But when the buzz from those weekend events faded Monday, we awakened to a sport beset by more troubling issues than ever, a national past-its-time that continues as steady a decline as a dial-up server in a 4G world.
See how hip I am? 4g! No 3g for me daddio, LOL. I’m hifi with wifi, 23 skiddoo!
Now, what are these issues that are more troubling than rampant steroid use or throwing World Series?
Not until Saturday night did I even know the regular season had started -- what with Duke vs. Butler, the Tiger Woods debacle, Phil Loves Amy, the beginning of the NBA and NHL playoffs and this week's primetime debut of the NFL Draft.
There’s this thing called opening day. All of the sports reporters in the world attend it. All of the radio personalities do remote broadcasts from it. All local media covers it to death. It was on April 5th. Maybe since you cover sports for a living you pay a little more attention. I here they even mentioned it on 4g.
I swear, it could be weeks before the masses pay much attention to baseball, as evidenced by stunning sections of empty seats in one-time hotbeds with formerly packed parks -- Baltimore, Cleveland, Toronto -- and equally shocking apathy at Citi Field, the second-year home of New York's non-championship team.
This is a good time to mention that baseball-reference.com is an amazing free resource and that everyone involved with it does a fantastic job. Why, you can even see attendance figures! In fact, you can look at the sum total of all 193 games played so far as compared to last year and learn that across baseball the average game has had 334 fewer people than it did last year. Considering the economy, weather in certain areas, and a bunch of other variable, that doesn’t seem too bad to me.
And perhaps Camden Yards is empty because the Orioles are a hopeless franchise that recently told Cal Ripken to screw off. And perhaps Toronto is empty because they gave away their best pitcher and are in rebuilding mode, and everyone knows it. And perhaps people in Cleveland are currently more concerned with Lebron and Co. And perhaps Mets fans are disgusted by incompetent management and a last place start.
The first weekend of Fox's game coverage was down 16 percent from last year's ratings and down 27 percent from 2008. If not for the usual high demand in stadiums where the home team either is adored (Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, Citizens Bank Park) or breaking in a new crib (Target Field in Minnesota), baseball would be a niche attraction. Face it, your grandfather's sport and your father's sport is not your sport.
This is admittedly disconcerting, but it is also a problem for television in general. MLB has an excellent online presence and many diehards watch and listen online.
Now let’s talk about some other teams besides these “adored home teams” and “new stadia”. Attendance in Atlanta is up over 7000 people per game so far. It’s up almost 4,000 per game in Cincinnati. For some reason it’s up almost 3,000 per game in Kansas City. Milwaukee has also drawn almost 3,000 more people per game than last season. Pittsburgh, Washington, and St. Louis are both up 1500 per game. Finally, the Texas Rangers are drawing 6,000 more people per game than in 2009. I wonder why Jay didn’t mention this. It’s almost as if he’s done no research at all.
"It's definitely different. I was here in the glory years, or whatever you want to call it, when it was packed every night. It's kind of a shame to see it the way it is now," mourned Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who now sees crowds of four figures at Rogers Centre in hockey-mad Toronto.
For the game to resonate in the future, the fuddy-duddies in charge must recognize the importance of making the product faster, younger, sexier and more streamlined.
You see, the Blue Jays aren’t sexy enough. Maybe a name change is in order. Mounties, maybe? That’s a sexy name. Perhaps they should just replace all the players with supermodels. Anyway, I’m sure their struggles have nothing to do with the fact that they’re in a rebuilding year in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.
They simply don’t do stirrup socks well. That must be it.
"I didn't hear anything -- just quiet," Orioles third baseman Miguel Tejada told reporters last week in Baltimore after a game attended by an announced 9,129 fans, the smallest crowd in Camden Yards history. "It's weird, because it's the big leagues, a major league game. I thought people would like to see it and see good players."
