VARIETY IN SPORT; WORKING THE COUNT

May 6, 2010

Norman Chad gave us “23 (more) facts” about sports TV.

“These are 23 (more) facts, tried and true, about the widening world of sports television:
1. In the 1950s, McCarthyism threatened the very fabric of this nation. Sixty years later, the same can be said of McCarverism.
2. It’s the perfect TV sport, so how come I’ve got 300 channels and can’t find shuffleboard?
3. MLB Network now airs “Batting Practice” nightly, live coverage from, well, batting practice. Coming next: “Whirlpool 2Nite.”
4. Pregnant women in labor scream less than Gus Johnson.
5. Between commercial breaks, edited scenes and language alterations, trying to watch “The Sopranos” on A&E is like trying to eat soup with a fork.
6. On the other hand, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC is the exception to the reality-show rule: It’s very nutritious TV!
7. In purgatory, I assume I will be interviewed by Jim Gray.
8. Vin Scully just celebrated his 60th anniversary broadcasting Dodgers baseball. That sounds impressive, but you have to remember that, the first few years he was working, games only lasted two hours or so.
9. I don’t even watch “CSI” if Tiger Woods isn’t on.
10. I’ll watch women’s college softball before Major League Baseball any day of the week.
11. It occurs to me that Donald Trump — I’m sorry, that’s Donald J. Trump — owes so many people so much money, he’d have the good sense to maintain a
somewhat lower profile.
11a. Uh, in case you missed it, debt-ridden Donald J. Trump now fronts two shows: “The Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC and “Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous
World of Golf” on Golf Channel.
(Column Intermission: If you turn on your TV these days, you’d think all of America has moved to New Jersey. There’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” “Jersey Shore,” “Jerseylicious” and “Cake Boss,” about a Hoboken pastry chef. And coming soon: “Jersey Couture” and “Boardwalk Empire.” At this point, if “Casablanca” were remade, I suspect it would be set in Secaucus.) 12. It doesn’t seem possible, but you no longer can get the weather on The Weather Channel.
12a. Then again, how often does MTV show a music video?
13. I assume Tennis Channel shows a lot of tennis.
14. At confession last week, I mentioned that I do poker commentary on TV, and the priest asked me if he should raise from the small blind with pocket jacks.
15. When I stumbled upon Outdoor Channel’s “Huntin’ the World: Southern Style,” they were tracking alligators in Louisiana — they shoot the alligator, then they “drag” for the alligator, then they pull the alligator up into the boat, then they high-five. This pretty much scared me back to Animal Planet
16. Between Olympics, I kind of get that empty-TV-nest-syndrome feeling.
17. Last year I wrote how much I enjoyed ABC’s NBA team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Many folks e-mailed to tell me I’m crazy.
No, you’re crazy.
18. I was watching some old bowling on ESPN Classic and Toni — a.k.a. She Is The One (And Then Some) — walked in and asked, “What are you watching?” I answered, “The 1992 Earl Anthony Open.” And then she looked at me like I was from Mars and walked away.
19. If we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, at least it’s good to know that — en route — I can talk and surf the Web at the same time on AT&T.
20. HBO finally has found a replacement for “The Sopranos”: “Hard Knocks” this year stars Rex Ryan as a Jersey mob-style boss who demands loyalty from his captains.
21. The Dos Equis guy might be the most interesting man in the world, but if he ever comes over, he’s drinking PBR in a can.
22. Are “Cisco Kid” reruns now banned in Arizona?
23. Yo, Donald J. — need cash tomorrow? Montel Williams says to go to MoneyMutual.com today.
Ask The Slouch

Q. What’s the toughest feat to accomplish — a hole-in-one in golf, a 300 game in bowling or married to the same woman for 25 years? (Ken Domanski;
Sandusky, Ohio)
A. A hole-in-one or a 300 game is a statistical improbability, and the marriage thing you mention is the stuff of dreams.

Q. With David Beckham injured and out until November, are his best MLS days behind him? (Robert Baker; Albany, N.Y.)
A. You know, I feel blessed that I have both of Beckham’s 2007 assists for the Los Angeles Galaxy on videotape.

Q. Having seen Tony La Russa use two position players as pitchers in the final two innings of a 20-inning baseball game recently, do you think NFL coaches
will start employing quarterbacks as defensive tackles in overtime games to increase the likelihood of an early score? (Paul J. Hoffman; Franklin, Ind.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash.

Frank Deford talked about one of the latest things that have slowed down baseball games to an almost mind-numbing three hours. He wrote on SI.com about this creeping malais.
“It was exactly one hundred years ago when Franklin P. Adams wrote what is, after Casey At The Bat, sport’s most famous poem. It appeared in the New
York Evening Mail, entitled “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” as Adams lamented how three players on the Chicago Cubs kept thwarting his beloved hometown team.
It went, of course, like this:
“These are the saddest of possible words,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of bear cubs, fleeter than birds,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
The three gentlemen who were upsetting the sports-page poet in 1910 were the double-play combination of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance, but today, a century later, in 2010, all baseball faces a much more serious scourge — the dreadful strategy of what is called “working the count.” That means that the idea is no longer to swing away, but to fight a battle of attrition, make the pitcher throw more pitches, stall, wait him out.
So the pitcher retaliates by taking more time and the catcher makes serial trips to the mound, and the batters call time out constantly, incessantly monkeying with their batting gloves, delaying, loitering, dragging out every at-bat. Hitters who can take pitches and get walks now seem more valued than hitters who can actually . . . hit.
Come back, steroids: all is forgiven.
So the games get longer. The average time now approaches three hours. Our hero is Cowboy Joe West, an umpire who dared publicly call out the Yankees
and Red Sox for being the worst offenders — which they are, year after year. (Be sure to bring extra provisions if you’re going to see any games in their next Series, starting Friday.) The Yankees old manager, Joe Torre, has carried the virus to his new team, the Dodgers. Now LA is the slowest team in the National League — working the count. And, of course, we spectators are the big losers, down for the count.
Defenders of baseball always get very sensitive when critics snort that the game is too slow. Yes, part of baseball’s charm is that, by taking its time, it enjoys an intellectual suspense other sports don’t. A slow dance is more romantic. At a certain point, though, the obsession for working the count is twisting the game’s cherished rhythm into stultifying sluggishness.
And so, a century on from Tinker to Evers to Chance, we have, this year, “Baseball’s Sadder Lexicon:”
These are the saddest of possible words:
Working the count.
Hopelessly boring, slower than curds,
Working the count.
Strategically destroying the grace of the game,
Turning each at-bat into a pain,
Words that are heavy with nothing but shame:
Working the count.”

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