Was Pitch a One Hit Wonder?

SoSH Baseball tries to cover the sport from all angles: while our bread-and-butter is the rigorous analysis of the game for both the major leagues and minor leagues, we also look at the game off-the-field, as well as the remarkable, the weird, and the weekly occurrences. When FOX announced a weekly series focused on baseball, we were excited to cover the TV series Pitch – and that was before we found out it was going to be about baseball breaking the gender barrier.

In last week’s debut episode of Pitch, we met the main characters, saw some believable baseball scenes, were shown what the media circus around a woman “breaking the gender barrier” might be like, and had the groundwork laid for a TV drama that was mostly about the game of baseball – but was also about the business of baseball.

To recap, Ginny Baker has been called up to the San Diego Padres to replace the team’s injured fifth starter. The Padres general manager and owner are cashing in on the media frenzy – and the resulting fan interest – over the first female baseball player – and keeping her on the roster to sell tickets. We meet Baker’s teammates, including team superstar and captain, Mike Lawson – who admits to being an “ass slapper” –  and believes Baker is nothing more than a “sideshow” like the St. Louis Browns use of the 3-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel back in the 1940s.

Pitch’s second episode focuses on distraction. The first episode introduced the idea that Baker’s fame and notoriety were a distraction for the Padres, and the second episode hammered it home in multiple ways. First up, Baker goes out with a few of “the boys” to celebrate and every channel at the sports bar features some talking head – FOX’s Colin Cowherd and Katie Nolan, as well as fictional character Rachel Patrick – opining on some aspect of the “Gin-sanity.” Next, the club’s manager, Al Luongo, is on the heat seat, both for last week’s brawl in the clubhouse and because the team was not performing well before Baker’s arrival. When video of him calling Baker “pretty” several years ago surfaces – and he botches the subsequent “apology” press conference – team owner Frank Reid moves to have Luongo fired. These distractions culminate in the Padres committing three errors on the same play, and losing another game. Baseball fans, and constant readers of this site, immediately recognized the play in question as being ripped right out of the box score – except, in real life, it was the Dodgers making the three errors on one play against the Padres.

But the biggest distraction is Baker herself. A large part of the episode is given over to her backstory with agent Amelia Slater, who has booked the rookie pitcher on Jimmy Kimmel’s show where she will participate in a sketch entitled “Ginny Baker’s Clubhouse Decorating Tips.” The flashback shows Slater kickstarting “Gin-sanity” while Baker was still toiling in the minor leagues. Slater arrives in a muddy minor league parking lot in 4-inch heels, armed with a “Michael Jordan plan” to turn Baker into a global superstar. Part of the plan – named after the famously a-political Jordan, who made billions being a great pitchman and brand spokesperson – is that Baker avoid commenting on anything. This is reinforced by Baker’s brief confrontation with the fictional journalist Rachel Patrick, who asks Baker to appear on her show to talk about a fictionalized sexual assault case. Baker declines, forcefully, because she’s “just a ballplayer.”

The point is that she’s not just a ballplayer. Pitch has set up Ginny Baker to be the most famous person – the most famous woman – in America. When she doesn’t immediately comment on Luongo’s ill-advised “pretty” interview, the owner sets in motion his termination. Of course, Baker ditches Slater’s well-laid plans to “say nothing” on the Kimmel show by strongly coming out in support of Luongo – and by delivering an unequivocal message on the sexual assault case. However, even the most famous woman in America isn’t as powerful as Padres owner Frank Reid, who is still dead-set on firing Luongo.

This episode features just the one on-field sequence, plus an extended workout session where the “36-year-old catcher” (Lawson) tries in vain to keep up with his 23-year-old teammate Baker in the gym. As is typical of second episodes of new TV series, this hour introduces a slew of secondary and unwelcome plotlines. When the story leaves Baker, it suffers. The show is built around its star and when she’s not on screen, the story drags.

However, a network TV show has to set up drama. Most of what they’ve set up is interesting – when it’s about the baseball and Baker. When it’s not – the show is an average or below-average soap opera. The scenes explaining why Slater chose to champion Baker particularly fell flat. Similarly, the side-plot of Reid and Arguella discussing Luongo’s firing were heavy-handed. But Lawson’s speech in the clubhouse as tempers flared again was very believable. Lawson doesn’t deliver a speech about how the team has to fight through the distractions and embrace Baker – he rants about how he is sick of the distractions and how he fears the end of his career is coming.

Baker’s arrival in San Diego is a distraction. The show does a nice job of showing how those distractions affect everyone: Baker, Lawson, team ownership, the manager – everyone. While not all of the plot lines are compelling, everything involving Baker continues to be worth it. When Kylie Bunbury is on screen, she is believable as the most famous – and most distracting – woman in the world. Previews for next week show Baker at the plate – this is the National League, after all – and pitching once again. Pitch has shown enough to stay in the rotation for another week.


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Featured image courtesy of FOX.

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