Tuesday night's MLB All-Star game might as well have been a study in contrasts. Unlike previous years, the contest was tight (the American League won 4-3 due in part to a game-saving catch at the fence and a sacrifice fly) and relatively quick. Instead of the ponderousness of previous years, the game flew by in two hours and 31 minutes, the shortest time since the 1988 game. Meanwhile, Fox Sports' presentation of it was almost a shambles.

President Obama's ceremonial first pitch was filmed like The Blair Witch Project: the camera was so shaky, people on political blogs were trying to dig up alternate feeds the same way they'd done with Iranian street cams just weeks before. Chyrons were repeatedly incorrect: Tampa Bay Ray Jason Bartlett was identified as fellow Ray Ben Zobrist; Colorado Rocky Brad Hawpe was identified as Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun. And on and on.

While watching the confusion in St. Louis, I was reminded of a book by St. Louis native Will Leitch called 
God Save the Fan (the book has two subtitles, depending on which edition you get). Leitch's name might be familiar to you. He founded Deadspin, probably the most popular sports blog online, and is a frequent critic of exactly what you could have seen on Tuesday night.

The main thesis of God Save the Fan is pretty simple: sports are great — heck, they're wonderful. But they're wonderful because they don't really matter: they're games. It's everything that comes between you and the sport that's a giant pain in the neck. Preening sportswriters? Tedious. Screeching on-air personalities? Unbearable. Marketed player personalities designed to sell books or a brand? Insufferable. Morality plays and equivalencies drawn to dire real-life issues? Completely missing the boat.

Leitch is an optional-media guy attacking the soi-disant "important" media: most of what he rails against are the creations of the 24-hour sports journalism culture, where athletes have to be outrageous to make an impression, where pundits had to be instantly created, where controversies have to be ginned up to drive the news cycle and where angry opinions — the angrier, the better — have to be barfed back and forth by newly minted "personalities." This sounds familiar because the same thing goes on in regular 24-hour news. Leitch's point is that, with sports, it's even more unnecessary, because they're sports.

You would think this would make for a frustrating or angry read, but the book is genuinely very fun and funny. (A great bit: if we, as Americans, love underdog stories so much, why don't we root against the United States in the Olympics? Wouldn't that be more fair?) Leitch brings to the printed page the "populist ire with a wink and a pop-culture nod" that popularized Deadspin, and he does so without losing anything in the transition. Each chapter usually functions as a stand-alone essay, but the book contains a through-note of laughing exasperation at all the nonsense that intercedes between the beauty of sports and our ability to just get the news about them and watch them without having to, well, think of essays about "what matters."

ESPN, unsurprisingly, bears the brunt of Leitch's humor. In contrast to the moral rectitude often evinced by its personalities as they condemn the latest ballplayer transgressions against the public order or the Sanctity of the Game, he includes a multi-page list of the prurient public behavior of ESPN personalities (including a striking number of sexual-harassment suits). When talking about the almost clichéd poetical stylings sportswriters bring to "serious topics" to assert that they're "more than just sportswriters," Leitch quotes Woody Paige (participant on ESPN's Around the Horn and writer for the Denver Post) waxing about 9/11

Miss Liberty bowed her head. From on high and nigh, she witnessed the horrifying cataclysm. There were tears in her eyes. And the nation cries with her. Denver was not torched, but it has been touched

then casually and hilariously mentions that this is the same Woody Paige who writes on a chalkboard while screaming and once appeared on ESPN, wearing a dunce cap and goofy sunglasses, and ate a plate of dog food. (Also, "on high and nigh"? Really?)

Sanctimony is Leitch's white whale for the book. He notes that pretty much all serious baseball fans could detect there was something fishy going on with steroids, yet attendance kept increasing. For years, the journalists who styled themselves as guardians of the game wrote fawning portraits of the people hitting "dingers" and tearing up the record books. But as soon as steroids became a "story," they changed their tune, declared a sacred trust violated, and excoriated the same figures they'd just celebrated. Meanwhile, most fans don't care. Baseball revenue keeps going up, and most fan polls show dislike for individual outed cheaters but an unwillingness to join in a blanket condemnation of the game. Apparently, the people who eat dog food have to protect us from ourselves by telling us what we're not mad about enough.

The other side of the coin, for Leitch, is having fun as a fan. He rightfully points out that with a $150 Extra Innings cable package and knowledge of three or four good blogs, every fan can make himself as informed as the average beat writer. He'll see all the baseball games live and be able to follow all the injuries and roster changes. (Besides, as he notes, many of the most grandiose self-promoting beat writers — viz Jay Mariotti — don't even show up to the games or clubhouses anymore, despite their raging contempt for bloggers' inability to be "where the action is." ) He'll be able to digest all the data or only as much of it as he wants. If he misses crucial info, the internet is right there. While on it, he might find a blog pointing out the hypocrisy of, say, John Kruk declaiming the absolute necessity of an athlete's being in top physical form when Kruk himself played on a team of alcoholics and steroid abusers who smoked cigarettes in the dugout — and who once said, incredulously, "Lady, I'm not an athlete. I'm a baseball player."

Watching the All-Star Game on Tuesday made Leitch's bottom-line more resonant: we, the fans, have the capacity to have much more fun on our own. Watching the cameras and chyrons blunder and listening to the announcers get lost in thoughts that had nothing to do with the game, it was hard not to think, "I can do better." And we can. Leitch's message got through loud and clear, both because of its humor and its sagacity and also because everything it rightfully points out as flawed is the best reminder of the fan's capacity to make his own fun and enjoy sports on his own terms.
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