Televised major league baseball has become a great lectern for the broadcaster and a chore for the viewer; it has taken a great sport and thrilling entertainment into the fogbound landscapes of theoretical physics and higher mathematica, the state of art in technical computing.
One night not too long ago, Alex Rodriguez hit a towering third-inning home run well over the green monster, the five-story, left field wall in Fenway Park, giving the Yankees a temporary lead, 3-2, over the Red Sox. (Later, the Red Sox would win, 8-6.) In recent times, viewers would expect a video replay of A-Rod’s massive homer ‒ up-close, his perfect swing in slow-motion, bat meeting ball, ball leaving bat and heading up into the Boston stratosphere and over the monster, then a glimpse of A-Rod hustling around third toward home, and in the background, ‘Sox fans bellowing their displeasure.
But no. Now we have a lesson in applied physics, vectors and force angles, mass and gravitational pull. The slowmotion stops and with vivid cartoonish graphics we are treated to the “launch angle” (in this case, 27 degrees) of ball vs. A-Rod’s bat at impact, the “pitch speed” (93 mph), and “ball speed” when leaving bat (106 mph). All of this, while the broadcasters coo and gush over the phenomena of 2D and 3D data, the function and geo visualization of mass, force and vector.
DOES ALEX Gordon make a fabulous run in left field to make a leaping, outstretched catch on a line drive? Sort of.
We have the slo-mo, Alex’s approach, like a gazelle, his leap, the body mid-air and perpendicular to the turf, but then it stops. Painted over the frozen image is his “max speed,” the “distance covered,” and “route efficiency.” Of course!
Where would fans be without knowing Alex Gordon’s route efficiency?
And now we know: Jessica Hernandez is an aeronautical physicist, not an all-American athlete-sportscaster, and ESPN is not the acronym for Entertainment and Sports
Network; it means Explaining Sports for Passionate Nerds.
As sportscasters fall into this miasma of mathematical jabberwocky, baseball becomes a post-graduate lecture at MIT ‒ now a science, no longer a game. While Bob Costas or John Smoltz gush on about A-Rod’s bat speed and swing plane, some player is taking a call third strike at the knees with the bases loaded. And we missed it.
Technology has given TV broadcasts more new compugraphic techno-toys than the talkers can possibly use, but they’re trying.
To be sure, some of these toys are interesting. But overdone, the technology becomes a nuisance. Let the players get back to the real game, and let the viewer enjoy baseball for what it is: a game, not a physics lecture.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL