As I've mentioned in previous posts, sportswriting is, at best, a very shaky area. Whether it is done in the form of articles or interviews, there always seems to be an overriding devotion to melodrama or embarrassing cliches, even from the best writers and the most eloquent athletes. My brother and I continually engage in mock post-game interviews simply by repeating tired phrases: "pitching was the key today"; "the defense really picked us up"; "our fans really got behind us"; "you know, I just got a good pitch to hit and drove it" etc.
Even in the early days of baseball writing, writers were not immune to this. Since the style of writing was in its infancy, cliches weren't the norm, but melodrama was heavy. The book companion to the PBS Baseball documentary (written by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns) has several passages and features devoted to the styles of early baseball writers, and the depictions of grandoise imagery was amazing. I don't have the book available right now, so I cannot cite any examples, but writers such as Grantland Rice and Shirley Povich made baseball out to be epic. For the most part, baseball articles were a combination of war stories, Greek/Shakesperian tragedies, heavy patriotism, and a sprinkling of racism.
Tonight, I decided to have fun with these ideas. I wrote a summary of the Twins-Red Sox game that aired on ESPN and tried my best to write it in a 1920s style. It is highly exaggerated, but it shouldn't be too outlandish compared to those times, and perhaps even compared to present baseball accounts. It's only appropriate that the game was played at Boston's Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox and the home of ridiculous hyperbole and overwrought baseball romanticism. As a baseball fan today, it's equally chic to hate the Red Sox as it is to love them. Don't get me wrong--I'm a Cubs fan, but I know that Wrigley Field gets the same treatment that annoys everyone else in the country who couldn't care less about the Cubs. But seriously, it was a Twins-RED SOX broadcast. Had the Twins been playing against Oakland, it probably wouldn't have been a national telecast. Let's see how this works:
GAME RECAP: Minnesota Twins 0, at Boston Red Sox 1 (7/7/08)
"On this beautiful summer's night, July the Seventh in the Year of Our Lord 2008, the World's Champion Boston Red Sox squared off against the rising Minnesota Nine. The warm air enveloped the proud patrons of Boston, fans none too pleased to see their beloved team so far out of first place. It was not a favorable setting for the Minnesota Ball Club looking to sneak up in the standings against the Chicago White Stockings in the venerable American League Central division. The crowd roared as Boston took the field at the hallowed ground of Fenway Park, that awesome baseball palace, the Green Monster rising like a phoenix to the heavens.
The starting pitcher for Boston was Daisuke Matsuzaka, the crafty right-hander from the mysterious east of Japan, looking for his tenth victory of the season. The hurler did not disappoint, tossing 7.1 innings, not allowing a single Minnesota baserunner to sniff home plate. His fastball and sinker frustrated even the mightiest of the Twins, Justin Morneau, who managed a double yet was denied the triumph of tagging home to get his team on the scoreboard.
The pitcher for the Minnesota Nine, cherub-faced Scott Baker of Louisiana, matched his Japanese counterpart pitch for pitch, lasting seven frames, sending seven Bostonians back to the dugout after seeing a third strike. He pitched a bold game deep in enemy territory, oblivious to the beer-fueled heckling of the Boston faithful. As the night went on, he was the pride of the Midwest, keeping the Red Sox in check. He was half of a wonderous pitcher's duel, bowing to Matsuzaka, strolling sixty and a half paces before turning to fire his stitched, round bullets.
My friends, the game was close, each side desperate to taste victory. This heated contest was decided not by a soaring home run into the Boston night, but by a single, a run batted in by that fearsome Dominican Zeus, Manny Ramirez. As the ball slipped past the second baseman, Dustin Pedroia skipped to the home plate, providing that slimmest of victory margins. Ramirez stopped at first base among the cheering throngs, having brought the home team closer to the end.
The game was closed out by another son of Louisiana, the intense Jonathan Papelbon. After he willed Denard Span to ground out meekly to first, the contest was decided, the roars drifting around the East. The Boston Red Sox were victors, a stern bunch riding their way closer to first place. Somewhere off in those heavens that seemingly reached by the Green Monster, the great Bostonian Ted Williams tipped his cap in appreciation."
Again, this is tongue in cheek, but if the Red Sox make the playoffs this October, this kind of writing and broadcasting won't be too far off. As far as writing goes, something like this can actually be a good exercise. Intentionally engaging in bad writing is actually quite difficult, since you're putting as much thought into the sentences and word choices as you would with serious writing. Either way, it's practice, with the hope that the bad and the good can be separated.