Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 12:29 am | Fair 70º


Max McCumber: Baseball Happens Here, But Doesn’t Have to Stay

It's an age-old adage: What happens here, stays here. Usually it's an oath to swear by with your pals on a promiscuous getaway to Las Vegas. When used in reference to baseball as seen on television, it undermines the spirit of the event.

Max McCumber
Max McCumber

Too often I hear commentators note that, "Not a lot of people outside [insert small market city here] know about how great a player so and so is." Major League Baseball repeatedly claims it has never been more popular. However, every "not a lot of people outside of" remark is a threat to its popularity.

The Oakland A's have an outstanding team this year, with the best record in MLB as of the All-Star break. For them to be outperforming teams with considerably higher payrolls, such as the New York Yankees, proves the game to be healthy. Yet for Oakland to reach the World Series could be catastrophic for TV ratings. Baseball has produced as much parity as ever, but how much has it truly accomplished if not all teams are supposed to generate national prestige?

Unless it's your local team or one from a wealthy market such as Boston, New York, Chicago or L.A. in action, there is little reason to follow baseball. This attitude has become conventional wisdom primarily because it's encouraged by the media. It's not really indicative of what the game has to offer to national audiences.

A Milwaukee Brewers game taken in with a sausage and beer at Miller Park is as iconic a Wisconsin sporting experience as a Green Bay Packers game. The Brew Crew just so happened to have lead the NL Central for most of this year.

The Pirates are a franchise historically significant enough for the Jolly Roger flags waved in Pittsburgh to carry notoriety equal to the Terrible Towels found at Steelers games. Besides, Pirates insignia has influence beyond the diamond. It evokes reminders of the Great One: Roberto Clemente and the humanitarian efforts he inspired.

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki ought to be as much of a Denver celebrity as John Elway or Peyton Manning. He may have yet to win a World Series and does play in homer-happy Coors Field, but the display "Tulo" has put on is still impressive. After all, he did obtain the most All-Star votes in the National League this year. Let's hope he recovers in time from his current stint on the disabled list.

During my undergrad years at San Francisco State, I discovered how much of an event a Giants game can be. Unfortunately, with first pitches at AT&T Park thrown as late as 10:15 Eastern, many don't have a fair chance to do the same. A good chunk of viewers miss out on diving catches at third base by the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, or clutch hits off the bat of Buster Posey.

With so many Dodgers fans here in Santa Barbara, I've heard more than a few complaints about the trouble accessing their games on SportsNet LA. They have every reason to be outraged.

At the same time, except for a few Late Show and 60 Minutes segments, baseball doesn't exist on America's Most Watched Network: CBS. To the game, this is as much of a black eye, no pun intended, as the Dodgers situation. So, too, is the absence of baseball on NBC, as it was a staple of the peacock network for so long.

Ideally, MLB would have Fox, CBS in partnership with TBS, NBC, ESPN and the MLB Network all involved as rights holders in some shape or form. Fox, CBS and NBC would rotate airing the All-Star Game and World Series on their over-the-air outlets. In case you noticed, this arrangement would be roughly similar to the National Football League. Still, it would be entirely in the best interests of baseball.

Instead, the one Game of the Week is just another game on ESPN. A bulk of the national coverage technically exists on MLB Network, but it's not a channel readily available to basic cable. On top of that most of the games MLBN airs are feeds of local broadcasts. Low World Series ratings tend to get blamed on which teams are involved. But I think it has more to do with Fox anchored by Joe Buck as the only production in charge of the Series year after year. That and because its Sunday pre-game shows don't get underway until doubleheaders of NFL coverage are over.

I get that now you can follow every game on your mobile phone, tablet, webcast, etc., and pay up for a subscription to MLB.TV or Extra Innings. You have 162 regular season games a year, played almost every night to choose from. As a result, a network broadcast is more of a draw if teams like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers get in. All of this makes sense from a business perspective.

None of it, though, sounds like anything James Earl Jones recited in his "people will come" monologue as Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams. Nor is it any message I took away from the Ken Burns documentary I was raised on. I have a hard time letting go of such sentiments.

Whether Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum or anyone else tosses it, it's hard to diminish how special a no-hitter or perfect game can be. Unless its telecast only addresses a local audience.

— Max McCumber is a Santa Barbara resident.

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