The History of the Seattle Mariners (2020) by Jon Bois — Cinematary (2024)

Review by Etan Weisfogel

Jon Bois tells stories — specifically, as the subtitle for his first video series SBNation noted, “true stories that are pretty good.” But often these stories have already been told, experienced live by thousands of fans and broadcast on national television for millions of viewers at home. The dilemma Bois faces is one faced by any person attempting to dramatize, or re-dramatize, the events of a professional sports game. What combination of shots and cuts could possibly compare to the game-winning home run as experienced in its original form, presented in exactly the same manner as a first-inning groundout or a routine fly ball? There’s something beautiful about an image unaware of its own destiny, the camera demoted from the position of the omniscient narrator and reduced to the level of the unknowing spectator.

Bois eschews recreation entirely. Instead, he translates, from analog to digital, from the indexical to the symbolic. This process reflects a historical move in sports writing, specifically baseball writing, as much as it does a creative decision. Following the 2003 publication of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, often said to have popularized the school of analytics known as SABRmetrics, baseball became a sport increasingly driven by data and statistics. Once the nation’s pastime, and coming off an era of juiced-up superstars and shattered home run records, the sport began to lose its prominence within the cultural consciousness. Today, the best player in the majors is Mike Trout, whose ridiculous stat lines year after year make him something like a God to SABRmetricians, and whose complete and utter lack of charisma has prevented him from becoming the household name his once-in-a-generation talents would seemingly necessitate. Joe DiMaggio was one of the most recognizable faces of his era; Trout is numbers on a webpage.

Bois and his frequent collaborator Alex Rubinstein, with whom he wrote and produced all six episodes of the Dorktown special The History of the Seattle Mariners, have a way of rescuing those numbers from their potential academicism, their dorkiness, and animating them, both literally and figuratively. They also, in documenting a team which has existed since the mid-70s, unite the current era’s statistical approach with the mythology of the past. Whenever the Mariners’ biggest names come up, from Junior to A-Rod to Ichiro, their greatness is communicated through charts and data rather than highlight reels or talking head interviews. The effect is undeniable, though, thanks both to Bois and Rubinstein’s ability to contextualize and make accessible these stats in their narration, and to the way in which Bois’ unique and remarkable formal approach trains viewers to emotionally respond to ostensibly abstract graphics.

Let’s delve a little more deeply into that approach, since it presents a challenge to the critic attempting to write about Bois’ work — like the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer in 2008, it seems to predate the language needed to describe its form. 4 minutes and 12 seconds into the first episode of The History of the Seattle Mariners, there is a hard cut to black. It is the first hard cut in the video. There is another at 11:16, when there are a series of fast cuts of the team’s greatest players and biggest moments interspersed with a track over a giant year-by-year spreadsheet containing the team’s win-loss record, plus other information of note, as it’s gradually filled in. The next hard cut occurs at 32:36, just before the end of the episode. In between, there are some screen wipes, some cuts within the game footage twice excerpted in the episode, and there may be a hidden cut or two around 25:22 when manager Rene Lachemann rushes from one Jello-filled toilet to another in his hotel room (it makes sense in context). Whether those moments are counted or not, it can still be said that the large majority of the video is made up of a stream of images which move continuously from one another through graphic zooms, pans, and tracks. These images are often, as previously mentioned, computer generated charts and figures, but Bois also makes use of archival material, like newspaper clippings or old baseball cards, and some crudely 3D animated renderings of Sick’s Stadium and Lachemann’s hotel room.

One of Bois’ most commonly deployed techniques is pulling from Google Earth to map events onto satellite images of their locations (his very first video for SBNation, “KOO DAE-SUNG. PRETTY GOOD.”, is almost entirely composed of these overhead shots). It’s a technique used in maybe my favorite moment in the whole series, the opening of the sixth and final episode. Bois contrasts two journeys made decades apart: the first by then-Yankee Ken Griffey Sr. in 1986, when he skipped a game and drove to Jersey before turning around, and the second by Mariner Ken Griffey Jr., who unceremoniously left his final MLB game in 2010 and drove 42 hours from Seattle to Orlando so he could be home with his family. The former is mapped onto the New Jersey-New York border, beginning with a pan across the New York skyline, moving across the Hudson River to Jersey, then lifting and panning up so as to just slightly reveal the curve of the Earth and the vast expanse of space in the distance. The latter, owing to the much larger distance covered on this trip, is shown across the entirety of the United States, the upper Western hemisphere of the planet cast against the stars and the Sun, framed almost like the opening shot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is an undeniable element of kitsch to the image, given that its sourced from a rudimentary 3D animation of the Earth made by Google (Bois’ aesthetic brand is, in many ways, indebted to the deeply kitschy vaporwave movement of the early 2010s), but the moment’s cosmic significance is taken seriously, a son completing the long journey home which his father began decades earlier.

If that’s the moment I will remember most from the series, the moment that will likely be most remembered is the finale of Episode 3, in which Edgar Martinez hits “The Double” which gives the Mariners the National League Division Series title. Those moderately versed in baseball history will know the moment is coming (a year earlier, SBNation published a separate video on it as part of their Rewinder video series), and Bois wisely opts to let it speak for itself—he knows the original footage can’t be beat. But the true emotional peak of the sequence is not Griffey sliding into home, or his teammates dogpiling on top of him, but rather the subsequent graphic of the Mariners’ estimated win probability, which has been gradually charted across the entire division series, shooting to 100%. A first for this cinephile—tearing up at a point being mapped on a graph. If I may paraphrase Jacques Rivette, the evidence on the computer screen is proof of Jon Bois’ genius.

The History of the Seattle Mariners (2020) by Jon Bois — Cinematary (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated:

Views: 6218

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.