Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Off-Night Viewing: The Taboo Topic

With no Mets game to watch or even follow in snippets (by the by, when they do play, Baseball Tonight has been completely ignoring my beloved Met-men of late; 90 minutes on the air and no recap???), I was able to skitter along among the Cubs-Diamondbacks, Braves-Giants, and Padres-Expos games Monday night. (Pads-'Spos? Get help, son.) But somewhere in the shuffle, I ended up on ESPN Classic, where an happily familiar sight popped on the screen. Gary Carter at the plate against Calvin Schiraldi with two outs and a sloppy jumbotron operator prematurely congratulating the Red Sox on their 1986 World Series victory. Uh oh.

Of course I'm going to watch. How many times can I see it before I get sick of it? We might find out. And while this is obviously unbelievably annoying to my cohort and his Nation, I actually have a point or two here.

1. ESPN Classic needs to step it up. This game deserves occasional showings, of course, as do all of the ones for the ages. But I have seen Game 6 in full and abbreviated (like last night) form way too many times on this channel. This might be the most repeatedly watchable ten innings of my life. (Watch as many times as you like, Whitney, you can't change the fact that you went to bed after the top of the 10th.) But at this rate ESPN-C is going to kill it for me. Why do you think certain people of my generation loathe Born in the U.S.A.? Despite their arguments to the contrary, it's not because the album sucks.

The other game they've been showing ad nauseum de Bostonimus is the '78 play-off. I promise you I've seen this game air four times in the past few months. Good lord, dear program director, whither the torturous schedule? They also recently aired Games 3 and 6 of last fall's ALCS. Am I only tuning in during the inopportune (if you bleed Sox Red) moments, or is there a vendetta against the sons of Sam Horn, Johnny Pesky, and Bill Lee?

E-C is planning to air a Boston Day type of event in the near future, airing highlights from the B's, C's, BC, UNH, Patsies (the P's?), and Red Sox (R-S's?). Perhaps they've been inundated with angry viewer mail recently. Or, more likely, they are just being smart programmers and feeding off the Soxwagon. They show all of the last-second losses to further ingrain the Sox as heartbreakers, then suck in remoras from Back Bay to Vallejo to boost ratings.

I guess my big problem is this: ESPN Classic has a bazillion "classic" games at their fingertips. There should be a veritable spectrum of jaw-dropping, magnificent moments. And while it's still entertaining to tune in no matter what, they're grading at about a C- level. It's either like the Sports Guy recently said where you can't discern why the hell they're showing a particular game, or it's an obvious one they're playing to death. Program director for E-C might be my dream job -- spending the energy to come up with clever reasons why a certain game should run on a certain day would be fun work. And then, only then, people might start writing "E.C. is God" on alley walls again.

2. The other thing that struck me while watching "Nightmare on Rob Russell's Street" was even more evidence how wrong the singular focus of post '86 blame on Bill Buckner really was. This is by now a belabored point, but every viewing brings it home further. Nearly every loss has multiple culprits, and this was no exception. Obviously Schiraldi didn't get it done. Stanley threw the wild pitch that tied the game, but did you see the nonchalant reach by Gedman on the play? Doesn't the situation demand a little more care? And according to Joe Garagiola, Stanley also completely ignored an easy pick-off of Ray Knight by Marty Barrett before the crap went down, to the point of leaving Barrett way out of position when he fired a pitch. There was culpability all around (except in Hendu's area -- he was a stud that month and was denied his proper place in Boston Legend history by some bad luck). But if Boston needed the one target, it should have been John McNamara. If you're going to crucify Grady Little in '03, the inverse blunder must be equally reprehensible, no? Take McNamara's Clemens yank in the 7th ("Hate the Clemens" but there's no way he asks out for any blister) and add in the failure to substitute Stapleton in the 10th. He also brought Schiraldi back in Game 7 after he'd soiled himself in Game 6, and Schiraldi ended up taking the final loss.

Anyway, here's the problem: seeing all of Sox blow the lead to some jackalopes (Knight, Carter, HoJo, Mitchell, Hernandez, Straw, etc -- I adore these guys, but if I weren't a Mets fan, I'd have hated them), seeing the somber Buckner walk off, and knowing how unfairly unkind a nation (or Nation) of ignorant bastards was to him after that, it kind of bums me out a little. And when I am watching the only World Series my team has ever won during my lifetime, I want nothing but sheer bliss and thrills. Dammit.

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