The spectrum for TV watching has been expansive since the pandemic changed our lives in mid-March, and that included a pair of baseball offerings last week: A documentary, ‘’Long Time Coming,’’ found on Hulu, and the fourth and last season of “Brockmire,’’ IFC’s inconsistent, occasionally hilarious sendup of baseball, broadcasting and the excesses of life.
Long Time Coming takes viewers back to the repercussions of a Little League tournament baseball game played in 1955 between a pair of all-star teams, the Pensacola Jaycees and Orlando Kiwanis. The Jaycees were an all-Black team and Kiwanis was all-white and, in those days of full-scale, official segregation in most of the South, that was historic.
Little League Baseball nationally prohibited racial segregation, and the Jaycees advanced through the Pensacola area rounds of the playoffs when white teams refused to play them.
That sent Pensacola to the next round to play the Kiwanis in Orlando. The season-long coach of the Kiwanis quit rather than coach against a Black team. An assistant coach was promoted and the players and their parents backed playing.
Kiwanis won the game. Participants, Black and white men now in their late 70s, were interviewed in the documentary about their lives, then and now, and a number of them were brought back for a reunion at the end.
That was a moment of hope, a small moment, but the reminder of the strict segregation that existed in the South remains mind-blowing. In the works well before George Floyd’s death-by-cop in Minneapolis enraged protests, the timely feel of Long Time Coming is remarkable, particularly this:
One member of the Jaycees visits “Lee Square’’ all these decades later, and shakes his head that a memorial to Confederate soldiers still towered prominently over a portion of downtown Pensacola.
The Pensacola city council voted several weeks ago to remove the memorial, a decision that was followed immediately by a lawsuit. The lawsuit now has been moved to Federal court, where a north Florida judge will decide on the legality of the city council’s decision.
There’s another message that rests below the surface of this documentary: Baseball used to own American sports.
Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 remains a crucial moment in the Civil Rights movement. And in 1955 in Pensacola, Black young men never felt more free than in those hours spent on scraggly ball fields, throwing, catching, running, hitting to their hearts’ content, and dreaming of following Jackie, or Campy, or Don Newcombe, or Willie Mays, the 24-year-old superstar from four hours straight north in Fairfield, Ala., to the big leagues.
Not that way anymore. Kyler Murray took the Oakland A’s money, a $4.5 million signing bonus, and promised to report to spring training a couple of years ago, and most everyone with a sports interest in America said:
“Kyler’s not going to play baseball; he’s going to play football,’’ and they were right.
Baseball resonates with a much-lower percentage of Americans in this century, and the game we’re being asked to endure today tests the loyalty even of us septuagenarians raised by spending endless hours on ballfields.
My son Chris, the family’s Mr. Baseball, a Rotisserie league commissioner from about the time he was 10 sent this text on Sunday night: “How do you like 1968 baseball, with more strikeouts?’’
Which gets us to Season 4 of Brockmire. Hank Azaria’s over-the-top vision of an old-time, plaid-jacketed baseball announcer started with a 7-minute “Funny or Die’’ epsisode and turned into four seasons of R-rated (at the least) irreverence.
The first season was terrific with Azaria and the great Amanda Peet carrying the laughs, the second season was unwatchable, the third season looked like the end, and then Joel Church-Cooper, writer and co-creator with Arazia, came up with a storyline:
It’s 2030, baseball is in its death throes, global warming, pandemic and random violence are devastating America, and in the ultimate act of desperation, baseball owners reach out to the aging, now-sober Jim Brockmire to become their Commissioner.
There’s a line in the first episode, when Brockmire is doing a baseball show built around a game, and his producer suggests holding a regular bit until the fourth hour “when the audience wants to kill itself after the 12th pitching change.''
Funny. And true.
Am I supposed to be excited that a relief pitcher previously unknown to me, Detroit’s Tyler Alexander, tied an American League record by striking out the first nine batters he faced on Sunday – in the first game of a doubleheader of SEVEN-INNING games with Cincinnati?
Apparently, not. The eight graphs from the Associated Press report on the doubleheader that appeared in Monday’s print edition of the Star Tribune did not mention Alexander’s strikeout feat.
How about the Twins recording back-to-back two-hitters vs. Cleveland, alleged to be the main rival in the AL Central? Thrilling or not?
Sunday’s came with six relievers, and with three more pitchers for Cleveland, which left the teams short of the dozen pitching changes and the threshhold for the TV audience desiring to self-euthanize.
The new rule that requires relievers to either face three batters or finish an inning is merely helpful. It isn’t an antidote for MLB's free fall to the late ‘60s, when hitting was so feeble that the designated hitter finally was introduced to the American League in 1973.
The advantages for baseball of 1968-1973 over the 2000s were this:
Pitching staffs were routinely 10, and more than a handful of great African-American athletes still were to be seen performing on big-league diamonds.
Cleveland’s team batting average through 10 games is .193. The men of the Cuyahoga have the company of several other MLB outfits with team batting averages under .200.
Excuse me for not getting in a lather over the Twins’ “great’’ pitching this weekend. And excuse the Associated Press for apparently not getting in a lather over Tyler Alexander’s nine straight strikeouts.
America and the world need much help right now. And baseball might need Jim Brockmire now, rather than waiting until 2030.