Columns & Blogs

This World Series not an eye-catcher

If you have been watching the World Series on Fox, you know that the fans in San Francisco are in a frenzy over their Giants. Tonight, if you tune in, you are likely to see the same wild excitement from the Rangers fans in Arlington, Texas.

But this series begs the question: How many outside of northern California and Texas will be tuning in?

I didn't sense much interest around these parts in the first two World Series games on Wednesday and Thursday nights. And I wonder about the rest of the country.

This weekend, the World Series will have to compete with college football for TV viewers. Saturday night, six nationally televised games are in the same time frame. And on Sunday night there is the National Football League headliner: Pittsburgh at New Orleans.

Postseason baseball's track record in this TV ratings battle is not good. Matter of fact, it is awful.

Just a couple of Monday nights ago a game between two small TV market NFL teams -- Jacksonville and Tennessee -- got a 7.2 percent rating while baseball's playoff between the loved/despised New York Yankees and Texas was on in only 6.5 percent of the nation's homes.

So what chance does a World Series game between San Francisco and Texas have against a regular-season contest matching the Steelers and Saints on Sunday night?

Slim and none.

Earlier this week, baseball commissioner Bud Selig, commenting on the "competitive balance" that resulted in the Rangers-Giants matchup, said: "I can't tell you how happy I am. This is a manifestation of everything we've done and talked about. When you think about it, this is a helluva story."

For once, I agree -- at least partly -- with Selig. This is a helluva story.

The Rangers had never won a playoff series. The Giants have not won a World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

But is this story selling across the country in New York, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Lincoln, Neb.? Or has the World Series, unlike the Super Bowl, become a must-see event only in the regions where the two participants reside?

Why is it that a guy like me, who has a lifelong love of the game of baseball, tuned into a routine college football game on ESPN between Florida State and North Carolina State on Thursday night, clicking over to the World Series only during commercial breaks?

I am not sure I have a definitive answer, but I'll give it a shot.

  • For starters, the baseball season is too long. They play 162 regular-season games, plus two playoff series to determine who gets in the seven-game World Series.
  • It's night after night, with sometimes overlapping games that often go on past midnight.
  • Perhaps more importantly, the game itself is not designed for the fast-moving society of the 21st century. Too much down time. Batters adjusting their gloves and protective cups after every pitch. Pitchers shaking off catcher signs and tossing over to first base, repeatedly, even when the base runner is a 40-year-old who is no threat to steal. Pitching coaches visiting the mound to stall for time. Managers replacing a pitcher after he faces only one batter.
  • Most of these flaws in the game could be easily corrected. But they won't be.

    Matter of fact, Selig and his merry band of fools are now talking about adding teams to the playoffs and lengthening the five-game division playoffs to seven games.

    The players might object to this and demand a shorter regular season. To which the greedy owners will say: "What, and lose millions at the gate?"

    So look for more games, not less. And look for a continuing decline of interest in a sport that only the commissioner and his multimillionaire partners still call the "national past-time."

    The erosion in World Series interest has been gradual, helped along by the failure to schedule afternoon games on the weekends, the work stoppage that forced the cancellation of the 1994 Series, the prolific use of performance-enhancing drugs, obscene ticket prices, escalating salaries and long-term contracts.

    This will not change until Selig and his friends go bye-bye and are replaced by a forward-thinking management team that realizes our grandfathers' game needs a major overhaul.