Friday, October 8, 2010

Bruce Dowbiggin is unusually suspect

There's a line we've always loved in the Gandharvas song "Downtime": "Some just want to smear themselves across something beautiful".

It's the first thing that ran through our head as we read Bruce Dowbiggin's column this morning in the Globe and Mail. Because when something kinda marvelous happens, apparently, the best way to react to it is to slap heaping globs of your grumpy old man goo all over it, lest someone enjoy the moment.

Dowbiggin's kinda pissed us off in recent months because of just how ill-suited he seems to be for the media critic role at the Globe. Stepping into the space that William Houston made a consistent must-read, he's done precious little reportage, while generally falling back on a grumpy old white dude routine, asserting that things were all so much better before when stuff was simpler, and we had two channels and a radio station and papers came out in the morning, and we were all happy to just sit and wait for our news and listen to very few authoritative voices. It was all so much better then.

Sorry, we just got a little weepy for a second. Or those tears might be as a result of our gag reflex.

Okay, let's not delay this any further, you guarana-addled, short-attention-span Twitter-gossip-porn-addicts. Walk with us, won't you, as we examine the turd-tacular brilliance that is Dowbiggin.

Halladay’s gem just what baseball ordered

Not "what the Doctor ordered"? Such restraint from the headline writer. How dignified.

Roy Halladay’s historic no-hitter was just the Doctor that baseball ordered.


Certainly the sport needed the jumper cables of Halladay’s gem...

Gems and jumper cables. We never tire of Dowbiggin's ability to mix metaphors.

after another season of declining youth interest.

Ohh! Declining youth interest! Surely, there must be a number that Bruce will quote forthwith to validate such a statement.

TV ratings are stagnant, baseball’s stars don’t transcend the TMZ culture, and the taint of performance-enhancing drugs has left its image tarnished. Fairly or not, baseball has become yesterday’s game.

Okay, seriously. What the fuck is this "TMZ culture" that you speak of? TMZ, or Perez or Deadspin or whatever are just websites that some people occasionally breeze past. It's not an all-encompassing way of life or a worldview.

And moreover: How many sports stars actually "transcend" into that strata of household names? As much as we love sports in general and baseball in particular, these interests have always been niche pursuits. Everybody and your auntie knows and loves George Clooney. Not everybody knows or cares who Albert Pujols. Much like I could not care less about Kyle Somebody who's a NASCAR superstar.

Oh, and we're still waiting for some numbers to back this shit up.

Halladay’s gem in a Philadelphia uniform is, in many ways, a metaphor for the demise of Canadian baseball, which peaked with Toronto’s World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.

A metaphor!!?? Perhaps a mixed metaphor? Or just a bad metaphor?

And really: Can we give it a rest about how popular baseball was in 1993? Given the change in the sporting landscape in Toronto and across the country, it's hard to conceive of a return to that level of popularity. So why bemoan it? That was an extraordinary moment, but you wouldn't say that hockey's popularity dropped off significantly last year after the Olympics because 10 million watched the gold medal game, but only 1.5 million tuned in every week to the 7 pm Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, right?

In this nation, baseball has been reduced to a rump of one MLB club and a scattering of homegrown stars such as Joey Votto and Justin Morneau. Its postseason is largely relegated to cable TV.

What in the fuck does this even mean? A rump? TV numbers were up and have been up for the Blue Jays and baseball over the past few years. And cable TV is not a place to which sports are relegated...IT'S WHERE SPORTS LIVES. Baseball is no more "relegated" to cable than Monday Night Football has been relegated.

It’s a big comedown for a sport that defined the United States and Canada of the 1970s to ’90s. Baseball was a trendsetter that grabbed a generation of fans, popularizing fantasy sports via rotisserie baseball. Revolutionary thinkers such as Bill James were precursors to the blogosphere of today. The advent of free agency in baseball freed the stars of all sports to pursue bigger markets. And filmmakers like Ken Burns and Ron Shelton mythologized the sport through films like Bull Durham, and TV documentaries like Burns’s Baseball and music.

Okay, so we see what you've done here: You've exhausted every bit of baseball's history and its pop culture presence over the past 40 years into one heaping, steaming paragraph, perhaps so that we'll see that all was good and happy before, just as you pull the rug out from under us. Give it your best shot!

To a generation of baby boomers, baseball was hipper than thou.

This is possibly the stupidest sentence ever to appear in the Globe and Mail. And they once accepted content from Rebecca Eckler.

First, Brucey, you're misusing the term "hipper than thou". It's a pejorative, and that's clearly not how you're using it here. And secondly, stop reducing shit to the motherfucking baby boomers versus other generations. That is the most tired line of thought perpetrated by LAZY, ARROGANT, SELF-ABSORBED boomers who can't conceive of a world that they don't define and own.

Go to a fucking ballgame, and look at the make up of the crowd, because you'll find that those of my g-g-g-g-generation outnumber the older crowd significantly. And there are kids, and snot nosed teenagers, and 20-something texters, and all sorts of folks. Look beyond the press box, and beyond your own shoes.

