Playing For Laughs With microphones in the dugout and characters in the stands, baseball is becoming a sitcom

October 18, 1998

Television has passed another milestone. Or kidney stone, to
judge by the pained expression on Joe Torre's face. The New York
Yankees' manager winced when two of his players were interviewed
in the dugout during a recent rain-delayed playoff game. The
inquisitor was NBC reporter Jim Gray, of whom Torre said to
reporters after the game, "He would interview a lamppost, I
think."

Mid-game player interviews are commonplace on MTV's Rock & Jock
Softball Challenge, in which Ol' Dirty Bastard will happily
field questions while legging out a bunt, but such chats had not
heretofore been part of big league baseball. They are now. In
the way that human masters grow to resemble their dogs, baseball
is beginning to look like everything else on TV. Life used to
imitate the World Series. The World Series now imitates My
So-Called Life.

In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Yankees
first base coach Jose Cardenal, wearing a microphone, ribbed
39-year-old base runner Tim Raines for being old. Cardenal would
not likely have made the joke had he not been Tripp-wired for
sound, and Raines seemed to sense as much. "You know they got
that on TV," he told Cardenal, while standing on first, in the
middle of a game, an odd exchange that NBC happily aired.

All of which is to say the tail is wagging the dog. The tail is
also fanning its Peacock and wagging the Fox. The latter network,
which sweetens game sounds with a cartoonish whooosh!, complained
to the Chicago Cubs this season when manager Jim Riggleman didn't
start pitcher Kerry Wood against the Houston Astros' Randy
Johnson, a matchup Fox had been busily promoing for its Game of
the Week.

Fox has now prevailed upon catchers to wear cameras in their
helmets, showing viewers what the world looks like from a
squatting position behind home plate. (Answer: It looks a lot
like Andres Galarraga's ass.)

With field personnel wearing cameras and microphones, networks
attempting to cast lineups and those disembodied clapping hands
on scoreboards looking an awful lot like APPLAUSE signs,
baseball is the new sitcom. What players call the Show has
become That '70s Show. During a recent playoff game Seinfeld's
George Steinbrenner, a real sports owner who inspired a sitcom
character, welcomed to his box Arliss's Robert Wuhl, who plays a
sitcom character based on real sports agents.

Who can keep his bearings in this hall of mirrors? Early in the
American League Championship Series opener, we saw a tight shot
of the moon above Yankee Stadium, prompting Bob Costas of NBC to
say, "You see a full moon like that over New York, you half
expect to see Jackie Gleason's face on it."

But in sitcom terms baseball doesn't look like The Honeymooners
so much as it looks like Full House. On the night Mark McGwire
hit his 62nd homer, he was "interviewed" by Fox's Joe Buck right
after the game. Buck's first question was to ask Mac Daddy for
that sine qua non of sitcom closure--the TV hug. When the big
fella obliged, Fox should have frozen the scene, cued theme
music and rolled credits over the embrace. As baseball history
goes, this was, after all, "a very special episode."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO [Drawing of baseball catcher, outfitted with microphone and camera in helmet and cup, surrounded by microphones, stage lights and smiling announcers]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)