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Late Night Sports Radio

Whose Fantasy Is This, Anyway?

Whose Fantasy Is This, Anyway?
Credit: Nicolas Saunier

Last week a New York Times baseball blogger posted an entry about sports radio. He described an hour he spent one afternoon listening to stations in Detroit and Philadelphia, certainly through his computer. He said that NFL football dominates the call-in shows, even in cities that have baseball teams in the playoffs.

That’s not my experience. In my home region of Raleigh-Durham, college basketball and college football are the main topics of discussion and in my transistor-delivered sports talk home after midnight, WFAN in New York, you can hear talk about the Yankees and Mets year round.

But I agree that NFL football has overtaken other sports in a cultural sense. Over the past 30 years the NFL Sunday routine has become an oasis, or an anchor, amid an otherwise frayed, anxious, and attention-challenged male culture. You know when NFL football is on TV and you know what channel. In my anecdotal sample, the folks who play fantasy football are less cerebral and less meditative than those who play fantasy baseball. The contemplative, kaleidoscopic patterns of a 162-game baseball season can’t compete with the 11-man battle for real estate on 16 Sundays. (Basketball is somewhere in the middle; hockey is closer to football).

At 3 or 4 a.m. on WFAN, the people who call in (all men, all white, judging from accents) fall more into the group of subtler baseball obsessives. Maybe they can’t sleep because of ear-to-ear anxieties. The African American host Tony Paige has the perfect, sympathetic tone for this lonely audience. Jerry in the Bronx. John in Bayside. Benny in Brentwood. Elliott in Westport. William in Paterson. Bernard in Brooklyn.

According to Wikipedia, Paige is only 58 years old, but his soul is old-school. He deftly avoids arguments without being meek. He loves boxing, baseball, and jazz. Sometimes the 84-year-old jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson calls into Paige’s show at 2 a.m., after his gig at the Village Vanguard, and they’ll talk for a segment or two. Donaldson was once a good-hitting third baseman in a Negro semi-pro league in North Carolina. I hope somebody is taping his chats with Paige for posterity.

It’s 3:27 a.m. on Monday, four days after the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Jets and Giants both lost yesterday, the Giants in embarrassing fashion at home.

Tom in Westfield: “I blame the whole season on A-Rod.”

Paige: “Maybe it’s time for the Yankees to stop buying players. If you buy players, you are stuck with them. If you are more modest, like the Yankees were in the late ’90s—until they bought Giambi—you are more flexible.”

Sam Stephenson is currently working on a biography of W. Eugene Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He is also working on Chaos Manor, a theater installation based on his The Jazz Loft Project (Knopf, 2009). More by Sam Stephenson

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