Monday, September 30, 2019

MLB Update

At this point, MLB has settled into a role in the culture that strikes me as very odd.  This year, over 68 million people attended major league baseball games -- down from 2018, but still far beyond any attendance figure you would have seen in the 1970's.  In 1978, for example, the New York Yankees participated in one of the most dramatic and heart-stopping pennant races in history -- a legendary come-from-behind battle against the Red Sox that wasn't decided until a one-game playoff after the regular season.  Those Yankees were also the defending World Series Champions, and rolled out a line-up featuring legends like Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, and Goose Gossage.  They drew 2.336 million fans in 1978.  This year, the Yankees flattened everyone in their division and played no meaningful games all year.  They drew 3.3 million fans.

This year, the Orioles effectively tanked -- they sent out one of their worst teams in history.  They drew 1.56 million fans.  In 1978, the Orioles were in the middle of a stretch where they were one of the best franchises in the game.  They drew 1.05 million fans.

I could go on, and some of the results are unbelievable -- this year's Pirates outdrew the 1978 Pirates (a much better team) by around 500,000 fans.  In 1978, only 18,601 persons per game showed up for games at Wrigley Field.  Fewer than 6,600 persons per game attended games in Oakland.  Only three teams -- the Reds, Dodgers, and Phillies -- drew more than 30,000 persons per game.  This year, thirteen teams drew more than 30,000 per game, including no-hopers in San Francisco and Colorado.  Obviously, MLB is much more successful at drawing fans now than it was back then.

But here's the thing:  back then, you pretty much didn't go to a baseball game unless you liked baseball -- and the number of folks who really cared about baseball back then was significantly bigger than it is now.  I couldn't find the numbers for 1978, but in 1985 Game One of the World Series drew a rating of 25.3.  That game featured the Cardinals and Royals -- two clubs from Missouri.  Last year's Game One -- featuring the Red Sox and the Dodgers, two of the biggest clubs in the sport -- drew a rating of only 8.3.  In other words, two thirds of the folks who were tuned into the World Series in 1985 no longer watch.

Why did this happen?  I believe it is because MLB no longer considers its championship a big deal for neutral fans.  They must have marketing data showing that people only care about their own team, and don't care about anything else.  So if you're a baseball fan, you get lots and lots of information about your team, but very little about the rest of the league.  I know a lot more about the Houston Rockets or the Houston Texans than I do about the Houston Astros -- even though the Astros are a phenomenal team that won the 2017 World Series in thrilling fashion.  Both the NFL and the NBA make a big effort to build a narrative over the course of the season, and to encourage fans to tune in to the playoffs even if their team has been eliminated.  MLB just doesn't do that.  The playoff games are always difficult to find on TV, the games are played at teams where young fans can't watch them, and the announcing squads are dreadful.  Even more importantly, the current set-up -- where every decent team makes the playoffs -- is designed to prevent any drama in the regular season, which gets all of us out of the habit of watching the rest of the league.

Fortunately, I'm too old to be discouraged by these tactics.  I still enjoy the MLB playoffs, and there have been some really good playoff series in recent years.  This year we have five really good teams -- the Astros, the Yankees, the Twins, the Dodgers, and the Braves.  I look forward to any match-up that features two of these teams.  The A's and Nats are still hanging on for wild card spots, and of course I'll be rooting for them.

A few pieces of business to wrap up the regular season.  Dave Dombrowski, the General Manager who built Boston's powerhouse that won the 2018 championship, has been let go.  Joe Maddon, the Field Manager who took the Cubs to the 2016 championship, will not be managing in Wrigley Field next year.  The Texas Rangers, who moved into a new stadium called the Ballpark in Arlington back in the distant days of 1994, will move to a new stadium next year.  I have no idea why any of these moves happened, and I won't be surprised if any or all of them turn out to be mistakes.  If I lived in Boston, or Chicago, or Dallas, I would know a lot more about the background of these stories.  As it is, I know much less about any of them than I do about, say, Russell Wilson's personal life.  That's the world MLB has created, and I just live here.

A fond farewell to Bruce Bochy, who concludes a rather odd career.  He managed the Padres from 1995 to 2006, winning their only NL pennant in 1998.  Then he managed the Giants from 2007 to 2019, winning their only World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014.  In 25 seasons in the NL West, he won the division only six times, and finished with a lifetime record of 2003-2028.  But he won 4 pennants and 3 World Series Titles.  His post-season record in San Francisco was 36-17, which is extraordinary.  I don't think he was lucky.  I think he's a great manager who spent most of his career burdened by a lack of talent, but who could beat you whenever his team was even close to being as good as yours.

One more point:  your tanking teams for this year were the Royals, Orioles, Tigers, and Marlins.  It will be interesting if any of these teams get the type of payoff in the 2020's and the Astros and Nats got in the last decade.  What I know to be true is that Billy Beane has fewer resources than almost any team in baseball, but he never tanks and he is almost always competitive.  I prefer the A's model to the Royals' model.

Here are the final standings:

Houston:  107-55  ---
New York:  103-59  4
Minnesota:  101-61  6
Oakland:  97-65  10
Tampa Bay:  96-66  11
Cleveland:  93-69  14
Boston:  84-78  23
Texas:  78-84  29
Chicago:  72-89  34 1/2
Los Angeles:  72-90  35
Seattle:  68-94  39
Toronto:  67-95  40
Kansas City:  59-103  48
Baltimore:  54-108  53
Detroit:  47-114  59 1/2

Los Angeles:  106-56  ---
Atlanta:  97-65  9
Washington:  93-69  13
St. Louis:  91-71  15
Milwaukee:  89-73  17
New York:  86-76  20
Arizona:  85-77  21
Chicago:  84-78  22
Philadelphia:  81-81  25
San Francisco:  77-85  29
Cincinnati:  75-87  31
Colorado:  71-91  35
San Diego:  70-92  36
Pittsburgh:  69-93  37
Miami:  57-105  49


  1. I am stunned and thrilled that the A's and Nationals actually made the playoffs, and I'm kind of glad that Tuesday is a giant church day for us, probably preventing me from watching either of tomorrow's wild-card games.

    Great report, as always, by the way.

  2. The Nats scored three runs in the bottom of the 8th to beat Milwaukee, 4 to 3, in the National League Wild Card game. Natstown now heads out to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers, who knocked them out of the playoffs in 2016. The Dodgers are trying to make the NLCS for the fourth year in a row.

    The other NL playoff will be the Cardinals and the Braves, which should be a huge deal in the Channel 6 viewing area.

  3. Well, it was a great year with the A's, who just appeared to be either totally gassed or totally overmatched by Tampa last night. They looked great in the crisp and bright green and yellow, however, particularly in the early innings and the northern-California dusk, and they provided me with half a calendar year of fun. Thank you, MLB19 A's.

    By the way, with my having talked about them pretty much all the way through MLB14 at the HP, Oakland lost in the wild-card game. With my having stayed pretty much quiet about them all the way through this season, Oakland lost in the wild-card game. So, next season, I think I'll just go back to talking about them--I think it's more fun that way.