The latest installment of this copy-and-paste meme comes from our good friend Bill Plaschke, who early in the piece admits that he hasn’t covered a World Series in seven years:
No more baseball games, better known as Four Hours With Strangers. No more fourth-place teams battling fifth-place teams for a first-place trophy. No more rules chaos, home-field confusion and seriously creepy Rob Lowe commercials . . . People still love their hometown teams. The problem is, they’re increasingly falling out of love with the actual game. The national pastime has sadly become a regional pastime. Every team has plenty of fans, but when those teams are eliminated from postseason, those fans stop watching because suddenly it’s all about only, ugh, the baseball.
Few people drive to their local stadiums saying, “I want to see a baseball game.” No, it’s almost always, “I want to see a (insert team name here) game.”
Heaven forbid that people love their local team. And heaven forbid anyone examine Plaschke’s assertion that people will watch any NFL game rather than only root locally. To examine that may require someone to admit that, no, the “actual game” isn’t the only draw for football either — gambling and fantasy sports plays a huge role – or the fact that the NFL is not, by design, a local entertainment as much as it is a nationally-produced television show with 32 studios.
What I find most baffling about this column, though, are Plaschke’s prescriptions to fix all of baseball’s alleged problems. Things like making the DH (or lack thereof) uniform or changing how home field advantage is determined. Which may be good ideas for baseball in and of themselves, but have something close to zero to do with why World Series ratings are what they are.
More baffling: how not a single person who writes these sorts of concern-trolling columns ever seems to get a quote from someone at MLB or Fox about what they think of the ratings. Or from Fox about why, if baseball on TV is in such dire straits, the network just signed up to continue to broadcast baseball through 2021. Based on conversations I’ve had with people with a stake in the matter are under no illusions that the World Series will ever see ratings like football gets or even what the World Series used to get. It’s just not the way things are anymore. And, while they are genuinely concerned about the demographics — baseball audiences skew older — they are generally pleased with how the World Series does and are working on ways to address the demographic concerns.
Maybe thinking realistically rather than idealistically about baseball’s overall popularity doesn’t lend itself to platitudes and phrases like “The National Pastime.” But maybe — just maybe — the expectations of Major League Baseball and Fox are different and more realistic about all of this than the expectations of a guy who came into the business (and apparently stopped thinking hard about it) some time in the 1980s.