Notes Toward Mediation: A New Short Relief Series
By: Matt Ellis
I’ve long thought about the way sports are mediated to us. A few years ago I cobbled together a series about baseball and cinema over at Lookout Landing, and it was an absolute blast but also there was somewhat of a problem: anything I could say about either field was always already filtered through the kinds of approaches each institution prepared for me. Baseball history? There were the long genealogies of those figures who played an important role in the game only to be discovered decades later. Cinema? Some kind of instantiation that told us something about Twentieth Century modernity essential to the entire industrial project which smooths over anything interesting about baseball’s cultural production in the first place.
And yet I remember seeing this image long ago: I remember seeing it and thinking about the way that baseball has always been a game about presence and absence–and what it means for us in late capitalist modernity to think about the ways we interface with one of our culture’s oldest institutions.
Ostensibly this photo, here, documenting a pre-televisual interface with up-to-the-minute baseball scores in the middle of a public sphere, tells us something about the development of media and sports in the twentieth century. And yet at the same time, it obfuscates something immensely compelling about what happened to liveness and temporality through the development of new technologies in the years following Christy Mathewson, such as radio, television, internet streaming, mobile apps.
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to make a multi-media addendum to my earlier series here at BP focused around the marriage of cinema and baseball, extending my offseason analysis to the ways baseball has been mediated as a particularly modern institution. These will be very brief, Short Relief-sized analyses, but nevertheless I look forward to interrogating the ways in which the game has been imbricated with a particular dispositif of technology, understanding that our interface with the game is always already mediated by some kind of representative technology.
So until next week, please watch a highlight video on your phone, and think about the mediascape in the years immediately preceding–and following–the American Civil War. Think about doubles, and rumors of doubles, and descriptions of doubles, and ask which were real. What these objects between events and experience delineate for us. Ask what it means for the long duree of baseball records when time to first base is now measured in milliseconds, miles from Rube Waddell chasing firetrucks. The game has never been better—–or has it?
The Easiest Joke
By: Patrick Dubuque
The summer I turned fourteen was a strange time. My father lost his job, and we were moving out of the city to a small town, where my parents had bought a Subway sandwich restaurant. I was getting ready for high school, scared of meeting new people but equally unenthusiastic about seeing any of the old ones again. And I was spending seven hours a day in some intensive science class at the University of Washington, camped on the second floor of some sterile building with a couple dozen other supposed teen prodigies. They studied biology because it was what they wanted to do with their lives. I studied biology because I hated biology, and eight weeks over summer sounded far better than thirty-six at school next year. I did my homework on a futon in an empty family room, with the Dating Game ripoff “Studs” playing in the background.
The class itself supplied the usual highlights: the fetal pig dissection, the microscope focusing and the games of speed in the hallway during breaks. But my most vivid memory is of my college-rule notepad, purchased from the university bookstore, with the word “JOKES” handwritten at the top of it. I had decided that summer, perhaps instinctively, that I was a funny person, based on the bar set by Dave Barry essays and talk show badinage. I could do that, I decided. I would be a comedy writer. I couldn’t be worse at it than biology.
I carried that blank notepad with me all summer.
Everything in life has an aging curve. I had grown accustomed as a child to an older peer group, and so I compared myself to adults I saw on television and in books. When I learned the guitar in ninth grade, it never occurred to be to assemble a band; I wasn’t good enough to be in a band. So I just practiced alone at home, waiting to sound amazing. I was willing to lumber through the awkward developmental stages of any new skill, but I wanted to keep them hidden, save my public release until I was fully-formed. I spent my twenties writing first pages of novels and then putting them away, unread. Lacking collaboration or feedback, I stagnated.
Everything has an aging curve, even tweeting. When I first joined Twitter, one of my less flattering character traits was a love of making jokes about former Mariners pseudo-prospect Carlos Peguero:
Imagining an unemployed Carlos Peguero hitch hiking across America to find himself, accidentally slamming every car door as he gets out
— Patrick Dubuque (@euqubud) December 20, 2014
At the end of his jouneney Peguero finds himself picking cherries for a dollar a basket, crushing each one between his fingers
— Patrick Dubuque (@euqubud) December 20, 2014
Carlos Peguero receives 29 non-roster non-invites to spring training
— Patrick Dubuque (@euqubud) January 13, 2015
If blindness really makes other senses more keen I bet Carlos Peguero hears really well when he swings
— Patrick Dubuque (@euqubud) November 5, 2015
Peguero was the easiest target in the world for the 2012 baseball comedian-in-training: an oversized and unidimensional masher whose swing compared favorably to a Punch-Out character. He was the perfect symbol of those early-10s Mariners, so blindly optimistic, so try-hard, swinging and missing before the ball left the pitcher’s hand. He was the first baseball player constructed entirely out of gallows humor.
It wasn’t ludicrous that Carlos Peguero would make his way overseas; it was just assumed, a part of the circle of life. One could chalk amy success up, if one were bitter, to the talent discrepancy between the leagues. But it’s also possible that Peguero simply had to do his failing in front of us, that our role as naysayers and cheap jokesmiths was every bit as pathetic and important as his own strikeouts. We could toy with the notion he might succeed, but we never considered he might just improve.
(A better, unembeddable version can be found here.)
Carlos Peguero hit .281/.356/.490 last year for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. At age 30, he’d finally found his place. It took me longer than that.