Television

A (Not Really) Working-Class Journalist Is Something to Be

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Try to guess the provenance of this sentence:

Weren't nobody happy when Ma got pregnant with me […], what with her being barely seventeen and all and the father being my old man, who wasn't nobody's idea of a young go getter. Me? I can't complain—I got borned, didn't I?

Is that some snippet of oral history from a WPA project on Appalachian life? Perhaps a selection from The Autobiography of Chicken George?

Nope! It's from a new nonfiction book by a New York Times staff writer, who grew up in, uh, New Hampshire. As Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley, who flagged this passage (and liked the book), put it, such demonstrations of "hardscrabble bona fides" sound "contrived and artifical." They also sound a lot like the round-the-clock Tim Russert tributes that have clogged the media's tubes since Friday's news. Who knew that being a fan of a professional sporting team was such a telltale indicator of regular-guy, working class heroism?

In watching bits of MSNBC's ongoing Russert telethon, Beltway elitist after Beltway elitist waxed positively proletarian about the Meet the Press host's authentic Joe Sixpackitude, his instinctive "connection" with the great unwashed lunchbuckets of (late-campaign) Hillary Clinton's Real America. It was kind of like watching Stephen Hawking sing the glories of the Yanomami tribe.

Being the son of sharecroppers myself, I tend to be allergic to the sight of monocle-wearing Kennedy Center regulars expressing wonder that a guy can really make it in this big old world without Ivy League certification. And needless to say, the bizarre ritual of resume de-padding at the top of the heap would strike me as borderline offensive if I wasn't so busy working three jobs and going to night school. But maybe there is a more charitable interpretation.

Why are baseball players the most superstitious athletes in the world? Because 1) the game is a festival of failure, where screwing up 7 times out of 10 is a much-coveted goal; and 2) they get to be bajillionaires as long as they can continue to slightly beat the odds and stay healthy. The joyride can be stopped at any time, without warning. Something similar is at play with hot young actresses ? they're rich, they're famous, they're adored, they're despised … and they can be out of work forever overnight, for reasons often out of their control.

It makes a kind of perfect sense that those lucky few who ascend the rickety throne of network TV news would pay constant, treacly tribute to the masses who make it all possible. If an army of Viagra-popping geriatrics was paying for my baseball season tickets, I too may be tempted to wax poetical about the gritty hometown I long left behind, and the ironclad Wisdom of Big Russ' Greatest American Heartland Generation of Our Fathers. Also, maybe there are worse things than an elite class that feels under constant pressure to demonstrate their jes'-folks street cred.

But still. If, as former reason editor Virgina Postrel suggested in a fascinating recent Atlantic column, rising incomes on the lower end of the economic scale are eroding the need for immigrant and minority communities to overcompensate with conspicuous consumption, maybe it's time for a mirror effect to begin taking shape at the top. It's OK, you Skull & Bones fancy-lads who will always rule the world ? you no longer have to pretend to like Pabst Blue Ribbon! Besides, only Dennis Hopper ever drank that shit to begin with.

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  1. the game is a festival of failure, where screwing up 7 times out of 10 is a much-coveted goal;

    I hear this trope all the time from anti-baseball people and I can stand idly by no longer. Seriously, a football team’s offense typically only scores on what, like 3 out of 40 plays from scrimmage? Does that mean football is a festival of failure also?

  2. Damn, Matt, who urinated in your proverbial Frosted Flakes this morning?

  3. Journalists: nearly as useless as politicians and also nearly as self-aggrandizing.

    They’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see. Shit, if you want to be a journalist, well, just follow me.

  4. Does that mean football is a festival of failure also?

    No.

  5. Football is a festival of violence and injury. Baseball is a festival of watching the grass grow, as far as I can tell.

  6. Maybe some day, people will realize that people aren’t necessarily good/bad just because they’re rich/poor. Just like maybe some day, people will realize that something isn’t necessarily good/bad just because it’s old/new.

    Nah. Who am I kidding?

  7. Does that mean football is a festival of failure also?

    Most offensive plays from scrimmage gain some yardage.

    You keep score with points, but a running back who gets 5 yards a carry but never scores a touchdown is definitely succeeding.

    But hey, I know what you’re saying. You have to consider the fact that if hitters are failing 7 out of 10 times, that means pitchers and fielders are succeeding 7 out of 10 times. So baseball isn’t that much of a festival of failure. Somebody is succeeding on every play – on every pitch, on every pick-off attempt.

  8. Question, is it mostly Americans and Australians who do this business of trying to say they are from the ‘common classes’, especially of they are not, when seeking mass appeal or do other cultures do it too?

    Also, especially when the guest trolls arrive on military threads, is it mostly our culture that accuses anybody of any success as being given a handout?

    Yes, serious questions both.

  9. Americans despise the idea of an “elite” to such a degree that even the “elite” have to pretend that they are “just normal folks at heart”. I think despising elitists is a good thing, in general, but faux populism is just as bad (regular populism is pretty much just as bad, as well).

  10. Baseball is a festival of watching the grass grow, as far as I can tell.

    Similar to golf with more protective gear and standardized costumes.

