‘The Franchise’ to be the ‘Hard Knocks’ of Baseball


Baseball is quieter than football.  Less of our players wind up with brain damage.  Our Any Given Sunday is Bull Durham. I mean yeah, they say “fuck” a lot in that movie, but there are far less scenes with coke being snorted off breasts in the bathroom, unless I missed an extensive gallery of deleted scenes.  Plus there’s Kevin Costner, so we automatically assume that baseball is championed by middle-aged whiners.  Which is only true, like, some of the time.

To see how else we are exposed to baseball in other mediums, we need to turn merely to the work of Matthew Christopher.  Through him, we learn that baseball is a game played by child protagonists, whose pursuit of glory in the game is often complemented by a subplot about running over their neighbor’s dog with a bike or their parents planning a picnic but then getting divorced.  Baseball provides a satisfying background for character development, as Matthew discovered several hundred times.  Its an interesting challenge to put a character through because of the unique difficulties and passion required of them to succeed.  Or fail.

And obviously, there is plenty of nonfiction on the other side of the shelf.  And while the one-name biographies and catch phrases of championship teams all start to blend together after a while, fans of the sport are able to pick out intricacies of different works.  You could read Cal Ripken’s “The Only Way I Know” and find out his philosophy toward getting booed; you could read Shane Victorino’s biography and find out as a child he scored a goal in a soccer game and flicked off the other team’s bench.  Just because its a subgenre doesn’t mean the possbilities are entirely limited.

So that brings us to reality, where we are about to learn what happens in a player’s career before they retire and write an autobiography with a forward by Tim McCarver.  All of the things that make baseball translate well into a narrative form, when the acting isn’t downright abusive, are just as apparent in the real thing.

Like for instance, “Cleat Chasers.”  “Cleat Chasers” is a baseball-themed reality show, but for some reason, its producers assumed a show about sex with baseball players would sell better than a show about baseball players.  What they don’t understand is that baseball is popular all by itself.  Did they not hear that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was just selected as part of the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress, second only to the first ever recorded sounds of a human being.

So, yeah. We’re pretty popular (**flips up collar of leather jacket**), even before you add the floozies.

Now, no one is saying women don’t have the right to focus all of their sexual prowess in a specific direction.  Just saying that it doesn’t necessarily make for fascinating television, and it would suck if it were the single representation of baseball in the field of television.  Outside of actual baseball games; which, let’s not forget, still technically count as television.

On July 13, Showtime is giving us “The Franchise,” the story of the 2011 San Francisco Giants as they try to do all of those things they do (As a fan of one of the speed bumps on their way to the World Series, forgive me if there appears to be a negative bias written into this–it is involuntary, if apparent, but I assumed I was over it by now, like watching a cardboard box of treasured childhood memories explode).

The Giants quirked their way into the job, being a team full of personality and also being defending champions.  The show will be in the format of a camera crew following around each of the Giants as they go through their off season workouts and back out of driveways and talk directly to the camera.  At one point, Brian Wilson locks Sergio Romo in his car.

The comparisons to HBO’s “Hard Knocks” are inevitable, given the shows similarities of covering professional sports.  So, what did Hard Knocks teach us about football that we could possibly see “The Franchise” reveal to us about baseball?

Well, for starters, we’re risking Tony Dungy’s feelings.  All it took was Rex Ryan throwing phrases like “slapdick” and “let’s go eat a fucking snack” around before the NFL analyst was terrified that the sport was being given the wrong image.

Based on the trailer, it’s going to be a healthy dose of reality for everyone outside of the game.  Prior to the decision to make it a documentary, there had been talk amongst producers to develop a narrative drama about a woman who takes over ownership of a pro baseball team after her father dies (which is Cameron Diaz’s exact role in Any Given Sunday, I believe).  This step mirrored the development of “The Franchise’s” HBO NFL counterpart in that ESPN’s “Playmakers” had premiered amidst the earlier seasons of “Hard Knocks,” and was lambasted by football players as being heavily critical of the league.

Factual or not, there’s clearly going to be a sense fo realism lost in a narrative script.  Creative license comes into play whenever complications arise during the translation of reality to paper, and when that happens, holes are plugged in any way they can be.  Skipping their version of “Playmakers” may be the smartest thing Showtime did during development of “The Franchise,” as they stepped over the part where they were criticized for showing baseball wrong and are now all but unaccountable for what happens on screen.  They don’t have to market it as gritty and realistic, because its real. Whatever happens isn’t the product of a scriptwriter’s flawed creativity, its merely what the camera was pointing at.

Whether you were hideously bitter about the Giants winning last year, “The Franchise” all but promises you an in depth look at how they prepare to defend their title.  Do we need to intrude upon the last portion of their lives that was free from the public eye?  Maybe once, just to offer perspective.  But at least if we’re going to see it, we’re going to see it for real, and not through the filter of B-level TV actors all faux-playing baseball for their careers.