7/21: Baseball Thrown Out as America’s Pastime?

July 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Verne Lundquist

Has baseball lost its place as America’s pastime?  CBS Sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who admits he’s lost enthusiasm for baseball, talks to the Marist Poll’s John Sparks about why and shares his thoughts, both, on the proposed realignment of the American and National Leagues and this year’s pennant races.

Listen to or read the transcript of the interview below.

Verne Lundquist

Verne Lundquist

John Sparks
Verne, we just passed the halfway mark for the baseball season, and I do want to talk about this year’s pennant races, but first I’d like to talk a little bit about the fans.  For the second year in a row, a majority of Americans say they are not baseball fans.  In fact, 52% tell the Marist Poll they won’t watch a single game at all this year.  So, I’m wondering is baseball no longer the national pastime?

Listen to Part 1:


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Verne Lundquist
I don’t think it is, John.  I think they yielded that title to the NFL and not recently. I think football in general, but specifically the National Football League, became America’s pastime, favorite pastime, oh my gosh, maybe 10, 12 years ago. I think that baseball kind of lost its way, and they’re having difficulty getting people back and caring about it.

John Sparks
I’m curious about the reasons for the decline, time zones, perhaps, after expansion?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I understand that if you’re… listen, I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. So I live in the time zone that the country forgot.  We always get irritated, if I can use that word, about the television networks for whom one of which — for whom I work.  That’s grammatically incorrect, but you get my drift. It’s always 9:00 Eastern and Pacific and 8:00 Central, and we sit here with our mountain goats and our mountains and say, “What about us?”  But, I do think that the West Coast teams, you know, it’s tough for East Coast fans to get truly involved in what’s going on.  You could even make the case, I guess, in Texas with Houston and the Astros and up through the middle part of the country, but especially with the teams beginning with the Colorado Rockies, and I don’t think that there’s a fan base that really is evident back East for teams from here in Colorado on out to the West Coast with L.A. and San Francisco and Seattle and San Diego.

John Sparks
You know, I always thought of baseball as a blue collar sport, but I’m wondering, it seems that today’s players are more part of an elite class that I’m wondering if fans can just no longer identify with.

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think economically they certainly are, and you know, it’s tough to be sympathetic to owners who keep paying these astronomical salaries. I don’t remember what the figure is now, but I got tickled in the divorce, the publication of the Frank McCourt divorce papers, when they sought legal help that I think the Dodgers owed, I’m going to say this, and I’ll be within 5 or 6 million, they owed Manny Ramírez $21-million in guaranteed salary, and there was a footnote to the whole thing that somewhere along the line, they owed Vin Scully $165,000.  Well, that tells me something about the relative merits that they place on one of the great broadcasters ever in this pay-for-play guy that was there you know, for a couple of years.  But that’s true.  You know, John, that’s true not only in baseball. The salaries are — and let’s face it, you know, the television networks and the cable networks keep paying these astronomical rights fees, and the salaries are just out of sight — baseball, basketball, and football — in my view.

John Sparks
Is there any way that the waning interest in baseball might be turned around?

Listen to Part 2:


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Verne Lundquist
I don’t know.  I’m pausing a long time because I would count myself in all candor as one of those people who’s lost interest. I lost interest in the game because I just found — I found the game not…  I mean if you talk to a passionate baseball fan, and I know hundreds of them who just absolutely live and die with their teams, most of them involve the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Mets, as you can imagine, because my work environment is primarily centered around the East Coast, but they — I mean they can do sermons on the benefits of being a baseball fan. The whole sport has kind of turned me off for a long time.  I find it way too slow paced. I find it difficult… The season is forever, and the single…  I get all the arguments about how it’s a whole 162 game season, but I don’t…  How do you instill a sense of excitement back into the game?  Well, they did one thing, didn’t they, in the ’90s?  They allowed steroid use, and the sport I think suffered for that and is suffering for that, and the ownership kind of looked the other way, and in my view most of the baseball fans, the hard core fans, looked the other way during the steroid era. They were much more excited by the Sammy Sosas and the Mark McGwires and the battle to surpass, you know Barry Bonds.  It was just you know forget what you’re putting in your body, it’s the end result.  So, fans bear some responsibility for that too.

John Sparks
You know, one recent remedy has been suggested.  It’s a new proposal for realignment.  They talk about doing away with divisions and balancing the league so that the American and National League would each have 15 teams, and then the top four teams in each league would be eligible for playoffs, but they would also do away with interleague play. I wonder what your thoughts are around that.