  11. I’m a Middle-Classist!

  12. And baseball is one of the greatest sports ever invented.

  13. To be fair Matt, the aforementioned passage WAS written by a staff writer from New Hampshire. He’s basically from the Mississippi of the Northeast.

  14. Baseball is like three minutes of action crammed into three hours. Yaaaaaaaaaawwwwwnnnn . . .

  15. My dad grew up poor in middle-of-nowhere, New Hampshire (or more accurately Nelson), and he sure as hell never talked like that. I call bullshit.

  16. Am I the only one who thought the quote was Hillary Clinton addressing a group of WV voters?

    Also, I’m a fan of several professional sports teams (Way to go Celtics!!!) but somehow manage to suffer from a pathological strain of elitism.

  17. Naga, NH is not the MI of the north.

    You’re thinking of Maine.

  18. This is the third or fourth story this week with the phrase, “monacle wearing.” Here’s a new word for ya’ll: thesaurus.

  19. As I recall, Heineken was “shit”; Pabst Blue Ribbon was not shit. From Mr. Hopper’s perspective, anyway.

  20. Naga, to further Eryk’s point about NH not being anything like MS…

    The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that New Hampshire’s total state product in 2003 was $49 billion. Personal income in 2005 was $37,835, 6th in the nation and 10 percent greater than the national average ($34,495).

  21. Nigel is correct. New Hampshire natives do not speak like that. The quote is southern/western style speech that you will never hear from a New Englander. What you can get is the Maine accent like the Pepperidge Farm guy or Canadian-style accents from the people close to the border.

    Trust me, New Englanders would actively change any accent that sounded remotely like a southern accent. But they don’t have to because they don’t have any.

  22. Boston,

    I stand by my original statement. Facts be damned.

  23. Chris Potter,

    Comparing scoring in football to getting on base in baseball isn’t right. A better comparison would be between getting on base and getting positive yardage.

    Most offensive plays in football gain yardage. The average yards per play is somewhere around 4-6. In baseball, on the other hand, a good batter gets on base well under half the time, and averages less than one total base per at bat.

  24. Figure based on about 300 yds of offense per game and about 50-60 offensive plays.

  25. Although I enjoy baseball, it would be vastly improved if players hit by thrown balls were called out.

  26. You may be onto something PL. If baseball incorporated some UFC tactics for base stealers, I might actually watch more baseball.

  27. Hmmm, a poorly sourced story with made-up quotes that that he was too lazy to even research how to fake properly.

    Yep, he’s a NYT journalist.

  28. First, the Ball of Death proposal would greatly increase the violence of the sport, which is always good.

    Second, the temptation to use the Ball of Death will mean more passed balls and more general chaos on the field. Also good.

    Third, to avoid mass injuries, body armor will need to be employed, allowing more cheating (e.g., mechanically enhanced throwing arms), which is what baseball is all about, anyway.

    Fourth, the Ball of Death will make the DH go away, which is the sole reason we have not been invited to join the Galactic Confederation. Why? Because slow moving old men on base will be too vulnerable to the Ball of Death.

  29. If they could only get baseball pitchers to act less like ice dancers and more like, well, non-ice dancers, then the fights might be better.

  30. Episiarch,

    Holy shit!!! Was that an actual episode?

  31. Guy,

    If we added cheerleaders that know how to weld, would you watch then?

  32. Naga, they played Thunderball on several episodes. Great stuff.

  33. Naga,

    Of course! But would have to attend the games because they never show the chicks on the field enough on television.

  34. Would never miss “K-member repair day”, never ever!

  35. Damn, I suck at links . . .

  36. Batted balls that bounce over a fence more than 400′ from home plate should be ground-rule-triples.

    I’m still waiting for a player to figure out a way to drop the bat behind him while charging the mound, in a manner that causes the pursuing catcher to trip over it.

  37. Is TWC here?

    I want to know what rule changes he’d make. That dude knows from baseball.

  38. Ah remembah growin’ up po’ down South … nothin’ but Spam and microwaved leftovahs standin’ between us ‘n’ starvation … had me a rough adolescence, growin’ up basic-cable in an HBO world … somebody gimme a fuckin’ job.

  39. Batting Average is passe any way OBP and OPS are the way to go.

  40. joe,

    Well, it’s not like you have to get a hit to accomplish anything in baseball. An out can advance a runner, wear down the pitcher, force him to show different pitches. Also, football has a lot of no-gain plays as well…punts, incomplete passes, as well as runs for no gains.

    In any case, it’s understandable that people who haven’t immersed themselves in the strategy of baseball and all its intricacies are going to find it more boring than football or basketball which provide constant visual action. Sort of like my attitude towards soccer and (looking around to make sure none of my neighbors are watching) hockey, sports which I know next to nothing about.

  41. Jennifer,

    Guy has a job for you . . . welding.

  42. Well it ain’t like this shit is new.

    Hamilton was the bastard son of white trash from the sticks, but played the elitist, while Jefferson was raised in the Western Hemisphere’s center of money, culture, and power, but had ‘the common touch.’

  43. Episiarch,

    That link brought a tear to my eye . . . it was a beautiful moment . . .

