Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MLB All-Star Game '09: Where Presidents Meet Captains and Baseball Meets Announcing Indifference

The 2009 MLB All-Star Game is in the books, the 80th midsummer classic, and this time it was once again for all the marbles. No, not pride, but home-field advantage for the winning league, a prize so coveted that the teams shed superior starting players as early as the third inning, and half the people in the dugout seem to find the onfield play merely a polite excuse to bullshit with members of other teams for three hours and tell stories they haven't heard before.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's look at how the game unfolded.

Your hosts once again this year are noted dead-dad profiteer Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and Scraps, the small anthropomorphic mouse who inhabits an otherwise unoccupied chamber in McCarver's skull and controls his thoughts and actions through a combination of heart, grit, hustle, guttiness and mouse fundamentals. Conspicuously not in attendance: famed post-op transvestite Jeanne Zelasko, who apparently was called away from the game to narrate a GMC trucks commercial for which Will Arnett was available to do the voiceover.

8:00 (all times p.m. and in Eastern)
Annnd once again we have FOX's excitement-draining solemn "MMMM HMMMM HMMMMM HMMMMM" music. Leftover World Series simile: it's like the sort of music you use to commission battleships to. Current simile: it's the sort of music that swells in the background when a ranking general stands in front of several coffins and begins a speech, "When they found the bodies of Lieutenants James E. Green, Darian McDaniel, Beth Cowlings and Theodore Tibbet at the blast site...."

8:01 - 8:07
Buck, evidently unaware that he is no longer employed solely by the St. Louis Cardinals begins a long hagiography of the franchise, its players and fans, noting that the last "listened to one of its most iconic storytellers." By this, he's referring to his father, but it's impossible to hear the remainder of his introduction because of the sound of his digging a tool into the ground and noisily dropping spadefuls of earth before prying the coffin open and shoving a Budweiser into both hands on his father's corpse.

Some random FOX douchebag who will probably never be seen again walks in foul territory intoning about the living memorials to the game that are Cardinals Hall of Famers. He's wearing a loud magenta tie, his hair spiked upward and what looks like rub-on tan by the trowelsful.

Scene: President Barack Obama walking in the American League clubhouse as we go to commercial.

Scenes of Obama in the AL and NL clubhouses before the game. Ichiro Suzuki is has an irrepressible grin while getting Obama's autograph. Then, Obama starts straight bustin' on players. He points to Prince Fielder, who won the Home Run Derby, and asks Albert Pujols, who plays in St. Louis, "What happened?" You can tell Obama wanted to take it one step further and say, "He came into your house and did that. You can't let the man come into your house like that. You gotta protect this house."

"THE ALL-STAR GAME IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY PEPSI!!!" This moment provides the high-water mark of Joe Buck's excitement for the game, although he does at several points nearly reach this level of enthusiasm again when discussing other products in between long interruptions for this game of "based balls."

Ah yes, batting 9th for the American League: pitcher Roy Halladay. Note: the All-Star Game should never again be held in an NL park because managers then have to pinch-hit for good pitchers who are dealing and remove them from the game or face the horrible prospect of people who never bat taking three grandmotherly cuts before succumbing to the inevitable.

It's time for Special Americans MAKING A DIFFERENCE. Truly, these people are ALL STARS among us by doing what basically anyone with a heart, money, free time or a combination of all three would do because they're not inhuman fucking monsters. What a revelation. Can we get a slideshow of people who treat the indigent like they're living, human beings? This is all you need to know about America: these people are being singled out for unique achievements in this country by doing nice things for people to whom they are unrelated and don't owe money. Mad!—they're mad, I tell you.

8:21 - 8:23
Series of clips of Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I and that god-bless├ęd peanut farmer Jimmy Motherfucking Carter highlighting the good works of Americans MAKING A DIFFERENCE. Special note: almost every person they're profiling is a community organizer, and not one is a governor. Obama and both Bushes are pretty clearly reading a prompter, while Clinton hides it best of all, and Carter's too old to worry about it anymore. Also, both Bushes recorded their greetings in the same room. MIGHTY convenient—do these two know each other??? Does the media know???