But as the postseason started in 2010, MLB seems a shopworn commodity. While its website is respected, MLB’s media profile lags behind the NFL, NCAA and NBA in stickiness with the celebrity generation.


Again, this argument is in no way backed up with any numbers. And "media profile" seems to be a clever way for Dowbiggin to hide behind vague terms in order to build his straw man argument.

Televised baseball has produced no media stars since Bob Costas and Pete Gammons.

This all depends on how you define "star", because frankly, we put a whole host of names into that realm. Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, Buster Onley, Ken Rosenthal, Matt Vasgergian, Joe Buck...Whether if you care for what they are selling or not, they are recognized faces of the sport amongst the cognoscenti. Plus, Gammons was never a household name beyond sports fans, and Costas made his name by being ubiquitous, not necessarily just as a baseball guy.

And moreover, the game has evolved significantly over the past 20 years, to where the LOCAL tv guys are the stars within their own market. Baseball is a niche, just as every sport is a niche, and within it are 30 other niches, each with their own star system.

Even Burns is kicking the body, blistering the sport over its steroid scandal in a new documentary.

Blah blah blah steroids blah blah blah.

Baseball’s failure to connect is often attributed to the steroid culture that soiled its reputation. In reality, the malaise can better be traced to other causes. Principally, baseball has lost the African-American community. Only 9 per cent of MLB players now are black. Even more crucially, baseball has been passed over by the NBA, NFL and NCAA in the African-American community, a crucial driver of the larger American youth culture. LeBron James’s move to the NBA’s Miami Heat epitomized that void, dominating headlines in the heart of the MLB season.

Baseball is 9 per cent black, in a nation that 13.5 per cent black. There's undoubtedly a discrepancy there, but is the marginal lack of interest amongst one population group is not exactly what we'd be hanging our argument on. (Though we suspect he's done so because it seems like a bit of an unassailable one...Won't someone think of Jackie Robinson's legacy?!)

But what has always bugged us about that discussion around the number of black players is the fact that the true multicultural evolution of the league isn't accurately captured. The Latin and Asian influence are nowhere to be found here.

As well, baseball’s video games are not as sticky with younger generations as those of other pro leagues, which introduce sports to the video/Internet generation.

Again, with the sticky. But we're not seeing anything to back this up. Is this because his kids prefer Madden?

Here's the real crux of the problem with MLB video games: They pulled them out of EA Sports, and now no longer have a decent single game that covers all platforms in the same manner that EA's Madden or NHL games do. So you have people split between two franchises (The Show and 2K), which doesn't allow for that transcendence that Dowboy seems so fond off.

There’s more in the generation gap. The length of baseball games – often pushing four hours – turns off kids who crave the NBA’s accelerated experience. Late TV starts on the Eastern seaboard mean postmidnight finishes. Soccer has replaced baseball as parents’ preferred sport for their kids in many communities. And the relentless Yankees/Red Sox obsession gets a bit old. Which is the best way to describe MLB’s following. Without new stars to transcend the culture, baseball is seen as your father’s game, a sport of yesterday.

Speaking of long, you've probably checked out on this post by now. If you haven't, or if you've returned after a solid five minutes over at Bangbros, then welcome back. Tissue?

This last paragraph is once again a lot of anecdotes that are not connected, but are forcefully mashed together into one heap. All of it amounts to a bunch of vague, unsubstantiated observations used as a club to hammer away at a point where there is no other solid argument available.

Which, to be frank, is what we'd expect from one of those dirty blogging tweeter TMZ types in their basements.


mike from ottawa said...

"Late TV starts on the Eastern seaboard mean postmidnight finishes."

So, if I'm reading this right, the steroid era in baseball coincided with the advent of time zones. Like Bruce, I too long for the good old days when, if a game started at 7:07 PM in Toronto, goddamn it, it started at 7:07 in Vancouver, and vice versa.

Drew GROF said...

What schlock. "My kids don't watch baseball, therefore NO KIDS WATCH BASEBALL."

Jack said...

Dwbgn just missed the point. Baseball's "decline" is not so much it's own making, but the natural consequence of the evolution of the internet.

You could write the same piece highlighting the decline of popular music. (how come no one's as big as the Beatles anymore?)

The truth is that since the 90's, people's interests have diversified and become spread across regions further from the limelight of big media.

In a way he's right. It used to be that everyone -everyone, not big fans - could name star baseball players. He's just a bit short sighted in diagnosing the issue a problem with baseball ( imagining it's something to do with steroids or such) rather than a reflection on the affect of the internet on mainstream culture.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Again, with the sticky. was, for some reason, my favourite line of this post. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Funny how I found Dowbiggin's article to be like Fox News, all accusations and rhetoric, no substance or proof. Good post.

The 5th Starter said...

AMAZING rebuttal.

I couldn't agree more that the Blue Jays are as popular as ever with "the youth" of today.

I'm 27, my brothers are 25 and 21, and between us and our groups of friends, we attend more paseball games than any other sport.

