Tuesday, October 28, 2008

World Series Coverage: Think of the Children

Scott sends this link to Jeff Passan's article about the World Series. In it Passan argues that Major League Baseball has done nearly everything humanly possible to ruin the Series.

One of Passan's chief complaints is that in order to please Fox MLB scheduled start times too late to allow little kids--even some adults--to stay up and watch. These children won't grow up to be baseball fans because their parents put them to bed on time meaning baseball is selling off its future by taking the ratings and the money now (so the argument goes--I've heard it since I was a kid).

I think there may be some truth in this... but part of the fun of the World Series when I was young was finding ways to catch the games when I wasn't supposed to: I'd tiptoe out of bed, low crawl to the hall, and peek into the TV room to watch the game--hoping not to get caught and forced to endure a spanking with mom's wooden spoon. I once even sneaked a transistor radio with a small earpiece into church so I could listen to a Dodgers/Yankees Sunday game.

Baseball's problem (the low ratings Passan cites) is probably less about poor management from the commissioner (even though he is pathetic) and more about the current entertainment market and demographics. There are far more entertainment options now than there were just a generation ago, meaning baseball has more competition from other sports and also from video games, movies, blogs, etc. Add to this that Americans are living more and more in urban areas and that many of us are second or third generation urbanites. My father grew up on a farm and so had plenty of space to play baseball with other kids from the community. I grew up in a small city and so played wiffle ball in the back yard and baseball down at the park when I could get a game going. My kids only play baseball when they go to their organized little league games--there's just not enough space in our yard. For me, baseball was an integral part of growing up. For my boys, it's something they do/watch when they can't play video games or soccer or ride their bikes or throw apples at passing cars....

And I really have tried to get my children interested in baseball. But they get bored after half an inning and start rolling their soccer ball back and forth. When I take them to the local college games, they track down the team mascot and wander around the stadium looking for the best deal they can find on a licorice rope. No matter what decisions the MLB commissioner makes, baseball has already largely become a museum sport... Starting the World Series games an hour earlier won't change that.

I do think MLB could stave off the relic mantra a little longer by doing the following:

Speed up the game (TiVo, alas, only works at home): only allow a pitching change in the course of an inning once a pitcher has given up at least one run; keep the time between innings to 90 seconds; instruct umpires to not grant batters time out once they step into the box and penalize pitchers who dally too long between pitches by awarding the batter a ball.

Eliminate off-days during the playoffs and, sure, start the games earlier. And mix in a day game once in awhile.

Broaden the use of instant replay (c'mon, the pastoral/no-technology ideal was good for the nineteenth century, but get with the times, or at least with the 1980s). Lest you think this will slow the game down, usually at home we can see four replays from three angles between pitches.

Stop with the 35 minute pregame shows and pitch the ****ing ball already.

Allow fans to vote one player off the team after each game in the playoffs. Also, require umpires who blow calls to receive a rose from Bud Selig in order to keep their job.

Finally, to Fox Sports: give us some announcers who actually do their homework before the series starts. Talking about the players, their tendencies, defensive positioning, managerial strategy, etc. is all OK (and would be a welcome change), but vamping about fish tanks for two innings is not. More Bill James and Moneyball, less John Kruk. It's an interesting game, don't kill it with bad clich├ęs.

If you have other ideas for "saving" baseball, please comment....

(P.S. This post from the Sports Prof also suggests Fox and the MLB go more than 20 minutes between Viagra commercials. What parent wants to explain "an erection lasting more than four hours" to a seven year old?)

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