[Insert your own "really old" joke here, because I would feel like too much of an asshole for picking on Carter. But suffice to say the man is showing his years.]

Fuck yes, Sheryl Crow national anthem time. Let's take time to honor the American booking agent MAKING A DIFFERENCE who chose a white milquetoast American quasi-rocker who hasn't been relevant in a decade and who, more importantly, barely sounds like a credible singer with the benefits of multiple takes, backing instruments, Auto-Tune and other studio magic. Then let's have her sing one of the most challenging songs in English a cappella. Well-fucking-done. Whoa—hold up. Nevermind. Cancel the outrage. Turns out she's from Missouri, where this game is being played. If the Dodgers make the Series this year, is there any way we can get Manson to sing the anthem for Game 3? He used to record, was pretty big in LA, and he's been a resident of the State of California for 40 years.

Obama comes out and shakes St. Louis legend Stan the Man Musial's hand and throws the first pitch. His form is awkward, and FOX is too busy doing their funky everything-but-what-is-on-the-field-is-important camera bullshit to let us see where he threw the fucking ball. Cue another off angle. No idea yet if it was a strike. At the risk of being completely obvious, FOX fucks up everything. You don't need any dynamism for presidential first pitches. You just have a dude stand back there and hold a camera. Instead, FOX seems to have hired a meth head suffering peripheral neuropathy to do his best Paul Greengrass imitation and told him, "Look, at any minute, Jason Bourne is going to start punching the president."

Also, you've got to love that Obama, an avowed White Sox fan, is wearing a White Sox jacket to throw out the first pitch. No pandering. No one-day-only Cardinals jacket. Fuck that shit.

(referring to what's been broadcast already) Well, we've seen a lot!

Attaboy, Tim. You guys had to handle a national anthem and a president throwing out the first ball, and you skipped the second part almost completely. This is some kind of mad breakneck pace of content. I feel like a need an MRI, but if I had one it'd just show this blacked-out mass like people who die from the explosive concussion of a suicide bombing.

(referring to NL starting pitcher Tim Lincecum) We talked about his bionic arm.

No one besides McCarver talked about it. McCarver started mentioning it before his head-mouse, Scraps, probably started pounding a flashing yellow button inside McCarver's skull labeled "GRITTY" until McCarver's gaze drifted Jeter-ward. Lincecum doesn't have a bionic arm. He actually has a pretty normal-looking non-meaty one for a major-league pitcher. What he does have, however, is a really unique delivery that exploits all the momentum generated from his legs upward, reducing the strain on his arm and efficiently using virtually his whole body instead of one group of muscles. This is pretty much the exact fucking opposite of having a bionic arm. Praising Lincecum this way is like saying Spud Webb could dunk because his femurs were one or two inches longer than they should have been proportionally. It's basically the type of mistake you can make as a broadcaster for your sport only if you've engaged in a years-long commitment to try to know fuck-all about it.

Nearly 50 minutes into the broadcast, Lincecum throws the first pitch of the game.

Albert Pujols boots a ball at first base, putting the AL up by one. This error derails the Joe Buck sloppy blowjob train for about three seconds.

Jason bay, who bailed the Red Sox out of the Manny Ramirez situation...

Buck here seems to think that having one of the top-five greatest hitters currently in the game batting cleanup for you is some stygian prison of circumstance. The Red Sox wanted to trade Ramirez and only took Bay when they felt the compensation was worthwhile. Otherwise they were prepared to wait out the rest of the season paying one of the greatest hitters available to be on their team and keep being one of the greatest hitters available. Whatever clubhouse cancer Manny might have been, his numbers didn't dip significantly to incentivize getting rid of him at any cost.

