Americans, finding unity in the trivialities of television

Russell Baker

October 16, 1990|By Russell Baker

I'M AN American so I watch the Academy Awards on television. I watch Miss America and the Super Bowl. In the fall I watch baseball. This is what Americans do: Academy Awards, Miss America, Super Bowl, autumn baseball.

Sure it's silly. Who cares who wins Best Supporting Actress? Who cares who wins the Super Bowl? Ten days later who even remembers? But RussellBakerthere it is. It's the American thing to do.

It's important because you are eyeballing it right along with 150 million other Americans. You are participating in a national ritual, never mind that the ritual itself is inconsequential.

We are all united in an electrico-spiritual transport: Americans all sitting down together, all tied to one another by millions of little electrified gizmos in a hundred million solitary rooms.

It's good to have the country all together sharing something, even something unimportant.

As the current Washington circus illustrates, on important matters we are not a people, but a feud, an arrangement of pressure groups, greedy, self-centered, absorbed in the struggle to get their snouts deep into the public trough.

On the trivial things, however, we can still sit together and commune. Miss America, Super Bowl, Academy Awards, the boys of autumn . . .

So I sit lapping up inconsequentialities because they are not so depressing as the political horror running on C-Span. There is no country on C-Span, only marauding gangs crying "Me! Me! Me!"

Old people, poor people, poor old people, rich old people, middle-class old people, people of this color and that, people of this and that faith, of this and that heresy, of this and that ethnic root, sick people and afflicted people and inadequately insured people, investing people, overtaxed people, undertaxed people . . .

Thank the good commercial television god for this baseball relief from C-Span. Because baseball is a leisurely sport, the mind can browse quietly among more interesting matters than whether some dreary politician's career will be ended by his vote on the butter-and-egg bill.

More interesting matters like baseball's devotion to spitting, for instance: What is the meaning of all this spitting? Why has no writer done a book on the role of spitting in baseball? George Will, David Halberstam, Roger Angell -- in your great literary works on baseball, why haven't you explained the theory, the beauty, the artistry, the cunning, the strategy of spitting?

Ah, here is another curiosity: It is obvious to the thoughtful viewer that Oakland should be playing against Cincinnati and Boston should be playing Pittsburgh. So why is Oakland, instead, playing Boston? And Cincinnati, instead, playing Pittsburgh?

The wrongness here became obvious after hours of listening to the TV people describe the games. Again and again they said Oakland and Cincinnati had such superb relief pitching that it was practically impossible to score on them after the sixth inning.

Boston and Pittsburgh, having only second-rate relief pitchers, therefore had no hope of winning unless they were ahead after the sixth inning.

I was shocked to hear this laid out in brutally plain English, but apparently it never occurred to the broadcasters that they were describing an absurd mismatch.

Since Oakland and Cincinnati were built to play nine-inning baseball while Boston and Pittsburgh were built to play six-inning baseball, Boston should obviously be playing Pittsburgh for the championship of a six-inning league while Oakland and Cincinnati play for the championship of a nine-inning league.

People learned in baseball tell me such a sensible solution is impossible. All teams must play nine-inning baseball or suffer the consequences.

It seemed to me, though, that the real sufferers were the relief pitchers for six-inning teams like Boston and Pittsburgh, who not only have to be knocked around by nine-inning teams, but also have to put up with TV guys telling the whole country they're a bunch of bums.

Wish I hadn't thought "bunch of bums." It reminds me that Washington is still there.

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