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Baseball is Dying Alert: World Cup Ratings Edition

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Geographic areas are measured in Units of Rhode Islands. Sports TV ratings are measured in Units of World Series.

Note: in these comparisons, both Rhode Island and the World Series are used because they are putatively “big” things — a whole state and the crowning jewel of the National Pastime — but they are really intended to end up looking small compared to what is being measured. That’s the joke!

The latest example of this comes from people talking about the ratings of Sunday’s USA-Portugal World Cup match. A lot of people watched. How many?

While not near the totals scored by the NFL, even for many regular-season games, the U.S. audience for the World Cup game on Sunday easily eclipsed the NBA Finals this year, which averaged 15.5 million viewers, as well as the 2013 World Series, which averaged 14.9 million viewers. The NHL playoffs are not even remotely as popular as the World Cup, having averaged only 5 million viewers this season.

Go do a search for “World Cup World Series” or something like it on Twitter and see how many people are just giddy about that.

And, to the extent they are excited about soccer, they should be giddy. Those are great ratings. They’re likely significantly inflated over what typical league play soccer, be it MLS or Premier or whatever, can obtain due to the World Cup being a one-game, every four years event, but they’re still great. Soccer truly has arrived in the United States and it’s cool to see that happening. Let a hundred flowers blossom, and all.

To the extent they are citing this as a means of slamming baseball, however, they really do need to chill out, of course. This is nothing new if you’re a regular HBT reader, but we’re back in apples-oranges territory again when ratings like these are discussed. Let’s cover the bases quickly:

  • The majority of people in this country who call themselves soccer fans are USA fans and their team was in the game in question.
  • Baseball fans divide their loyalties among 30 teams and thus 93% of baseball fans’ teams are not in the World Series each year.
  • The USA-Portugal game was one game — an event — at an ideal time on a Sunday evening with no other major sporting event competing with it.
  • The World Series is seven games, played in the middle of football season and often going head-to-head with college and pro games.
  • For both sports and entertainment, our TV watching habits are not geared toward series and long-builds anymore. They’re geared toward big events which serve as shared experiences across multiple platforms at a single time. Think the Super Bowl. Think the Olympics. Think episodes of whatever Sunday night prestige TV show all the cool kids are raving about at a given time.

So great on soccer. I in no way wish to rain on its parade here, because it really is cool that we, as a nation, are increasingly stopping to watch this stuff. It makes me feel like we’re more in tune with the world in some weird way and in an increasingly fragmented time, any shared experience is uplifting, even if it ends with our hearts being ripped out in stoppage time.

But pooh on anyone who uses this as a means of making baseball look insignificant this way. And for that matter, pooh on all of those people who do it to Rhode Island all the time. Rhode Island is a totally fine state and it deserves better treatment than you’re giving it, buddy.

Former MLB player Andy Marte also killed in car accident

GOODYEAR , AZ - MARCH 06:  Andy Marte #15 of the Cleveland Indians looks on from the dugout during the spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Goodyear Ballpark on March 6, 2009 in Goodyear, Arizona. The Brewers defeated the Indians 17-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Compounding the tragic news of Yordano Ventura‘s passing is a report that fellow Dominican and former MLB infielder Andy Marte was also killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic early Sunday morning. The report was confirmed by Marte’s agency, J.M.G. Baseball, as well as Marte’s former MLB clubs. No further details have been released so far.

Marte, 33, appeared for the Braves, Indians and Diamondbacks from 2005 through 2014. He was ranked in the top 10 MLB prospects by MLB.com in 2005 and held a career .218/.276/.358 batting line, 21 home runs and a .634 OPS over seven seasons in the majors. He signed with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization after the 2014 season, slashing .312 with 42 home runs in 206 games.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marte’s family and teammates during this terrible time.

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.