The Princess and the Frog, with the role of the princess played tonight by Cliff Lee

Star studies is generally about examining how star personae resonate with the world around them, with their social and cultural contexts. Marilyn Monroe negotiated sex in the 1950s; Judy Garland allows gay men a queer space in pop culture; action stars in the 80s recouped white masculinity after Vietnam, etc. etc. We tend to think of stars in a national sense; we tend to think of Hollywood stars as emblems of the nation and the national mood, negotiating social and political issues for the nation. I wonder though, if sports stars, or at least baseball stars, are better thought of regionally.

We can easily suggest that the a large part of Cliff Lee’s significance lies in how nice it is, especially in a recession, to see a ballplayer not be be less greedy than he could be. It’s not unreasonable to argue that after Lebron James and Tiger Woods, we all need to see modesty and a father and husband who cares about and considers the desires of his wife and kids. We can easily position Cliff Lee’s importance through a throwback narrative of the country boy who gets a chance in the bigs but always maintains that “aw shucks” personality, never forgets the Arkansas town he came from. It’s part of the mythology of baseball writ large, baseball as national pastime– something we are still trying to recover after the steroid era, and something the Yankees clearly can’t provide. This is an easy reading of Cliff Lee.

Yet, I do not think Cliff Lee acts out issues that matter to us. Rather, he acts out issues that matter to Philadelphia. That stuff up there? That matters to Major League Baseball. That’s what matters to the New York Yankees, to Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettite. This is actually an argument I made in 2009 about that World Series as a pivotal moment where the Steroid Era, corporate brand of “America’s Team” began to give way to the post-Steroid era whose poster boys are slightly awkward, skinny white boys like Chase Utley and Cliff Lee. However, what I realized this week is that as true as all of that narrative is, as important as that narrative is to so many people, it is not why Cliff Lee matters.

She said

“I would have never dreamed when we got traded here from the Indians that we would say, ‘Ooh, Philadelphia, I can’t wait to get there.’ But it’s a city like I’ve never been in before. We haven’t had that exact feeling anywhere else.”

Who has every admitted that before? Among our most famous cultural exports right now is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which, as much as I adore it, is not always a flattering profile of the city of brotherly love.

He said:

I don’t know what the fans do to create that much more volume and excitement in the stadium, but it’s definitely something extra here.

Who says that? Who ever talks about Philly fans without immediately mentioning batteries or santa and snowballs? (Jerry Crasnick did… but almost as absolution.)

Crasnick writes:

[Agent Darek] Braunecker invited pitcher Cliff Lee and his wife, Kristen, to his office in Little Rock, Ark., with a specific set of instructions: Take a piece of paper, and list the five teams you want to play for the most. Rank them in order from 1 to 5. No. 1 on the Lees’ wish list: a return engagement with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Who ranks Philadelphia number one? Who ranks Philadelphia number one over New York? This is the perpetual Philadelphia inferiority complex. New York has taken industry from the shores of the Delaware, world series titles from Shibe Park, Billy Wagner from the bullpen (well ok maybe that worked out OK). Their bars are open two hours later. Their restaurants are open all night. We should be honored to have Northern Liberties called the Sixth Borough. Who hasn’t heard the list over and over again of all the things that make New York great and thus clearly must make Philly an awful place no one would want to be?

So, who ranks Philadelphia number one? Who has told us that we are good and we are worthy and maybe we can be just a little bit less angry for a day or two? You already know the answer.

Cliffton Phifer and Kristen Lee (and Jaxon and Maci) are like the princess that kissed the ugly little frog and made us a prince. And the part of the Frog will be played tonight by the city of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Phillies organization and most of all the people of Philadelphia.

“Selling Strasburg” at In Media Res

I have a piece up today at In Media Res, a site which “is dedicated to experimenting with collaborative, multi-modal forms of online scholarship.” These are very short (400 word) pieces which “curate” a clip or set of images. This week’s theme is sports and media and my piece is titled “Selling Strasburg: Baseball, Broadcast Flow and the Commodity Audience.”

