Editorial: No Numbers Game

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The start of baseball season spells hope for fans of our national pastime—unless, of course, they live in Pittsburgh or root for a certain team in Queens, N.Y. Our hope for the 2011 season is that ESPN will honor the game’s pastoral setting, gradually unfolding pace and generally lo-fi charm and do away with all of the statistical white noise that dominates the TV screen during its Sunday-night telecasts.

We laud ESPN for replacing Jon Miller and Joe Morgan with savvy and interesting broadcasters in Orel Hershisher, Dan Shulman and Bobby Valentine. But it’s hard to fully appreciate the action, languid as it may appear to some, when bombarded with data like Player X’s batting average against hirsute pitchers of Slavic descent during night games when the moon is full, along with a crawl informing us that Carlos Beltran is on the disabled list yet again. The more you try not to read the stats, the harder they are to ignore.

Call us dinosaurs, but reading about baseball is for the sports page the next day, not on the screen in real time. Just give us the batting average, RBI and home runs at the top of the at-bat (OK, on-base percentage too, if you must). When presented with statistical overload, we’re reminded of noted social commentators Beavis and Butt-head’s take on the unhappy marriage of TV and excess verbiage: “Words suck. If I wanted to read, I’d go to school.”

This statistical barrage is hardly limited to baseball. The NFL, for one, doesn’t seem to think its molar-rattling hits and no-he-didn’t! one-handed grabs are enough to command viewers’ full attention.

Hey, we get the concept of TV-Web convergence: Building virtual communities around your programming through Twitter and Facebook can enhance the viewing experience. But there’s a place in the media landscape for plain old TV—unadorned, text-free, au naturel TV. Crawls and tickers are vital for stock quotes and war updates, not for baseball.

We’re hardly early adaptors, but when the TV is on at our home, there’s probably a laptop open too, and a Blackberry being watched carefully for those pesky emails from the West Coast bosses. ESPN’s online gamecasts offer a variety of fascinating stats, such as real-time computations of a team’s likelihood of winning the game after each at bat. Those work great on the computer, when there’s no actual action on the screen.

We applaud the Worldwide Leader in Sports for reimagining what a baseball telecast can be. But give us baseball purists the option to click off the bottom-third wall of stats, so we can watch baseball—instead of a parade of numbers and Beavis and Butt-head’s dreaded “words.”

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