They probably would like to see good players, which is why they are avoiding Camden Yards. The Orioles are 2-12 and have been outscored by 30 runs. They’ve been this way for over a decade now. They are basically the Pittsburgh Pirates of the AL East. Oh, and recently when Oriole legend Cal Ripken expressed interest in joining the front office, the front office said this:
“According to his report, Angelos squashed the idea because he didn't want Ripken getting too much credit when the team started winning again.”
I can’t imagine why no one is going to Oriole games.
A dozen years ago, fans loved to see good players and returned to baseball in droves, wooed by the almighty home run. It turned out to be a fraudulent period, of course, and there's little doubt the Steroids Era turned off millions. Why waste money in a recession on a game that bilked and backstabbed the masses?
First of all, while the steroid era is a black mark, it did not boost baseball to new heights of popularity. It merely brought people back to pre-strike levels. Remember the strike, Jay? Have you been paying attention to the NFL and NBA labor negotiations? You might want to do that before you declare baseball dead. Just saying.
It's a good thing much of the season is played in the summer sun with beer taps aflow in fan-friendly destinations, or baseball could be on a death watch.
It’s a good thing they play basketball in big urban arenas and not in poorly lit mold encrusted warehouses, otherwise the game would be on a death watch.
For the game to resonate in the future, the fuddy-duddies in charge must recognize the importance of making the product faster, younger, sexier and more streamlined. Football, more popular than ever, doesn't have those problems. Basketball, now the No. 2 sport nationally, doesn't have those problems. Even hockey is on an upswing in this country.
Maybe basketball is the #2 sport nationally. I don’t know how you compare between different season lengths and different seasons and weather, and different TV deals. I grant that it’s possible. And if basketball has cut into baseball, it’s probably because the NBA is in one of their most star-heavy eras of all time with Kobe and Lebron and Wade and Melo and Durant and Nash and Bosh and Nowitski and a bunch of other guys who I don’t really follow.
But basketball has a bunch of problems too. At least one of their former refs fixed games, and claims that this practice is widespread. And even casual fans hate NBA officiating. A bunch of small market teams hemorrhaged cash this year. Seattle actually lost their team. And most importantly, there is labor strife on the horizon. Let’s not whitewash the other sports if we're going to pick on baseball.
Baseball is in a crisis period.
Long games! This is terrible. They’re…long. They take long. They’re longier than ever. Longerer.
And until someone other than Bud Selig (who turns 76 in July) is commissioner and influential owners like Jerry Reinsdorf (who turned 74 in February) aren't telling him what to do, I'm afraid the game has no chance to turn a corner into the 21st Century.
It wouldn’t be Jay Mariotti if he didn’t get in a dig at a Chicago team. Is Jerry Reinsford influential? Why would the White Sox owner be influential? I mean, I live in Chicago so I hear about him a lot, but he’s not even the most influential owner here. Also his team recently won a World Series. Just sayin’.
And individual teams do far more in terms of marketing the game than the league office.
Selling the Great American Home Run as a video-game offshoot no longer can work. Nor are the powers-that-be investing their time in the right places when they pull stunts such as banning the hoodie of a rare character, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, because the pullover sweatshirt he wore last weekend in cold, rainy Boston wasn't OK'd by the league.
Managers wearing uniforms is stupid, but no one cares about Joe Maddon’s hoodie. I doubt that this is distracting people from turning around baseball. Really.
"I have no idea why this is happening. For me, it's just a comfortable thing. I've always worn hoodies," Maddon said. "Go back to your collegiate days. I did a lot of football -- I don't know if they think it looks too football-ish. I have no idea. All I know is that it's a comfortable piece of clothing; I think it's attractive. If you're looking for younger fans, I think those are the people that really are attracted to something like that, too. Listen, I will state my case because I think I can, but I will follow the rules, too."
Young fans will not be drawn in by Joe Maddon’s hoodie. Moreover, the NFL are absolute Nazis about this type of thing. They didn’t even let Peyton Manning wear Johnny Unitas’s shoes as a tribute to Unitas. They’re complete assholes. And they seem to have plenty of time to market their sport.
