If you’re like 15 million other curious folks, you checked out the debut of the XFL last weekend. Now, I would have said “much-ballyhooed debut,” except that it seems most sportswriters decided the XFL was more akin to the second coming of Styx. Writing scathing reviews before they could even see what they were writing about, the average TV and newspaper pundit labeled the new football league a sleazefest of the worst order. Imagine their surprise when they tuned in on Saturday and discovered an actual football game.
Left without the “travesty of the sport” they had so hoped to disparage, the frontal lobe-impaired scribes had to grasp for whatever negatives they could: Jesse Ventura makes a better governor than sportscaster (okay, I’ll grant them that one). The coin toss-replacing “scramble” was an injury waiting to happen (injury that did happen aside, these sportswriters apparently have never seen a fumble-recovery drill). The ground-up shots of scantily-clad cheerleaders were the most scandalous, lowest-common-denominator stunt ever (apparently these sportswriters were so wrapped up in their high-school jobs as basketball-team waterboys that they entirely missed American Bandstand).
What really made the boys with the laptops so mad was that for the first time, someone admitted that sports are entertainment. Little more, nothing less. Instead of pretending they had some sort of responsibility to take a higher ground, the XFL figured out what people want to experience during a football game, then gave it to them. And fans ate it up. Four games, four sold-out stadiums (but don’t ask me how I feel about football on the Pac Bell Park turf), and ratings higher than some World Series games.
Now, three paragraphs without mentioning baseball is probably some kind of record for this column…who am I trying to kid, that’s a relative paranthetical aside for this column. But as a smart reader, you probably see where I’m going with this.
Major League Baseball should be more like the XFL.
But what about the hundred-and-change-year tradition of pro baseball? What of the inspirational lure of the game? Sure, there’s tradition, just like NBC and Paramount Pictures have tradition. Sure, there’s the inspirational real-life stories of players battling the odds, just like there’s Christopher Reeve. Get over it.
So, here are a few changes MLB should make:
Mandatory Player Interviews and On-Field Cams. If a player is being paid millions as an entertainer, he should damn well have to say a word or two regarding his performance. The XFL has championed the concept of “all-access,” with on-field cams, locker-room cams, and bench interviews. If Glenallen Hill had to answer to the public each and every time he muffed a play in the outfield, he might take those fielding drills more seriously. Ditto if Rey Ordonez is quizzed on the way back to the dugout every time he doesn’t reach base. Mind you, the cameramen might have to wear flak jackets and helmets if they want to get close to Albert Belle.
Creative Use of Stadium P.A. Although it’s a lot harder to trash-talk in baseball, wouldn’t it be a great pick-me-up for fans to hear their team’s dugout chatter at the bottom of each inning? And that goes double for ump-manager rhubarbs – except they would no longer be able to pretend they’re arguing when they’re actually making dinner plans. Or perhaps that would be fun too.
And tell me you wouldn’t dig it if, after the opposing outfielder forgets the ball’s in play and hands it to a fan, your ballpark announcer could interject, “Nice play, moron.”
Nicknames! Nicknames! Nicknames! Like the XFL, MLB should encourage players to develop colorful nicknames. There just isn’t the same passion for nicknames that there used to be in baseball (“A-Rod”? come on!), and I think that could be turned around simply by allowing players to put their noms de jeux on their unis. And a free luxury suite to anyone who can convince Belle to adopt “He Hate Me.” Al Martin, Pedro Astacio and Bobby Chouinard could also have the option to wear a single scarlet letter.
Interesting Announce Teams. Now, the Vasgersian/Ventura tandem blew like a Nor’easter, but Jim Ross announced up a storm last Saturday in the backup game, and rumor has it NBC is moving him up to the ‘A’ team. I’m not saying his style would suit baseball, but he and Fox Sports Net baseball analyst Tracy Ringolsby have never been seen in the same room together, and if you close your eyes Ventura sounds just like Tim McCarver on a good day, so why not give them a try?
I think this is one area where MLB can do one step better by pairing up one of the game’s great play-by-play men with an interesting color commentator. Just imagine: Bob Uecker and Anthony Hopkins! Vin Scully and Dennis Hopper! And for network games — Bob Costas and Madonna!
Cheerleaders. Unh…on second thought, let’s not. I just remembered Anaheim’s “Angel Wings.”
New Commissioner. Bud Selig has been chumming around and coming up with “innovative” ideas like the circa-1998 stylings of MLB team websites when a real commissioner would be marketing, marketing, marketing. Maybe Vince McMahon could be convinced to take the reins for a while. Maybe he could even buy the commissioner’s office, like Selig did.