This is something anyone could have learned by reading a sports section during the two-week period around the trade deadline last year, or during the playoffs, or by listening to commentary during any Dodgers or Red Sox game not broadcast on FOX, or by reading almost any baseball hot stove articles this summer. Again, this statement is the sort of thing that only makes sense if you know it comes from someone who makes every effort to learn absolutely nothing about his job. Which is what makes McCarver and Buck such a perfect storm of ignorance. If you staffed your commentary booth for the World Series of Poker with two autism sufferers who couldn't understand numbers, you'd still blunder into more accidental insights about probability and human nature than Buck and McCarver deliberately make about baseball.


Joe's talking about a hit to nearly dead center. For the purposes of this game, the middle of the outfield will now be called "right field." The field to the left of home plate will be called "Daphne," and the field to the right of home plate will be called "Barvo."

Lincecum doesn't run over to cover 1st base on a play on a ball hit between 1st and 2nd. The AL goes up by 2. It's probably because Tim's legs and brain aren't bionic or filled with mice or something.

I don't really understand how it happened, but McCarver goes on this weird allegorical soliloquy for the better part of what feels like forever, only there are two problems with it:
1. It's about I-Beams, which no one gives a shit about.
2. It's about I-Beams, which McCarver doesn't know shit about.
At some point, I just go to Wikipedia and figure out that McCarver is mostly making this up or merely repeating something he heard that he thought was insightful and drew one of those enlightening parallels that sportscasters always like to make between baseball and structural engineering. The whole wandering episode is enough to inspire temporary pity for McCarver, who at some elemental level you have to realize is a nice person who loves his family and friends and is loved by them in return, and who's probably someone's grandpa, and who probably has once or twice in his life had his eyes well with tears in response to a harsh comment hurled at him. On the other hand, Scraps is probably totally confused inside the good ship McCarver's Skull and just slapping vainly at panels marked "GUTTY," "HUSTLE," "I TRIED TO DESTROY THE PRINCE OF LIES BY DRIVING OVER HIM WITH A CAR" and "CALM EYES," and wondering why moist nuggets of McCarver brain cheese aren't being dispensed for his keeping operating conditions nominal.

Speaking of supernatural horrors: there's no other place to put this, but there's a camera setup behind home plate that looks like the goddamned Angel of Death. (Click for a larger, uncropped version of the picture at right.) FOX in their infinite wisdom put some kind of special camera back there that provides the home audience with de-saturated grainy footage similar to what you got out of the family Magnavox 20 years ago after dad dropped it during a move, lost the rabbit ears and had to stick two wire clothes hangers on the back of it and drape enough tinfoil off the top of them to line every hat in a libertarian haberdashery.

But most macabre detail of all is the fact that they shrouded the thing in black cloth, while display lights or reflection off the lenses give the impression of two nearly rectangular yellow eyes peering out from it. The whole thing almost looks like a predatory jawa except for the fact that it looks the same size and stature as everyone else in the section, and the black cloth could easily have been woven from funerary garments and the bodies of dozens of expired crows.

The overall effect is deeply unsettling for the entire game, if for nothing more than because when baseball fans see the creepy specter of Death behind home plate, the role is usually portrayed by Commissioner Bud Selig.

The great — and I mean great — Albert Pujols.

Buck uses this formulation a couple of times, no doubt because it means getting to use one complimentary word twice in a row without dangerously dipping into his Strategic Adjective Reserves. Also, he uses it a half-inning after Pujols committed an error and just seconds before he grounds out to third. Joe Buck will never surrender. Joe Buck is a Light Brigade of Alamos.

McCarver starts talking about the clubhouse interaction between Ichiro and Obama. "That was the best expression. Delighted! Sheer delight! Like a 12-year-old!" McCarver seems genuinely amazed at how Ichiro's foreign features so closely resemble people, and how childlike his simplicity appears to McCarver's culture.

