Friday, June 12, 2009

Whoppers General, attorneys junior

Behold, a candidate for Clueless Sports Claim of the (still-young) Century:

Game 7s — especially when a title is on the line — are rare.

Two assertions here, and it's sort of tempting to get tied up in the first: How rare are Game 7s? (I've been wondering for a couple of years how "Game N" became a count noun, but at least the writer's making it "Game 7s," not "Games 7"). The answer appears to be "not very." Three of the last five Stanley Cup finals have gone to seven games. The World Series has gone to seven games four times out of the past 20 (20%), but in the two decades before that, it was 50%.

But that obscures the more amusing point, "especially when a title is on the line," which takes journalism's fabled number-phobia to new heights. Dude! That's the only kind of Game 7 we have! See, it's a best-of-seven series, so as soon as one side wins four games, everybody gets to go home.

What is this sort of typing-without-thinking doing on the front page of a major metropolitan daily? (The only other story on the front, we should note, is about the paper's asking two psychics for the outcome of the game, which could spoil things for you junior players out there, so don't look.) The general decline of editing deserves some of the blame. So does the billboarding of the Freep: 1A stories no longer jump inside, so each one has a four- to six-graf condensed version that teases to the full version elsewhere, and that way lies nonsense.

In broader decline-and-fall terms, though, there's the general Dick Vitale-ization of sports journalism. Sports is no longer about the game but about The Moment; nothing is less than an epic. Let's zoom out to that paragraph in full:

Consider it this way: After tonight, you may not see anoth­er such epic game in your life. Game 7s — especially when a title is on the line — are rare. They also are magical, burst­ing with a season’s worth of stumbles, triumphs and inju­ries, where the hero is remem­bered for posterity and the vanquished falls into an abyss.

Oh, for God's sake. Could you at least read your own sports section? Inferring, perhaps, from heds like "Fedotenko, a Game 7 hero in 2004, plans to fire up Penguins" or "Both coaches know all about losing a Game 7" that the vast majority of your audience has seen some championship series go to seven games before and might well survive to see it happen again? (Like maybe even next week, should they follow pro basketball?) And ... no. Flying pigs are "magical." Championship games are sometimes really good, sometimes really dull, often memorable, but "mundane" in the nicest of senses. If you don't like the current one, wait a few months and there will be another.

All that said, it's a nice atmosphere. The cops will start closing off streets in a few hours, the hockey-stick-wielding octopus is still in the display case at the fish market, and the bakery that's been here since Czarina's mom was a sprout is doing the octopus cupcakes again. (Plus, oddly, the strange yellow orb in the sky has actually appeared again.) So we'll get some revisions and grading in, then throw a few penguin steaks on the grill and turn things over to the CBC -- which has this strangely level-headed Canadian idea that it's showing some hockey games, not the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.



Blogger John Cowan said...

"Game 7" is parallel to "Grade 4", which is common parlance in Canada and not unknown here, or to "Superbowl XL".

1:34 PM, June 12, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

We do "Grade 4" here as well -- the difference that I think is fairly recent is using "Game N" as a count noun, which we wouldn't do with "Grade 4" and the like:

He had a good Grade 4.

None of the Grade 4s were very promising (you might get this one if it was clipped from a longer noun phrase, like "Cat IV," but not in the sense of "a fourth grade").

You can get a figurative plural out of "Super Bowl LX" -- as in, Twain and Blake saw very different Jerusalems -- but not in the sense that this year's Game 7 will be different from the Games 7 in the '67, '68 and '75 Serieses.

Now you guys go have a beer and get ready for the game. I am but penguin chow if I don't finish this review thing soon.

1:56 PM, June 12, 2009  
Anonymous Bob L. said...

But ... but ... there are lots of seven game series that are preliminaries to the championship series. All series in the NBA and NHL playoffs are seven games. So are the league series in baseball that precede the World Series As I understand the phrase "a title is on the line," it means that the winner of the series so described takes home all the marbles. In basketball and hockey, the first series for each qualifying team is nothing more than the "conference semifinals." So, no, having a game seven does not necessarily mean that a title is on the line. It may be that the winner gets nothing more than a pat on the back and a chance to move on to the next series.

4:34 PM, June 12, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Well, you guys are north of Canada and all that. But what's wrong with "He had a good Grade 4"? That's parallel with "He had a good fourth grade", and seems about as perspicuous to me. Your second sentence I would read as referring to the members (plural) of Grade 4.

5:31 PM, June 12, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

OK, here's another whack at the noun thing. "Game 7" is interchangeable with "the seventh game":

Lonborg started Game 7 on two days' rest.

Lonborg started the seventh game on two days' rest.

... but not with "seventh game":

* Lonborg started seventh game on two days' rest.

School grades are a little different, in that (going by what I recall hearing) the determiner is optional in:

We covered that in fourth grade.

We covered that in the fourth grade.

What I think is new in the last some-how-many years is that "Game 7" has become interchangeable not just with "the seventh game" but with "(any old) seventh game." I'm not convinced it really is a change, or that it'd be a big deal if it is, and I'm not saying it's "wrong" (I mean, it's sports). But it has been striking me as weird of late.

Either way, great game, huh? Imperfect outcome and all.

8:34 PM, June 13, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

On the titles thing, I don't know if we can restrict "title" to the final championship. Winning the pennant has always brought the title of AL or NL champion, whether you had to win one or two (or no, back in the real days) playoffs to get there. I'm not blown away by the division championship stuff, but seems to me there's a pretty good case that any level of playoff has some grade of title on the line.

Over and above whether running the string out to seven games is more common then than in the final championship.

9:08 PM, June 13, 2009  

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