Verne Lundquist
Well. I don’t think…  and again, this is from a guy who does not pay fervent attention to the regular season.  I just don’t..  But I…  again, this is just a personal expression, I don’t think people have ever gotten all that excited about interleague play. I suppose they have in Chicago, and I’m sure they have in New York to a lesser degree probably because everything sports-related in California seems to be less emotional for the fans than it is in other parts of the country.  I suppose where you’ve got San Francisco, Oakland, or you’ve got the Dodgers and the Angels, there’s a certain amount of interest generated by interleague play.  But I think on a whole, it’s not a bell ringer with most folks, and I’d…  The idea of the wildcard, I love the idea of going to the four best teams qualify, and let’s go from there. And then after they do that, they can do away with the designated hitter and everything’s going to be perfect.

John Sparks
Let’s talk briefly about the pennant races.  I’d like to talk about the American League first.  The Yankees and Red Sox are on top in the Eastern Division. In fact, those two teams were the ones that fans that were polled by the Marist Institute mentioned most as being contenders for this year’s World Series.  In the American League Central, surprise, the Cleveland Indians all of sudden have come from nowhere, and they’re in a two-way race with the Tigers.  And then, of course, in the West, the Rangers having come off of a Cinderella season last season are battling with the Angels, but still, Verne, the leaders in the West and the Central as far as their percentage goes is way below that of the Yankees and the Red Sox.  Do you think that in the end it’ll be Yankees and Red Sox again?

Listen to Part 3:


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Verne Lundquist
That would be my guess.  Boston has kind of owned New York this year, and the country — I think the country cares about those two teams to a much higher degree than they do most others. I don’t want to make that a patent statement. I think you would agree with me that ESPN would have no Sunday night program if the Red Sox and the Yankees didn’t play each other because that is a staple of what they do, but you know, they’ve excelled over the last several years, and my guess is that they will again.  And, I agree with you about the Rangers’ Cinderella season.  I just… as a person who lived in Dallas and Fort Worth for a long time, of course, that is where I have a still live rooting interest, and I’d love to see them come back and do what they did last year.

John Sparks
Very briefly, the National League, the Phillies have become a powerhouse…

Verne Lundquist
Yeah.

John Sparks
…in the East; and in the Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates for crying out loud are kind of like the Indians; they’re back after a number of lean years, and of course, you’ve got the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Giants appear to be repeaters in the West.  Any thoughts about how the National League might turn out?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I’ve noticed the Lance Berkman contribution to the Cardinals and you know with Pujols hobbled, that’s really good to see. I’m surprised like you are at Cleveland. I think Philadelphia is the best team in the National League, and all they’ve done is in the off season they added Cliff Lee with a wonderfully adept starting pitching rotation. I think that over the long haul, I would be shocked if they were not back in — if they weren’t in the World Series when it was over.  They’ve got to be the overwhelming favorites I think.  Yes, I know San Francisco makes a lusty claim, but — and as one, as I mentioned, I live in Colorado, you can only imagine how excited people in Denver got at the start of the season, and now they’ve kind of settled down, and they’re mediocre. But the whole… The Giants are the best team in the West, and the Phillies are the best team in the East and let’s — as they say, let’s watch them play in the middle of the country.

John Sparks
Well, it’ll be interesting to watch and also to see as we approach the end of July, which is the trading deadline, to see if what kind of fine tuning some of these ball clubs do.  Verne, it’s always pleasure to talk with you.  I know you’ve been on vacation for the last month or so and out of the country. I’m just curious, back to work with CBS and what might be on the horizon for you professionally.

Verne Lundquist
Well, we have enjoyed this time off, and I got in touch with my roots.  Nancy and I spent a month in Norway.  We touched in Denmark and Sweden, but mostly in Norway, and we just had a wonderful time, and it was really invigorating.  I’m up next with the PGA Championship in Atlanta the second week in August and then a little bit of a hiatus, and then we go, Gary Danielson and I are back doing the SEC.  We open with what has become an annual right of autumn for us, Tennessee and Florida, and the game this year will be in Gainesville.  And just one more little plug, John, since you’ve given me a chance to do this, our prime time game, we only get to do one in prime time each year, but we’re doing Alabama at Florida the first Saturday night in October, and I think that could be a doozy.

John Sparks
We’ll look forward to seeing that as well as the other games with you. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

Verne Lundquist
Thank you, John.

Comments

One Response to “7/21: Baseball Thrown Out as America’s Pastime?”

  1. Brandon Garver on February 19th, 2012 6:28 pm

    I’m a college student at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and I am writing a speech on why America is losing baseball as it’s title as “American Pastime”, and this helped me out a lot. So i would just like to thank you for putting this up. And i totally agree, Football is the new pastime which really brings me down. I’m a baseball player and knowing that America is looking down at baseball now really is depressing. I think they need to shorten the season, make the games 7 innings, and have a salary cap. The Phillies, Yanks, and BOSox just buy all there championships and little teams like the Pirates (my favorite team) just get the old guys who they can afford because they do not have the rich owners that the other teams have.

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