By Mike Steffanos
Newsday's Mark Herrmann takes local fans to task for failing to do our duty, Judy:
Don't blame the Cardinals for this World Series being so bland. Don't get on the Tigers just because the Series got lower ratings than professional poker exhibition games.
Please, please don't even think about saying that everyone in the United States would be on the edge of his or her seat if the New York teams were in it. They tried that in 2000 and the rest of the country yawned.
For good or bad, this is just the way baseball is right now. Whether or not it is The National Pastime, it is not a national pastime. Baseball is like politics, if you subscribe to the theory that "all of politics is local." Fans are passionate about their own teams, but when their teams are done, the fans say, "We'll pass."
It's funny, but back at the beginning of the playoffs I read one story after another from other parts of the country self-righteously proclaiming they would not watch if it was a subway series, but now New York sports fans are being taken to task for not being interested in the Series played by the teams from Hooterville and Mayberry? Gee, that's fair. At least we waited until the two teams were determined before we decided we weren't that interested.
Mr. Herrmann uses a quote from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to continue his chastisement of area fans:
"I read that if one of the New York teams had gotten in or both New York teams ... ," he said, without finishing the thought. "The way I look at it is, if you're anywhere from a casual to a great baseball fan, and you've got the Cardinals and the Tigers with the history both these franchises have, it's a must-see World Series."
He is right on the caterwauling from New York. Sure, it would have been a more exciting week around here if there had been a Subway Series. Take that up with the Yankees and Mets players and managers, who couldn't cut it despite having more talent, bigger payrolls and home-field advantage. Don't ridicule the Cardinals and Tigers for being beige, or gray.
I must have missed the "caterwauling" that Herrmann accuses us of doing, but his accusation as to why local fans didn't embrace this series are unsound. I guess columnists are somehow unwilling in this age to pass up a chance to chastise their readership for some perceived infraction against some sort of unwritten rules of being a fan. The simple truth is that baseball is a local game, and that's just the way it is. There is never going to be the interest in a World Series when you don't have a rooting interest in it. The ratings would have been abysmal in St. Louis and Detroit if a subway series had really happened, and I wouldn't have cared in the least. Why should it be a shock that most Mets and Yankees fans passed on this one? I wonder if the local columnists would have been taking their readers to task for not watching. I feel fairly certain the answer is no.
I tuned in and watched parts of all 5 games for a few minutes here and there during the Series. My reasons for not watching more than that are simple:
The network tried so hard to capture casual fans without any thought of the diehard baseball fan like myself who usually watches these games even when his/her team isn't in it. I watched every play of all 10 Mets playoffs games, most of which were on FOX. I grew exhausted of the constant graphics, shots of fans and celebrity sightings, in-game interviews and endless promotions for something else. I just wanted to watch the game, and I wasn't allowed to do that.
Moreover, the extremely long commercial breaks destroyed the pace of the games, and stretched their late east coast finish times even later. The on-air "talent", particularly when they weren't the mediocre Buck and McCarver, were horrible. Ken Rosenthal's little bits during the game interrupted the flow further while usually failing to add anything of substance to the telecast. FOX never trusted the game itself to hold the fan's interest, and that only alienated true baseball fans like myself.
You know, as we progress deeper into the information age, one thing that might help a little is offering multiple feeds of a game. Have all of the bells and whistles you want to try to attract casual fans on one feed, and a more minimalist telecast for those of us who just want to watch the game. I promise you then that those of us who love baseball will watch more playoff games if we don't have to get a damn headache watching it.
- The quality of play
If this became a compelling series, I would have put aside my distaste with FOX and watched more of it. The Tigers were absolutely awful. I laughed when the media geniuses, including Rosenthal, claimed that the week layoff would help the Tigers. While that is often true with an older, veteran team, I knew the layoff would ice a young team like the Tigers. It's hard to turn it on and off in baseball, especially when you haven't been there before.
The Tigers never hit in the Series, and compounded this by failing to make routine fielding plays that cost them game after game. It was truly pathetic. I felt bad for Tigers fans that had waited so long, only to be so completely disappointed in their team's play, but frankly, that poor play made this series less watchable. And the Cardinals, while better, were hardly perfect themselves.
- More choices
At one time there were 3 networks, 3 independents and Public television to watch in the New York area. Now there are hundreds of cable channels, not to mention DVDs and Pay Per View. There are simply many more reasons to tune out if the game doesn't captivate you.
- The length of the Series
Despite everything, if this thing had gone 6 or 7 games, more of us die-hards would have watched more intently. Drama builds up in a longer series. The Tigers inability to win a single game in St. Louis killed the drama very quickly.
So please quit your caterwauling, Mr. Herrmann. As a fan, it's our right to watch or not watch for whatever the reason. Baseball is, and always will be, a game with much more local than national interest. Great playoff Series will attract more national interest, but the World Series will never be the Super Bowl, and that's fine. Trying to copy the NFL will only hurt baseball, not help it.
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