If you weren't at Dodger Stadium or hadn't planned to tune into Cubs v. Dodgers on September 9, 1965, it's unlikely that you were aware that Sandy Koufax had thrown a perfect game until sometime the following day. By the seventh inning of Giants v. Astros last Wednesday, every night-owl baseball fan with a smartphone was up on Matt Cain's perfecto-in-progress.
I was alerted around 1AM EST by a Jonah Keri tweet:
Thirty seconds and some keystrokes later I was watching Brian Bogusevic foul out to left fielder Melky Cabrera. Cain would make short work of the Astros' ninth, coming off the top ropes with sharp off-speed stuff and a fastball still sitting mid-90s. As his teammates rushed the mound in celebration, I began combing through pitch-by-pitch summaries and already-indexed video highlights to catch up on what I'd missed. Any questions I had about the previous eight innings were answered immediately, in high definition, at a greater level of detail than I was able to appreciate.
The Koufax perfect game is, relative to other non-world-altering events of 1965, well documented. Vin Scully's call of the ninth inning is famous in its own right, regarded as the ne plus ultra of baseball broadcasting. There's the box score and the recording of Scully’s play-by-play, and next-day newspaper coverage. Photos are scarce, videos non-existent. If you want to inhabit the world of that game, your imagination will have to do most of the heavy lifting.
Not so with the Cain joint. Essentially all of this game is knowable, perceivable, and quantifiable. It can be watched and re-watched endlessly via MLB.TV, in full, condensed, and super-condensed versions, with either San Francisco's or Houston's broadcast team calling it, in English or Spanish. There’s PITCHf/x. We can test our impressions of the game tape against data both raw and processed. We can watch, repeatedly, Jason Castro's game-ending ground out and note how he was eaten alive by the pitch. And then we can confirm the particular gnarliness of that pitch, a 94-mph fastball coming on the heels of an 87-mph change-up. We have robots that make this possible, hungry algorithms ingesting pitch speeds and release points and excreting velocity charts and heat maps.
And it's not like this game was unique–every single game is documented as thoroughly. You want to know precisely how Jake Peavy's slider was breaking against the Mariners on June 1, well, that is a thing you can easily know. We exist in a state of total baseball info saturation, and it's worth considering how this affects our experience of the game. The crustier among us might argue that it's been diluted. That in quantifying the game, in obsessively documenting it and offering it on demand we've rendered it prosaic.
Thanks to Twitter and the MLB media machine, we are bombarded constantly with neutrino particles of baseball. In 1965, there were very few ways to take in a regular season baseball game. Either you were physically present, or you were listening on the radio; perhaps you caught a game-of-the-week type broadcast. Most likely you read about it in the next day's newspaper. Now, we're spoiled with a plethora of options for baseball consumption. We've got multiple broadcasts of every regular and post-season game, available to out-of-market viewers via MLB.TV. We've got Gameday dealing punishing blows to office productivity across the globe. Follow a team's beat reporter on Twitter and you'll often get play-by-play and commentary—you needn't be watching the game at all to know what's going on. Our screens give us access to a baseball panopticon—Fan Caves built to our exact specifications.
Like it or not, this mode of consumption is the new normal—there is no stopping it, and certainly no going back. It's a logical progression, one that we've been moving towards but haven't had the technology to reach until recently.Sports fans are collectors—we collect experiences, and sports media ostensibly aim to facilitate the pursuit. That's why ESPN loops highlights endlessly each morning, and why the cable broadcasts of the 90s would cut to no-hitters in progress. That's how many of us saw Kenny Rogers' 1994 perfecto—interrupting our regularly scheduled broadcast to bring us something significant and Rusty-Greer-related.
Rather than diluting experience, I see the Twitter-MLB.TV ecosystem as distributing it more evenly. It's created a locus for communion with other fans we'd otherwise never connect with.It allows more of us into these games, period. Being there to see Koufax in '65 would have been awfully special because you'd have been one of around 50,000 who actually got to see it. Millions worldwide know exactly what Cain in '12 looked like. It's a fair trade, I think. And while internet kibbutzing might never supplant physical presence at a sporting event, being part of the collective paroxysm that erupted as Cain completed his perfect game felt like a distinct and valuable experience in and of itself. It felt a little like watching the game with an entire society at once, an innumerable bunch of yahoos as focused in their fascination with pro baseball as you are. Basically what I am saying is:
Adam Wray waxes chaotic-neutral @terminalave. He is suffering from flu-like symptoms.