Friday, August 7, 2009

Baseball and the Weekly World News

It's the end of the week, so I thought we'd celebrate by having a little fun here.

I just found out that the Google Books archives include full version copies of the illustrious Weekly World News. For those of you who don't remember, the WWN was one of the most outrageous and uncompromising of the supermarket tabloids, printing steady updates on the goings-on of Bat Boy and many other unbelievable stories. What made the WWN so fun, though, was how it consistently told those ridiculous stories without a hint of irony or self-awareness. It was a weekly joke told with the straightest of faces. How could you not at least appreciate something like that?

Anyhow, once I found the WWN archives over at Google Books, I started playing around with it, looking for interesting articles - including ones on baseball. The first story I found was this piece written by "Ed Anger" called "Yerrrrrrrrrrr Out!: Let's get rid of baseball as our national sport". It was published on June 11, 1996 (as well as March 7, 1995, and April 6, 1999).
"Let's face it. Even the NFL's Stupid Bowl is more exciting than watching a bunch of potbellied prima donnas prance around out there picking up trillion dollars a year for pinch-hitting a couple of times a week.

I say it's about time we got a new national pastime anyway. Roller Derby would be better than baseball, for crying out loud. Hell, even bowling's more exciting for that matter.

Baseball is basically an idiot game, 'cause nothing ever happens out there. Sometimes the 7th-inning stretch is the highlight of the afternoon."
The best part of the piece, though, is this section about the next scandal that's going to run across Commissioner Joe Garagiola's desk:
"And the latest scandal to rock baseball hasn't even hit the papers yet.

A secret memo to Baseball Commissioner Joe Garagiola is about to cause the biggest uproar since the Chicago Black Sox threw the World Series back in 1919.

Since 1978 - that's 18 years for all you gals out there - baseballs have been 'hopped up' by pumping a small amount of helium into them under super-high pressure."
They obviously liked the piece, seeing how they published it at least three different years (and, yes, they did update the "that's 18 years for all you gals out there" line each year). But Joe Garagiola was actually a favorite target of the WWN. Back in 1981, for example, they ran a couple of pieces complaining about baseball on TV and about Garagiola specifically. In April of '81, they ran "It is one, two, three strikes you are asleep at the old bore game":
"Let's face the music, sports fans. Baseball is dull. TV killed baseball and Joe Garagiola is the unmasked executioner. This yokel could make the seventh game of the World Seris a sleepwalk, and does.
Joshin' Joe is back with the NBC Game of the Week this year, I'm sad to report. That means all his lousy, stinking cornball attempts at jokes will be back, too. Baseball's gasping for breath and Joe's the final nail in the coffin."
That was followed in September by another long complaint, this time on the newly lengthened playoff rounds, "TV networks have sold out baseball for the big money of prime-time ads":
"That means each division will hold a five-game playoff just to see who gets to play in the regular playoffs. At this rate, the World Series will start in December and Santa Claus will throw out the first pitch.
Baseball fans at home will tune into an endless stream of macho beer and razor blade commercials. And when we're not getting tons of hard-sell, we'll get tons of Joe Garagiola's crummy jokes."
Interestingly enough, I think those two pieces by TV critic Rex Winston were actually meant to be taken seriously. This next one was certainly not, though, "Anti-gun nuts trying to ban baseball bats!":
"[Spokeswoman Jane Fairuza of Citizens United Against Lethal Weapons] said her organization decided to concentrate on baseball bats after the anit-gun movement was blamed for costing Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore the election.
So the anti-gun group switched gears and is going after baseball bats, which Ms. Fairuza says are used in hundreds of savage assaults and murders ever year.

'Baseball is a violent game and should be replaced as the national pastime with a more civilized sport such as synchronized swimming or ice skating,' she declared."
Apparently ballplayers were awfully concerned about this movement:
"'What's a batter supposed to do - swat at a 92 mph fastball with his fist?' a retired major leaguer asked in a fan newsletter, Swat King.

'Even the looniest player would have to be seriously coked out to do something like that. And if he ever connected, it would cost him his career.' "
This is another good example of the less serious side of things, "He hits homers, pitches shutouts... and he's BLIND as a BAT!":
"SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Baseball player Robert Rice has a .276 batting average and pitches with the best of 'em - even though he was born blind!

'I don't see the ball but I hear it and feel it in my bones,' said Rice, 35. 'I've been playing since I was a kind and it's the most natural thing in the world to me.'
'We call him [The Bat] because he's blind as a bat,' said Carlos Rodriguez, who also pitches for the team.

'Sometimes I get goose bumps just watching him on the mound. You may not believe it, but the guy has thrown two no-hitters and hit five home runs. A designated player runs the bases for him. Other than that, he's on his own.' "
No, I do not believe it.

Surprisingly, though, I did find some substance in some of these articles. For example, there's thie story about a man receiving a Hank Aaron autographed baseball as the dying wish of a child he befriended ("A dying wish fulfilled: Cancer boy's prized baseball goes to grown-up pal"). The best example that I saw in my brief excursion through the archives, though, is this story on 19th-century baseball. Now, you'll have to forgive me since I don't know much about old-time baseball, but this seems to be a pretty accurate and straight-forward piece, "It's two, three, four strikes you're out at the old ball game!":
"And today the thousands of fanatics who play vintage baseball are as meticulous about authenticity as their counterparts who reenact Civil War battles.

They're historians as well as players, reports Smithsonian Magazine. 'They re-create the uniforms, equipment (or lack thereof), the homemade balls, even the language of more than 100 years ago.'

Batters were called 'strikers', pitchers were 'hurlers'. Fans were 'cranks' - and the umpires would sometimes consult with a crank before making a call. Those were the days when the game was played for fun - not blood or money."
The piece goes on to give more details on the differences between old-time baseball and the present-day version, including old-time vernacular and some background on Abner Doubleday and the his claim to "inventing" the sport.

Overall, the Weekly World News is what I always thought it was, a fun little romp through the absurd, and I think it's fantastic that they're all available for free over at Google Books. It's an added bonus to discover that some of their content is actually worth reading. It should be a fun way to waste time on a long Friday afternoon. I hope you enjoy!

1 comment:

Jorge Says No! said...

Baseball too violent?