OP-ED: ‘We play loud’? Oh, please don’t
If you watched much of the recent seven-game World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros, you probably saw a short Major League Baseball video promoting the 2019 playoffs.
The video begins with black-and-white scenes of old-time baseball, from, say, the 1950s. It depicts the fans quietly observing the action on the field or occasionally rising to mildly applaud their favorite players. During the first few seconds of the video a kid, baseball glove at the ready, slumps on the railing in front of him, looking positively bored.
Suddenly, present-day ballplayers are superimposed in color on these ancient scenes. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge takes a mighty swing and high-fives his teammates. The black-and-white crowd in the background seems to come to life.
Other modern ballplayers make their time-travelling appearances. They leap, dance, gesticulate and throw celebratory vats of Gatorade on each other. They seem to awaken the stolid fans of the ‘50s from their stupor. The message at the end of the video: “We Play Loud.”
And, indeed, these days, we do play loud. Fans seem to be getting more revved up — or allow themselves to be revved up. In terms of crowd noise, ballparks are beginning to rival football stadiums. For a couple of reasons, this is a bad idea.
For one thing, the noise is deafening. I don’t mean figuratively deafening, I mean literally.
The Astros’ Minute Maid ballpark has a reputation as one of MLB’s loudest venues. In 2005, the first year the Astros reached the World Series, I smuggled a decibel meter into Minute Maid for a regular-season ballgame against the Milwaukee Brewers. The meter regularly registered sound surges in the upper 90s. I tried the same experiment in my local AA ballpark, and the near-constant noise level often exceeded 100 decibels.
Permanent and cumulative hearing damage begins at around 85 decibels. In short, if you are spending much time at modern ballparks, your long-term ability to hear is taking a beating.
That’s why crowd shots from this year’s series showed a few infants and toddlers with high-tech hearing protection supplied by their responsible parents. But everyone’s hearing, at any age, suffers when noise levels begin to exceed 85 decibels.
But here’s the other problem: The powers that oversee baseball have sold their fans on the idea that more noise equals more enjoyment at the ballpark, as well as more support for the local team. Fans are encouraged to be participants, rather than merely spectators, and they have largely accepted this dubious notion without complaint.
Thus when the home team pitcher imposes two strikes on a batter in a two-out inning, ballpark management demands, via huge electronic screens, that the local fans “MAKE SOME NOISE…MAKE SOME NOISE.”
And the fans do as they’re told, standing, yelling, twirling towels overhead and producing a din that is literally deafening (see above).
What’s the purpose of the noise? Presumably it’s meant to enhance the home team’s advantage over the visitors. But if the goal is to distract and intimidate the opposing batter, then it’s rude and unsportsmanlike (baseball isn’t football!). If it’s meant to support and encourage the hometown pitcher, it doesn’t seem to be working. The 2019 series, undoubtedly one of the loudest on record, was remarkable in that the home team lost all seven games.
Sometimes baseball is called the “thinking man’s game.” All modern sports are complex, but baseball involves levels of subtlety and intricacy unheard of in football. Baseball rewards contemplation and conversation, which accounts for the steady murmur associated with ballparks of the 40s and 50s, in contrast to the raucous, orchestrated yelling of modern times.
Baseball’s complexities are the sort of thing that you could discuss with your seatmate or explain to your son or daughter between pitches. But how well can you do that when the stentorian windbag behind you is yelling at the top of his lungs and the screaming fan in front of you is standing, waving a towel above his head and raising a dreadful din, all because the batter has managed to accumulate two strikes?
— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.