The More Things Change…

This is the first in a short series of posts responding to some of Dan’s more recent posts, which I’ve been digesting today after a return from a 2-week trip with limited internet access.  Today’s installment: Sports Before Radio.  I was totally fascinated to learn about this past phenomenon (where crowds would gather to watch crude mechanical reenactments of baseball games), but my reaction is actually exactly the opposite as Dan’s — it seems strangely contemporary, as I am constantly tracking baseball games in almost exactly the same manner via the various cell phone/online real time depictions available from,, etc.   Here’s a screen shot of one of them:mlb-mobile-pre

Eerily similar to the photos from Dan’s post, eh?  It’s often struck me that the information contained in these stripped-down depictions is hardly less rich than what you get in a televised game, where the footage is basically identical from game to game.  Think about it: if they replaced the live shots from whatever game you’re watching today with footage from some 1970s Phillies/Mets game, would it really be any different (other than the silly goatees being replaced by silly moustaches)?  I’m not talking only about the “action,” as in a ground ball to 2nd or whatever, but even the recurring and always-identical Kabuki-like dramas that play out, such as the pitching coach picking up the bullpen phone to get a reliever ready when the starter seems to be tiring, the identical ways that managers fight with umpires over blown calls, or the ways that batters use body language to indicate their unhappiness with a called strike three.  Indeed, when people who don’t care for baseball ask me how I can possibly spend time watching games, I tend to respond, “Well, do you ever spend any time doing absolutely or almost nothing at all?  That’s what watching baseball is for me.  It’s like meditation.”

2 thoughts on “The More Things Change…”

  1. Here are the lines that go with the wonderful illustration by John Martin of the infernal conclave in Paradise Lost. I’d never seen it –thanks, Dan.

    High on a throne of Royal State, which far
    Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
    Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
    Showers her Kings Barbaric Pearl and Gold,
    Satan exalted sat . . .

    Given that “sat’ must be the most undignified word in the language, Milton’s choice of it to close the gorgeous fanfare that starts with “High” plays a practical joke on Satan and on us as well, who started out impressed There are many other places in the poem where Milton pulls the rug out. Why? Stanley Fish argues that Milton lures us into Satan’s point of view, so that he can then snap us out of it into a realization of our own sinful sympathies with evil. But that’s too moralistic for me. I think that Milton just takes pleasure in pulling off reversals and other kinds of surprises. It’s fun. Mozart enjoys springing surprises too. There must be artists also who trick us.

  2. I used to be a moderately dedicated baseball/Red Sox fan but for years have had one foot/toe in, one out. One problem I have lately is this slightly existential question about what I am trying to get out of watching a game. When I watch basketball I know it’s for the athleticism, grace and excitement of the play. And of course there is some of that in baseball, but a lot of the time it feels more like I’m watching for the information, simply “what happened,” which is why I’ve heard some people say they actually prefer to follow a baseball game on the radio (or the internet I guess), and why it makes sense to keep a box score of a baseball game but not of a basketball game.

    But I do know what you mean about the meditative quality of it, I can get into that occasionally. And a big part of following baseball (as opposed to most other sports) is the dailiness of it, the huge number of games, few of which matter enormously.

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