  44. Question, is it mostly Americans and Australians who do this business of trying to say they are from the ‘common classes’, especially of they are not, when seeking mass appeal or do other cultures do it too?

    Canadians do it too.

    Oh, wait, they’re just Americans who won’t admit it, aren’t they?

    Never mind.

  45. The Daily Howler agrees 150 percent.

  46. Most offensive plays in football gain yardage. The average yards per play is somewhere around 4-6. In baseball, on the other hand, a good batter gets on base well under half the time, and averages less than one total base per at bat.

    I think a better comparison would be first downs to getting on base.

  47. Two vertical lasers on either side of home plate, and two horizontal ones on an adjustable stand opposite the batter, adjusted to mid-chest and knee levels. Plus a fog machine under the plate to make the lasers visible. Maybe then the umps can call goshdarn balls and strikes correctly!

    And instant replay on everything. None of this “human element of the game” shit.

  48. “the game is a festival of failure, where screwing up 7 times out of 10 is a much-coveted goal…”

    6 out of 10. If you get out 7 times out of 10, you’ve got an on-base percentage of .300, which will pretty much get you shipped back to the minors.

    /Sorry, pet peeve

  49. As I recall, Heineken was “shit”; Pabst Blue Ribbon was not shit. From Mr. Hopper’s perspective, anyway.

    Not “perspective.” Objective fact. I can prove it with graphs.

    Now, sing “Candy Colored Clown.”

  50. Do professional upper-class Brits speak in fake Cockney accents and share bogus memories of sex in council houses and breakfasts of baked beans on toast?

  51. If you get out 7 times out of 10, you’ve got an on-base percentage of .300, which will pretty much get you shipped back to the minors.

    Unless you play left field for the Angels!

  52. Sounds like the UCB guys owe Mad magazine a royalty. I read a “how to make baseball more exciting” pictorial by the Madmen back in the 1960s that was much of a muchness.

    Kevin

  53. Americans, and most everybody else, despise elites because they hate being lorded over by some smug fucktard who sincerely believes in his/her superiority due to having once attended college X or having been born to family Y or having once had their hair cut by the same “stylist” who cuts the hair of celebrity Z.

    Politicians (and a very large proportion of the rest of humanity) have to pretend to be “one of us” on occasion because they spend most of their time trying very hard to actually be “one of them,” but still need our votes (or other voluntary exchange) in order to maintain their glorious positions in society.

    Every human I know is guilty of it to some extent. Just bring up the topic of baseball vs. football and see how many libertarians decry your pathetic tastes in sport.

  54. Guy Montag | June 18, 2008, 2:03pm | #

    If they could only get baseball pitchers to act less like ice dancers and more like, well, non-ice dancers, then the fights might be better.

    If only guy were a Cubs fan.

  55. Being the son of sharecroppers myself,

    You were born a black child, Matt?

  56. Actually, early baseball rules allowed you to hit the player with the ball in order to get him out. Obviously, the ball was softer back then, but it still couldn’t have felt good:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_baseball_in_the_United_States

    One of the significant rules prohibited “soaking” or “plugging” the runner; under older rules, a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball.

  57. you no longer have to pretend to like Pabst Blue Ribbon! Besides, only Dennis Hopper ever drank that shit to begin with.

    Well him and every 20something hipster living in P-Town Oregon.

  58. I used to get up a ten o’clock in the evening, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work 29 hours a day down out the mill, and when I got home, my dad would kill me and dance about on my grave drinking gin and singin’ “hallelujah”.

  59. Is TWC here?

    I want to know what rule changes he’d make. That dude knows from baseball.

    Ten bucks says he would only get rid of designated hitters.

  60. Kyle MacLachlan drank PBR, too.

  61. R C Dean | June 18, 2008, 3:37pm | #

    “Being the son of sharecroppers myself…”

    You were born a black child, Matt?

    I was hoping he was being facetious.

    Any comments on how derision of elites fits with the whole meritocracy thing?

  62. Unless you play left field for the Angels!

    Or first base for the Mariners…

  63. PBR is also a staple crop for frat boys, at my house it was the fancy alternative to natty lite.

  64. I would watch baseball if all the players carried Samurai swords and the runner had to fight his way around the bases. Otherwise, it’s not quite as exciting as televised golf.

  65. A .300 OBP made me think of 2 players who played for the Yankees in recent years. I checked and lifetime one is .314 and the other was .317, though both had several seasons in the .280-.300 range ( OBP not AVG). One guy made around $23 million over 13 seasons ( and also beat the Yankees in a WS) and the other is still playing and making 900 grand as a no-hit utility player. Not bad.

    I wasnt aware GM Jr was so lousy this year. At least he’s still above those guys, though he makes a lot more money.

    Did you also know that a .480 OBP will not even get you an offer at the league minimum?

  66. Baseball is high culture, like Noh theater. You have to be raised in it.

  67. One guy made around $23 million over 13 seasons ( and also beat the Yankees in a WS) and the other is still playing and making 900 grand as a no-hit utility player. Not bad.

    I’m forming a subcommittee to investigate these excess profits.

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