“The Losing Edge,” South Park

I rarelSouth Park season 9y get to mention this here, because so little of the show ever touches on baseball, but I have been a huge South Park fan for many, many years.  The show tends to direct its satire more towards politics and popular culture, rather than sports, but the makers did include one episode in its ninth season that revolves around Little League baseball.

Many of the boys from South Park play on the town’s Little League team, and “The Losing Edge” opens in the last moments of the final game of the regular season.  The parents of both teams sit in the stands, cheering their kids on.  The South Park boys, meanwhile, are spread out of the field in their defensive positions, moaning about how much they despise baseball.  Token yawns miserably at first base and Butters is singing in the outfield to a ladybug, completely oblivious to what is going on with the game.  Meanwhile, in the stands, Stan’s father Randy Marsh is drunk and picking a fight with a dad from the other team, which causes Stan to squeeze his eyes in embarrassment, even though it seems evident this isn’t the first time this has happened.

The boys win the game and begin to celebrate that their season is finally over so that, “We can start having fun again!”  Their enthusiasm is quickly shot down, however, when they learn that because they finished with the best record in the division, they are now going into the postseason.  Discussing their bad luck over celebratory pizza, Stan points out that the finals are sudden death elimination, and the boys agree to deliberately lose a game while making it look like they are trying to win.

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What the boys did not count on, however, is that every other Little League team in the area also hates the game and wants to lose as much as they do.  Each game, therefore, becomes a competition not to win, but to play worse than the other guy.  The South Park boys, it turns out, are too good at baseball, and keep advancing through the finals.

Randy Marsh, meanwhile, apparently takes his Little League dad brawls seriously.  Every game sees Randy stripping off his shirt at some point as he hollers at another dad, ending with him bloody, bruised, and getting led by an officer to a police cruiser.  As he’s handcuffed and getting dragged away, Randy yells at the police, “This is America!”  Because apparently, in Randy’s mind, American freedom includes the right to fight whomever he wishes.

No matter how much they try, the South Park boys cannot manage to lose a game, and suddenly they find themselves qualifying for the Colorado state championship, to be played at Coors Field.  To make matters worse, they learn that if they win this game, their entire season starts over on the national circuit.  When the South Park team meets their opponents, a team from Denver, Randy also gets to meet the Denver team’s dad brawler, a large and imposing man in a bat costume known as “Bat Dad.”

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Randy is so intimidated by the Bat Dad, he resolves not to attend the championship game at all.  The championship game gets underway, and the South Park boys are aghast to discover that the Denver team have become experts at sucking.  (As a side note, every time I watch this episode, I cannot help but wonder: if the Denver team truly excelled at sucking, wouldn’t they have been eliminated long ago?)  Just as it is beginning to look like South Park is going to lose their entire summer to baseball, Randy Marsh shows up with a beverage tray full of beers, calling out, “Denver sucks!”  Before long, he and the Bat Dad are in each other’s faces.

South Park the-losing-edge

I love the social commentary this episode provides.  Obviously, the plot around Randy and his brawls is a hilarious poke at all the Little League parents who take the competition a little too seriously at that level, as well as parents who just can’t seem to be civil in public and make it all about themselves.  As for the boys, I love the comedy created by turning the goal of the game on its head.  The teams involved engage in reverse trash talking, telling each other things like, “We’re going down!  We’re gonna get creamed!”  Their attitudes reflect the ridiculousness of how we sometimes force our kids to do things that they hate just because it’s the socially accepted thing to do.  Rather than squeezing kids into a box of having to play a particular sport or instrument or do some other activity just because we think they should, parents would do well to listen to their kids and take a moment to consider what they want.

South Park baseball

 


Pitch


pitch

The television series Pitch aired on Fox in 2016, and I watched it perhaps a year later.  I have been meaning to write about it here ever since, but I think the delay has been largely due to debating how I would approach this thing.  When I watched Ken Burns’s Baseball documentary series, I wrote about it one episode at a time.  However, each episode of that series is approximately two hours long and crammed full of information.  Pitch, meanwhile, is more of a standard television drama.  A separate post for each episode seems excessive.  However, a really long, single, detailed post also seems excessive, so this is going to be quite the Reader’s Digest summary.

The series revolves around a character named Ginny Baker, who becomes the first woman to play Major League Baseball.  In the first episode of the show, Ginny makes her Major League debut with the San Diego Padres.  Though her first start goes terribly, the team opts not to send her back to the minors because they realize that having the first woman Major Leaguer is quite a draw for crowds (it’s always about the money, right?).  Fortunately, Ginny manages to recover from her stumble, and thus, the series takes off.

Ginny’s father, Bill, is the one who not only taught her to pitch, but who also drove her to become good enough to go pro.  We learn early on, however, that Bill actually died years ago in a car accident, right around when Ginny was first drafted by the Padres organization.  His lessons and his death continue to haunt Ginny throughout the series.

Ginny’s relationship with her father is only one of many conflicts throughout the show.  Pitch goes out of its way to try to accurately depict what it would really be like if a woman were to break into the majors.  Ginny deals with an immense amount of pressure in this role, not just through her performance on the diamond, but also in being put up on a pedestal as a role model for girl athletes.  Through all the publicity, Ginny’s primary goal with the team is to be accepted as one of the guys.  We also see drama surrounding the All-Star Game, the trade deadline, the relationships between Ginny and her agent and between Ginny and catcher Mike Lawson, relationships between other players and with their families, and conflicts arising due to Ginny’s brother, Will, trying to capitalize on his sister’s fame.

