For this, and a variety of other reasons, baseball, a game that was once the national pastime in America, has found itself taking a back seat to the NFL. More people are interested in whether or not Brett Favre will unretire for what seems like the millionth time than watch a Rockies vs. Giants battle that pits up-and-coming flamethrower Ubaldo Jimenez, against a Cy Young winning Tim Lincecum, who looks like a 12 year-old, but is nearly impossible for 12-year Major League veterans to hit. Yet, when the playoffs come around, even the most average sports fan is willing to watch a baseball game, but slowly Major League Baseball is disheartening even those fans.
Major League Baseball often wonders why the next generation of kids is not watching what used to be the nation’s favorite sport. Often times the finger is pointed at a lack of offense, or a less action-filled game that can last up to four hours. These are all potential reasons, but Major League Baseball needs to quit wondering what the NFL is doing right, and look at what they are doing wrong.
The 2009 Colorado Rockies were an incredibly exciting team to watch on a daily basis. They were the epitome of team. Only one player (Todd Helton) hit above .300 and no one hit the 100 RBI plateau, yet they ranked second in the National League in runs scored. They had young talent that was learning to play the game at the Major League level to go along with seasoned veterans like Helton, looking to have another shot at World Series glory. Some of their players had very little talent, but made up for it with a heart the size of the Rocky Mountains. For examples look no further than Yorvit Torrealba or Omar Quintanilla. The Wild Card winning Rockies had players that could hit the ball a mile, and could field a ball hit within a mile of them. They were a team that refused to die after a poor start and made a run at winning their division, despite being 15-1/2 games back at one point.
The ‘09 Rockies should have been Major League Baseball’s dream come true. Americans love to root for the underdog. People relate to teams that come from smaller markets and compete with the bigger market teams, ala David vs. Goliath. Despite being in the playoffs just two years ago, the Rockies represent fresh blood in the Major League playoffs, something different than the standard Yankees, Red Sox and Angels that seem to be playing every October. Major League Baseball should have capitalized on the energetic, never-quit Rockies.
Instead, Major League Baseball allowed TBS, a cable station known for rerun sitcoms and second-rate prime time dramas, to not only broadcast every game, but determine the start time of each game as well.
Because of the fact that the Rockies are rarely seen on ESPN highlights it came as no surprise that the series featuring the defending champion Phillies and the Rockies would kick off the playoffs at 3 pm Eastern Time. Not just the first game, but the second game as well. For two games that would at least draw the average Colorado sports fan and family to tune in at night, the games were simply highlight reels, due to the fact that they took place while potential fans were at work or school. If fans thought it would get better for game three, they were mistaken. On a freezing cold night in Denver, fans had to wait until 8 pm for the first pitch. That meant fans in Philadelphia did not see their team take the field in a pivotal game three until 10 pm on a work or school night.
Why were the first two games played during the day and the third played so late at night? Because TBS insisted on broadcasting every pitch of every game to the entire nation. While the thought sounds like a good one for those who love to watch nine consecutive hours of baseball games, the fact of the matter is, very few baseball fans, let alone average Americans has the ability to tune into every single game in the postseason. Especially considering that the early games are played during the work day. Instead of being interested in the games, American’s simply forget about the playoffs altogether.
The solution seems simple. Broadcast games just like CBS does during the ever popular March Madness. Play two games in each time slot. Broadcast the games that are most important to a particular region in that region and allow a game to switch over when the result of one is in doubt for the national audience, while keeping the local audience on their hometown teams.
This would eliminate weekday games played with fans at work and school, and also take away the late night game where most of the country besides the local markets have gone to bed anyway. It would also presumably boost the ratings because fans would not lose interest if a game became lopsided, they would simply be switched to another more exciting game.
TBS and Major League Baseball could also do fans a favor and eliminate some of the travel days involved in the postseason. Professional baseball players play six months during the regular season and another six weeks in Spring Training with just two or three days off per month. Suddenly it becomes too difficult for them to play more than two days in a row without a day off. With series dragged on, not only does the audience lose its focus, it compromises the integrity of the most important games of the year due to summer turning into fall.
Despite a great effort from both teams, does anyone really want to see championship baseball games played in 25 degree weather? Do players, who travel the country, spend time away from their families and work their whole lives to achieve a goal of winning the World Series want the biggest games of their career determined by terrible weather?
If Major League Baseball wants to do itself some good, they would quit looking at the dollar signs on the TBS paycheck and find a way to make their games played during the most appropriate times, where the average fan can watch and fall in love with a game that they have forgotten about.