With the slight hope that last week’s rebel yell for a Fan’s Union is still echoing in some remote regions of cyberspace (where the Rockies’ front-office and MLB business hierarchies were taken to task), this week’s companion piece digs in against the other controlling industry in big league baseball — major media — and its devotion to a single pitch repertoire, embodied in the idea of the Monoform.
And for Rockies fans who have now suffered through a decade of lousy TV broadcasts, there’s finally some statistical support to back up all our feverish critiques of the dudes in the booth. More on that later.
First, let’s wax philosophically for a bit. Ever heard of director Peter Watkins or his notion of the Monoform? If we think about how it applies to televised baseball, it captures rather well the experience of passively watching a ballgame on the boob tube:
“The MONOFORM is the internal language-form (editing, narrative structure, etc.) used by TV and the commercial cinema to present their messages. It is the densely packed and rapidly edited barrage of images and sounds, the ‘seamless’ yet fragmented modular structure which we all know so well…variations on the Monoform have certain common characteristics: they are repetitive, predictable, and closed vis-à-vis their relationship to the audience…And it is crucial to understand that these variations on the Monoform are all predicated on the traditional media belief that the audience is immature, that it needs predictable forms of presentation in order to become ‘engaged’ (i.e., manipulated).”
It’s not hard to see how this Monoform is manifested in televised baseball broadcasts, with its insatiable appetite for instant replay, its relentless attempt to normalize and clone each and every broadcast across the country, and all the predictable banalities of each production. As one baseball blogger observed,
“[A] televisual grammar and logic works the audience over, pounding us in the gut again and again with the same silly sequence of shots – strike three, zoom-in on pitcher who struts around the mound in confidence, cut to batter walking back to dugout with head down, then looking toward the field as if staring at the pitcher (“I’ll get you next time”), but is actually just watching the replay on the jumbo-tron; cut to establishing shot of stadium for an enthusiastic endorsement of some corporate product; cut back to center field camera for the next at-bat; repeat.”
Given this mechanistic and formulaic way in which baseball is currently presented on television, (almost) any sign of human personality and spontaneity is welcomed like a breath of fresh air. Therefore, if the TV broadcasting team can educate, entertain, and communicate a kind of charisma or personality to the proceedings, then we can usually cope with the visual manipulation. But when the broadcasters are complicit in perpetuating this imposed Monoform production from above, then the joy and pleasure of watching the ballgame disappears.
Enter: the Rockies broadcasting team
If you happen to remember the “statistical support” I promised you at the beginning of this diatribe, it’s time to get down to brass tacks…
After four months of waiting and wondering where the results of FanGraphs’ Broadcaster Rankings might place the Rockies TV trio of Drew Goodman, Jeff Huson, and George Frazier, I guess we can give a collective sigh of resignation that they earned 28th place out of 31. This reinforces the assumption most of us have had since they first finagled their way into the booth: these guys are pretty awful. Now, our suspicions are somewhat substantiated. I don’t know about you, but I take no comfort in that.
As one FanGraphs commenter observed about the Rockies broadcasters,
“It’s like watching a game with guys who used to play with you in high school; you feel like you should listen to what they say and care about what they are saying but they are so arrogant and often wrong that it is more hassle than it’s worth so you just stand up to go get a hot dog and watch the game from the concourse. You then proceed to write a run-on sentence describing the horrible experience.”
A television broadcast team seems to have a privileged opportunity and unlimited resources to entertain and educate their audience about the game of baseball in general, and about the home team in particular. A dream job, if you ask a lot of baseball nerds. When the broadcast team fails to educate their audience, we may bemoan the current state of television sports coverage, but we’ll probably keep watching. If, however, the broadcasters fail to entertain — or worse yet, become an irritation — then we’re obviously less forgiving (see case above).
With the myriad ways in which baseball-talk has grown and changed over the past couple decades, most fans rely on their hometown broadcasters to keep them well informed (historically, statistically, etc.) and up-to-date (organizational development, new baseball jargon, etc.). But with a distant and obscure baseball history not being part of the must-know Denver sports narrative, baseball fans in the Mile High city aren’t as well connected with their baseball roots as they are with, say, football. And neither are the announcers.
Yet, things haven’t always been so bad up in the booth at Coors Field. In fact, we’ve had some legendary broadcasters and under-appreciated Ramblers on the Rox, lest one forget:
Charlie Jones (1993-1995) and Duane Kuiper (1993)
Dave Armstrong (1996-2001) and Dave Campbell (1994-1997)
On radio, the inimitable Jeff Kingery (1993-2009) and Wayne Hagen (1993-2002).
Perhaps this can provide us with some hope. It’d be nice to think that after the Rockies TV contract with Root Sports runs out in 2014 they might change things up, perhaps give the local Altitude network a shot, hire some new voices, and even re-think the way they photograph the game. Or maybe fans will demand a channel fully dedicated to the Rockies! But, do we fans really have any say in anything significant anymore? Or do we even care?
As one BSB commenter wrote last week,
“I’m not too sure about the Rockies’ fanbase. The team attracts large numbers of fans when it’s playing well, and even sometimes when it’s not, but that’s kind of the problem. I’ve always had the feeling that the fans regard the Rockies as another summer activity — just another entry on the list of things to do, right below rafting and mountain biking. Their interest and education in the game of baseball, in other words, is lacking, even while they have the appetite to attend games.” -Riles
Finally, to add insult to injury, this year, Rockies fans will be without two very talented TV personalities and fan favorites: Alanna Rizzo and Tom Helmer. Although Colorado native Rizzo is moving up and into the big leagues, Helmer now finds himself down and out of a job. This made some diehard fans particularly upset. Seeing as how his replacement is former CU Buffs quarterback Joel Klatt, the Helmer firing does come off as a major head-scratcher.
These decisions, like all others that involve the front-office or major media corporations, do not involve the fans. In fact, we’re deliberately ignored and excluded from the conversation and decision-making process. Being part of the 99% (of baseball fans) so often feels politically disenfranchising. Brushed aside and forgotten in favor of another jump-cut in the Monoform production, bombarding our senses and deadening our sensibilities.
But if we’re forced to endure watching and hearing about another losing season, regardless if it’s at the ballpark or on the boob tube, don’t expect us all to just shrug our shoulders and keep on cheering like Dinger the Dinosaur with a goofy grin on our faces. The days of consumer somnambulism are coming to an end, even in the country of baseball.