

Wednesday, Oct 23 2002
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I TOLD MYSELF I WOULDN'T WATCH THE WORLD Series but, romantic/masochist that I am, tuned in anyway. The problem with watching televised baseball is that you're likely to see the game at least twice in one sitting. That's because the monkey-brains of network sports are hard-wired into endlessly replaying nearly every pitch, swing and catch, in real time, slow motion and step frame. Part of this comes from TV's endemic fear of dead air. We can show a ball player picking his nose several times from five angles and so we will.

In the final game between National League pennant contenders San Francisco and St. Louis, for example, the third-base umpire made a controversial call when Giants baserunner Benito Santiago tried to round third base only to run into the Cardinals' Miguel Cairo, who was nonchalantly standing in his path. The umpire ruled that Cairo's dawdling did not constitute interference. As was to be expected -- and, initially, hoped for -- Fox TV reran the play several times. Then, somewhere around the seventh replay, the event, shall we say, began to lose some of its flavor. "We'll look at it one more time," broadcaster Tim McCarver promised, whereupon it was shown yet again. Needless to say, Fox was busy rerunning it an inning later -- I literally lost count after the tenth replay.

The video of Santiago's startling encounter with Cairo was hardly the Zapruder film, yet in the space of 30 minutes it was analyzed as much as John Kennedy's fateful drive through Dealy Plaza. I shrugged it off, though, because baseball is such a joke anyway, especially since this year's pennant results have proven that, under the wild-card formula, two second-place teams can go to the World Series. Why even have a pennant race if the losers get to play in the fall classic? Once a game that, unbelievably, ran roughly two hours long, baseball has become a bloated, enervating nonspectacle, a Beckett play given a Wagnerian production, thanks mostly to television, which now controls the way the game unfolds and is responsible for the interminable pauses (a.k.a., "commercial breaks") between innings.

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I watched both the Giants and Angels playoff games with the TV sound turned down to an unintelligible murmur; I had planned to turn the radio on and listen to the play-by-play delivered by the teams' own announcers but ended up not bothering. Even without McCarver's clichéd prattle ("One thing you never want to do is walk the leadoff hitter") or the tiresome observations of the improbably named Joe Buck ("That was a really big out"), I was still confronted with the vertiginous psychedelia of Fox's exploding graphics and Sprint's Virtual Manager, a fascist referendum in which subscribers to the sponsoring telecom get to "vote" on whether or not a manager should, among other things, leave in or take out a faltering pitcher.

THE LAST ALL-CALIFORNIA WORLD SERIES, 1989's dolorous "earthquake series" between San Francisco and Oakland, was a complete dud, but something about this year's matchup between San Francisco and Anaheim makes it irresistible. There's the chance to finally see, after 17 seasons, what Barry Bonds can do in a World Series, and to watch the long-suffering Angels fight destiny. Besides, not only were the Giants my entrée into baseball, but part of my existential stoicism flows from their heartbreaking loss in the seventh game of the 1962 World Series, that primal event from which all modern injustice springs. Still, I can't help rooting for the Cinderella Angels as well, so it's the best of all World Series possible, even if the answer to the Bonds riddle is that he can be walked as much in the World Series as during the regular season.

And I have a plan to overcome the nonsense that comes with watching baseball on TV. First, I will leave the TV sound down; second, I will remember -- and repeat many times -- that baseball is not a metaphor for anything, nor is it a tenuous link to America's golden past or one's lost youth. Still, I admit that even in its shamelessly bastardized and whored-out form, baseball remains too serious a matter to completely dismiss. I can't remember how many boyhood deals I made with God in exchange for him letting Felipe Alou or Willie McCovey hit home runs. And even at the start of this past season, I received some shocking letters in response to a column I wrote accusing the Dodgers of not even waiting until September to fold. I welshed on my agreements with God years ago and the Dodgers folded again in September, but I will not let these things haunt me as I watch the 2002 World Series. Baseball is a game meant to be enjoyed in the here-and-now, and not something whose every pitch, swing and catch needs to be replayed on the field of memory.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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