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October 21, 2003

Breaking Balls

Sneaky Like a Fox

by Derek Zumsteg

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I've never been to a World Series game. I've had chances, but it's been people calling me days before and asking if I can fly down for one game, always at times when I can't afford the last-minute air fare. No longer. I've found a sure way to get primo tickets to the World Series: I'm going to be a cast member in a provocative new drama from Fox. Or I'll create a new drama that everyone's talking about. Oh yes. Critics will be talking, though we'll be selective about which critics and which things they're saying we quote them on.

Fox is such a generous employer. I got a free T-shirt this year from Prospectus, and it was one of the early batches that might have been tainted with the deadly mutaba virus. And yet here are these well-paid beautiful people (and Ron Silver, who also was the villain in "Heat Vision and Jack") who are presumably treated to a game by Fox. People say Fox is a soul-sucking multinational ghast, but I have to disagree. Going that far to show these employees how much they're appreciated: that's something you don't see often enough in today's go-go corporate culture. Largely because the expense of flying your Indian outsourcing firm over to the states for the World Series doesn't make much sense when they're not baseball fans.

Watching the post-season's been hard for me. I got used to quicker games this year. While I love baseball as a contemplative game, I hate hate hate watching batters take 20, 30 seconds per pitch. I can't watch ESPN Classic broadcasts where Mike Hargrove is playing, needless to say. I think I saw one where he stepped out of the box, wandered down the left field line, bought a hot dog off a vendor, ate it at a leisurely pace, savoring the fine flavors, walked off the sulfate flooding his system, and finally stepped back in the box a half-hour later. The problem with these post-season games running four, five hours though isn't the players so much as it is with the broadcasters. Here's a handy table:


"My business
is 100% legal"         Total length
per break              of commercials
6                      75
7                      87.5
8                      100
9                      112.5
10                     125

This assumes the "Skin" ad on the half-hour, every half-hour, four pitchers are brought in from the pen for each team, and that the game ends after nine innings and you, the viewer, don't stick around after the conclusion. What if it goes 11 innings and each team uses five pitchers?


"Tell your son
to keep his filthy
hands off my
(equally filthy)       Total length
daughter!" per break   of commercials
6                      93
7                      108.5
8                      124
9                      139.5
10                     155

Mmm, mmm good, a five-hour game, two hours of commercials. Oh, sure, it's no worse than having your favorite network show (assuming you have one) beef-injected with one-third commercials, but I don't notice that because I TiVo those.

And cutting back a pitch late? Fox is paying billions to televise (and tamper with) the post-season, and they're not showing all of it. I see what the initial logic must have been like--more commercials for the provocative new series "Skin" per break means more money--but they're going to face the same kind of problems NBC has broadcasting the Olympics: when the ratings are down because they were tape-delayed, filled with ads and favored human interest stories of U.S. athletes over events, U.S. favored-or-not, NBC shovels more ads to make up the ratings gaps to advertisers, and the ratings drop more, and everyone ends up unhappy.

The story for Tuesday is that Nick Johnson will become a bench player as Jason Giambi takes first base. Giambi's got a bum knee and it's generally held that he'll be a large defensive downgrade from Johnson. Joe Torre said he wants Giambi's bat in the lineup, though Giambi's bat has been largely absent for a while. He hasn't hit for a decent average for much of the year, and while he's managed to still draw enough walks to keep his on-base percentage respectable, he's not the monster bat the Yankees signed as a free agent, and might not be until his knee's healthy. He hasn't hit much of anything in the playoffs, but of course, Johnson's been worse since the regular season ended. Johnson's playoff line so far is .213/.315/.340, while Giambi's is .229/.339/.479.

The issue of course is whether the Yankees can handle having a gimpy first baseman against a team with good bunters, especially if the Yankees start a immobile pitcher like David Wells. They might as well stake out the area between Wells, Soriano, and Giambi before Game 5 and put up little signs that say "Put ball here, win free base." If the Marlins really decide to make this an issue by trying to roll one up the first-base side every time they've got a decent bunter at the plate, and it works, the decision's going to backfire hugely: the run value of the bunt singles they'll be conceding will far outweigh the marginal offensive upgrade of Giambi over Johnson.

If this happens, I would expect Torre to make a move. It's one thing to stick up for veteran presence in the playoffs, to pay respect to your veteran leader, but I can't see him making a decision like that if he knows for certain that it would cost him that night's game.

I have trouble writing about baseball at this time of year, because as much as I love even a Fox-broadcast post-season ("Where we're so sure Nick Johnson will walk if the count is 3-1 we won't even show you the rest of his at-bat") I'm always aware of the cliff behind it, the long, dry off-season. So here's my plan:

  1. Change name to David E. Kelley

  2. Come up with several ideas for television shows (I see a law firm of some sort...they specialize in personal injury lawsuits...they do a lot of pursuing, like ambulances...lots of professional women in formal business attire... "Chasing Skirts"! Quick, someone cut me a check)

  3. Sell ideas to Fox

  4. Go to World Series

And even if they don't spring for tickets, I've gotten some fat payment and can afford to attend on my own. Now, nobody else steal my idea, and next year I'll write this column live from Game Two. I don't see how this can go wrong.

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Breaking Balls: Ghosts... (10/16)
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