Baseball fever: Catch those z's

This is the baseball-fever commercial you'll never see.

The place: A happenin' town. Let's say Atlanta.


The scene: A packed baseball park at playoff time. Loud, raucous fun.

Starring: Ted Turner as Ted, lovable cable-TV tycoon, baseball owner and megalomaniac. Jane Fonda as Jane, Ted's main squeeze/wife, exercise queen, former radical who can't help wondering how she never bumped into Bill Clinton at any KGB-sponsored hootenannies in Moscow.


Action: Andy Van Slyke is striking out.

Cut to crowd: Fans going nuts. Beer being sold. Parents teaching children how to insult American Indians.

Back to game: Barry Bonds is striking out. Braves clobbering hapless Pirates.

Close-up on fun couple in what must be the front row: Ted's head is tilting slightly to the right. His eyes are closed. Jane's head is nestled into Ted's shoulder. Her eyes are closed, too.

They're . . . they're . . . asleep?

Baseball fever? I thought it was a scene from "The Awakening."

Whatever it was, it really happened. The First Couple of Atlanta (well, we know it ain't the town that never sleeps) were caught on national TV -- although not on CNN or TBS -- in mid-snore.

You know what else happened? You'll never believe it.


So, Ted and Jane snoozed late Wednesday afternoon. OK. Day games are murder after a night game, you know. What happened the night before was that Ross Perot (no relation to Don Mossi) delivered a 30-minute paid political broadcast on CBS. It featured a lot of graphs on the economy (all pointing down) and on the deficit (all pointing up) and on his ears (all pointing out).

He said stuff like: "Here's the deal. The economic picture's about as pretty as a three-legged pig. . . . " And this show, which you'd expect folks to sleep through, if they watched it all, got higher ratings than the Braves-Pirates game that immediately followed on the same network.

Meaning: Some people watched Ross Perot and then turned off the baseball game.

What's happened to baseball?

I mean, it's not like Perot is exactly hot. He's been in and out of the lineup more often than Glenn Davis. He's got unfavorable ratings in George Steinbrenner territory, and still he kicks a little baseball butt.

What does it mean?


I've got a theory. People love baseball. They love to read about baseball. They love to clip out the box scores and paste them into notebooks. They love to trade baseball cards. They love to listen to baseball on the radio, especially late at night when the house is quiet and it's just you, the announcer, the batter and the pitcher.

People love to go to baseball games. They just don't like to watch them.

That would explain how people can go to Camden Yards and miss four innings waiting in line at Boog's barbecue and be perfectly happy.

It would also explain how baseball is so popular in so many towns, and yet most nationally televised games are the closest thing that nature allows to a vacuum.

Take those almost nightly games on ESPN. Remember the old philosophy question about whether, when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, an actual sound is made. You could substitute ESPN baseball for the tree.

I mean, have you ever, even once, gone to the office and been asked by somebody about last night's Cleveland-Seattle game?


Football is different. People watch football games. On "Monday Night Football," they'll even watch a Cleveland-Seattle game if that's the only game they get.

Why? It could be that people just enjoy seeing quarterbacks carried off the field. Or maybe it's the betting angle. No one bets on baseball.

It can't be that the game is better. I mean, you've watched football. It's a series of mindlessly violent collisions, after which John Madden always says: "You gotta be a man to play this game."

Part of the reason that the baseball playoffs were invented was for the TV money. The theory was that if everyone watched the World Series -- and nearly everyone does, right? -- that many of the same people would watch the playoffs in prime time, too. It hasn't worked out.

Baseball aficionados will tell you that the playoffs beat the Series for agonizing suspense, and often for the quality of baseball, too.

Did you see the first Toronto-Oakland game? That was baseball at its best. Some people were even up as late as the eighth inning.