Daily Archives: June 27, 2007

Stealing Bases and False Starts: I Can’t Take the Suspense!

I had planned to continue with my analysis of Major League directed by David S. Ward (who had also done the college football film The Program), but as I started to think about the film and the baseball game-play as I watched TV tonight, I found myself thinking more about the notion of suspense and where it falls in baseball vs. football and basketball.

In both the televised and the fictionalized game, suspense in baseball is not in the batting, and not always in the pitching. It’s in the mid-field and the outfield, which incidentally is also where a lot of the “action” occurs. Is he gonna catch it? D’oh!

Whether or not the batter hits the ball is more about embarassment. Unless there’s a guy on second or third base counting on the batter to slug the ball out of the stadium to give the runner enough time to get to home base to win the game, waiting and watching for a possible strike out isn’t quite as tense as waiting to see if two outfielders aren’t going to collide as they both try to catch the ball.

On the other hand, mistakes in football are consistently unfortunate (not counting what NFL Films can do with creative editing, sound effects, and clever voice-over narration, b/c then it’s hilarious). And, given the many reasons that might cause an official to throw a red flag onto the field, more tension can build during the course of a football game than a baseball game–in my experience. I’ve been to a baseball game before, a very long time ago–before the Braves won the World Series against the Indians in 1995. The Braves were playing and beat the NY Mets in that game. Although the seats were terrible (the players still looked like ants on the jumbotron), I recall being excited just because I was there…and I really liked the Braves at the time. Not enough to plaster my room with posters or take up trading or collecting baseball cards, but I watched their games on TV.

The excitement just isn’t there now. I’m not sure if it’s to do with the players themselves–none catching my fancy–or if there haven’t been as many “artistic,” visual advancements in televised baseball as there have been in football. E.g. Skycam, applications of slow-motion, and sideline perspectives.

During the 2006 season, I watched football every weekend as part of my thesis research. When I finally started to comprehend the meaning behind certain points-of-views and the players’ body language, and the finer details of the game (2 point conversions), I’d shout at the TV, pace around the room, and jump up and down at victories (go Falcons and Yellow Jackets) and losses (godard-it Falcons). I know that my newfound pleasure in watching football predisposes me to find mediocre game-play more fascinating on an intellectual level than truly gripping baseball plays—it’s just all the mosey-on-down-ness that accompanies baseball.

Not all the batters try their damnedest to hit the ball and don’t all haul arse to first base. They don’t have to, not every time. There are nine innings after all, each of which only end after three of the batting team’s players have struck out or two runs haven’t been made by the time the line-up repeats itself. Because the batters don’t have to hit the ball every time (or make us think it’s hard work), it gets a bit dull.

No wonder sports historians refer to baseball as pastoral and leisurely, perfect for pre-Industrial Revolution and wide expanses of country fields. Imagine, if you will, Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989).

The Japanese poster.

And then there’s football.  Aside from nuances of how the game is played compared to baseball, I think the violence factor makes football inherently more dynamic, at the very least there’s more potential for it. As Dean William puts it in his book The American Spiritual Culture: And the Invention of Jazz, Football, and the Movies,

“Physical assault is football’s standard means for stopping a ball carrier’s forward motion—assault that on the street would be criminal. Bone-shaking, if not bone-breaking tackles, particularly if they are stealthy enough to go undetected, are implicitly praised and rewarded by professional player salaries” (153).

I think basketball lies somewhere between baseball and football in terms of the suspense factor. Missed baskets are both unfortunate and embarassing–but only if the player was observably cocky or grandiose in his execution.

There will be a proper discussion of Major League, but I think I’m going to pair it with its sequels or another baseball film. I might watch Mr. 3000 again.