Blame it on Fox Television

By Ben Adams

Call me disenchanted. Maybe it’s the fact that the Angels won the World Series in spite of me, or the fact that they beat Reggie Sanders on the back with “Thunder Sticks” while he was trying to play baseball. Maybe I’m being unfairly mean just because I liked the Giants. But I have this nagging suspicion that the Fox Television Network, not Bud Selig or Troy Glaus or John Henry Williams, is the one that has been killing baseball all this time.

Okay, fine, John Henry Williams is helping. Let me be the first to say so. But there are larger issues here.

Saturday was Game Six of the World Series. The Giants were up, three games to two, and all the typical dramatic elements were in place. Support for the World Series is not particularly difficult to drum up: a few folkloric highlights and an action montage set to music is usually more than enough. It works in the Super Bowl, which has not had to change its advertising chic at any point in recent memory.

Fox, apparently, has not nearly as much respect for baseball fans as it does for football fans.

Saturday’s pregame opens with a human interest story about Scott Spiezio and his offseason rock band, Sandfrog. The name, he explains, originates from the last names of its members: Spiezio, Anderson, Froilan, Garry. Get it? Then Spiezio picks up a guitar and says “There are two things I’ve always wanted to accomplish in my life. Winning the World Series, and this!”

Spiezio then smashes his guitar against some rocks.

“That’s one down, one to go,” he says, beaming in front of the camera. This is an appropriate place to reiterate that I don’t like the Angels much.

Meanwhile, Fox is up to its tricks again. We go to commercial. Then we come back to rapid-fire images of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu, who are, as you know, the stars of Charlie’s Angels. Diaz is wearing an Angels jersey tied in a knot above her navel.

The next 90 seconds or so move too fast to process. All I can make out are flying legs, some explosions, and lots of flashing lights. And there’s a song in the background. Yes, that’s Elvis Costello’s “Angels Wanna Wear My (Red Shoes).” Some producer is very proud of his work tonight.

So that’s what we get: a nominally-connected string of images designed for no purpose other than attracting attentionless teenagers. Am I wrong to be angry? Doesn’t baseball deserve better than this?

This is not how baseball should be sold. It should be sold by hoarse-voiced curmudgeons who still wear the scars of the ’54 World Series, not glitzy up-and-comers who would sooner spring for a facelift. Footage of Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” should replace Sandfrog singing “Redeem Your Pain.” It would be better to look at Boog Powell’s red 1975 Cleveland Indians uniform pants than Spiezio’s 2002 hotpants.

I date my baseball fandom to 1991; that’s the earliest I can be held accountable for the way in which the sport was advertised. I remember star-shaped wipes and blurry hazes surrounding Kent Hrbek as he watched his home run cruise towards the domed ceiling of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. A glowing Dan Gladden as his mane-like hair flowed behind him en route to his historic collision with Greg Olson. Even this stuff was gauche to my ten-year-old eyes, but at least it was baseball, and not Charlie’s Angels.

What hurts the most is knowing that Fox produced these sequences because their marketing researchers came back with results: no one wants to hear about Boog Powell or even Dan Gladden anymore. America has fallen out of love with baseball. And the Super Bowl. That’s when they show those funny commercials.

Maybe there is solace to be found in the fact that things weren’t this way when Fox wasn’t around. CBS was the network that authored the blurry Hrbek haze, so maybe they will make a comeback.

Or maybe the outrage of viewers like me is good enough to do it. We could trust baseball to be a traditionalist’s sport, angry and staid enough to brush off the shimmering graphics in favor of something sanctimonious. Will this work? Can we believe in this? Probably not.

I’ll probably just have to wait until Fox’s contract runs out.