Subtraction By Subtraction, With Ray Ratto

There are limits, even for podcasts as a cultural product and even for this podcast as an example of that type of cultural product, for how off-course a conversation can get while still remaining a conversation. At some point you just have free jazz of the most undisciplined sort, a bunch of goofballs tootling away in blithe parallel on their Mouth Horns while the thread tying those improvisations together becomes less and less distinct. I am not saying that this episode, which is in point of fact a pretty straightforward MLB preview featuring returning champion Ray Ratto, is like that. But the animating tension of it, much more so than Ray and I answering Drew’s questions about whether various big-league teams are good or bad, is Drew trying to keep us from complicating or qualifying or riffing in response to what he intended as binary questions, and us simply refusing to do that.

Some of this is just the result of having two inveterate tootlers on there who were eager to play off each other and, in my case if perhaps not in Ray’s, also extremely fired up to have some damn baseball to watch and talk about. There are a lot of teams, and very few of them can be dismissed or even described in just a sentence or two. Or, anyway, very few of them were treated that way by Ray and me, to Drew’s increasing chagrin. For a conversation that is mostly about one thing (baseball teams) and one question (are they good or bad), it wound up being freewheeling and goofy. I give Ray a lot of credit for his professionalism; I give myself very little credit at all, although I did do a better job than usual not making everything about the Mets.

Embedded in the middle of this baseball preview, in a daring and cheeky narrative twist, was a discussion about The Caitlin Clark Experience and the ongoing renaissance in women’s college basketball. Drew and Ray follow that more closely than I do, but the sheer star power on display in the women’s game both in college and the WNBA has drawn me in, and the sense that something exciting is both happening and about to get more exciting has kept me there. My perverse taste for watching wobbly institutions bobble golden opportunities has added an extra thrill to it where the WNBA is concerned, but either way, it’s a fun time to care about this, even if you arrived as late as I have.

The sprawl of the baseball preview and the necessity of the women’s hoops chat didn’t leave a lot of room for non-sports stuff, although there’s some family vacation talk at the beginning and a brief and delightfully unhinged foray into speculative animal combat at the end, courtesy of the Funbag. For an episode that spent most of its running time pushing against the very concept of following instructions and adhering to instructions, it wound up having kind of a lot of decently informed and focused discussion in it. Maybe it was the notes we didn’t play.

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