Fox sports honcho: baseball is a regional game

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Every time someone talks smack about baseball by bringing up the relatively low ratings for national games of the week, the All-Star Game or the playoffs, I go off on some rant about how that person is ignorant of how baseball works on television.  About how baseball is a local game and how you can’t simply look at the ratings for one game and make anything approaching an informed judgment on the health of it as a televised entity.

When I say that, the response is usually “get used to baseball being a second-tier sport!”  Bah.  And do you know why I say “bah?”  Because I’m not the only one ranting like that.  Recently the Hollywood Reporter interviewed David Hill, the head of Fox Sports, and he said pretty much the same thing I say:

THR: Fox pays $416 million a year for rights to Major League Baseball, including weekly regular-season games, the All-Star Game and the World Series. Baseball ratings are down; what’s the reason?

Hill: There’s been the rise of the regionalization of the sport, and the decision to play interleague games each year has taken away the luster of the All-Star Game. And if you look at the truly national teams, you quickly start to run out after the Phillies, the Red Sox, the Yankees and, to a certain extent, the Rangers, and you pray the Cubs will show some life. So the ratings are dependent on who we get into the pennant race. Are baseball ratings the same as they were 15 years ago? No. But [the World Series] is still a huge event and is going to dominate the night it’s on. So in terms of importance to the network, for prestige and relevance, it’s important and will remain that way.

The next question was whether Fox loses money on baseball. Hill’s answer: nope.  They have up years and down years, but the suggestion that baseball is some tremendous loss-leader Fox uses to promote whatever half-baked show it’s launching in November is simply not true.

Know what I’d like to see?  Overall baseball ratings for all teams on a given non-national night.  Specifically, how many people across the country on any random Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night are tuned in to baseball, no matter what network it’s on or what teams playing.  No, I still don’t think that matches a football Sunday, but I bet if we saw those numbers people would say something very different about the popularity and health of the game.

Not that such numbers would help any one network seeking a national broadcasting contract as things are currently constructed.  But if a network got baseball rights and figured out a way to leverage the increasingly regional nature of baseball fandom via new or radical programming packages, they could probably do pretty well whether the Yankees were playing or not.

The Brewers are talking to the Tigers about Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson

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The Brewers were rumored last week to have been “aggressive” in talks for Tigers reliever Justin Wilson. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports, however, that the talks are a bit more wide-ranging than that.

Crasnick says that the two clubs are also discussing Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, potentially in a package deal with Wilson. Crasnick says that the Brewers “would love to have Kinsler,” but their main focus at the moment is pitching help. Of course, the Brewers current second baseman — Jonathan Villar — is hitting a meager .223/.285/.348 in 334 plate appearances.

Kinsler is having a down season for him — .237/.331/.400 — but he’s better than that and, of course, would represent an improvement. He’s under contract through the end of this year but he has a very affordable, $10 million club option for 2018. Wilson will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, so he’s still under team control as well. As such a Kinsler/Wilson package would likely cost the Brewers a high price, so you have to think they’d try to exhaust cheaper options before making such a deal.

The Brewers had been in first place in the NL Central since June 7, but the Cubs caught them yesterday. They’re in a virtual tie, with Chicago percentage points ahead. This should prove to be a very interesting week for the Brewers’ front office.

The Dodgers have a “strong interest” in Yu Darvish

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The Dodgers lost Clayton Kershaw yesterday. For how long we do not know, but he has missed a lot of time in the past with previous back injuries so it’d be somewhat optimistic to assume that he’s going to hit the disabled list for ten days, come back and be the Clayton Kershaw of six days ago without any muss or fuss. L.A. has also lost Brandon McCarthy to the DL, so while their division lead is comfortable at the moment, there could be some rough waters ahead.

In light of that, this rumor — which emerged before Kershaw left yesterday’s game against the Braves — may be one to watch in the next couple of days:

As we noted last week, the Rangers are looking at the possibility of moving Darvish, who will be a free agent at the end of this year. The Dodgers would seem to be an excellent landing spot for him.

Darvish is 6-8 with a 3.44 ERA and has struck out 143 batters to only 43 walks in 133.1 innings. While he has missed time with injury in recent years, he’s the sort of talent that one could easily see going on an ace-like run. If he did that for a Dodgers team that, otherwise, seems to be at its peak of competitiveness, it’d be worth the heavy price they’d have to pay to get him.

Old folks like me remember such runs from starters picked up at the deadline. Doyle Alexander cost the Tigers John Smoltz in 1987, but he also propelled them to the AL East crown. The Astros had to give up Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen to get Randy Johnson in 1998, but he went on an historic tear after arriving in Houston and helped the club to 102 wins and the NL Central title. As both of those clubs learned in the playoffs, of course, one ace and a division title do not a season make, but you can’t even make your season if you don’t have the horses.

It’s too soon to say whether the Dodgers will have the horses in their rotation to go farther than those two teams did, but they’d have a lot better chance with Darvish, would they not?