Charley Gordon finds quiet the beauty of the moment amid the constant cacophony of mindless colour commentary
By Charley Gordon
Sports can be nice when nobody is talking. I had that realization a few weeks ago when I watched a professional golf tournament in Florida. My son and I had been given tickets. Not knowing exactly how these things worked, we walked through a gate, followed some people and suddenly were beside the third green, along with a handful of others.
We saw some men walking up to the green and suddenly realized they were well-known golfers (whose names I now forget), along with their caddies. There was no spoken announcement of who they were, no shouts from the crowd. They walked, without fanfare, onto the green, where, I now noticed, two golf balls lay, and got ready to putt.
It was mid-morning and the leaders of this tournament wouldn’t tee off for a few hours, so the crowds were thin and a certain calmness prevailed. Part of the calmness was due to the absence of announcers. Our men were probably on television, but we weren’t seeing it. On television, as the golfer in the green pants lined up his putt, someone would be saying:
“Well, Rog, if he makes this birdie putt, maybe he can make a charge at the leaders. How do you see it?”
“Right, Jim, he’s got about 18 feet and it bends a bit left, and it’s downhill, but he’s putting against the grain, so I would say he needs to hit it about three inches to the right, and very carefully so that he doesn’t catch that ridge and slide six feet past.”
On television it was undoubtedly a tense moment. On the green in front of us, the man in the green pants looked at the hole for a while, hit the ball and it missed by a foot. There was a sympathetic murmur from the crowd.
They moved quietly on, as did we, and noticed how beautifully peaceful everything was. There were trees and flowers, you could hear the birds and the soft thud of a well-struck ball landing on the green.
Later in the day we watched the close of the tournament on television. There were huge throngs of spectators, many of them wearing green pants, and they were yelling “Get in the hole!” and other clever things. Tension was intense, commentators were pointing out the drama of every situation.
It wasn’t the same game.
Having the golf experience in mind, I noted with interest last week’s baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox, which would, because of the tensions in Baltimore, be played without spectators. Apparently oblivious of all the clichés about the healing powers of sport, the powers that be decided that putting 30,000 people together in one space, even a baseball stadium, would be too risky.
So spectators were banned and the game went on, without a crowd. It was, however, televised and I thought it would be interesting to watch it, and more particularly, to listen to it. Without crowd noise and all the electronic sound effects designed to stimulate it, we would get the sounds of the game.
Not only the crack of the bat, but the smack of the glove, the arguments with umpires, the bench jockeying — the kind of stuff you hear at a game when almost nobody is there. What do big-leaguers sound like when you can hear them?
More specifically, as a former recreational league third baseman, I wanted to know whether big leaguers still kept up the unexplainable tradition of infield chatter.
We learned it as little kids. You get down in your little infield crouch and, while you’re waiting for your pitcher to throw the ball, you deliver a steady stream of words, intended, probably, to comfort or encourage him, or her.
“You got ’im, you got ’im, no batter up there, no batter, make him be a hitter, you got ’im, you got ’im.” And words to that effect before every pitch. It never made any sense to me why we did that, but we always did, everywhere I played, and so did the people on the other team. In my dotage, I would, if anyone was foolish enough to invite me to play, be talking that talk again without even thinking about it.
Now, watching the Orioles and the White Sox playing to an empty ballpark, we would know if the big leaguers did that, or whether they said something more meaningful, or nothing at all.
Except, we never did. Because the announcers wouldn’t stop talking. They treated it like any other game, analyzing and analyzing and talking and talking and reading the stats that had been prepared for them and yack and yack and yack. Also, each batter’s private song played as he approached the plate.
If you were the kind of person who over-generalizes (hi, Mom!), you might say that this failure to adjust to an unprecedented situation is typical of every type of journalist. Every once in a while a news story is genuinely new: it is unprecedented and there is no formula for covering it. This stimulates a race to find a formula into which it will fit.
The events of 9/11 were the classic example. Nothing like this had ever happened and for a time, journalists, particularly on television were at a loss for how how to tell the story. The journalism during those brief hours was interesting because it concentrated on telling what happened.
But inevitably the proper news cliché was found: 9/11 would become a sob story, a series of interviews with grief-stricken relatives, a salute to fallen heroes, close-ups of piles of flowers and teddy bears. And so it has been ever since, in Canada as well, as recently as the shootings on Parliament Hill.
Which is not as long away as you would think from an extraordinary baseball game, covered exactly as if it were an ordinary baseball game, with whatever the infielders were saying lost to posterity.