The clip is a montage put together by Major League Baseball after Strasburg’s debut– a rapid fire series of each of his 14 strikeouts. The original can be found here. However, MLB’s format is not convenient for easy embedding. Luckily (or so I thought) there was a version available on YouTube so last week I set up my clip and my curator’s note from there. As it turns out between then and now, MLB took down that YouTube clip for copyright enfringement. There is another, shorter, version which is up temporarily and hopefully one of the IMR tech gurus can figure out how to embed the MLB clip. I Mention this because it actually fits quite nicely with some of the themes I’m working with in my post, themes about how MLB constructs its audience and thus how MLB constructs itself and its own image. Though I know very little about copyright law or media studies approaches to copyright issues, MLB’s approach (which recently also included a cease and desist order for two t-shirts at thefightins.com) seems rather strict. This all seems to be further evidence that MLB is very interested in policing their image (and their intellectual property) and is resentful of interactive fan efforts to shape the image of the league, its teams and its players. And I would add, not only does MLB police its property on YouTube, it also makes its property very difficult to share by not being embed-able.

In other, related MLB/Strasburg news, Deadspin posted this yesterday– a new “Beyond Baseball” ad featuring Strasburg and comparing him to historic flamethrowers (Strasburg however is “Beyond Heat”). I’ve written about the Ryan Howard ad here (and elsewhere). There’s undoubtedly something to be said about this one as well. Though I’m not entirely certain what that something is, I think it is linked to the ideas I explore in my In Media Res post and also linked to the historic whiteness of great pitchers. This is a subject I won’t explore now, but which has been on mind this season. Though it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, the place to start in this thinking is Nick Trujillo’s article “Hegemonic Masculinity on the Mound: Media Representations of Nolan Ryan and American Sports Culture.”

And while I’m aggregating Strasburg links… I would be remiss if I did not mention the strasboner.

Props to the Cultural Politics of the Football Blogosphere

There are a few themes that have been repeated over and over again in both casual and more formal discourse surrounding the World Cup. 1. Everyone who doesn’t like soccer feels the need to announce that they think the game is boring. 2. Constant reminders that “Americans don’t like soccer” and other variations on how unpopular soccer is in the United States. 3. There have been various posts about the conservative/right-wing backlash to World Cup and soccer/football in general. The first two I am tired of. But the third, I am still intirigued by. Among those posts:

Deadspin discussed “Soccer: The Liberal Plot to Destroy America”
A blog post from the New York Times talked about it.
And one of the best I’ve seen comes from Dave Zirin at his Edge of Sports blog.

But the reason I’m interested in this discourse is actually more closely linked to my interest in the sports blogosphere generally and that which is covering the World Cup specifically.

As anyone who knows me (or who has read anything else I’ve written here or elsewhere) knows, I’m firmly on the left side of the political spectrum, invested not only in anti-racism, feminism, anti-homophobia, etc. but also invested in how those things are reflected in and embodied in culture– in the media especially, and in this space, in sports though mostly baseball. Though I haven’t written about it yet, I sometimes feel alienated and even actively uncomfortable with the sexism and homophobia in sports, baseball and the Phillies blogosphere. One of the reasons I write this blog (however infrequently) is as my own small intervention into that politically unconscious world in which I participate yet of which I am critical. When the World Cup started I fished around among twitter friends/academic colleagues for good blogs to follow that took a critical/cultural perspective on the game. I got a couple of good recommendations including the truly fabulous From a Left Wing and others like Pitch Invasion and Run of Play. But what I realized a day or two later is how remarkable it is that those blogs even exist, because in baseball the notion that the game is anything more than a game, the notion that it effects and is effected by broader socio-cultural systems and ideologies, that it matters in fundamental ways, that notion isn’t heard very often (unless it is in context of Jackie Robinson). So while I want to agree with and applaud posts like those above, even more so I want applaud (at least part of) the football blogosphere for its ongoing concern with the relationship between sport/culture and politics. And I suppose also, to thank it for offering an alternative to mainstream sports coverage. yay.

addendum 6/19 New Strategy: stop reading baseball/phillies blogosphere, read soccer instead and apply to baseball. This morning I was reading the last few days of blogposts and Run of Play had two excellent posts that applied brilliantly to some of my current baseball concerns.

First, “Not Watching the World Cup” by Ryan O’Hanlon captures quite nicely how I felt about missing Roy Halladay’s perfect game (in the process of moving, I’d returned my cable equipment that morning), particularly this line: “Live experiences suggest community.” This is also interesting because it points to one of the challenges of (studying) televised sport: it is both live in the sense that it is being broadcast as it is happening, and also live in the sense that it is really happening somewhere and would be happening whether or not it was being broadcast. Both of these aspects I think contribute to the ways in which sports suggest community.

