Baseball for Musical Theatre Lovers

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Some months back, I reported that my attempts to understand cricket involved a brochure called "Cricket for Baseball Fans." I also mentioned that, before I could understand that brochure, I'd need to see a brochure called "Baseball for Musical Theatre Lovers."

I am pleased to report that my sister-in-law Deborah Sager has called my bluff, and written precisely that brochure. I now have no excuses for my failure to understand either baseball or cricket.

And now, without further ado, I am pleased to present a Yankee Fog world exclusive:

Baseball for Musical Theatre Lovers
by Deborah Sager

: Because Jacob requested it.

While the sport of baseball and the art of musical theatre seem different, they in fact have several points of similarity. After all, one has overpaid, vain divas, and the other has actors[1]. For the sensitive, artistic fan that eschews this sport, but is dragged along to games with his/her sisters, cousins, and aunts, this guide will help them make some sense of this frenetic, fast-paced game [2].

The Tools: Both musical theatre and baseball have a set of tools that assist in proper performance. The musical theatre artist may be a "triple threat" - they can sing, they can act, they can dance (to varying degrees of skill.) Usually one talent predominates, and a true triple threat is a very rare artist. The baseball player has a "tool set" - hitting for average (hitting the ball a lot), hitting for power (when you do hit the ball, hitting it really, really far), running speed (just like it sounds), arm strength (also, not so bloody difficult), and fielding skill (throw the ball accurately, and catch it when it comes to you. This is harder, in fact, than it first appears. Just like the first alto line in the opening song of Brigadoon. I should've gotten a gold vocal cord for singing that one[3]) Five-tool players are also exceptionally rare.

Scoring: Both actors and baseball players do pretty well, thanks for asking. Groupies at the hotel, celebrity entourages, it's one big party. Or possibly this refers to the baseball practice of notating the plays of the game.

Each position is assigned a number[4]. The pitcher is 1, the catcher is 2, the first baseman is 3, the second baseman is 4, the third baseman is 5, the shortstop is 6, the left fielder is 7, the center fielder is 8, the right fielder is 9. These numbers are used to indicate what just happened on the field. So a 4-6-3 double play means that there was a guy on first base, and a guy in the batting box. The guy in the batting box hit a ball that went near the second baseman, who threw it to the shortstop at second base, who then threw the ball to the first baseman at first base. Two outs are made, one team rejoices, the other one beats up the last batter in their dugout[5]. Does the musical theatre fan really need to know this? Probably not, but it might demystify some of the baseball talk by television announcers.

There is scoring in musical theatre, and it involves putting music on staff paper. It happens once, then not so often again. (Unless you're cutting and rewriting numbers in New Haven.) Numbers are involved in music of course. 4-6-3 may be a double play, but it is also a chord progression: the sub-dominant, the sub-dominant, the key change to the relative minor. There is one fairly common double-play combination that ends in 1: the 3-6-1 double play (first baseman to shortstop to pitcher.) It goes beautifully with a C major chord.

Point of fact:The "E" in baseball refers to error, not to the key signature with four sharps[6]

A Cast of Characters: 
Producer = General Manager
Director = Manager
Starting Pitcher = Prima Donna
Catcher = Stage Manager
Shortstop, 2nd Baseman, Center Fielder = Featured Dancers
1st Baseman, Left Fielder, Right Fielder, 3rd Baseman = Featured Singers
Bat Boys & Girls = Dressers

The Positions, Or 'Let's Torture The Metaphor Until It Screams': Some positions are glamour positions, and some are not. Some roles are glamour roles, and some are alto roles in opera[7]. The starting pitcher is one of the most glamorous roles in baseball, so it is appropriate that he gets the number 1 position. The starting pitcher is in fact much like the Prima Donna, or the star of the show. His name is on the previews for the show (baseball games are often advertised with the names of the starting pitchers, but no other players are named.) The star of the Broadway show gets first advertising billing as well. A bad pitching performance may ruin the game, no matter what any other player does. A bad leading lady/gentleman may do the same for their musical. A baseball pitcher has to make pitches fast[8]. A musical lead has to sing fast pitches.[9]

The starting pitcher also has a set of relief pitchers, who are like the understudies of the baseball world. Middle relief pitchers (named because they enter and leave during the middle of the game,) get none of the glamour of the starting pitcher, but all of the blame if something goes wrong and they give up runs (or damage the show.) The closing pitcher is rather like the alternate who performs on Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees. The closer comes in during the ninth inning, and receives somewhat more appreciation than the middle relief, but less than the starring/starting pitcher.

The catcher is next. The catcher is the stage manager. The stage manager is the tough, grizzled veteran authority who calls the show. The catcher is the tough[10], veteran[11] presence who calls the pitches. The Stage Manager gives the light and sound cues, per the orders of the director. The catcher orders fastballs, curveballs, and knuckleballs, often per the orders of the manager (more on him later.)

The Defensive Spectrum: A Bill James (baseball dude) creation, it is as follows: 1st base - left field - right field - third base - center field - 2nd base - shortstop - (catcher). The positions on the right side of the spectrum require a lot of fielding skill, positions to the left...not so much. But good fielding skill doesn't always come with good hitting skill (see how we're tying in those earlier tools?) Similarly, dancers can have unpleasant voices and singers might trip over their feet. Is there a place for these poor souls onstage and onfield? Of course!

Torture The Metaphor Until It Bleeds: With the prior paragraph in mind, I'll make this statement: the first baseman, left fielder, right fielder, and third baseman are the singers of the baseball field. They are often large, ungainly men who hit their pitches beautifully. The catcher, shortstop, second baseman, and center fielder are the dancers of the baseball field. They are usually smaller[12], more athletic men who make dazzling defensive plays.

