Sports

Schapiro ’19: Keep your eye on the ball — literally

By
Sports Editor
Sunday, October 21, 2018

As of late Saturday night, it’s that time of year again: the World Series is upon us. The Boston Red Sox, possessors of an MLB-best 108 regular-season wins, will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers, back-to-back National League champions with a star-studded lineup and a Hollywood shine. But as the series begins and inevitably produces its share of great moments, it’s important to remember where baseball happens. It doesn’t happen in the clubhouse or on the streets of its teams’ cities or in the broadcast booth. Rather, baseball is played the same way it always has been: on the field.

It’s critical to remember this because media coverage of the World Series will inevitably devolve into narrative journalism and focus not on the games themselves but on what they mean and why. There are so many different narratives we might see that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll give it a shot.

We might see “East Coast/West Coast,” with the old-fashioned, 13-colonies era Red Sox taking on the newfangled, Brooklyn-transplant Dodgers. If this becomes the predominant narrative, it will quickly take over all facets of the game: The Red Sox will play “old-school” baseball, the commentators will assure us, while the Dodgers are high-tech and fancy. Who will triumph, the old guard or the upstarts? The narrative quickly mutates from a true yet inconsequential fact about the two teams to an overarching theme that, in baseball media’s collective mind, comes to define every moment of the series.

Or we might see a variant on the geographical narrative, the oft-described “working-class” Red Sox versus the Hollywood Dodgers. Fenway Park, the World Series broadcast will assure us, was built by hardscrabble Boston construction workers, maybe part-time sailors or dockworkers, the cream of the working class. Dodger Stadium, meanwhile, has palm trees! Movie stars! Los Angeles, the city of stars, versus Boston, in many ways the heart of old-time America… It’s easy to see how this narrative could take over, even though in practice, when two teams take the baseball field, it doesn’t mean anything.

We’ve seen this in the past: In fact, we see it every year. In 2017, it was the Astros, those heartland Astros, living out the prophecy that Sports Illustrated set out for them in 2014 (June 2014: Sports Illustrated calls the Astros “Your 2017 World Series Champs”). In 2016, it was the Cubs breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat — a more salient narrative than most, to give baseball media credit. And in 2015, it was the Royals, suddenly “America’s team,” darlings of the media, taking on the no-good New York Mets. The Royals were working harder, being “relentless” (whatever that means), hustling so hard that it was practically impossible for the Mets to do anything but bend the knee in surrender. Every year, something new comes up: The World Series goes from two teams playing baseball games to a full-fledged story, with villains and subplots and everything.

And of course, it’s all utter nonsense. The fact that the Red Sox play in Boston doesn’t mean they’re the metaphorical descendants of Paul Revere and company, just as the fact that the Dodgers play in Los Angeles doesn’t mean they take after Marilyn Monroe. The Red Sox and the Dodgers are two baseball teams — two of the best baseball teams in MLB, but all the same, just two baseball teams — and there’s no need to add more to the story than that, besides for gratuitous reasons. If Andrew Benintendi gets a key hit in game one, it won’t be because he’s showing “Boston grit” or some variant thereof; it’ll be because he’s a good baseball player. And likewise, if Justin Turner makes a play to win a game for the Dodgers, he won’t be “embracing the Hollywood spotlight,” or however else FOX’s announcers decide to put it; he’s just another good baseball player doing his job.

I don’t know which narrative will take over this year’s Fall Classic; maybe it will be one I’ve mentioned, or maybe it’ll be the Dodgers’ return to the World Series for a second straight year. More than likely, it’ll be something I haven’t even come up with yet, or maybe we’ll get lucky and get nothing more than straightforward baseball. I certainly hope that’s the case: Narrative sports journalism, when wrongly applied, takes the fun out of the World Series. It takes a series that two teams are fighting very hard to win and says to fans who may be undecided about the outcome, “Root for this team for these ridiculous reasons.” Just let the Sox and the Dodgers play out the series. A hard-fought, competitive series is the best story there is, and there’s no need to enhance it with hastily constructed issues that, in the grand scheme of baseball, matter not one bit.

James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.