Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Distant Replay

Was up late last night doing work with the teevee on and got caught up in a couple of these “Top 50” shows on the MLB Network. Decided it was kind of a brilliant format, given how mesmerized I was as they carried me forward 10 items at a time from commercial to commercial, working their way through their lists.

One of the shows was dedicated to the “Top 50 Calls of All-Time,” culling examples from radio and television over many decades’ worth of games. (Here’s a blog post someone pulled together listing all 50.) The call of New York Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges of Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” home run to win the NL pennant in 1951 earned the top spot in that compilation.

The other list was devoted to the “Top 50 Most Infamous Arguments” which was not just compelling but also got the adrenaline going a little bit at times. The “pine tar incident” from 1983 when New York Yankees manager Billy Martin successfully challenged that Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat when hitting a game-winning home run earned top honors on that list. The Royals would protest and the ruling would later be reversed, but Brett’s madman-charge of the plate still stands a fairly iconic moment in baseball history when it comes to arguments.

I realized while watching the shows that I had no particular interest in the actual rankings. That is to say, it didn’t matter much to me what famous call (for example) was considered the “top” one of all-time, what was second, and so on. Rather, my interest was piqued as a longtime fan who was more or less familiar with most of the plays being highlighted. I could remember having either seen them or replays of them -- or in some cases, having read about them -- in just about every case.

I remember the Brett homer vividly, having been a fan of his as a kid growing up. I even wrote him for an autograph, and like pretty much every big leaguer to whom I sent such letters to when I was a kid, he responded with an autographed photo.

I also remembered watching another of the “infamous arguments” on the list, one ranking around #5, I believe -- the ugly “bean-brawl” game between the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres from August 1984. It was the kind of game that really had to be seen to be believed, with several hits batsmen, multiple bench-clearing brawls, fans getting involved in the fights, and numerous jaw-dropping moments.

To give you an idea how crazy the game was, San Diego managed to have three different pitchers deliberately throw at Atlanta pitcher Pascual Perez during four different at-bats in the game. (Perez had hit a San Diego better with the game’s first pitch.) All of those Padres pitchers were ejected, as were the manager and a couple of coaches. It was basically Slap Shot from start to finish. This clip doesn’t even mention some of what happened:

I followed the Braves closely back then thanks to TBS showing every game, and so remembered all of the players involved. I always liked the idiosyncratic Perez who once missed a start when he couldn’t find his way to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and afterwards wore a jacket with “I-285” on the back to refer to the interstate on which he had gotten lost. (Was sad to hear of his death a couple of years ago.)

After a couple of hours of these countdowns I realized the format was smartly conceived and that the MLB Network had come up with some excellent off-season programming to keep viewers tuned in.

As I say, I imagine for other “Top 50” shows the rankings would matter more to me -- e.g., shows ranking players or teams or certain, measurable achievements. But for categories as nebulous as these, I was mostly pleased just to have those nostalgia nodes in my brain be massaged as I watched and remembered the plays.

Happened to turn the television on again this afternoon during an idle moment and saw All In: The Poker Movie being shown on one of the Showtime networks we’re getting for free right now. Was right in the middle of the Moneymaker-Farha heads-up, and again I found it hard to turn away despite being so familiar with what was being shown.

Something reassuring, I guess, about reliving the past and reaffirming our memories of it, memories which become more imperfect each day.

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