Keep wearing the hoodie, Joe. Let them come and tear it off you. It'll be the most fun we've seen in baseball this month.
There was a no-hitter, and the Brewers blew like 37 games in the 8th inning and there are a bunch of good rookies in the league and on opening day Mark Buehrle made this awesome between-the-legs play. But no, you’re right. Joe Maddon’s hoodie. Awesome. Maybe the NFL owes all of its success to Bill Belichik’s hoodie.
Meanwhile, too many games still run much too long. That's why I applauded Joe West, the veteran umpire, when he trashed the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for turning what should be baseball's best ongoing attraction into unwatchable TV. While Selig and the boys have made a conscious effort to quicken the pace -- the average length last season was a tolerable 2 hours and 55 minutes -- the two behemoths insist on dragging the game into a fourth hour and often a fifth. Last year, their games averaged 3:40, with 11 of the 18 games exceeding 3:20, one nine-inning game going 4:21 and only one completed in less than three hours. In two of their first three games this year, they played in 3:46 and 3:48. For a decade, the Yankees and Red Sox have been right at the top each season in longest games played. Nothing has changed. And nothing will change.
This is because the Yankees and Red Sox do not create outs as frequently as most teams, because they are good at baseball.
"They're the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace," West said. "They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.
I would argue that they are “slow” because they are good. And by the way, measuring “slowness” by the length of a game seems stupid to me. If they combine for like 30 hits and the game goes 4 hours, that’s not necessarily slow. Those hits take time, after all. I’d like to see batters/minute. Does anyone have that stat?
"The commissioner of baseball says he wants the pace picked up. We try. All of baseball looks to these two clubs to pick up the pace. The players aren't working with us. This is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball."
Disgraces these days sure aren’t what they used to be.
The players say the intensity of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry demands that a pitcher wait longer to calculate his pitch, or that a hitter step out of the box as part of his strategy. Naturally, rather than acknowledge that West might be right about dragging games into a molasses pace, some ripped him. "To call the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the best teams in baseball, 'pathetic' and 'embarrassing,' that's just ridiculous," Red Sox star Dustin Pedroia said. "If he doesn't want to do Red Sox and Yankees games, he should tell the umpires' union. Then when we're in the World Series, he'll be out of that assignment, too. ... What he doesn't understand is that when we don't do well in these games against the Yankees, we get killed [by fans and media]. So if I'm going to take a deep breath and focus before I get in the box, I'm going to do it. There are a lot of good hitters on both teams, a lot of pitches thrown. That's just the way these games are played."
Seems like a reasonable answer.
"It's incredible. If he has places to go, let him do something else," the normally non-controversial Mariano Rivera, legendary Yankees reliever, told the New York Post. "What does he want us to do, swing at balls? He has a job to do. He should do his job. We don't want to play four-hour games, but that's what it takes. We respect and love the fans and do what we have to do and that's play our game."
Then there was Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, maybe the guiltiest party as a serial dawdler. "It is what it is, man," he said. "Can't please everybody. There's a life lesson for you."
Once again, a fine explanation.
Naturally, Selig toes the line, refusing to order the sport's two most powerful teams to quicken their act. "It isn't the time of the game, it's the pace of the game," he said.
Exactly! Entertaining games can go on for hours and hours. You want to avoid a 1-0 3.5 hour game, sure, but I'm not sure that's what we're talking about.
The best executive order would be to make umpires consistently enforce the pitch/hit count that already is in place -- if a pitcher or hitter violates the rules, he is penalized with a ball or strike. Alas, Selig doesn't have the gumption to enforce that solution, either.
And forget about the grandest idea of all: shortening the regular season to 140 games. That's 22 games in lost revenue per team. The owners are in it for greed, remember, not to satisfy the paying customers.
How on earth would eliminating games help? As if shortening the season is the same as shortening games? What would the point be? If you like baseball, why would you want less of it?
