Fields of Green Cash and No Viewers – The 2014 World Series
The Fall Classic has come and gone for another year. If the mention of that archaic alternate name for the World Series made you laugh, you are part of the problem. You see, it has been some time since many people even cared about the baseball championship series. For decades one of American sports’ premier events, these days it’s tough to get anyone to watch. The TV rating for the Series spike when one of two teams participate in it: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Even worse for Major League Baseball (MLB), both are in the American League so they can never play each other in the Fall Classic. There are some National League teams that might goose up the ratings – if they could ever get to the Series again, that is. For now, MLB looks at another October failure by the Los Angeles Dodgers and another season of lovable loserdom by the Chicago Cubs and wonders what if. To add to the collective heartburn for MLB, the Yankees and Red Sox both had subpar seasons. In the face of big market teams, what will the World Series come to?
In 2014, the answer was the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. Each offtered a compelling story by virtue of their appearance. With a win the Giants would celebrate their third championship in five seasons, making the team the closest thing to a dynasty the sport hungers since the Yankees last had one at the turn of the century. The Royals were even more compelling: after a decade of almost annual playoff appearances culminating in a championship in 1985, the team had not made the playoffs for 29 straight years. A late-season winning streak vaulted the Royals into the playoffs; a nine-game playoff winning streak brought the team its first pennant since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Such a pair of compelling stories should create a fair amount of interest. Even better, the Series went the maximum seven games. In spite of that, though, the ratings were low. This seems to be a regular occurrence for MLB. No one watches it now. Even though baseball seems to have a large number of fans, they abandon the sport in October if their teams don’t make the Series. In all likelihood the rise of the National Football League to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s was the main culprit. People are willing to watch a good, close, hard-fought World Series game but not a blowout. On the other hand, the worst blowout in the NFL can still get good ratings. This is the dilemma MLB faces today.
A seven-game series is not enough; it’s the kind of games that count equally. Yes, the 2014 Fall Classic went the maximum number of games but many of them were blowouts that did little to hold viewers in thrall. Who, for instance, stuck around for the Giants’ 11-4 laugher in Game 4. On Saturday night, no less. Wasn’t some Southeastern Conference team playing football at the same time? The Royals’ barely-dramatic 10-0 beatdown in Game 6 was dramatic in that the team had to win to force the seventh game; a seven-run second inning took all the drama (and viewers) out of the contest. When a sport cannot hold eyeballs unless the games are close it has a problem. The 3-2 Game 7 win for the Giants did get decent ratings but it was the deciding game; of course people would watch.
Even worse, the announcers selected for the baseball playoffs do not encourage casual viewers to stick around. What other sport shows such long-running contempt for TV viewers as the national pastime? One of 2014’s most distinguishing features on the air was the retirement of Tim McCarver, a long-time baseball catcher who announced the sport for decades under the illusion that he was knowledgible about the game. A never-ending font of lame, pointless anecdotes, McCarver never met a moment of silence that didn’t call for a “thought” from him. His long-awaited retirement did not bring the welcome silence but even more of the same lame profundity that convince all casual baseball fans the sport really is deadly dull.
The main network announcer for MLB these days is Joe Buck. His main distinguishing features are the fact that his father, Jack Buck, announced St. Louis Cardinals games for decades; and that he once went on the record as saying he preferred football, the other sport he calls, to baseball. He is the legacy hire who embarrasses other legacy hires. Not much better is his playoff broadcasting partner, Harold Reynolds. A former player famous for not being famous, Reynolds blew a cushy gig at ESPN by having to resign in the wake of a flood of sexual harassment lawsuits. His defense was that he gave out too many hugs; it’s amazing how many ladies in the sports network’s office didn’t see the innocence in that, of course. With a crew like this, one can hear the nationwide clicking of TV sets being turned to other channels quickly.
This problematic crew could be counted on for some silly and truly annoying “analysis” during the Series. In the middle of one game, the camera (which can never stay still on the action on the field for Fox, the network covering baseball) focused on Bud Selig, the retiring MLB commissioner. At this point, probably fearing dead air, Reynolds piped up with the sentiment that Selig would be remembered as the sport’s greatest commissioner. The thought of this clueless leader (who allowed a players’ strike to spiral out of control badly enough to cause the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, then followed it by turning a blind eye to the sport’s steroid era) as great in anything is an embarrassment to analytical thought in all its forms.
In the end, the Giants attained the championship and their semi-dynasty status. The rest of us got another year away from when we cared about the World Series.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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