It's one of those moments you never forget. I was sitting in a high-school classroom, trying to shove a potato in the disk drive of an Apple II+, when my friend Sam came running in with a wild look in his eye.
"Come quick! Someone invented the Internet!"
And after that, everything was different. There were cat videos and Flash games, YouTube comments and memes. A torrent of knowledge at our fingertips. A torrent of torrents at our fingertips.
But what was it like before the Internet? What did we do for fun? More specifically, what did we do when we wanted to laugh at the expense of baseball players? There weren't any GIFs. There weren't any embeddable videos from MLB.com that worked well more than half the time. The local news didn't have time to cover anything but the scores and highlights.
My memory was jogged at a garage sale. Blooper videos. You might remember them from late nights on ESPN, or you might remember when they were piled in a bin with other VHS tapes at a Walgreens, but they were ubiquitous. There was "Amazing Sports Bloopers," "Sports Bloopers Encyclopedia," "Time Out for Hilarious Sports Bloopers," "Super Duper Baseball Bloopers" … you get the idea. Sometimes there would be four of the shows on one special collection.
This is how we used to live.
The one that I got my hands on was "Baseball's 101 Funniest Moments." It's from 1993, and I couldn't wait to get home and mine it for GIFs. Because that's all it was, right? Proto-GIFs that you had to manually stop and rewind whenever you wanted to see them again?
Not really. After spending several hours just figuring out how to watch and record the thing on my computer, I found only three or four GIFs that would have been worthy of even a tweet today. Here is a brief rundown of what was included in the 30-minute running time, but before you start, you'll need to get this ready:
- Managers arguing with umpires
- Players getting hit in the face with shaving-cream pies
- An anecdote that Bob Costas tells Jay Johnstone about Earl Weaver*
- Minor-league layers dropping baseballs
- Minor-league players dropping more baseballs
- A minute-long feature on Turk Wendell's crazy superstitions
- A hidden-camera prank on Frank Thomas, set up by Steve Lyons and Jay Johnstone
- A little kid singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" off-key
- A minor-league player getting hit in the beans with a foul ball
- Mike Veeck's wacky promotions for the Ft. Myers Miracles (such as getting your hair cut in the stands of a game)
- Players proposing and/or getting married on the field
- A montage of the San Diego Chicken and Max Patkin doing San Diego Chicken and Max Patkin things to a soundtrack of synthesized jazz
- Minor-league players falling into the dugout
- Players in the minor leagues playing all nine positions
- A University of Nebraska player who broke a car window with a home run
- Hitters charging the mound after getting hit with a pitch
It was a tall task, condensing the 101 funniest moments in baseball history to 30 minutes, but I'm not sure if they really picked out the actual funniest. I'm not sure if there was a committee responsible for the voting, or if there was some sort of year-long public vote … but I'm going to have to quibble with the word "funniest".
The Frank Thomas prank set up like this: Frank Thomas …
… is out to dinner with Steve Lyons …
… and Jay Johnstone …
… who was a mainstay on this sort of video. The gag was simple: Set Thomas up to have a bad dinner.
Frank Thomas: Great. My soup is cold.
Steve Lyons: /titters
Steve Lyons: Really?
Not a made-up sequence, I promise! Then they bring out Diet Coke that's too syrupy, moldy bread, and super-tough chicken. Frank Thomas doesn't like any of it one bit! Then they reveal the hidden cameras. Frank Thomas seems like a very patient person.
But instead of continuing to make fun of a 30-minute blooper video that its producers probably don't even remember, allow me to make a serious point. Right after this video was released in 1993, the Internet was invented. It was a glorious day. And what happened was that we didn't have to rely on a handful of curators to relay baseball's 101 funniest moments. You've probably read umpteen references to the "democratization of the Internet", but here's an example your baseball-addled brain can relate to: The funniest moments in baseball are a lot funnier now. They're often just video clips or silent GIFs, and the funniest ones are shared virally. It's a meritocracy now. The best of the best get shared, and they get shared instantly, sans sound effects.
There's a downside, too. There's so much to process. These 101 bloopers were collected and curated over a longish period of time, with the producers likely enlisting help from TV stations and minor-league teams. Then it was presented as a collection for your edification (and purchasing consideration). Maybe you would quibble with the results, but there wasn't that much competition for your attention. Now, with the exceptions of a very few legendary clips, the bloopers of today have a 10-minute shelf-life. There's so, so many of them. So many GIFs. So many videos. You can get them all on your phone.
Yeah, something like that, which was legitimately from one of Mike Veeck's wacky promotions! (Mobile-phone-at-the-park day!) But a little smaller.
It's unquestionably better now, of course. The video was pretty much unwatchable. Just thought I'd point out the constant stream of bloopers provided by the Internet these days is easy to take for granted. Do you realize that some of the people reading this have never seen the GIF of Eric Chavez hitting his pitcher in the head with a return throw? That truly would be considered for a list of the 101 funniest baseball moments, but because it has to swim upstream against the rest of the Internet, it's going to be easy to miss. There's just too much to keep track of.
Now, onto the three GIFs that were salvageable:
Actual punchline from the narrator: "Hey, buddy. Better work on those control problems."
Mood of background music: Zany
Actual punchline from the narrator: "As you can see, this little guy has a pretty good swing."
(Also, that was Brett Butler taking it in the beans.)
The day before the Internet came out, this blooper video was released. It stands in well as a representative of the entire genre. And as terrible as it was, it made me nostalgic. I grew up on these things.
Luckily, your kids won't have to.
* Earl Weaver is ranting in the dugout, throwing bats and helmets around, and swearing a lot. The super-religious Pat Kelly stops Weaver and says, "Skip, I think you should walk with the Lord." After the bench gets really quiet, Weaver turns to him and says, "Yeah? Well, I think you should walk with the bases loaded."