Second, “As Yet Within That House” by Brian Phillips begins with a meditation on opinion formation in the era of saturated media coverage, which applies nicely to the current excess of coverage on Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the people who very quickly grew very tired of hearing about the young phenom before he had even pitched a major league inning.

While I am addending my props to the football blogosphere, I will also add a shoutout to Amanda Vandervort’s blog “Soccer Science” and her recent post: “Traditional vs. new media: will women’s sports ever get equal coverage?” I’m particulalry interested in this post because it is in part a response to the recent report from Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky, “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows 1989 to 2009.” This is an academic, sociological project that has (more) successfully made the rounds of more popular outlets. Vandervoort’s piece usefully takes that study (whose news is not good) and points out how new media are changing sports coverage, essentially moving sports media which has historically been a can’t miss mass media draw in the direction of a niche, more targeted appeal.

“History, however, is Nostalgia’s Worst Enemy.”

I, like so many of us, first started watching baseball and playing baseball with my dad, when I was probably five or six. My mom is totally hardcore, growing up she fixed way more stuff around the house than my dad ever did, but she throws like a girl– and not in a good way, not like how Chicks Dig the Long Ball is a blog that throws like a girl– so baseball was mostly me and my dad (my sister rooted for the Braves in the 90s just to spite me). But alot of shit has happened in the last twenty years, and truth be told and for many many reasons, I have no desire to go back to that age or that time.

I love baseball history. My team, because it was my dad’s, is the New York Giants. Not the football team, which I get alot. And no, the tattoo on my shoulder under which reads “1883-1957” is not a Mets tattoo (the other shoulder has a Phillies P… that desperately needs to be touched up). I love baseball history. I love the New York Giants and I love 1950s and 1960s baseball especially, but I have no desire to go back to that time, not even to see Joe Dimaggio or Hank Aaron (well, maybe Hank Aaron) as the “Beyond Baseball” ads would have it.

Yet despite this love/hate relationship I seem to have with the past, my academic work (and my Master’s thesis which I recently completed) has been largely concerned with representations and uses of the recent past. Plus I am a baseball fan. Hence, one of the issues I struggle with most is nostalgia.

More and more, I am resentful of nostalgic appeals. In part, this stems from my academic analyses of historical representation in which I encourage a more critical embodiment of cultural memory than the static past nostalgia so often evokes. It also stems from the constant privileging of childhood and “innocence” in baseball discourse which often serves an easy way of saying the game is not political. Further, I am also resentful because that discourse tends to discount my own experience with the game, and as a woman (and a woman concerned with all of things I am concerned with) I already feel discounted.

What I want to consider here, in this context, is not surprisingly the Phillies. Are the Phillies resistant to nostalgia? Why do I want to say that they are? Perhaps it’s just because I love the Phillies and I resent nostalgia. But I think it goes beyond that.

Off and on for the last few months I’ve been reading Howard Bryant’s Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. (Truth be told every few weeks I pick it up and have to start at the beginning because I don’t remember what I read and so I’m only on about page thirty…) This afternoon I picked it up and opened to chapter three which begins: “Virtually everything about Boston baseball is conditional. What would have happened if… The fight is with history…” (23) I thought to myself, is Red Sox baseball really a fight with history? Or is it a fight against history and for nostalgia, or at least for a nostalgic version of history?

This reminded me of a quote that I love from Suzanne Smith’s book Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. She suggests that “History, however, is nostalgia’s worst enemy” (260). I wonder if a city like Boston and a fan base like “Red Sox Nation” is afraid of history, instead favoring a nostalgic past. It is not necessarily nostalgia for an ideal past, but it is nonetheless a longing for a sense of self that may or not have ever actually existed, a longing for a past that these individuals may or may not have known, a longing for a Ted Williams, a Carl Yazstremski, a Carlton Fisk they may or may not have known, who may or may not have existed except in a Red Sox Nation cultural imaginary. If theirs is a fight with history, perhaps it is because history is nostalgia’s worst enemy. This is not just a criticism of the Red Sox but of baseball more generally as a game whose identity is so tied up in nostalgia that its history becomes far too selective. Though I may never finish his book since I have to return it to the library in the next few days, and though I think there are some gaps in his approach (some of which are occupied by a strange kind of nostalgia), I do nonetheless praise Bryant for challenging that historical selectivity and opening up dialogues about race and Boston baseball that have long been sublimated.

