If you were ever so inclined to ask your father what death of a person that he didn’t know affected him the most, do you know what he would say? I have not been so inclined to ask my father — talk about an awkward conversation — but I think I know what his answer would be: Ed Farmer, Chicago White Sox long time radio announcer. Farmer’s passing this April coupled with the delayed and truncated baseball season has made my father’s passion for baseball grow even stronger. Being the diligent and caring daughter that I am, I decided to give America’s – and my father’s – favorite pastime a go and watch a baseball game.
But how could a girl with no patience or interest in any sport learn enough about baseball to watch a game with her father? Easy: television. Specifically, the baseball-adjacent comedy show Brockmire.
Step One: watch the show
Brockmire originated from a one-off Funny or Die sketch from 2010 where voice acting extraordinaire Hank Azaria plays Jim Brockmire, a golden-voiced-baseball-announcing legend whose career comes to a halt due to a public meltdown after finding out his wife had cheated on him.
The first season follows Brockmire’s attempt to get back into baseball by announcing games of a minor league team in a dying Rust Belt town. Azaria is joined by Amanda Peet as Jules, owner of the minor league team, the Morristown Frackers, and Tyrel Jackson Williams (no, not that kid from Everyone Hates Chris, that’s Tyler James Williams) as the baseball-hating, tech-savvy teen Charles. As the show goes on, however, it becomes less about Brockmire’s climb back to the Major Leagues, and more about his climb towards personal redemption.
While it pains me to cut some of my favorite lessons from this show (the dangers of alcoholism, how to know if you’re worthy of someone’s love, classic sitcom fare) the sole purpose of this article is to learn about baseball.
My biggest takeaway after watching the entire show is that baseball announcers are a big deal. Multiple storylines throughout the show concern Brockmire’s global infamy after his on-air meltdown. Not only that, but a recurring character is Joe Buck, a real and supposedly very famous sportscaster who I could hear on “Fox Sports” announcing games for this thing the “National Football League.” Now we can only hope that Joe Buck will make an appearance in the game I watch with my father, or else all of this knowledge will have been for naught.
In short order: Season one taught me some of the basics of baseball. It is the season that by far has the most scenes of the game actually being played, so I was able to remind myself of the rules. Like hitting the ball and running to the base, and if you hit the ball really well you get a home run. Or that if the ball hits you while you’re at bat you get to do what’s called a “walk,” which honestly seems like it’d be really easy to exploit. I also learned that it’s sometimes cool to purposely injure players on the other team if they injure you first. Like pitching the ball to hit a batter and hurt him is totally cool.
Season two contains far less actual baseball content, instead grappling with Brockmire’s codependency and reliance on drugs and alcohol, and how they have ruined every good thing that has ever happened to them. Which, honestly, doesn’t teach me anything about baseball. Instead I focused on the “Knuckleball” – a pitch perfected by the season one character Pedro Uribe, and a central focus of the episode appropriately titled, “Knuckleball.” I have no idea how the Knuckleball works, because the idea that the way that you move your wrist to throw a baseball impacts where it goes makes my head hurt. I also learned how it was common for players to go back and forth from the Major League to the Minor Leagues, seemingly at random and for no real reasons that I can figure out.
Onto season three! As the first season without any familiar supporting characters (not even one measly skyped-into-the-intervention Joe Buck), the show re-centers on what it knows and wants all of us to love, baseball. Finally, finally by season three I understand one of the central tenets of baseball announcing: the elusive count. By season three, episode three, “The Yips,” Brockmire explains that one announcer tells the story of the game with the “count” and the other one does other stuff. I didn’t understand it that much. But basically, the count is that whole “top of the fifth count is 1 and 0” nonsense which either means 1 ball, no strikes or 1 strike, no balls. I still have no idea what it means, but we’re making baby steps.
Season four makes itself the most relevant season yet, by not only taking place during the apocalypse (one of the opening lines of season four is about an ongoing quarantine in several US states, notably Arizona) but also by asking, “Does anyone actually like baseball?” A central storyline this season focuses on Brockmire, now Commissioner of Baseball, trying to reform the game for a wider audience and make the game under three hours. And I have to ask myself ––why has this not already been a rule in the first place? They also try to limit the number of pitchers in the bullpen to make the game shorter and, in a personal favorite gag, change the name of the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Colonizers. While this is notably the only season where we don’t see Brockmire in the booth, its central theme of trying to make people like baseball was especially relevant for me. Now that I learned literally everything there is to know about baseball, I had to watch a game.
