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.

Astros rally past Orioles to give Baker milestone 100th win

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles
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BALTIMORE – Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run single to cap a ninth-inning uprising that carried the Houston Astros past the Baltimore Orioles 11-10 Saturday night, giving manager Dusty Baker his milestone 100th win of the season.

Houston trailed 9-7 before mounting a four-run rally against Orioles closer Felix Bautista (4-4). Kyle Tucker tied it with a two-out RBI double and Gurriel followed with a single, the pivotal salvo in this see-saw duel.

On the brink of making up ground in the playoff hunt, the Orioles dropped four games behind Seattle in the chase for the third and final AL wild card. Both teams have 11 games left.

“Every game that you lose right now hurts,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’ve got to rebound and try to win a series tomorrow.”

Anthony Santander hit two home runs for the Orioles, and Cedric Mullins and Rougned Odor also went deep. But Baltimore could not contain a Houston lineup that was coming off two straight shutout losses to the Orioles.

Baker joined Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa and Whitey Herzog as the only managers in major league history to have 100-win seasons in both leagues.

Now in his 25th season as a big league manager, Baker made his debut with the 1993 San Francisco Giants and won 103 games. He never reached triple digits again until this season, his third with Houston.

Anderson accomplished the feat with Cincinnati and Detroit, La Russa did it with Oakland and St. Louis, and Herzog turned the trick with Kansas City and the Cardinals.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Baker said. “It’s been a record-setting year in many ways, and we’ve got a couple more records to go.”

Bautista had converted 13 straight saves and entered with a 1.71 ERA, but on this night he got three outs and gave up four runs.

“He’s not going to be perfect all the time,” Hyde said. “That’s a hiccup.”

Houston trailed 7-6 in the eighth before Gurriel doubled in a run against Bautista. In the bottom half, Ryan Mountcastle singled off Rafael Montero (5-2) and Santander followed with a shot to deep center.

But it wasn’t enough in this wild slugfest. Ryan Pressly gave up a ninth-inning homer to Odor but earned his 31st save.

“They got some big hits, we got some big hits. They were celebrating, we were celebrating,” Baker said. “I’m just glad we won. That was a strange game.”

Astros starter Framber Valdez allowed seven runs, four earned, and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings. It was the first time in 26 starts since April 19 that the left-hander failed to go at least six innings, and it was the most runs he’s given up since Sept. 6, 2020, against the Los Angeles Angels.

Valdez was pulled in the sixth after giving up a single, a walk and an RBI single to Mountcastle that put Baltimore ahead 7-6.

The lead would not hold up, but Santander turned a back-and-forth game in Baltimore’s direction two innings later.

MANCINI RESTED

Traded from the Orioles to Houston in August, Trey Mancini received a warm ovation from Baltimore fans upon returning Thursday night and was cheered again Friday night. But Mancini was benched Saturday after going 1 for 22 with six strikeouts over his past six games (dropping his batting average with Houston to .184). “We are going to give Mancini a couple of days (off) because I think he needs it,” Baker said.

THANKS, BROOKS

Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson was honored before the game on the 45th anniversary of his retirement. The former Oriole waved to fans as he was ushered around the field in a convertible, stopping briefly to chat with Baker and Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. The 85-year-old Robinson also threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: SS Jeremy Pena left in the sixth inning with a facial abrasion. Baker said Pena passed concussion protocol and was going to have a scheduled day off Sunday.

Orioles: INF Ramon Urias returned to the starting lineup after being sidelined with neck and back spasms. … LHP John Means worked out in the team weight room and remains on course to return next year after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery. “We’re really happy with the way it’s progressing,” Hyde said.

UP NEXT

Astros: Cristian Javier (10-9, 2.77 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday. In his last outing, the right-hander threw five shutout innings to beat Tampa Bay.

Orioles: Right-hander Austin Voth (5-3, 2.84 with Baltimore) makes his 17th start since being acquired on waivers from Washington in June.