Where, then, do the Phillies fit into this? How does the current team fit into this? How does the current team fit into its past? As we all know, there is very little to be nostalgic about in Phillies franchise history. I don’t think I have once heard anyone hearken back to the days of the 1915 pennant winners, and in reality aside from Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts there wasn’t all that much to celebrate or remember about the 1950 team either. Indeed when Roberts passed away recently, I think we might note that the discourse was less about him than about his impact on and reflection in players like Jayson Werth and Roy Halladay. The Phillies are older the Red Sox and yet in some ways we have less of a history.

But then there is Steve Jeltz. But then there is the Vet and the state of mind that is the 700 level. Perhaps, afterall, we are not so resistant to nostalgia, though as fits a city like Philadelphia ours is a necessarily ironic nostalgia which highlights bad style and nosebleed seats as much as a pennant or an all-star third baseman. Either way, I can comfortably say that ours is not a fight with history. What is it then? Perhaps it is a fight with geography. Not for a place in time as it is for the Red Sox, but for a place in space.

My dad recently asked me about the recent fan incidents, including a New York Times quote that said: “All cities have dumb fans. Philadelphia seems to have more than its share.” In the midst fo a lengthy email rant, I made three points– 1. It’s not that Philadelphia has more dumb fans, it’s that Philadelphia’s dumb fans have gotten more press. 2. One of the reasons they’ve gotten more press recently is because the Phillies are very good. and 3. Philadelphia as a city does not have a place in the national cultural imaginary. The cultural construction of Philadelphia, the city’s cultural geography is based on Rocky, Cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell. (I think DC probably gets credit for the Declaration of Independence even if it was signed at Independence Hall.)

This, I think, is a very powerful thing. History itself, what happened in the past, does not and can not change. We can change how we think about that past, how we interpret it, how we remember it, but there is something real that happened and that can not be changed. Places, however, places can change. Places, I think, highlight the embodied present rather than the wistful past.

Or maybe I’m just hoping that when I make it back to Philadelphia in two weeks, it’ll still be willing to have me.

White Privilege, Baseball Coverage and Brandon Phillips

Yesterday, two remarkable articles were posted by Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk and Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk. Iracane responded to a Calcaterra article from the previous night asking by asking “Why is it Always Minority Players Suffering From Lack of Hustle?” The post was a response to Calcaterra’s piece on Brandon Phillips who misjudged a ball, thinking it was a home run and instead of busting it for a triple, ended up with a double that may have lost the game for the Reds. Though it called out Calcaterra, Iracane’s piece did not isolate him or any racial bias, instead pointing that it is a broader problem in the baseball world of using “lack of hustle” to describe black and Latino players. Iracane writes:

Still, there is no reason to call out any single writer for leaning too hard on this simple, cliched phraseology. Nor is there any evidence that points to any single writer being a closet racist. Still, the evidence is vast: whenever the phrase “lack of hustle” is used, chances are the player is black or Latino. This is disturbing!

What was further remarkable was Calcaterra’s response later that day which acknowledges the problematic assumptions at work in his use of the phrase:

But as Rob notes, the terminology of “hustling” is problematic and loaded. Indeed, Rob points out that an analysis of news articles which reveals that “lack of hustle” is a term used almost exclusively to describe black and Latino players, never whites… This is not to say that the concept of “hustling” is now some third-rail, politically incorrect thing… But I think that it’s probably worth thinking about how we use the term…. After reading Rob’s post and thinking about it all, I’m mad at myself for using the phrase “lack of hustle.” Not because it was necessarily inaccurate in that particular instance, but because it’s prone to being misused and I don’t really feel like participating, however unwittingly, in the perpetuation of that kind of baloney.

In the comments section of the article, this dialogue continues.* Various commenters decried the presence of the “PC Police,” and bemoaned the need to be so careful about everything we say lest it be misinterpreted. Calcaterra responded to many of these concerns and did so quite intelligently and diplomatically, reiterating what he said in the article that: “Going forward, I’m going to think about it more.” And that “I care deeply about saying exactly what I mean and having my words misconstrued,” and that he doesn’t want his words to be reconstructed in racist terms, regardless of his intentions.

