Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In defense of defense

I wrote this for one of my journalism classes. I like it, so I thought I'd share here (and on MySpace). Enjoy!

Where has all the defense gone? by Minda Haas

ESPN is and always will be the number one source for all things related to sports. They have cemented themselves in the annals of sports and entertainment lore for generations to come. But even they come up way short when it comes to covering the most wonderful and important aspect of baseball: defense.

On ESPN's Baseball Tonight, they often choose to devote more time to home runs than spectacular defensive plays. I've never understood that, because when you get right down to it, watching highlights of home runs is boring. Sure, Baseball Tonight features Web Gems, but that isn't enough. I think that of the 30 or so teams playing on a given night, more than five defenders make solid plays.

They're not alone, either. Major League Baseball's website,, constantly pays more homage to home runs than web gems. The headlines in major newspapers trumpet news of another Bonds homer, even if the Giants went on to lose that night's game.

The headlines from Opening Day 2006 speak mostly of home runs. Of the 15 wrap-ups from the first full day of baseball this season, eight mentioned homers in the headline or in the story's first sentence. Only three stories were headlined with mentions of pitching, and just headline contained reference to a team's defense.

The coverage of Barry Bonds' quest for home run records is particularly sickening. I know nothing of his teammates or how the Giants are doing overall, because all anyone cares to show me (and the rest of the nation's sports news consumers) is how Bonds is doing. Yawn. One day during Spring Training 2006, the Cubs' pitching staff combined to take a perfect game into the 9th inning. I thought that was fairly news-worthy, so I tuned into ESPN that night to learn more. Instead of that, I got what basically amounted to a 30-minute analysis of Bonds' physical health.

This overwhelming obsession with home runs worries me as a true baseball fan and a future sports journalist. I fear that today's young baseball fans don't know how to truly appreciate the many wonders baseball has to offer; they'd much rather see the condensed version of a game with just the home runs and maybe the fights on SportsCenter. I have personally coached young boys who try to swing for the fences but have no idea how to cleanly field a routine grounder.

In glorifying the long ball and ignoring defense and pitching, sports news outlets are pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it's contributing to a sad decline in a healthy following of baseball. Gone are the days when kids are willing to listen to a ballgame on the radio or even watch a whole one on TV, and that's frightening for the future of the sport. Granted, I'm an old-timey fan. I know how to use a score sheet, and I listen to games on the radio obsessively. I don't expect that level of fandom from everyone, but a basic appreciation for the finer elements of the sport shouldn't be too much to ask.

I'm starting to feel that the only way to see all the stellar pitching and defense in a day of baseball is to watch every inning of every game. It's not too hard to see why that's not a possibility – I'm a full-time student with a part-time job as well. So I guess I just have to miss the truly great parts of baseball, and instead settle for 20 nightly highlights of a ball going over a fence.

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