Television has passed another milestone. Or kidney stone, to judge by the pained expression on Joe Torre's face. The New York Yankees' manager winced when two of his players were interviewed in the dugout during a recent rain-delayed playoff game. The inquisitor was NBC reporter Jim Gray, of whom Torre said to reporters after the game, "He would interview a lamppost, I think."
Mid-game player interviews are commonplace on MTV's Rock &Jock Softball Challenge, in which Ol' Dirty Bastard will happily field questions while legging out a bunt, but such chats had not heretofore been part of big league baseball. They are now. In the way that human masters grow to resemble their dogs, baseball is beginning to look like everything else on TV. Life used to imitate the World Series. The World Series now imitates My So-Called Life.
In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Yankees first base coach Jose Cardenal, wearing a microphone, ribbed 39-year-old base runner Tim Raines for being old. Cardenal would not likely have made the joke had he not been Tripp-wired for sound, and Raines seemed to sense as much. "You know they got that on TV," he told Cardenal, while standing on first, in the middle of a game, an odd exchange that NBC happily aired.
All of which is to say the tail is wagging the dog. The tail is also fanning its Peacock and wagging the Fox. The latter network, which sweetens game sounds with a cartoonish whooosh!, complained to the Chicago Cubs this season when manager Jim Riggleman didn't start pitcher Kerry Wood against the Houston Astros' Randy Johnson, a matchup Fox had been busily promoing for its Game of the Week.
Fox has now prevailed upon catchers to wear cameras in their helmets, showing viewers what the world looks like from a squatting position behind home plate. (Answer: It looks a lot like Andres Galarraga's ass.)
With field personnel wearing cameras and microphones, networks attempting to cast lineups and those disembodied clapping hands on scoreboards looking an awful lot like APPLAUSE signs, baseball is the new sitcom. What players call the Show has become That '70s Show. During a recent playoff game Seinfeld's George Steinbrenner, a real sports owner who inspired a sitcom character, welcomed to his box Arliss's Robert Wuhl, who plays a sitcom character based on real sports agents.
Who can keep his bearings in this hall of mirrors? Early in the American League Championship Series opener, we saw a tight shot of the moon above Yankee Stadium, prompting Bob Costas of NBC to say, "You see a full moon like that over New York, you half expect to see Jackie Gleason's face on it."
But in sitcom terms baseball doesn't look like The Honeymooners so much as it looks like Full House. On the night Mark McGwire hit his 62nd homer, he was "interviewed" by Fox's Joe Buck right after the game. Buck's first question was to ask Mac Daddy for that sine qua non of sitcom closure—the TV hug. When the big fella obliged, Fox should have frozen the scene, cued theme music and rolled credits over the embrace. As baseball history goes, this was, after all, "a very special episode."