Football

Pro football is America’s favorite sport for the 30th straight year

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At the beginning of the month I wrote a post entitled “Is Football Dying?” It was a direct parody of the many “Baseball is dying” stories you see each fall. Indeed, it directly tracked the format and followed the same reasoning as a New York Times column to that effect, only switching baseball and football around.

I thought the parody was so obvious that it didn’t need to be explicitly identified as a parody. Yet a lot of people took it seriously. A lot of people — including some who really should know better; including some who openly lauded that Times column when it came out — actually thought I was arguing that football was somehow on the decline and found the conclusion and the reasoning preposterous. And they were mad about it.

I’m not exactly sure what to take from that experience. I know baseball fans, myself included, can be a little sensitive when people criticize the sport. But that sensitivity is rooted in the awareness that, yes, a sport can decline. Baseball was once the alpha-sport in the country and it wasn’t even close. Now, while it is certainly healthy on its own terms, it is clearly secondary or even tertiary depending on how you measure it. And of course there are no small number of people, both inside and outside of the game, who openly wonder about its health and talk about it as if it might die at some point for reasons both silly and legitimate. It’s worth disabusing people of faulty notions about baseball’s health because the claims of its poor health are often rooted in reality.

But where does the sensitivity of football fans come from? And make no mistake, there was no small amount of sensitivity in the wake of my “Is Football Dying” post. Go back and read the comments and some blog posts by others responding to it who didn’t get the joke. Football is so clearly and ridiculously more popular than any other sport in this country that even a serious suggestion that it is in decline should be laughed off rather than argued with on its own terms. Concussions? A random early-round delay in selling out a playoff game? Smack talk and the casual racism of fans who hate such smack talk? They are things worth talking about (and the concussion issue is indeed serious) but even I, a known football hater, would never suggest that they’ll make a dent in the National Football League’s hegemony.

And that hegemony is solidly in place. ESPN reports that, for the 30th straight year, the NFL is the most popular sport in America according to the annual Harris poll:

In 2014, 35 percent of fans call the NFL their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), college football (11 percent), auto racing (7 percent), the NBA (6 percent), the NHL (5 percent) and college basketball (3 percent).

In 1985, the first year the poll was taken, the NFL bested MLB by just one percentage point (24 to 23 percent), but since then interest in baseball has fallen while the NFL has experienced a huge rise in popularity.

In the face of that and at a time when it is almost impossible to escape talk of the Super Bowl and everything that surrounds it, one wonders what animates anyone who actually gets prickly and defensive if it is suggested, even in jest, that not everything is perfect in the National Football League. Yet those people are all over the place. Wait until there are about 30 comments on this post. They’ll be here too to defend their sport, despite the fact that is damn nigh invincible and in no need of a serious defense.

Oh well. There’s no accounting for people’s feelings. Even partisans of insanely popular things sometimes worry when a small minority does not feel the same way they do about that which they love.

Just ask Nickelback fans.

Astros avoid arbitration with Mike Fiers

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 17: Starting pitcher Mike Fiers #54 of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout after pitching an inning during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 17, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Astros won the game 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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The Astros avoided arbitration with pitcher Mike Fiers, agreeing on a $3.45 million salary for the 2017 season, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. The right-hander was in his first of three years of arbitration eligibility.

Fiers, 31, made 30 starts and one relief appearance for the Astros in 2016. He finished the year with a 4.48 ERA and a 134/42 K/BB ratio in 168 2/3 innings.

Fiers had a much better showing in 2015 as well as in limited action in 2014, so the Astros are hoping he rediscovers that effectiveness going forward. He’ll slot into the back of the starting rotation.

Raines to wear an Expos cap, Pudge to wear a Rangers cap on their Hall of Fame plaques

1990:  Outfielder Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos in action. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
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There is little if any controversy to be had about the caps this year’s inductees will wear on their Hall of Fame plaques, but in case there was any doubt at all, it was put to rest this afternoon at the Hall of Fame press conference: Tim Raines will wear a Montreal Expos cap and Ivan Rodriguez will wear a Rangers cap. Jeff Bagwell, of course, never played for a team other than the Houston Astros at the big league level.

Though Raines had some good seasons with the Chicago White Sox and though he helped provide a nice kick start to the Yankees dynasty in the mid-1990s, his best seasons, by far, took place while he was an Expo. It’s also the case that the bulk of his Hall of Fame push came from Expos fans. He was particularly boosted by Jonah Keri, who recently wrote a book detailing the history of the Expos. So, yeah, that’s easy.

Rodriguez played 13 of his 21 years with the Texas Rangers, including his MVP 1999 season. He did have some notable years elsewhere, particularly in Detroit where he remains a fan favorite, but it was always going to be the Rangers for him, one would think. Maybe a slight, slight chance that he’d do the blank cap thing, Greg Maddux-style, but smart money was on the Rangers.

With Bagwell, the only question is which Astros cap he’ll wear. There are a couple of applicable ones: the brick red star, which he wore to the World Series in 2005. There’s also the shooting star cap he wore during his best seasons and which Craig Biggio’s plaque displays. He was around for the classic “H” over the star look, but he was just a kid then, so I doubt he’d wear it.

Anyway, sorry to the Marlins fans who wished that Raines and Pudge would wear the fishy-F.