So the World Series is starting today. I'm excited about it. Based on the demographic numbers I've seen from the rest of the playoffs, I might be the only person who can say that sentence who A) is under 50 and B) doesn't live in St. Louis or Texas. It's absolutely sad that baseball has seen its ratings drop and its audience get older as the years have passed. In fact, look at it graphically:
OK, I admit, I mostly just wanted to show off my chart-building skills in Excel. Such as they are. Anyway, that chart shows a pretty steady decline for the World Series in share (the red line) and television rating (the yellow line) since 1984. (Why 1984? That's the first year for ratings I found on Wikipedia, and I didn't want to bother looking up the other years.)
So why the drop? A lot of people blamed the strike of 1994, which cancelled the World Series and showed America that the world wouldn't end if the World Series didn't happen. But as you can see, the ratings had started to trend downward slightly before 1994 (which is represented by the awkward gap in the chart). So what else caused it? I like to blame Fox, which started covering the World Series in 2000, but the drop had already started by then, too.
Here's where people give the excuse that modern Americans have more choices than ever, that in 1984 people had 10 channels to choose from, while now they have 210 to choose from, and because of that, it's impossible to expect similar ratings as two decades ago. And sure, that's a legitimate argument. But the Super Bowl hasn't exactly been hurt by that.
(True, true, the Super Bowl is one single game as opposed to anywhere between 4 and 7. But to me, that explains why the Super Bowl has higher ratings than baseball, not why baseball's have dropped so dramatically.)
So that's my long-winded way of asking one question: Why, exactly, are the ratings dropping? How about time of game? I haven't found good numbers to place into a pretty graph like the one above, but a very common complaint is how much longer baseball games are now. A lot of the blame goes to the success of the Yankees and Red Sox, teams that take pitch after pitch after pitch to extend games, but blame can also be placed on a shrinking strike zone.
Any problems with extended games is exacerbated in the postseason, when players start to feel the pressure. A good example was the great final game of the season this year, when Boston was trying to avoid its collapse. Reliever Antonio Aceves came in for Boston after the rain delay in the seventh inning, then hit a batter with his first pitch and gave up a hit on his second. Facing his third batter, he looked for the sign, and shook it off. The shook his head again, and again, and again. He stepped off, then shook off another sign. Then another. It became painfully obvious that he wanted nothing to do with that situation, didn't want to throw ANY pitch.
It's a little unfair of me to single out Aceves like that, but he's a microcosm of how pitchers react to stressful situations in the postseason. Combine that with managers nowadays calling every pitch and pickoff attempt and step-off. It adds up to never ending innings and postseason games that end way past bedtime for all but the most hard core of fans.
It's too bad. Baseball is my favorite sport by far, and I really want to pass on my love to my son. But it will be hard if I have to put him to bed before the end of any World Series game because it's going on until 11:30 at night. It's a problem that baseball needs to solve, and soon.
As far as this year's series, I don't know who is going to win. I could do exhaustive research, but really, the winners the past 10 years or so have been more or less random. It's not the best team that wins, but the luckiest. I hope Texas wins, mostly because they never have before and the Cardinals have won plenty. But what I hope for more than that is a memorable, exciting series, one with crisp, well-played games that draw in more fans for the greatest sport in the world. And I hope for the first seven-game World Series since 2002. I hope that isn't too much to ask.