9:17 - 9:22
Obama makes a surprise (at least to the audience) appearance in the announcer's booth, and the whole experience is surreal for two reasons:
1. He immediately upstages Buck and McCarver not by being The President but by being interested in talking about the game. It's like he runs some foreign land where sports media talks about the sport — probably some socialist country where they play football with their feet or some gay shit like that. His voice is calm, even and curious, immediately distinct from McCarver's tendency to excitedly wander as if he's just broken free of the hospice guards and Buck's vacuous detachment that always sounds like he's checking his bank account on a Blackberry while reading off a recommended bullet-point.
2. This doesn't have a lot to do with baseball, but Obama casually mentions the sports he played "growing up as a kid in Hawaii," and I realized what an amazing torment this whole exchange must be for birthers. Everyone else in the country is going, "Hey, cool—president in the booth" (I loathed Bush, but he was refreshingly fun when he sat in on a Nationals game for a couple innings; as a former owner, he knew his stuff), while a subset of the population is probably knotting their hair thinking about how he was born in Ghana or Kenya or Indonesia or out of the butt of a Greek god of Liberalism and Discord and stamping in place screaming, "LIES! LIES! LIIIIIEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!" Trust me, the image gets funnier if you imagine Colonel Klink saying it.
"Hhhhoooooogan, do you have a radio in this room?"

Unfortunately, Obama's record of smooth knowledgeability for minutes on end comes to a crashing halt when he mistakenly asks Buck and McCarver for opinions on why the AL has won 11 of the last 12 All-Star Games. Truly just a novice move on the president's part. A real baseball fan would never ask these people a baseball question. After all, you don't go to the mortuary looking for an obstetrician, so you don't ask Buck for something he doesn't have a computerized pre-game prompt about. McCarver's opinion: it's the presence of the Designated Hitter in the AL — despite that position's being created 23 years before the AL went on its run of dominance. Buck's insight: the AL "is just better."

Chicago White Sox starter Mark Buehrle is warming up in the bullpen. Obama: "About time." Obama references Buehrle's last start in Minneapolis and how he struggled, a fact he effortlessly drops into the conversation with an ease that dares to suggest anyone can do it. (For the record, Buehrle follows with classic performance for him: a 1-2-3 inning where he throws something like six pitches.)

It wouldn't be the All-Star Game or, really, any game he's ever started without Derek Jeter doing a totally unnecessary jump move + throw. I bet when Derek Jeter plays things like Halo online, he'll run up a staircase and away from an enemy that doesn't know he's there just so he can run to the edge of a platform and jump off, turning in air to strafe the enemy with bullets while falling two storeys downward to a pile of crates. I bet when Derek Jeter tosses the football with buddies, he deliberately slows down for the last five feet before the catch so he has an excuse to make a leap for an extended one-handed grab. I bet Derek Jeter fucks in a special harness. I bet Derek Jeter has a bunch of copies of those special gold-plated editions of CDs like The Dark Side of the Moon or Rush's Moving Pictures, even though neither he nor anyone else can detect a single fucking difference in fidelity. I bet Derek Jeter stocks all his bathrooms with tiny clamshell-shaped designer soaps so he can do "hands" exercises just by trying to hold onto the goddamn things. I bet Derek Jeter orders a pizza and then waits outside his house in a gorilla mask and tries to scare the pizza man into dropping it so maybe there's a chance he can dive for the pie and get it before it touches ground. I bet Derek Jeter is going to write his next autobiography just like Tristram Shandy because fuck anyone who wants to dive right in without examining what it means to be a human first. I bet Derek Jeter practices dunking with an oblong medicine ball on a hoop that's smaller than regulation diameter. I know that Derek Jeter is going to get his pilot's license and fly every route that kills rock stars or Kennedys because, goddamn it, it needs to be done.

