I turned the television on last night so I could watch the season finale of the first season of The X-Files, and caught the top of the second inning of the Yankees-Angels game. Playoff baseball is here again. I don’t have cable, so I can’t watch all of the games, but I can pick up WCBS from New York at night here in North Carolina, so I imagine I’ll be listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman the next few weeks (hopefully).
Ronan over at Headlife, in a post about American sports culture vs. the rest of the world, recently made the claim that “Cricket is, absolutely, definitely, the world’s greatest sport,” in part because “the tension, the skill, the sportsmanship of cricket is second-to none.”
He’s wrong. I’ve never even watched a cricket match and I can say that. Here’s how I know: name one great cricket movie. Can’t do it, can you? (Ok, maybe Lagaan. I haven’t seen it. Name two). Name one great baseball movie. The problem here isn’t coming up with a candidate, but picking from among the many choices. Field of Dreams, The Natural, Pride of the Yankees, Damn Yankees!, Eight Men Out, The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, The Rookie, The Sandlot — heck, you could just limit the list to movies about the Yankees and still have a decent list.
Baseball is a storyteller’s game. The pace is such that there’s lots of time for talking during the actual game. The game itself has a rich oral tradition, spread throughout the country by radio and television announcers. I actually often prefer listening to games on the radio over watching on television. The season is long, and careers are relatively long as well, with slumps and streaks that create innumerable opportunities for failure and redemption. Drama builds over the course of a season, over the course of a game, and comes to a head in the pivotal at-bat. Unlike the timed games, there is no point in game in which it is not theoretically possible for a team to come back.
Baseball provides dramatic moments with such frequency and intensity that in fact it’s difficult to reproduce on-screen. For all of the grandeur of Robert Redford’s Rob Hobbs’ fireworks-generating home run at the end of The Natural (and what a cop-out that was, changing the ending of Malamud’s book like that), it pales in comparison to Bobby Thompson’s shot heard ’round the world, or Kirk Gibson’s dramatic shot in Game One of the 1988 World Series, or, if you’re a Yankees fan, Jim Leyritz’s three-run home run in game four of the 1996 World Series off of Mark Wohlers.
NFL Films does a great job of editing football games to tell compelling stories. Baseball doesn’t need an NFL Films — great baseball games can be viewed again without editing. In fact, they are probably best viewed that way. But when October rolls around, forget recorded footage — the drama is live.