By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief
Charlie Rose did not host The Charlie Rose Show last night. This was a problem.
Charlie Rose’s stock-in-trade is wide-eyed Southern Wonder at The Big City. He approaches every guest and every topic with the enthusiasm of a four-year-old*. He feigns stupidity a lot, which means he can get away with a lot. It’s why he’s fun to watch. He doesn’t presume to know anything about anything. He’s curious. He’s enthusiastic. He’s not pretentious.
This works so well because Charlie Rose often interviews high-brow people about high-brow things. Nuclear energy policy. The intricacies of the secondary mortgage market. Brains. To approach these topics with a condescending sense of intellectual entitlement would be to alienate his audience. He’s on our side. He knows just as much as we do. Even if he knows much more.
But how about when the topic is low-brow? Movies? Sports? Movies about sports? Then, Charlie does sometimes run into trouble, as we’ve discussed in this space before. But AT LEAST he doesn’t mutter down his nose at these topics. At least he still brings his trademark enthusiasm, energy, and sense of wonder.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of last night‘s guest host Jon Meacham on the topic of baseball. You see, Meacham is what Tony Kornheiser calls a Baseball Poet. One of those horrible people who drone on and on about the “elegiac symmetry” of “the emerald chessboard” (Mr. Tony was, once upon a time, a brilliantly funny writer). The sort of person who calls baseball a “metaphor for life.” Over and over again. With a straight face. The sort of person who quotes Bart Giamatti, “Renaissance scholar, president of Yale, and seventh commissioner of Major League Baseball” (in that order?) as saying that “like The Odyssey,” baseball “is an epic of rejoining and putting things aright.” This was Meacham’s intro. I’m not kidding.
Fortunately, blog culture has rendered most of the Baseball Poets obsolete. Places like Deadpsin and the late, great Fire Joe Morgan, rightly paint Ken Burns-style myth-making as silly at best and cynical at worst. But it’s good to know there’s still a forum for old white men to excuse the fact that they enjoy watching a children’s game by quoting The Odyssey. This… Is…. Charlie Rose.
Except that it’s not. Because Charlie wasn’t there.
Fortunately, Meacham’s guests blow past his pretension immediately. The first thing Geist does is call him on his shit (“didn’t know we were going to be talking about Homer, this evening. Getting a little deep here, John.”) And the first thing Reggie Jackson does is actually talk about baseball. Not The Odyssey. Not Bart Giamatti’s CV. Baseball. Mariano Rivera. Justin Verlander. Baseball.
The closest Charlie’s Interloper comes to talking about real-life, present-day, on-the-field anything is to say, “because Charlie Rose tapes in New York, we note that the Yankees won a 6 to 3 victory against the Detroit Tigers. And the world is right again.” Fuck you, buddy.
Look, it’s a fine, lively episode, made all the more fine and livelier by the guests (Jackson in particular—an honest, charismatic, intelligent human being who at least had the stones to pick the Braves over the Phillies in the NL East this year).
But I couldn’t help constantly wondering: What would Charlie do?