I don't know if you caught last night's "Costas Now" on HBO, but it was fantastic. Costas has been doing this new show where it's a live town hall-style discussion of topics centered around a larger topic. Last night it was baseball. I tuned in in the middle of Pete Rose, Dave Winfield and Jim Palmer talking about the game, the hall of fame, steroids and more with the crowd-- which included athletes, celebrities and sportswriters (the ones who do the voting.) Pete Rose actually came off like less of the scumbag I think he is. Later there was a discussion with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as well as some taped segments in between to set up the pieces. In one Commissioner Bud Selig proclaimed, "Baseball is more popular today than it's ever been." Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci seconded that.
Baseball is more popular than ever? Like Gunny Highway politely asked Major Powers before kicking his ass-- "How do you figure, Major?"
How can you figure Major League Baseball is more popular now than when Babe Ruth played? More popular now than when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were fighting it out for the single-season home run record in '61? More popular than watching the A's dynasty give way to the Reds dynasty in the 70's? More popular than Kirk Gibson's home runs pushing our Tigers and the Dodgers to World Series titles in the 80's? More popular than players going on strike and spitting in the face of tradition in 1994-- ok, I'll give you that one, Bud.
First, let's start with Bud Selig. He was a walking disaster from day one. The only person I've ever heard of where "interim" was part of their job title for 6 years. He was part of an ownership group that forced the old commissioner out. He came up with an awful, embarrassing testing policy for performance enhancing drugs. He allowed an All-Star game to end in a tie for God's sake. But, he changed the game in dramatic ways with the Wild Card, interleague play, and revenue sharing which has really changed the game for the better. The Yankees and the Red Sox are still perennial contenders, but at least other teams like Tampa Bay now have a fighting chance with the extra money coming their way. So, let's say Selig has come a long way in his 16 years as commissioner-- I mean at least he hasn't re-instated Rose. But saying baseball is more popular than it's ever been just shows his ignorance and obsession with the almighty dollar.
Yes, the money is bigger than it's ever been. Revenue, merchandising, and attendance are at all-time highs. But, the first two are always going to set new records as inflation grows-- the same way box office records keep getting broken b/c prices at the theaters keep going up. Attendance surprises me a little, although when I think about it, there's a lot more going on at baseball games these days for the whole family than there was 20 years ago.
Attendance may be hitting a new high, but I'm telling you baseball is at a low. The baseball card business is in the tank. It's fallen about 15% a year since the early 90's, which goes back to one of my previous posts-- kids don't like baseball. And you can blame baseball for that. The strike, the high prices, the late starts for games... seriously, 9:00 on a Sunday night to start a World Series game? What kid is going to stay up late to watch that? When I was a kid, Saturdays we'd all get together and hit the diamond for a baseball game. Same as kids in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's. Today's kids can't pull themselves away from the Disney Channel and if they can it's to play the Wii or do something else electronic. If it is to play sports, it sure isn't baseball. Football and basketball are by far the first choice of today's kids. In the 80's baseball really WAS the national pastime. Now it's the NFL. MLB is at best, the third-most favorite sport in America and it may not be ahead of NASCAR. When I was a kid it was king. We bought baseball cards and traded them and collected them. "You got a Don Mattingly rookie? Wow... I'll trade you an Eric Davis for it?" A buddy of mine's dad had a Mickey Mantle rookie worth over $5,000 bucks. He'd talk about it everyday when I went over there to watch Cubs games every afternoon. There was passion... excitement... over every season... every superstar. Today we have to wonder who's on steroids and who's not. Baseball cards are very telling about the state of the game and both have been on the decline for years.
"Baseball is more popular than it has ever been." A guy who obviously took steroids just broke your most prestigious record of most home runs all-time. Baseball is a joke. I admit, I watch my Tigers, but baseball is a long way from making me feel the way I did about a Trammell-to-Whitaker-to-Evans double play and hearing Ernie Harwell call it on the radio.
Now that was baseball. Today it's a business, nothing more.