November 23, 2010

How baseball's dropping the ball

This past week's Bill Simmons NFL preview column had the following sidebar about baseball's possible expanded playoff plans:
Dear Bud Selig,
I love your proposal for two more playoff teams, and not just because it guarantees that the Red Sox will make the playoffs every year for the rest of my life. It's a shrewd idea, I have to say. With your playoff ratings steadily dropping and the 162-game regular season already feeling like a waste of time because anyone can catch fire for four weeks and win a World Series now (see: Giants, San Francisco), it's crucial that we stretch the postseason into mid-November and make the playoffs even more random and haphazard. Some believe the only way an extra round makes sense is if we also returned the regular season to 154 games, but that would be dumb -- we wouldn't be able to risk the health of starters who already throw 220-240 innings and now have to potentially pitch in four playoff rounds.
And look, I know your critics believe an extended playoffs dilutes the impact and importance of every postseason game, but in my opinion, casual fans will totally want to watch a steady deluge of four-hour marathon games for six solid weeks. We have nothing better to do, and it's not like you're going head-to-head against the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football or anything. You have your finger on the pulse of American attention spans in 2010, Bud Selig, I can tell you that much. And if anyone disagrees with your brilliant plan? Just tell them to man up.
I'm going to have to agree with Simmons here.

I love baseball.  Love it.

Baseball is America's sport.  I've said it before.

But baseball isn't on the rise in America.  It's on the decline.

The sidebar up there made me think back to a column that Simmons wrote this past July about his thinking for the reasons behind the decline of his interest in this past season's Red Sox team.

He breaks things down this way...
  • 10% injuries
  • 5% front office
  • 15% hangover 
  • 5% bandwagon fans
  • 5% steroid era hangover
  • 5% decline in baseball in general
  • 55% length of games
Here are some excerpts from that column...
We're feeling the effects of two solid decades of World Series games ending well after the bedtime of any prospective young fan.

Shouldn't baseball worry that the onslaught of new ballparks (20 since the Skydome in 1989) caused an ongoing attendance bump that's soon coming to an end?

...attendance will hinge on the same thing it always did: winning. Especially in the 65-Inch HD Plasma/DirecTV Package/"Screw It, I'd Rather Just Stay Home and Flick Channels" Era 

Nobody wants to spend 3½ hours watching anything on television. Not even porn.

[H]ave you ever looked around during a baseball game these days? It's 35,000 people texting or writing/reading e-mails while they wait for something to happen. BlackBerrys and cell phones were either the best or the worst thing that ever happened to baseball. I can't decide.

1975 Red Sox
2 hours or less -- 12 games
2:01-2:30 -- 62
2:31-3:00 -- 63
3:01-4:00 -- 18 (4 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extras)

1978 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 57
2:31-3:00 -- 72
3:01-4:00 -- 27 (11 extras)
More than 4 -- 5 (all extras)

1986 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1 (6 IP)
2:01-2:30 -- 30
2:31-3:00 -- 71
3:01-4:00 -- 58 (9 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (2 extras)

1999 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 18
2:31-3:00 -- 92
3:01-4:00 -- 49 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extra)

2002 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 29
2:31-3:00 -- 82
3:01-4:00 -- 45 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 5 (5 extra)

2007 Red Sox
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 11
2:31-3:00 -- 48
3:01-4:00 -- 97 (5 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (2 extra)

2010 Red Sox (101 games)
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 1
2:31-3:00 -- 41
3:01-4:00 -- 53 (7 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (4 extra)

I'm the same guy who once created the 150-Minute Rule for all movies, sporting events, concerts, even sex -- if you edge past 150 minutes for anything, you better have a really good reason. 
I'll readily admit it: I love baseball much more than I actually love baseball games.

I love the stats and the look and the idea of baseball much more than I like watching a game, more than I like following a 162-game full season slog.

I love going to baseball games but not necessarily watching that games themselves.

And I would consider myself a decent baseball fan.

Football is the most popular of the professional sports in America right now.

Maybe baseball is second, but I'd guess that a number of measures would put basketball in second and baseball a fading third.

I would think that the first step in righting that ship would be for baseball to get the length of games shortened.

If they don't take care of that, I'm thinking they might be slipping from third soon.

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