First, I applaud Calcaterra and especially Iracane for bringing up this issue and taking it seriously. It is so important to talk about baseball’s racialized discourses. Integrating in 1947 with Jackie Robinson is absolutely not the end of the conversation and neither is Al Campanis. I’ve written about this both on this blog and over at FlowTV (“Not Beyond Jackie Robinson”). I also wrote last fall about narratives of racial progress in Ken Burns’s Baseball (baseball.pdf).

Secondly, I want to elaborate on why it matters what kind of language we use to describe baseball players. Ball players are stars and as Richard Dyer has demonstrated: “Stars are also embodiments of the social categories in which people are placed and through which they have to make sense of their lives, and indeed through which we make sense of our lives” (Heavenly Bodies, 16). They are not simply reflections of the social world but shape and are shaped by that social world as they construct themselves and are constructed by others. To quote Dyer again: “Stars matter because they act out aspects of life that matter to us,” (16) or they are made to act out aspects of life that matter us. Whether or not Brandon Phillips is truly a star is certainly up for debate but he is nonetheless a public figure and as such can be made to act out aspects of life that matter– which is exactly what I think Iracane does. While usually these stars are made to reflect dominant ideologies, Iracane challenges us to make them examples of what’s wrong with those naturalized, dominant ideologies.

Furthermore, another way to understand these constructions is to look at which minority groups are left out. Not only are whites not often described as lacking hustle, but Asians also are not often described in such terms. Why? One answer would be that that characterization does not resonate with the broader understanding of Asian-ness. Asians are “hard workers” and “model minorities”. I raise this issue because I think sheds further light on how these processes work.

The third point I want to make about these articles is how they illustrate white privilege and illustrate what we can do– as white people– to challenge it.
As many of you know, I’m a graduate student in media studies and this semester I’ve been TA-ing for a class on “Race, Ethnicity and Media.” Additionally, I’ll be starting my PhD in the fall and as such, I’ve started to take more seriously the challenges I will eventually be facing in my own classroom. I’m becoming more attentive to archiving clips and articles that illustrate certain points and thinking about what kind of exercises I might conduct with my students in discussion section-type environments. I think this article (and its attendant comments)** provides an interesting example, particularly in concert with a really great article my professor assigns on white privilege.

In the article “My Class Didn’t Trump my Race: Using Oppression to Face Privilege” (Multicultural Perspectives. 8.1 (2006) 52-56.) Robin J. DiAngelo describes a series of “patterns of internalized dominance” which contribute to white privilege and potentially unconscious forms of racism. I think alot of these patterns play out in these scenarios and so while trying not to be too didactic, I want to share them because since reading the article this semester I’ve tried to keep them in mind as much possible and they certainly jumped out at me reading through these dialogues on baseball coverage and race.

  • We Live Segregated Lives.
  • We Are Taught in Our Culture to see Our Experience as Objective and Representative of Reality.
  • We Are Raised to Value the Individual and to see Ourselves as Individuals, Rather than as Part of a Socialized Group.
  • In Our Dominant Positions We Are Almost Always Racially Comfortable and Expect to Remain So.
  • We Feel That We should be Judged By Our intentions Rather Than the Effects of Our Behavior.
  • We Believe That if We Can’t Feel Our Social Power, Then We Don’t Have Any.
  • We Think It Is Important Not to Notice Race.
  • We Confuse Not Understanding With Not Agreeing.
  • We Will Be the Judge of Whether or not Racism Has Occured.
  • Racism Has Been Constructed as Belonging to Extremists and Being Very Bad.

DiAngelo concludes the article with a word on “interrupting internalized dominace.” She says:

I have found that a key to interrupting my internalized racial dominance is to defer to the knowledge of people whom I have been taught, in countless ways, are less knowledgeable and less valuable than I am. I must reach for humility and be willing to not know… I do ot have to understand racism for it to be real, and my expectation that I could is part of my internalized dominance. (57)

*Note: On the one hand, we should all know not to read comments sections because they’re usually awful. On the other hand, this is exactly why its important to read them. Especially as media scholars and cultural critics, comments do, to some degree, further contextualize issues like this and they at least point to reception issues (methodologically this is of course only a starting point, but it is potentially an important one).

** Note 2: There is something of an ethical dilemma, here however. In using the comments, I run the risk of point to individuals and saying: “you’re racist” which though perhaps not untrue, may be somewhat unfair. I want to use comments as examples of racist thinking and white privilege, but of course real individual people are at stake.

