Who’s On First- “Showing” Lessons from The World Series

It’s the curse of a writer to always be in critique mode. Once the inner editor is brought to life, there’s no stopping it. When I go to movies, I subconsciously pick apart plot problems and character inconsistencies. When I pick up a magazine or journal, I zero in on structure and format. And, when I watch The World Series on television, I find metaphors for the writing process.

Back in the days before television, imagine how exhilarating it would be to gather around the RCA radio, anxious to hear the rip of a ball against a bat and the rising ruckus of the lucky crowd. The commentator would offer a play-by-play of the game, sometimes with the speed of an auctioneer. Listeners needed this “narrator” to Show the events—to paint a cerebral image by sharing visual details. Times have since changed.

Last night was game six of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals. (I obviously have a favorite in this game-it’s my birthright as a proud Texan.) At this point in the seven-game series, Texas had won three games; the Cardinals two. This game would either decide Texas as the World Series champions or tie the teams and move them both to the seventh game. For eleven innings, the game was a nail-biter, with jockeying scores that remained mostly tied. Long past my bedtime, I leaned in ever closer with a racing heart rate. I could feel the tension from the safe distance of my home.

But something struck me. In this TV era, sports broadcasters don’t offer the same kind of detailed play-by-play because they don’t have to. There are a bazillion cameras to show “who’s on first,” and “what’s on second.” The broadcasters don’t have to speak about the scowls, winces, anxieties, worries, frustrations, glee on the faces of players, coaches, managers, owners. The cameras show those visuals. Heck, players must cover their mouths so that lip-readers a thousand miles away don’t “hear” them. The “telling” mode of the radio commentator/narrator has evolved with the “showing” wonders of camera technology.

While TV sports broadcasters necessarily Tell rather than Show, print journalists and other writers must do the opposite. Without the benefit of streamed imagery, writers must provide visual details with their words—whether those details relate to the sunflower seeds or snuff being spat by players, the dust devils that chase third base and blind the shortstop, the physicality of emotions, the superfans who paint their faces and bodies with team colors.  Writers must manipulate words to evoke imagery in their readers’ minds. That is no small feat. It takes skill and a three-dimensional approach. Writers of all stripes should remember this.

No doubt, people will gather around water coolers and school lockers this morning to recount the most exciting moments of the game in vivid detail.

Thanks to the television cameras AND the print sportscasters…
We felt that man’s elation as he waved the toy squirrel at the end of a stick (don’t go there).
We felt that woman’s silent prayer, as she looked skyward.
Those young men with team logos tattooed on their faces? We felt their youthful anticipation.
We watched Nolan Ryan’s expression change from applause to glower.
We felt the anxiety of the young ladies with linked arms and crossed fingers.
We watched that child’s fear morph into an ear-to-ear grin when Beltre almost plowed over the railing and into his lap, stopping himself in time to pat the kid on the head.
We saw.
We felt.
Being SHOWN the game made us feel like we were there.

Thank you radio for evolving into a visual medium. And thank you Mr. Narrator for “telling” us just enough. Because nothing beats “showing” to reveal a more three-dimensional look at the human experience.