After FOX's chyrons try to call Brad Hawpe Ryan Braun, Buck basically admits he doesn't even know how to score the substitutions and defensive reorderings the managers made before the inning. Can you imagine going to a doctor and having him pull out a giant poster of anatomical illustrations, point to the heart and say, "We call this 'The Organ of Mystery.' No one knows how it got there or what it does, but we think it might be the seat of both courage and bile"? Why does Buck feel it not only acceptable but perfectly normal for him to make routine asides that say, "Here is another aspect of my job that I couldn't begin to comprehend"? Wouldn't anyone in America who exists outside of some right-wing fantasy about the Teamsters be absolutely mortified to tell everyone who knows about his job that he doesn't know how to do it?

Buck and McCarver discourse nimbly on physics by wondering how much faster Carl Crawford would get if he pulled his pant cuffs up. No, really.

10:01 - 10:04
Jeter fails in the clutch to ground into his customary double play, but later scores from first base on a Joe Mauer opposite-field double. Good baserunning; poor old guy was really chugging hard around third.

(???)THE TIME of MYSTERY(???)
Perhaps the heart is the organ that perceives time. Until we can cut a man open while he's still alive and speak directly to the organ itself with a speaking trumpet, it's likely we'll never know. Suffice to say that my time-organ goes out of whack right about now. Stuff happens now for a while, but it's boring and I don't care. I stand in the kitchen eating pepperoncinis and pickles from various jars — Claussen, Vlasic, some French sour gherkins they have at the Fresh Market — until I get bored and decide on a beer and then sit down. Somewhere in all of this, there is an astonishingly long Taco Bell ad riffing off the title of the song (and idea behind) "It's All About the Benjamins," to make it, "All About the Roosevelts."

See? Taco Bell is cheap enough that you can eat there with dimes — not the kind of hot babes your pick-up artist ass just negged at the Friday's bar so hard that she couldn't wait to roll in your Mitsubishi Galant to an eatery of late-night availability — actual ten-cent pieces. It's a powerful message. Now stop for a moment and realize that Taco Bell paid someone millions of dollars to come up with the idea of rewriting a rap song to sell a product.

Taco Bell commercial with Joe Buck in a traveling van making tacos. I'm in hell. I'm in a complete hell.

FOX cameras show a person who is obviously Tampa Bay Ray Jason Bartlett. FOX chyron: "SHORTSTOP, BEN ZOBRIST."

As they go to commercial, FOX shows about five seconds of an unnerving bald dude who plays The Observer on the FOX TV series Fringe. Think of the guy who played the principal in Back to the Future and the carrier captain in Top Gun, only he's dressed like a man in black and moving his head left to right with a robotic evenness. Only Buck and McCarver say nothing about him, and there's no chyron explaining what we're seeing, and considering he was on the show for all of maybe 40 minutes over the course of the season, most of America probably just went, "WHAT THE FUCK???"

I know I've complained about it before, but the fact that baseball keeps accreting these patriotic obligations over the decades and never lets them go is incredibly frustrating. I tend to love America more than I criticize it, but one of the things I love about it is the typical lack of obligation an average citizen feels to take part in martial or patriotic public displays. So come on, 9/11 was eight years ago. We already began this whole show with the goddamn President of the United States, the anthem being sung to tens of thousands standing with hand on heart and a flyover by a stealth bomber. Do we really still need "God Bless America"? Isn't that a little selfish? Hasn't he done right by us amply enough already?

But if you're going to make us sit through the loyalty oaths at a baseball game, can you at least give us someone to get behind? I'm sure music-nobody Sara Evans has some people who care about her, but taking a country star immediately shrinks your target audience by about 60%. Once you do that, you leave most of the audience focusing on the fact that she looks like she's overdosed on keratine or tanning beds and has an orange tone that would look unnatural on a bunch of terra-cotta warriors. The only other thing to notice is that, like Sheryl Crow, she's in danger of being off on every note unless she just flaaaaaaatens every vowel through her adenoids in that "I am singing country music so I sound like this" style. America comes out as "Uhhh-MAY-REEE-kuhhhh" like Hugh Laurie pretending to sound like Bruce Springsteen, and the whole affair goes on longer than all three outs of the top of the 7th inning.