Step Two: Sit through an entire baseball game.
For this part of the experiment, I watched a Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers game. My dad, I could tell, was excited, so my education started even before the game began. He DVR’d the game so we could watch it in its entirety later and fast forward through commercials, but had it playing on the radio while we were sitting outside.
“Steve Stone is the best color commentator in the business,” was the first piece of pre-game knowledge my dad dropped on me. Stone, apparently, was the White Sox booth announcer. His name didn’t have the same notoriety as any “Jim Brockmire,” “Joe Buck” or even a measly “Brent Musburger,” so I was suspicious that he actually was the best in the business. According to Brockmire, baseball announcers were a big deal, so I felt like I should have heard about him.
But I had studied, I was ready, I knew this one. Brockmire season 3, episode 3, “The Yips.”
“The color commentator does the count, right? He’s supposed to tell a story of the game with the count,” I said confidently.
Perhaps too confidently, because I was wrong. It was the other way around. Stone gave the color, because as a former baseball player he added insight or color. Thanks for nothing, Brockmire.
When we finally watched the game, we got off to a slow start. We were watching in my parents’ room, therefore my mother was also present. Being married to my father for 29 years, she has seen her fair share of White Sox games and has gotten through it by getting really into the players. She made us watch the pregame show because she “likes that Tim Anderson,” and he was giving an interview. Then we had to stop five minutes later because she saw an ad for a restaurant she had wanted to try.
She was snoring by the second inning.
After our slow start, the DVR bar terrifyingly said three hours and thirty minutes. But I wasn’t nervous, I had watched Brockmire, I had learned about how much mom likes Tim Anderson, I knew who Joe Buck was, I could do this, I was ready.
I decided my greatest test for the game would be following the count. It had now been explained to me twice, once by Brockmire, now by Jason Benetti, the White Sox’s own play-by-play announcer, and baseball itself, but listening to it was like doing math. I had to think long and hard to remember how all of the rules worked. I had hope for Benetti’s count, my dad said he was funny and made obscure movie references. For a moment I was hopeful. Maybe, I thought, we have a real life Brockmire on our hands. But no, by the first inning I could tell this was not the case. Benetti didn’t tell a Brockmire-esque story with his count; maybe real sportscasters weren’t as exciting as the ones on TV.
By the second and third innings we had settled into a comfortable rhythm. My dad would sometimes make little comments about the game (“He turned the wrong way there,” “He has to skid his legs more to hold his positions and catch better”) and I would nod my head trying to act like I knew what was going on. I decided to flex my newfound knowledge and start a discussion about how a lot of players came from the minor leagues into the majors and vice versa. But did I have enough knowledge to hold my own in a discussion about this?
I did not. My dad hit me with one follow-up about how it was becoming more common for players to be recruited right from college instead of typically working up through the minors, and I was finished.
By the fifth inning, things started to shift. My notes changed from what cut-outs I could see in the stands (one of them was a shirtless guy, I know it), looking for Joe Buck and debating if Benetti actually does sound like Brockmire, to comments on the game itself.
“Newbie pitcher Dale Dunning’s 104 mph pitch almost hit him, he caught that ball like a boomerang.”
“Tigers are up in the fifth inning, with those three home runs after Adam Engel missed the ball by a hair.”
“Tim Anderson’s home run drive at the bottom of the fifth has tied up the game!”
My mom is right, I do like that Tim Anderson!
“Dunning’s earlier strikeout glory is fading, he’s losing his elasticity and should be traded out for another pitcher from the bullpen.”
Hang on, that was a Brockmire connection! Season four, episode four, “Comeback Player of the Year,” Jules and Jim want to get rid of pitcher trade outs to make the game shorter! Boom!
By the seventh inning even my father has started to fast forward – baseball is just too long, that’s a fact – and I’ve had a realization. Maybe you’re not supposed to learn about baseball from Brockmire, but you learn Brockmire has been inside of us this whole time? Inside each person is another person who is a baseball announcer.
No – that doesn’t make any sense.
Here’s what does make sense. It was clear, you cannot learn enough about baseball from Brockmire to understand the game. I learned more about baseball in that two-hour game than I had from my entire life of half-watching baseball. But what Brockmire did give me was enough appreciation and reverence for the game that it made watching it with my dad more enjoyable. TV baseball was not real life, and it was no match for watching a real game with my dad on a summer night, however saccharine that may be.
All four seasons of Brockmire can be watched on Hulu with a subscription. Baseball, my father assures me, can be watched at any time of the day on almost any channel.
Header image by Bridget Killian