The Backstage Staff: The backstage staffs correspond surprisingly well. The producer deals with the money for the musical theatre show. The general manger deals with the money for the baseball team. The director shapes and casts the show. The manager of the team shapes the game by choosing the lineup (who plays today) and when to send in new pitchers (see the section on middle relief.) The bat-boys (and girls) are baseball's dressers.

Clothes & Makeup: On stage or on the field, if you wear your street clothes you'll be dressed incorrectly. And both players and actors need eye-black; athletes smear it on their cheekbones to block out the sun's rays, and actors smear it on their lashes and call it mascara.

Baseball in Musical Theatre: Baseball gets more musical theatre songs than any other sport. You don't see hockey or football being immortalized onstage, do you? (If you do, let me know.) Here is a list of some songs, and their shows:   There is No Team, Like the Best Team - You're a Good Man Charlie Brown   What a Game - Ragtime   The Baseball Game[13] - Falsettoland Not to mention the entire musical show devoted to baseball, Damn Yankees.[14] An enterprising sort could burn an excellent cd for parties.

Musicality in Baseball:  Some of these men are Renaissance men. Bernie Williams, a lovely man who transcends his evil team, plays classical guitar. Bronson Arroyo plays guitar and sings, as does the gifted, handsome, talented mensch Tim Wakefield.[15]

(Next up, pictures.)

A pretty man in his musical theatre makeup:

A pretty man in his baseball makeup:

A big, beautiful man who hits his pitches:

Another big, beautiful man who hits his pitches:

A thought to end on: Getting to the Major leagues from the minors is called joining "The Big Show." Broadway also has several big shows (see Andrew Lloyd Webber. Also Disney.) Some of them are even good.

[1] Oh snap. Of course, we can turn this around: one has insecure, body-obsessed egomaniacs, and the other has athletes.

[2] Even I can't write this with a straight face, and I love the sport.

[3] This is an oblique reference to the gold glove, which theoretically goes to the best defensive player, or best fielder, in each position for each league. This has, in practice, led to choices like Rafael Palmiero for first base in 1999 and Derek Jeter for shortstop in 2004. I could explain why these are hilariously bad, but instead I will give the acting equivalents: imagine, please, John Wayne receiving an Oscar for portraying Genghis Khan. Or Keanu Reeves receiving one for his work as John Constantine. Or the brilliant (and *utterly* believable) casting decision that led to Denise Richards portraying a nuclear physicist. I trust my point is clear.

[4] This is different than the numbers the players wear on their backs. Just FYI.  Those numbers are actually used in complex code-breaking by the CIA. Certain players are chosen, and their numbers are "retired" and placed on the stadium wall. The spy satellites focus on certain stadiums, depending who's evil this month. Really. [Or maybe, just maybe, the numbers of players who played exceptionally well are retired in their honor. But they've had baseball spies. Look up Moe Berg sometime.]

[5] Well, probably not, despite the fervent wishes of some fans.

[6] And the "e" in baseball still means error, not the key with one sharp and a depressed mien.

[7] It burns me, precious. But it leads me to my favorite joke: What's the definition of an alto? A soprano who can sightread.

[8] Circa 92 miles per hour would be lovely, thanks.

[9] Especially if they're the patter baritone.

[10] You try squatting for 3 ½ hours.

[11] With the exception of Joe Mauer, super-prospect

[12] Well, except for the catcher.

[13] This great song has as its chorus "We're watching Jewish boys who can't play baseball, play baseball." As accurate as the sentiment is for the musical context, I imagine that such men as Shawn Green, Jason Marquis, Gabe Kapler, Kevin Youkilis, and Adam Stern would take great offense to it. Not to mention one of the great pitchers of alltime, Sandy Koufax, who refused to play the first game of a World Series because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. The great Hank Greenburg would object too, except he's dead. Also, I will point out that there have been some (just a few) Jews in musical theatre too. To list them would take much time and crash my computer. In fact, it's easier to count the goyim.

[14] Like all right-thinking folk, Broadway despises the Yankees. And their little Jeter too.

[15] I *love* him, so you should too. This is not negotiable. FYI, you also have to love Nomar Garciaparra (he's had a hard year,) Bill Mueller (so cute,) and David Ortiz (so...everything.)

[16]These men, who all right-thinking people appreciate, are in order: Brian Stokes Mitchell, great musical theatre baritone in costume for Kiss Me Kate; Bill Mueller, redsox third baseman [in a San Francisco Giants uniform] doing something with a bat that approximately 90% of women and 10% of men would suggest that he should feel free to do to them, anytime he likes;  opera tenor Placido Domingo in mid-song; and redsox designated hitter [and clutch hero] David Ortiz in the midst of hitting a walk-off home run (see below.)

[17] Walk-off home run: when the game is being played at your house/town/galaxy sector, and you're in the ninth inning (or extra innings,) if a batter on your home team scores, the game is automatically over and you win. These can be bad (a playoff series in 2003 ended with a walk-off home run that sent me, and many other red sox fans, into a depression for *days*.) They can also be good (David Ortiz, is prone to hitting such things, causing loud shrieks of joy all over New England.)


Lucinda said:

Brilliant. Now, how about "Cricket for the Musical Theater Fan"?

Jacob said:

That's left as an exercise for the reader.

Dave said:

It's easy to understand cricket. You get 5 days of drinking time for one Test Match.

That's all you need to know.

Figure the rest out while you're there, it will make much more sense by about the second day. ;-)

Lucinda said:

Oops, I meant to say "Musical Theater for the Cricket Fan".

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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on November 3, 2005 4:25 PM.

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