7/12: Baseball’s Demise at the Hands of the Networks?

By John Sparks

“God, I just love baseball.”
–Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in “The Natural,” 1984

sparks-caricature-440So, in the latest Marist Poll, 54% of the American public tells us they do not follow baseball at all.

Clearly, Roy Hobbs and I are in the minority.  I’m writing this column in Texas as I watch my favorite team, the New York Yankees, do battle with the Oakland A’s on television.  Friends of mine tell me the game is much too slow.  It’s boring.  They prefer the slam dunk on the basketball court or the action of the NFL which makes for the fast pacing television thrives on.

They don’t know what they’re missing.  But, they’re missing quite a lot if they depend on television coverage.

One of my pet peeves is that I am at the mercy of the television director to show me what is going on.  Instead of the game, I get far too many close-ups of Andy Pettitte and his intimidating stare as he gets the sign from Jorge Posada.  I get shots of celebrities like Tom Cruise sitting in the high dollar seats at Dodger Stadium.  Two weeks ago, Fox spent way too much time showing me the broadcast booth as Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson argued ad nauseam about a controversial play in the 1978 World Series while today’s  game was going on.

To love the game, you must understand it.  To understand it, you have to see an overview of the field — something the television director rarely shows you these days.  Is the infield playing in or deep?  Has the defense shifted to the right for Mark Teixeira?  If so, and Brett Gardner is on second, should he attempt a steal with third base not being covered?  How many outs are there?  Who’s the pitcher?  Does he know what Teixeira’s weakness is?  Does Tex know that he knows?

You have to see the entire field to determine these things.  Can it be that television which breathed life into the National Football League has killed off the national pastime?

There are other reasons baseball has diminished in popularity.

I’ll share those thoughts tomorrow.