Once I started watching this series, I was instantly hooked.  I rarely binge-watch anything, but I blew through every episode of Pitch in about two days.  The show does a tremendous job of drawing viewers into the stories surrounding each of the characters, and it throws in enough baseball to give satisfaction to baseball fans.  My only complaint about this show is that it did not get renewed for a second season, leaving so many questions hanging unanswered and the story unfinished.


Russo: Baseball is the best game

Here’s a clip from a couple nights ago.  Chris Russo’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to my ears, and he talks in circles here, but he also makes some good points.  Also, I just enjoy listening to anything that takes a positive view on baseball.


Foghorn Leghorn Teaching the Art of Baseball

I have a vague memory of seeing this clip in the midst of my Saturday morning cartoon experience growing up.  I love the implied conflict of brains versus brawn in this and some of the literal translations of phrases one might hear on a ball field.


Ted Williams documentary on PBS

Ted Williams American Masters

I managed to watch PBS’s documentary on Ted Williams last night: American Masters – Ted Williams: “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.”  I found the documentary fascinating, even learning a couple things along the way.

The episode opens with Ted Williams’s return to civilian life after the Korean War.  After seriously considering spending the rest of his life fishing after the war, Williams opted to return to baseball.  Ted Williams, the documentary shows, was so obsessed with baseball, and especially with hitting, that his obsession permeated all aspects of his life.  He also was infamous for his temper, often getting into it with reporters and refusing to tip his cap.  These things combined made him, at times, a difficult man to get along with, even within his family.

The episode covered, briefly, some details of Williams’s youth, including his strained relationship with his parents.  It also touches on many of the things you would expect a Ted Williams documentary to cover, including the 1941 season, his service in two wars, comparisons between him and Joe DiMaggio, and the final season — and at-bat — of his career.

Something I learned — which I was glad about, as I’m always happy to learn new things — was that Ted Williams was also quite the fisherman.  According to the documentary, Williams is in two fishing halls of fame (which halls of fame was either not mentioned or I missed it).  He was so meticulously detailed about this hobby that he would cut fish open to see what they ate in order to create baits that mimicked those foods.  He would then keep a log to determine what worked and what did not work.  It was the same kind of obsession and attention to detail that contributed to his success as a hitter.

The documentary includes interviews with Williams’s daughter, Claudia, and other family members, as well as with various baseball personalities: writers, historians, broadcasters, and former and current players.  If there is a shortcoming, it is that the documentary seems to bounce around quite a bit, which made it feel somewhat scattered.  I think part of this was due to the brevity of the show.  One hour is hardly long enough to go into any real depth regarding any one man’s life, especially a man like Ted Williams.


This day in baseball: YES network debut

The Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES) made its debut on March 19, 2002.  As a team-owned network, YES would carry Yankees ball games as well as New Jersey Nets NBA games.

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“The Boys of Bummer”

Slowly, but surely, I have been continuing my trek through The Simpsons, and I am up to the show’s eighteenth season.  In this season, the show highlights the ridiculous levels to which some fans take their obsession even with little league baseball.

The episode starts with Bart Simpson, shortstop for the Springfield Isotots (awesome little league name, by the way), catching a fly ball for the final out of a game, thus earning his team a spot in the championship game.  Proud mom Marge Simpson goes out the next day to buy a new dress to wear to the game, bragging to the sales lady about what a star her son is on the field.

simpsonsThe championship game brings a matchup of Springfield against Shelbyville, and Springfield find themselves leading 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  Shelbyville, however, has the bases loaded. When their batter hits the ball that could win or lose the game, it heads towards Bart. He drops an easily caught pop up and repeatedly fails to pick it up, kicking it around the field, allowing all four runners to score and giving Shelbyville the victory.

The entire crowd turns on Bart and starts throwing beer at him, but the humiliation doesn’t end there.  Bart’s error even makes it into the newspapers, and the town continues to rail on him for losing the game. Bart’s sister Lisa tries to cheer him up by taking to see an old baseball star (Joe La Boot) who dropped a critical fly ball once and still went on to be rich and famous. Unfortunately, it only makes Bart feel worse, even causing a rare burst of tears, after La Boot learns who he is and makes everyone in the building boo Bart yet again.

The next morning Springfield wakes up to find that a self-deprecatory Bart has spray-painted “I HATE BART SIMPSON” all over town.  The townspeople gather under the water tower, where Bart is found painting the message yet again.  Driven by taunts from the crowd, Bart lets go of the rope he dangles from, in an attempt to commit suicide.  La Boot, feeling remorseful, tries to catch him, but trips and misses.

Bart survives the fall, but ends up in the hospital.  Still unrelenting, the crowd now starts booing outside of Bart’s hospital window.  Finally, Marge snaps, and she storms outside to confront the crowd, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for treating a child in such a cruel, abusive manner. Furthermore, she calls everybody hypocrites since they themselves probably had similar experiences when they were younger and haven’t gone on to accomplish anything of substance.

Finally, the crowd shows a bit of remorse.  Lisa suggests replaying the game (unofficially, but without Bart knowing) to give Bart another opportunity and to help bring his self-esteem back up, and the crowd agrees.  Bart is told the game is getting replayed due to the umpire using a non-regulation brush to clean the plate in the first attempt.  After 78 tries (with a variety of reasons made up as to why that final inning needed to be replayed), Bart finally catches the ball, “winning” the game.