THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
To be fair, it must be difficult for the cable television networks that are owned and run by professional sports leagues to find programming all year long. If a sport has an off-season (which most do), then finding things to repeat or broadcast can be quite difficult. What's even worse is when the sport has contracts with other stations for national broadcasts, leaving the network in the dark to televise games in season!
For example, look at the NFL Network. The football season begins in September and ends early February, leaving fans with the longest off-season in all of the major sports. Sure, there can be things to do during the off-season, such as watch the combines, the draft, and preseason games, but the average fan doesn't think much about those things. Further, all NFL games are contracted by networks such as FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN; the fact that the NFL Network secured the rights to Thursday Night Football on the condition that it also broadcast with one of the other networks proves just how difficult it is for these networks to even show its own product! Therefore, the amount of "filler" the network has to find throughout the course of a calendar year is monumental. Seriously, how much time can you dedicate to breaking down the potential for a left tackle to sign with a team?
Baseball has it a little easier. The sport is played daily. As soon as Spring Training begins, the MLB Network has the right to broadcast any game it wants outside of blackout restrictions simply by tapping into the local feed of a game. Only national telecasts are off limits.
And while the network is constantly airing games during Spring Training, the beginning of the regular season is met with a regular lineup of shows that have plenty of material for discussion as the games constantly change from day to day.
So what happens during the baseball off-season?
Well, because the off-season is so short compared to a sport like football, baseball has the ability to rework its in-season programming a little and continue to air new shows throughout the winter months. However, that doesn't make up for the fact that shows that feature highlights of the day's games aren't applicable, nor is the option of tapping into a local broadcast of a game to fill time. So, the network has to find certain ways to fill time slots.
Some of the slots are filled with baseball movies...or even movies that have only the slightest bit of reference to baseball. "The Naked Gun" only has one major baseball scene in it, but the movie is so funny that nobody is really complaining when it airs on the MLB Network! Other slots are filled with the repeats of the day's live shows, which is fair.
However, the network also uses a method of showing compilation shows that feature "countdowns." For example, some shows feature the top 10 starting pitchers in the game "right now." It's a debate by the network's experts as to which players are worth their weight in gold. And if we've learned anything from watching baseball over the course of more than a century, it's that the aspect of the debate is a key to enjoying the everlasting legacy of the sport.
But there's one "countdown" show that caught my attention and needs to be addressed: the top 10 ejections of the 2016 season. The network is using the entertainment aspect of players and coaches being disqualified from participation due to poor behavior as a way to fill time and try to draw in viewers when no games are being played.
To this, I must ask one question: why?
If you're an umpire, or if you follow certain forums such as the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League or Close Call Sports, where they analyze the rules of the game and the mechanics of officiating, then examining ejections makes sense. When participants act in such a way that deems discipline, an ejection is warranted, much like a parent disciplines a child for poor behavior. We, as officials, use these situations to determine what behavior warrants such a punishment so as to keep the game in control. As officials, we want to be impartially fair and understand the feelings of participants without letting them express them in inappropriate ways; we want to diffuse situations and use preventative officiating to avoid potential conflicts in the future. Using these types of case plays is beneficial to our education as such.
But is it beneficial to the average viewer, especially for mere entertainment? No.
To celebrate ejections in baseball is like celebrating the times you were arrested or broke the law. Labeling those incidents as proud moments is the complete antithesis of what should be done by a reasonable human being. What's worse is that coaches in baseball (specifically managers) use ejections as a way to attempt to motivate a team; the coach purposely gets ejected in the hope that it unifies the players to play more as a team in an "us against the umpire" role to fight on to victory. News flash: it never works.
Now, if you're airing these ejections as a way to educate the public so as to avoid this type of behavior in the future, then kudos to you! But I doubt that's what's happening; it certainly isn't in any of the advertising campaigns for the program! The hope is that the network wants viewers to tune in when games are not going on, and using a baseball "schadenfreude" is the perfect way to play on the weak psyche of many.
C'mon MLB Network...you're better than that, and you know it.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.