We're the "missed generation" for the CFL, so none of us have interest in that anachronism. There is no NFL team in the local market, and the "hockey team" has been turning off the youth with their lack of success and overpricing for at least 2 decades.

Baseball IS relevant again. Admittedly, I buy an updated copy of "the show" each year (And until my gamecube died, I still played MVP 05)

Due to the fact that we all live an hour from Toronto, we(Me, My friends, my brothers and their friends) don't attend as many games live as we could otherwise (Parking is a BITCH, and don't get me started on the poor state of transit in this city) But, I can say based on a small sample that we watch 80% plus of the games on TV. MLB is not irrelevant, especially not in this market.

Also: Re 9% of African-Americans in baseball vs 13.5 % population: I wonder how the prominence of Latin and Asian players skew the data. I think it would be a relevant skew.

JimBobEarl said...

I agree with almost all of your post Tao, but I do have to agree with Dowbiggin's comment about kids' soccer vs. baseball.

I live in a small Ontario town that has no baseball teams and a thriving soccer association, whereas 20 years ago (when I was 10) it was the exact opposite.

Except then, my baseball team was full of flower pickers and kids who could give two shits about baseball, but their parents wanted to get them some exercise during the summer months.

Unfortunately, if you don't care about baseball, or simply suck, it's nearly impossible to burn off energy, so over the years people have moved their kids to soccer where, even if they don't care or suck, they still get to run around for a while.

And they get Freezies at half-time.

I have a three-year-old daughter and I tear up/vomit in my mouth at the thought of enrolling her in soccer next summer, while my slo-pitch league is the only cleats that see my town's diamond. My kid has a wicked arm (yes, and she's a girl!) and she's going to be chasing a fucking soccer ball.


QJays said...

The gem about Votto and Morneau is another beaut - I pine for the good ol' days when there were more Canadians (and with bigger profiles) in MLB. That time was ... ?

(actually, it was 1884 if you're keeping score - not the 1970s, '80s and '90s)

In fact, what he's inaccurately getting at is that baseball as a sport is very much alive and well in Canada, and the programs around the country are churning out more talent than they used to (though perhaps not in JimBobEarl's town). And that's while competing with expansion in Latin America and Asia.

I hate to sit here and say - hey, since I love baseball and since you're railing against it, I'm going to rail against you. But this isn't some emotional argument. This is about simple facts. Geezus - how can someone pile so much ignorance and baseless assertions into one article and still sleep at night?

Shortwaveboy said...

Now there's the Tao I know and love.

mike from ottawa said...

Will Leitch's book, "Are We Winning," has some pretty interesting information that he's researched on exactly how many sets of eyes are watching baseball these days, either on TV or the web. And it's way, way more than ever in the history of the world. Like, exponentially more, thanks largely to the success of MLB Advanced Media, which is also contributing to the fact that baseball is on the verge of surpassing the NFL in yearly total revenue (because they rent out the servers to other companies since they have so much capacity).

These might be the sort of facts you'd expect a media critic to perhaps try to learn.

SP said...

I do agree with one of his points. MLB is way, way behind in its "media profile" (I assume he means multimedia). Every other sport has it's history cataloged by fan on Youtube. You won't find any baseball highlight reels, games clips, great moments, or the like on Youtube or anywhere else. They want full control of their content because...I don't know. It's free advertising god damn it. Earlier this year, the NBA said it streamed one BILLION videos on This despite a huge number of fan uploaded video all over the web. They're doing just fine, why can't MLB?

Mattt said...

But steroids did destroy baseball. Just like it destroyed the NFL. I hear they're going to fold soon...

mike from ottawa said...

The point Leitch made in the book is that if you're watching video online of the NBA (or another sport), MLB is likely making money off it anyway since they rent out so much of their server space to others, even in other sports leagues.

Terry Puhl said...

Gotta love the market repositioning over at the Globe and Sun...err, Mail

Steve G. said...

Although the rest of his column is complete and utter shit, I do agree with his take on MLB video games a bit. Even when they were good, when you had games like Bases Loaded, you still had the issue that a season is 162 games, and unlike Tecmo Super Bowl, it's not like you're going to play artificially shortened games.

This is part of the reason why Madden is the king of sports video games - Just 16 games a season. I also think this is why the college games are often as popular as their pro counterparts, despite having no names in them.

Randy said...

Channeling the spirit of FJM.

Very nice post.

Tim in London said...

In Dowbiggin's defence he's right about baseball popularity (if you go by tv ratings). The Game 1 ratings were horrendous, even for Doc's no-no and the Yankees.

Anonymous said...

LOL - initially i thought Downsinndrim's article was a cumbersome read, now i know why!

thanks for this!

Nitzguy said...

Great post on its own, AMAZING post by including a Gandharvas reference.

Anonymous said...

Why does MLB even let the Twins compete in the post season anymore? From now on, if MN wins the AL Central or the WC, they should automatically forfeit their playoff spot to whoever finished 2nd or 3rd in the AL East.

Oh wait, it's probably part of that league wide Yankee bias. MLB wants the Yankees to have the easiest path to the World Series, so they give them the Twins in the first round, right?