Crawford robs a home run at the wall. Since Jonathan Papelbon's pitching, the first two outs consist of his making that anus-mouth face at batters all intimidating-like before giving up 347-foot blasts that die three feet from being home runs. At this point, Papelbon has about 130 saves, and probably a collective 300 feet separate them from being blown saves.


10:43 - 10:48
Curtis Granderson hits a triple off the wall. Victor Martinez gets an intentional walk to set up the double-play, but Adam Jones hits a sacrifice fly to deep right to score Granderson. The AL goes up 4-3, which means Papelbon gets credit for the win. Also note that the "free slugging" AL just won the game on a sacrifice fly, basically the sort of smallball the NL is supposed to win with.

FOX shows Boston knuckeballer Tim Wakefield and Yankees Hall of Fame-bound closer Mariano Rivera chilling out and laughing in the bullpen, chatting with each other. I hate the Yankees pretty much reflexively and often with focus and vim, and I think we as fans all like it when players get into team rivalries. But let's be honest: when the players are cool guys and easily likable by any fan of the game (Wake and Mo are both class acts, and both are known for being successful throwing essentially one unusual pitch each), we all prefer it when they like each other. It's nice to occasionally be reminded that the people we're watching are kind, adjusted and respectful human beings who can celebrate each other's abilities. Unless we're psychotic or weird — which admittedly tons of Red Sox and Yankees fans are.

Tonight's Gatorade "video" consists of a slideshow of what might as well be animated gifs, followed by Ichiro drinking Gatorade. How are these connected? What does it mean? Tell me what it means to have G.

Ryan Howard strikes out on a curveball that tried to bore into the dirt about a foot inside the plate. Ryan Howard is basically Pedro Cerrano without any chance of becoming president on 24.

Crawford saving a homer is the MERCEDES ATTENTION-ASSIST OF THE GAME. In case you don't know, this is a feature Merdeces has created whereby people who drive while applying makeup and yelling at their children and talking on the phone and watching a TV show on their iPod screen can pay even less attention to the road because the car does everything short of wiping their assholes for them. I wonder if we can plug the MERCEDES ATTENTION-ASSIST into the hearses that carry the bodies of the people killed by drivers reliant on MERCEDES ATTENTION-ASSIST.

Buck and McCarver point out that Rivera has only one pitch and then go on and on about it like this is the first game he's appeared in. Really? The most famous reliever in history has only one pitch? I would never have known. What's it called? A sput casbla? A butt casthole? A smut highball?

Game over:
Elapsed Time-2:31
This is the shortest All-Star Game since 1988 — or about half an hour or half a day less than the Home Run Derby. The American League wins for 12th time in 13 years. Rivera sets a save record for All Star Games. The National League didn't have baseruneners for last 7 innings. Interestingly, almost every meaningful moment came from the AL East (Teixiera RBI groundout, Jeter scoring from first on a Granderson double, Crawford robbing a home run, Jones with a go-ahead RBI, Papelbon with the win, Rivera with the save) and came at the expense of the NL West (Giants/Dodgers/Padres pitching, Justin Upton's blown route on Granderson's triple).

MVP: Carl Crawford. Crawford gets awarded an object quite like clear plastic dildo that's been comically shaped like a baseball bat as some kind of trick. Meanwhile, Bud Selig spies an infant with fresh blood somewhere in the distance, loses interest in Crawford and wanders off with a shuffling, captivated gait.

We're closing out the game with a new single from Peal Jam, "The Fixer." Aw, nuts, they should have played this sometime earlier in a baseball telecast, like 1995 when anyone would still give a shit.

Ahahahaha FOX just cuts the song off and goes to another Taco Bell commercial. Telecast over. Everybody go away.