Tradition trumps technology in baseball

FOX's World Series Game 1 broadcast between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers brought new technology, but there is only so much you can do to speed up America's pastime.

No game is more steeped in tradition than baseball, where fans obsess over statistics and history and are known to resist change. But that’s made it an odd fit with the current media landscape, and perhaps an even more unlikely companion for its longstanding network, FOX.

FOX has done all it can — and been emulated by the Turner networks — in seeking to bring baseball into the 21st century (including gee-whiz graphics, speed-gunning every pitch, rapidly showing sequences of pitches, and presenting super close-ups). There were even infrared shots of St. Louis’ Albert Pujols and Texas’ Adrian Beltre in Wednesday’s World Series opener, prompting announcer Joe Buck to quip, “I think we borrowed that from TSA,” referring to the Transportation Security Administration.

Still, there are aspects of the game that simply flummox efforts to spruce them up. It’s why the NFL and NBA skew younger, and why baseball often looks like an older gal trying to squeeze into a tight skirt that doesn’t quite fit.

To its credit, much of FOX’s coverage was crisp and straightforward. With Buck and Tim McCarver beginning their 14th World Series together, it’s not like the network has a bunch of rookies calling the shots or requires unnecessary frills.

“What a cannon,” McCarver marveled after correctly predicting the CardinalsYadier Molina wasn’t a catcher to run against — right before he threw out a runner.

That said, we could certainly do without the playful banter with the managers during the action, which didn’t add a thing to the game other than flaunting the access. At least Texas’ Ron Washington sounded good-natured about it, while the Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa obviously wanted no part.

At other moments, FOX’s coverage was almost too good, its sophisticated microphones picking up Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter’s frustration during the early innings, when he could be heard yelling “God**mit!” twice after errant pitches. Buck pointed out that Carpenter was yelling at himself without identifying his word choice, but FOX dodged a bullet the expletive wasn’t stronger.

FOX and MLB have made some concessions to the imperative to cultivate a next generation of fans by kicking off its coverage at 7:30 p.m. ET, or well before darkness fell on the West Coast. That should provide kids a better chance of staying up through the last at-bat, even if the first pitch wasn’t thrown until 40 minutes later.

What’s harder to solve is how everything surrounding the actual game doesn’t seem particularly compatible with baseball. Indeed, it’s easy to envision many of the older guys who tune in being bombarded by all the promos for shows like “The X Factor,” the animated “Allen Gregory” and a sitcom called “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” thinking, “Do they really expect me to watch this stuff?”

For what it’s worth, the answer’s ‘No, pops, but they do hope maybe some of your kids and grandkids are watching with you.’ Then again, for a generation weaned on instant gratification and the need for speed, it’s difficult to get too excited over the frequent lulls in the action triggered by a pitching change — especially with two teams that rely so heavily on their bullpens.

On the plus side, when Buck called the opener “a good game” it wasn’t just hype — a tough 3-2 win by the upstart Cardinals, whose September heroics were part of the amazing finish to the season that got people buzzing about baseball.

Yet with two mid-sized-market teams it would behoove FOX for them all to be that good, or for the Series to go a tension-building six or seven games. As is, Game 4 will have to face “Sunday Night Football,” and the NFL is such a powerhouse even a regular-season contest has a good chance of clobbering baseball’s premier showcase.

Of course, there were some signs that FOX — or at least its sales department and advertisers — recognize the Fall Classic’s demographic. The pregame commercials included a spot for Medicare coverage, and one of the night’s signature sponsors was Viagra.

Kind of brings new meaning to the idea of having trouble with the bat.

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