Baseball has always been known for its colorful characters, but the shelf life of the game’s oddball denizens can be brief indeed. If you’re not producing, your shtick can go from endearing to annoying faster than a Nolan Ryan heater. The most purely enjoyable team of my adult life was the 2004 Red Sox and not just because of the comeback, breaking the curse, the bloody sock, and all the other Stations of the Cross you Red Sox-haters are sick of hearing about. The team known as the Idiots had scruffy goofballs galore and seemed to be having so much fun that you could almost forget they were getting paid millions to play ball. Yet after that championship year, one by one, they all wore out their welcomes: Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar...even Manny Ramirez, the most entertaining and endearing of them all, eventually became too much to bear. (Yes, Big Papi is still around, but does anyone think that’s going to end with all smiles?)
For me, the team that’s come the closest to matching the personality of the ‘04 Sox was last year’s championship Giants team, with its Kung-Fu Panda, its flamethrowing ace straight out of Dazed and Confused, and, of course, the Bearded One, described by blogger Tom Block as “a cross-eyed closer who signals his thanks to Zardoz after getting the final out.” I was happy to see them win it all, especially since my team didn’t even make the playoffs, and curious to see if this crew would still be as appealing The Year After.
Well, The Year After isn’t going so well right now—the Giants are in free-fall, and as of this writing sit 3.5 games behind the first-place Diamondbacks—but the players haven’t quite worn out their welcome yet. (I wouldn’t say Brian Wilson’s beard has jumped the shark, but I’m pretty sure there’s a dead shark somewhere inside it.) As tonight’s episode of The Franchise begins, we pick up the “cliffhanger” from last week, as Tim Lincecum takes the mound in hopes of stopping the Giants’ losing skid against the Phillies. For the first time, Lincecum opens up to the camera a bit, and we find out why he’s been largely absent from the series: He’s kind of shy and also much less interesting off the field than on it. Whatever goofy stoner persona we’d like to project onto him, The Freak is actually pretty normal for a ballplayer, meaning that he speaks largely in cliches. He’s aware of the perception—"I look like the kid riding a skateboard to school or some shit like that”—but he’d rather not have the spotlight.
At the other end of the spectrum is Wilson, a guy who thrives when the pressure is on. But despite the skin-tight tuxedo and the ridiculous beard full of dancing Elvin folk, he’s not a true eccentric like the Bill Lees and Mark Fidryches of yore. That signal to Zardoz, for example, “That has to do with my Dad.” The Franchise goes into its shameless heart-tugging mode as Wilson relates childhood memories of learning his father had cancer, growing up largely without him, and then losing him at age 17. I’m not made of stone, and having lost a parent to cancer this year myself, this stuff hits me harder than it otherwise might. But it also makes me wish The Franchise was a little more balanced, a little less guarded than MLB Productions would ever allow. The human interest stuff is fine, but at a time when almost everything is going wrong with the team, I’d like to see a little more fire. Where is the finger-pointing? Where are the drunken rampages? We do see Wilson take his frustrations out on a water cooler, but we can get that sort of thing in the course of a regular game broadcast. Taking us inside the clubhouse just to watch these guys play dominoes isn’t quite cutting it dramatically. Someone needs to lock the producers in a room with a Best of Hard Knocks video so they can see how it’s done.
- Claire couldn’t be with you this week because she’s out at a real, live baseball game. I’d like to thank her for giving me this spot-start, and assure you she’ll be back on the mound next week.
- Third -base coaches usually only attract attention when they’re getting a runner thrown out at home by 20 feet (I’m looking at you, Tim Bogar!), so it’s nice that Tim Flannery got the chance to sing the National Anthem with the Grateful Dead. Or, y’know, the surviving members thereof.
- How often do you think players who are out for the season (in this case, Freddy Sanchez) watch the games on TV when the cameras aren’t around? Just asking.
- So that Carlos Beltran trade seemed like a good idea at the time, eh?