Broadcasting, Ryan Howard and You

One of the biggest reasons the Yankees and the Mets are able to spend so much on their payroll is the fact that they play in the largest and richest media market in the country and control their TV contracts in that market through owning their own TV networks. (Though I don’t know the details about the Red Sox, there is a long standing incestuous relationship between that club and the media outlets– print and TV for sure, probably radio too– in Boston.)

I raise this specter now because as all Phillies fans well know by now, Ryan Howard just signed a monster contract for 5 years, $125 million guaranteed starting in 2012. The question that follows quickly on the heels of that news (other than “is he worth that much/how is he going to age” and “what’s he going to do with all that money”– a question addressed nicely over at Zoo With Roy) is what happens to Jayson Werth whose contract is up after this year, who will be demanding serious money and who no one wants to lose. Where is the money to pay for his contract going to come from? Or does he just walk away with that awesome beard of his?

So, where does the money come from? It comes from ticket sales, ad sales and TV contracts. Ryan Howard helps bring those in.

The first time I saw this alluded to it was perhaps somewhat facetiously by @meechone from The Fightins, saying “By the time Howard’s deal is almost up, the Phillies will be bathing in money from their new all-Phillies, all the time TV Network.” Which made me tweet: “so my question: will signing RyHo help the phillies get a TV network, help sellout the ballpark, not will it help them win another WFC.”

I next saw this theme alluded to by my new favorite beat writer/Northwestern alum/Friday Night Lights fan Ryan Lawrence referring to Howard as: “a guy who sells tickets like no one else on the team.”

However I have seen it perhaps most eloquently elaborated on by David Murphy at the Daily News:
From High Cheese

And even if he does slow down, even if his power does diminish, even if his body starts to show the effects of all the games his durability has allowed him to play, maybe the ancillary benefits of keeping a home-grown superstar in the fold will supplement the difference between the worth of his on-field production and $125 million.

Who knows how many tickets Howard alone might sell during a down year? Who knows how much the Phillies’ decision to reward him is worth in the eyes of other players? Who knows how much hidden worth lies in having the three most marketable professional athletes in the city of Philadelaphia (with apologies to Mike Richards, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Kolb)? How much that might mean when the next round of sponsorship deals get signed?

Runs Batted In might be overvalued by members of the general public, but members of the general public are the ones who buy tickets, and merchandise, and billboards, and television contracts, and sponsorships.

UZR and WAR might tell you more about winning ballgames, but they don’t sell.

That said, maybe winning ballgames is what ultimately sells. And maybe if the Phillies find themselves with $25 million fewer dollars to spend for two or three seasons, their ability to win ballgames will be drastically affected.

I agree with all of this, but the truth of the matter is that the success of and wealth of the Yankees is dependent on TV contracts more than on any factor. So I wonder, how long until the Phillies launch their own network? How long until they can launch their own network? Or at least can renegotiate their TV contract?

MLB and Fox have a contract through 2013, which is also when TBS’s current contract is up. ESPN’s contract is up after next year. But don’t forget, MLBnetwork launched just last year and did so in 50 million households to begin with– bigger than any other cable network launch in history. This also doesn’t take into account MLB Advanced Media, a remarkably progressive new media division– a profit sharing media division. The point is we could be seeing alot of changes in broadcast rights in the next few years and all of these national/MLB trends will also affect and be affected by what the Phillies do. According to an unverified, uncited wikipedia article, the Phillies own a minority share of CSNPhilly, the network that broadcasts the vast majority of their games and hence the site from which a large portion of the Phillies revenue comes.

Part of the impetus for this post, however, is (as is generally true of this blog) not just to put my two cents in on the game generally and the Howard deal specifically but to earmark questions that I want to return to– possibly this summer while I’m in Philly (I of course I have this illusion that I’ll have all this free time when in fact I’ve already devoted a good chunk of my free time to revising my yet to be completed thesis into articles for publication).

So here’s a few questions:

  • What is the (recent) history of baseball broadcasting in Philadelphia?
  • What does the Phillies current broadcast contract look like? Radio? TV? New Media?
  • How are regional/local/organizational contracts linked to national contracts? How is the Philly club linked to MLB?
  • How exactly do the Yankees and the Red Sox have so much money to spend? What kind of money/revenue do the Mets have? What about the other two largest markets in the country– Los Angeles and (my soon to be home) Chicago?
  • There has been much talk about what players Howard compares to as a way to predict what he will do in the next 7 years of his tenure in Philadelphia (there has been similar chatter about Halladay here and there)– can we find comparable scenarios in terms of signing franchise players to big contracts and seeing what the clubs did, not just the players?
  • (How) Can we evaluate Ryan Howard’s stardom? How can we evaluate sports stardom beyond statistics? How can we incorporate a sport-specific model of stardom into the existing models provided by film (and other media)?

