Baseball's time as America's sport has passed
Everyone knows that baseball is “America’s Pastime,” right?
Well then, in honor of the World Series, let’s do a little experiment.
Raise your hands if you actually sat down and watched a substantial portion of any of the games in this year’s World Series.
Everybody there? Okay, good. Now look to your left, then to your right.
Not as many people as you thought, huh? It might be time to officially declare baseball’s stint as America’s game over.
The first two games of this year’s Fall Classic, the only two for which Nielsen ratings have been released, averaged a 7.7, by far the lowest rating in history for the first two Series matchups.
Only three games since 1984 received a lower rating than Game 1 between the Tigers and Giants, and Game 2 barely improved on that result. By the time the Giants completed the sweep, this year’s World Series was undoubtedly on track to finish as one of the least-watched Series ever.
Unsurprisingly, the weekend’s contests struggled to compete with a Saturday loaded with matchups of ranked college football teams — particularly the night game between Notre Dame and Oklahoma — and a prime-time “Sunday Night Football” game between the Broncos and Saints. But Game 2 lagged behind CBS’s Thursday night lineup of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Person of Interest” by no fewer than 2.8 million viewers at any point during that two-hour stretch.
When a sport’s championship — supposed to be its defining moment — can’t compete with a series lacking its original star character — Charlie Sheen is no longer on “Men,” in case you haven’t noticed yet — I find it hard to refer to that sport as the national pastime.
Meanwhile, the Super Bowl has set a new viewership record three years in a row as the NFL has hit a purple patch with the rise of high-flying aerial offenses that have become so popular.
So what has happened to The Artist Formerly Known as the National Pastime?
The simple fact is that baseball lacks so many things when it comes to drawing the attention of viewers today.
It lacks the gladiatorial aggression and sheer adrenaline rush of football, the tempo and pace of basketball and much of the technical artistry of soccer.
It lacks star power. Derek Jeter of the Yankees is possibly the most recognizable baseball star today, but where does he rank in terms of Q rating when compared to megastars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? And who else joins him? A-Rod has become a punchline known mostly for his playoff failings. Albert Pujols stumbled in his first season in an Angels uniform. And the Stephen Strasburg/Bryce Harper combo in Washington might still be too young to claim true star status.
Tigers’ infielder Miguel Cabrera just won the Triple Crown, becoming the first player to lead his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in 45 years, but when was the last time you saw him in a commercial on TV? The attention among baseball fans surrounding Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase — which often overshadowed his team’s World Series run — underscores an often-unnoticed difference between baseball and other sports: Baseball is by-and-large an individual sport.
Baseball’s statistical revolution during the last few decades has given us metrics such as BABIP, FIP and VORP to measure individual achievement. On the one hand, these new statistical measurements have given us unprecedented ability to place value on players’ on-field contributions. But at the same time, so many of baseball’s statistics — both old and new — describe only what happens in one-on-one matchups like hitter versus pitcher, pitcher versus hitter, base-stealer versus catcher, etc.
When Cabrera led the majors with 44 home runs this season, all of those long balls were attributed solely to him. Meanwhile, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is one of the NFL leaders in rushing yards with 716, but that is not viewed as a purely individual achievement. Ridley’s numbers would not be possible without sustained strong play by his offensive line and the Pats’ explosive passing game led by Tom Brady, which draws the attention of opposing defenses away from Ridley and the running game.
The team aspect of sports inherently appeals to us, which is why we love when an unheralded bunch such as the 2011 Dallas Mavericks or last season’s New York Giants bands together and knocks off a team like the Heat or the Patriots despite facing a sizable gap in individual talent.
I’m not saying baseball has no viewer appeal. It has its moments of excitement and intrigue, and watching incredible feats of individual achievement — Cabrera’s triple crown or Jeter’s 3000th hit — is without a doubt a memorable experience.
But as long as the team remains the focal point on the gridiron, I’ll take “Monday Night Football” over “Sunday Night Baseball” every time.