As baseball fans, we all hear voices.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” they lie to us in the preseason. “So the infield has been reduced to three middle-aged Triple-A back-ups and one of the starting pitchers spent most of an interview openly sobbing? Maybe we’ll be that magical underdog team that scraps its way into the hearts of the nation.”
“You know,” they explain, as we kick a hole in our televisions during an eight-run meltdown, “What’s happening on this TV is probably happening on all of the other ones, too.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” they say in September, “write another angry letter to the front office. That’ll fix the centerfielder’s shattered femur. Way to go. You know, your kids are probably hungry.”
In the fall, though, the voices get all too real. Instead of the panicked rationalization or calm, judgmental observations concocted by our own neuroses, we get the crisp baritones and dulcet blabbering of the men who get paid to give us the bad news. Hometown analysts good and bad are moved aside to make way for the nation’s network A-teams; a collection of broadcasting vets so objective that there is no way they don’t secretly hate your favorite team.
It’s a baseball tradition at this point. When the MLB playoffs start and national broadcasters take the helm, they are given very little room for error—or, to be completely fair, no room at all.
Are we, living rooms and sports bars full of knowledgeable people drinking cheap beer really more baseball literate than guys who have been analyzing, narrating, and in some cases playing the sport for the majority of their professional lives?
Of course we are. Sure, collectively, we maybe have six full seasons of awkwardly-executed Little League experience between us, and thanks to the noise in here only about a third of the things Tim McCarver is saying are actually audible, but I saw that play out of the corner of my eye while I was pounding the “PLAY NEXT” button on the juke box so that girl’s Gotye marathon wouldn’t see the light of day, and I can tell you with the utmost certainty that that guy was out.
Whichever one’s right.
Everybody tightens up in September. The poetic, relaxed game we lounged through all summer turns into a maddening countdown as the world gets colder. Suddenly, “We’ll get ‘um tomorrow” isn’t good enough; we have to get them now, or they will get us, and we will have to stop playing baseball. Each passing day sees slimmer numbers and more ‘E’s’ popping up in the wrong columns. And we don’t have the blood pressure or leniency with our parole officers to handle it.
And when the surviving teams crawl into October, their every move is dictated to us by guys who only just showed up.
So at this point, at our most emotionally raw, we’re not the most patient, receptive group—and thusly, hearing McCarver tangle a bizarre word-storm around a microphone or Joe Buck explain why he’d rather watch The Bachelorette than a baseball game enrages us. Every loss carries more meaning; every blown call ruins the concept of human umpires.
Part of it stems from the idea that the announcers are up in there booth sitting in front of a giant, flickering control board, deciding whose safe and whose out with the press of a button. And I am 98% sure that is not the case. Anymore.
When Derek Jeter makes a spectacular and way too close play to end the inning, and you’re a fan of the opposing team, and your blood’s boiling, and all you can do is explain how wrong the call was and how stupid Derek Jeter is but Ken Rosenthal keeps interrupting you to tell you about that section of the stadium Jeter buys out every home game for at-risk youth, all you can do is watch your emotions build and build and build until a nice healthy snap.
Because this isn’t about the playoffs, or bowties, or even Derek Jeter, for once. This is about power. We don’t have any.
It’s about how, as fans, after investing the time and emotion to get to this point, can only watch and be told what’s happening to our team. When things go sideways, the assignment of blame is instinctive, and as the old saying goes, who better to kill than the messengers?
These guys aren’t flawless. Buck at times sounds bored and pompous; McCarver, despite his Ford C. Frick Award, appears to have just been woken up to explain something. But it’s also a thankless job they’re doing—very few could do it with little criticism. No, sadly, this is about us. It’s the playoffs, and our patience, tolerance, and ease are at an all time low. We attack them because they are narrating a story that for most of us does not have a happy ending.
And also because we could obviously do a way better job than them.