On Archives, DVRs and MLB.tv

I recently reflected on twitter upon not wishing I had a DVR. One response exclaimed, “Oh dear, how do you function without one?!” My response was “hulu, torrentz, DVDs, etc.” In fact it is not so difficult to retrieve network television without a DVR and without watching while it’s first being broadcast.

The reason I wished I had a DVR was in fact so that I could record an episode of Bob Costas’s show on the MLBnetwork. The upcoming episode features an interview with Hank Aaron and though my current research (and potential dissertation research) lies elsewhere, I have an ongoing thought in the back of my mind that there is a book to be written about Major League Baseball’s cultural memory/historiography. Of particular interest to me is the representation of race in that history and my particular interest in Hank Aaron is the ways in which he complicates the Jackie Robinson narrative of baseball history. Wanting to record that episode, I also find myself wanting to record certain games, specifically the Civil Rights game which I did record most of on VHS last year and some of the retro nights, including tonight’s Phillies-Astros game which turns the clock back to 1965 when the Astrodome opened.

However, I then was quickly reminded that the “etc.” in my response on functioning without a DVR was in fact mlb.tv/mlb internet radio. The significance of this is that mlb.tv not only offers you real time streaming of out of market games, it offers an archive of games not only from this season but stretching back almost a decade. Though my subscription to mlb.tv is currently only for the month, with a relatively small investment of time/money I can at any point now or in the future access thousands of games… without the need for a DVR or a massive collection of VHS tapes.

On the one hand this is a practical stroke of genius for the researcher studying the game. On the other it is yet another fascinating example of Major League Baseball’s sense of history and in particular it’s relationship to and construction of the archive. As my research looks at how we remember and experience the past, I have developed an increasing interest in “the archive” and in how it’s changing, how access to it is changing, etc. No longer is the archive only contained in a sleepy upstate town like Cooperstown, it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere at any time (with a relatively small financial commitment). Currently these games don’t go back nearly as far as televised baseball generally, but that is just further evidence of the changing nature of the archive. MLB.tv is archiving recent games and constructing them as history. It is a fascinating scholarly resource and for my purposes particularly so because it is not exclusively a scholarly resource.

And to return to my initial positioning of this post, it’s also a fascinating commentary on televisual access in the contemporary media landscape. Yes DVRs (and VCRs before them) have changed the television landscape with time-shifting, the ability to fast forward through ads, etc. Yet they have also changed the television landscape by enhancing access to those advantages all around. And we can certainly add YouTube into this shifting landscape of archival resources. My professors offices are littered with piles of VHS tapes. I have the (admittedly problematic and changing) sense that I don’t need the material object because television history is online. I still want a DVR and plan to get one when I sign up for my next cable package after moving this summer, but I also have the nagging sense that perhaps I don’t need one. I can’t get Phillies games in Texas or Chicago without MLB.tv/MLB radio and with MLB.tv I don’t need to record anything because it’ll seemingly always be there.

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