The fast start of the Yankees suggests a repeat championship in the Bronx, not a healthy happening for those -- namely, Selig -- who think the game has competitive balance. The Steinbrenners are subsidizing too many teams as it is in a revenue-sharing climate, and when the Yankees keep winning titles in spite of it, it almost causes a plantation effect that doesn't inspire hope in the vast majority of cities. The Yankees, at $206 million, again have the top payroll. The Red Sox, at $162 million, are second. No one else is close. Heck, the collective salary of the Yankees' infield -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano -- is $85.2 million, slightly more than the median payroll. Rodriguez alone will make almost as much, $33 million, than the 25-man payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I get it that the Yankees are good for baseball," Mark Attanasio, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, told USA Today. "And they've done a great job getting new revenues with their ballpark. But we have to make sure the playing field is level, and it's not. The gap is getting bigger and bigger. How would you like to be Tampa Bay and have New York and Boston in your division? How do you compete with that?
Here’s a neat paper that suggests that baseball is the most competitive sport:
In summary, we propose a single quantity, q, the frequency of upsets, as an index for quantifying the predictability, and hence the competitiveness of sports games. We demonstrated the utility of this measure via a comparative analysis that shows that soccer (FA) and baseball (MLB) are the most competitive sports. Trends in this measure may reflect the gradual evolution of the teams in response to competitive pressure , as well as changes in game strategy or rules .
Most people think that because they have a salary cap, the NFL is more competitive than baseball. That thinking is backward. MLB has been the more competitive sport for the entire salary cap era.
"We're struggling to sign [Prince] Fielder, and the Yankees infield is making more than our team."
The Yankees weren't amused. "I'm sorry that my friend Mark continues to whine about his running the Brewers," Yankees executive Randy Levine told ESPN.com. "We play by all the rules and there doesn't seem to be any complaints when teams such as the Brewers receive hundreds of millions of dollars that they get from us in revenue sharing the last few years. Take some of that money that you get from us and use that to sign your players. The question that should be asked is: Where have the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sharing gone?"
For the Brewers, it’s gone back into the team. Sometimes unwisely, but generally, back into the team. And the fans have rewarded ownership by showing up in droves.
And when we aren't lamenting lopsided economics, slow games, nose-diving attendance and low TV ratings, there is the issue of race. The best young, black athletes aren't playing baseball anymore, which makes Jackie Robinson Day a bittersweet experience and leads some African-American players to publicly ask if franchises are participating in racism by not signing black players in the twilight of their careers, such as Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield. The most important player for the sport's future, it can be argued, is Jason Heyward (right), the Atlanta Braves rookie slugger who looks like the next great player and has embraced trying to promote baseball in the inner city.
Really? Ugh. Not true. Read. Here. Once again, Jay undercuts his own point with Heyward, a player who is actually attempting to sell baseball to the inner city.
Yet, for as dynamic as Heyward is, does America know anything about him? Baseball has no marketing arm, either.
I do. But he’s a rookie. If he’s as good as I think he is, everyone will know him soon enough.
The game's biggest name continues to be Rodriguez, he of the steroids scandal and irritating persona.
A-Rod isn’t even the biggest name on his own team. Ever hear of a guy named Jeter?
So every time I hear about a no-hitter or a spectacular game, it's only a temporary salve for the monumental problems that ail baseball. The season will plod along, ebb and flow as always into October, but by then, the only people who will care are fans of the teams still playing. Be sure one will be the Yankees, and that their games will extend close to four hours and well past midnight.
But, hey, at least Joe Maddon isn't allowed to wear that darned hoodie anymore.
By adding the wild card (Bud Selig) more fanbases follow the sport for a longer period of time than ever before. If you don’t like Yankee games going on forever, may I suggest a different team? There are 29 of them. And you can watch all of them on TV and on your 4g internet connection, and if one is boring you, you can flip to another! It’s very 21st century. For some reason football hasn’t caught on yet. You can only see their games through a cable monopoly that many people can’t even get. Baseball has MLB.com and an Iphone/Ipad app, and the MLB package, and a deal with Roku…