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Less Is More With TV Stats, Graphics

I couldn't enjoy myself fully at a couple of recent concerts because of the irritating smartphone habits of many in attendance. They talked, texted, took pictures or, in the most nonsensical maneuver of all, held the phone in an apparent attempt to let the person on the other end hear the music, which is nearly impossible.

The main joy of seeing live music is being able to lose oneself in the atmosphere, to revel in a transcendent experience. But this enjoyment is harder to come by lately as audience members increasingly tend to chronicle every little moment of their lives. Why? Perhaps for fear of becoming irrelevant, thinking that if they didn't document their actions, their impact would vanish.

There's a growing, manifest insecurity right now that prevents so many from just living in the moment. This is likely an outgrowth of the Facebook generation, as so many are desperate to validate their conformity. Relishing an occasion on its merit without immediate affirmation from countless others isn't considered a virtue; it's anathema.

This proclivity for relentless distraction is also true at most sporting events. Each time I'm at a tennis match, baseball game or basketball game, I'm left wondering why certain people spent the money and showed up if they don't display interest in the action.

Now it's even getting harder to enjoy sports fully on TV in the comfort of home. The inexorable march toward the full clutter of the screen has infringed on my enjoyment of late.

This has become glaringly true during the MLB postseason. TBS, for some reason, thought it a valuable idea to insert a distracting graphic showcasing the location of the pitches during at-bats. It's an eyesore, and a redundant one at that (ESPN's digital strike zone affixed over the plate was even worse). The reliance on unnecessary graphics is an addiction.

Why the need to obscure part of the field to show the computer-generated locations of the pitches? It doesn't affect the umpire's call, since replay is not used for balls and strikes. Viewers are supposed to be watching in real time, focusing on the ball, but the eye is immediately drawn to the graphic. It's not as if the standard view of the pitcher and catcher gives a misleading indication of whether the pitch was a ball or a strike.

I understand its use for a blatantly bad call from the plate umpire and for illustrative purposes. But on every pitch? All it does is distract, and detract, from the natural flow of the game. By always glancing over to see if a pitch was actually a ball and not a strike, concentration is absent. It's a truly useless graphic.

The analogy with music is again apt. When digital technology quickly overtook the industry, it was lauded for being so clean and clear that one could isolate every sound. But music wasn't - and isn't - meant to be listened to in that fashion, as sometimes sounds should be muddled and lush and not so separated. Many artists are reverting to more traditional recording methods, and vinyl has made a mini-comeback.

Sports are no different. The new graphics and the constant bombardment of stats remove an instinctual element from the spectator, who is now being tricked into believing he is thinking like a general manager or a coach. Just because it's cutting-edge technology and supplying the viewer with more information doesn't always make it worthwhile.

Studies have proved that the notion of "multitasking" doesn't really exist, that a person can't concentrate on two things at once and the best outcome will be only two things done half well. This is the way I see recent TV coverage of sports. By jamming every little bit of "important information" on the screen, it leaves the viewer in a jumbled state of processing stats and not allowing the organic nature of the contest to unfold unimpeded.

It's as if networks think fans want to look at graphics and stats more than the game. They believe the sum of its parts is indeed the whole. This system may please sabermetricians and fantasy fanatics or those who regularly gamble on games, but it doesn't necessarily truly inform the viewer. Information overload can often confuse and distort.

It's a battle between the logical and the intuitive. It's as if those who favor increased use of graphics believe that they can acquire a perfect understanding of a game in an almost religious fashion through the use of numbers. Their goal seems to be to remove chance, serendipity and randomness from the equation.

As I watch the postseason with my baseball companions, we dissect the game as it's happening and don't feel the need to have any signifiers on the screen other than the score, outs, count and position of the runners.

"Truth is more important than the facts," said Frank Lloyd Wright. I wish networks would take this to heart when broadcasting sports.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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