I realize probably no one is interested in these questions but me, but they have alot to do with how our club will do over the next 5+ years and what we will be able to do with this fabulously awesome core of Utley/Halladay/Howard (and for the record I think this deal says more about not getting Rollins back after next year than about Werth— but with Juan Castro playing like this maybe that’s ok).

Revisiting “Not Beyond Jackie Robinson”

Today April 15, 2010 is the 63rd anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson “broke the color barrier” and became the first black player to play in the Major Leagues in the twentieth century. It is also the 6th annual “Jackie Robinson Day” in MLB. Among the tributes that have cropped up on my Twitter feed today are from the National Museum of American History linking to their page on Robinson , the Phillies posting a picture of Shane Victorino with a Robinson game-used bat and my own post of the column I wrote for Flow last summer. That column was essentially my first (and very general) foray into the territory which I have come to conceive of as a (veryveryveryvery far off fantasy of a) book length project exploring the cultural memory and historiography of the game.

The specific element I want to add to that discussion after re-reading the column today is the question of race in the press box. Hank Aaron (among others) talks about getting blacks (and people of color generally) involved in the game at every level from the field to the dugout to management to finance to medicine. Though there are periodic discussions of women in the sports press, I have heard far less discussion of race and people of in the sports press. Is there a perception that the press is well integrated? In Philly we have Sarge Matthews on the television broadcasts, Joe Morgan is national on ESPN’s broadcasts, Chris Singleton and Eduardo Perez are featured on Baseball Tonight, Harold Reynolds is on the MLBNetwork (Hazel Mae is there as well, not sure if they’re the only people of color on that network) and of course many cities have Spanish-language broadcast teams. [Late game intervention: Doug Glanville too]  Yet what about print? What about blogs? Among the Phillies bloggers and beat writers I know of and/or follow, all, I think, are white. This is something I’m just starting to pay attention to and it may not hold up under scrutiny but if it does hold up either in Philadelphia or in the wider baseball press (wider sports press would be another discussion altogether) then it is a situation ripe for analysis from a variety of perspectives. How might that impact the information we receive? What does it say about print vs. new media vs. television journalism and their relationships to race? How does it impact the content in each of those forums? If there are people of color in these places is their reporting any different? Is it more race-conscious? How does race consciousness differ in various media? And a question I’ve long been interested in exploring, what about the black press both historically and contemporarily? How does that reporting compare and how has it compared historically, particularly on race-based issues?

My discipline and my work are based on the idea that media matters, that race matters, that representation matters. Thus, agreeing wholeheartedly with Hank Aaron that baseball cannot and should not congratulate itself for producing black superstars, and also agreeing that if baseball is to promote itself as a microcosm of America, American history and American progress than it should be promoting racial justice in every facet of its micro-society, I also think it could be equally important and equally productive to examine and interrogate what amounts to the extratextual discoures of the game. The discourses produced in concert with the though not within the game, not by the teams or the league. This also points to the complex relationships between the sport, the games and the league as independent, real-life experiences and as experiences mediated by television, internet, newspaper, etc. but further, that that mediation is not just through the televisual, internet, newspaper apparatus but especially in the case of internet and newspaper through individuals. How do these individuals impact the mediation of the game and construct our understanding of it? How do the systems in which those individuals are embedded impact that understanding? How does the racial identities and raical biases of both those systems (perhaps easier to pinpoint) and those individuals (perhaps more difficult to pinpoint) impact that understanding?

I would also note that part of the impetus for these meditations is the shifting nature of sports coverage. Bloggers are increasingly legitimated by and incorporated into the traditional press (see the 700 Level and Comcast, PhilliesNation and 97.3 FM) and beat reporters are increasingly using social media (Todd Zolecki of mlb.com and Northwestern (my soon to be home) grad Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times are two that I follow). If systems are changing, is coverage changing? We can ask this question certainly in relationship to issues of fandom, but also I think in relation to other questions of how those systems are gendered and raced and how coverage approaches and represents issues of gender, race, sexuality, etc.