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Is Televised Baseball Becoming Over-Produced?

While watching the Dodgers/Padres game on ESPN last night, I noticed a continuing trend in the broadcast that I have also observed during the World Series, Winter Olympics, and NFL football.  Televised sports broadcasts are embracing more and more elements of “reality-television” and becoming increasingly produced.  Broadcasts like Fox, ESPN, NBC, and CBS are now finding narratives sometimes not even related to the sport they are covering.  In our celebrity obsessed/TMZ culture, producers are attempting to bring in the non-sports fans by showcasing anything from a character quirk or flaw, to an emotional, “beating the odds” back story and running with it.  In last night’s game alone, ESPN ran several pre-taped segments featuring interviews of the players talking about everything from opening day memories, Andrew Cashner’s mullet, and Yasiel Puigs “polarizing” career.  Last time I checked Puig posted a 4.9 WAR in a little over 100 games last year.  Not so sure I would define that as “polarizing”???  Dan Shulman and John Kruk actually pointed out every time Yasiel Puig hit his cut-off man (even on routine fly balls!).  I had to laugh at the segment that tried to present Cashner as the new cast member of Duck Dynasty…  Didn’t the entire 1993 Phillies team have mullets?  When I watch a baseball game, I want analysis… BASEBALL ANALYSIS.  So why not put Puig’s rookie season into historical context or discuss how his strikeout-to-walk rate probably needs to improve in order to sustain his success.  I’m not asking the broadcasts to ram sabermetrics down our throats until were too confused to even care; however, the focus needs to shift back to the field.  Save the taped segments for pre or postgame.  If I wanted over produced reality TV, I wouldn’t be watching baseball in the first place.

The closest I come to watching reality TV are feature-length film documentaries, so I’m no expert; however, I do know this: Baseball is already the greatest form of reality TV on television.  What happens is real.  A good or bad year can change a player’s entire life.  Dreams are crushed, hearts are broken, and epic battles are won and lost on a daily basis.  You don’t need to manufacture drama, brevity, or character in baseball.  It’s all there on the field already.  Just watch the game.  I don’t need interviews from the dugout, stories about beards and tattoos, or a segment about the 14 pound Chocolate Sunday at the concession stand.  As broadcasters try to establish baseball heroes and villains, maybe they should look a little deeper.  Yasiel Puig drove his car too fast and missed some cut-off throws, and he is scrutinized more than any player I can remember.  ESPN seems to employ a camera solely dedicated to his cut off throws, and you get the feeling broadcasters are eagerly awaiting for him to make a mistake.   Some have argued that race is playing a role in the Puig outrage; and, it’s hard to dispute that when examining the case of Tampa’s hard throwing relief pitcher Josh Lueke.  In 2008 while pitching in A-ball, Lueke and some teammates got drunk and brought a woman home with them.  The next morning, having feeling violated, the woman went to a hospital and requested a rape kit.  The last thing she remembered was waking up with her pants off and a man ejaculating on her body while she vomited into a toilet.  DNA tests later confirmed that Lueke had sodomized her despite making the initial claim he had no sexual contact with her.  Due to the “he said/she said” nature of the case, the victim decided not to pursue further prosecution; and, Lueke served 43 days in jail on a 12-year sentence before being released.  You aren’t going to see any pre-taped segments about Lueke’s rape charge, instead let’s just focus on Puig’s immaturity.  A disturbing story of that nature would likely alienate fans; furthermore, it isn’t quite as “family and ratings friendly” as loveable beards. It’s up to alternative media like Deadspin to get information like this in the public consciousness (Here’s a link to the article).  The ethical questions we should be asking about the Rays employing a player with this kind of history have also managed to fly under the radar.  If broadcasts insist on adding narrative to accentuate player character defects, then they should at least play fair…

Unfortunately die-hard baseball fans like me aren’t the people the networks care about.  They know I’m going to watch baseball regardless of whatever bells, whistles, tickers or trackers they put on my screen.  They are trying to appeal to the person who thinks baseball is slow and boring by giving them an alternative reason to watch and care.  Without home run records, 100-year curses or consecutive games played streaks being broken, the networks often have to reach to find the narrative in order to keep Joe-six-pack tuned in.  As a baseball fan, I have to tolerate it; but I don’t have to like it, so thanks for letting me vent…    Happy Opening Week!!!