Sunday, April 30, 2006

ESPN vs. Brian

As many of you know, i love baseball. Especially, the New York Mets. Despite loving the Mets, i also like to see scores/highlights/analysis from other teams in the league, not just for personal enjoyment, but also for Fantasy Baseball reasons, and to see how different teams are affecting the Mets whether it be divisional play, to see if a team is hot when coming to Shea, etc.

So where would i turn for such coverage? Well, i would, like you, assume that i could turn to the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network or, to friends, ESPN. ESPN promises comprehensive coverage of all major sporting events from bass fishing to NASCAR, as well as the non-white trash sports in between. However, of all of the "Big 6" of sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, College Football, College Basketball), Major League Baseball gets the least screen time, as well as least analysis.

For instance, right now Barry "Hindenburg Head" Bonds is a few HRs shy of becoming the 2nd all time home run hitter in MLB history (i say this because there is a Japanese player, Sadaharu Oh, who is technically the all-time leader). On top of this, Bonds is currently under a grand jury investigation for perjury, and steriod allegations abound. Many people claim that "hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports." If that is true, than shouldn't this be a bigger story? The last week, ESPN has dedicated more time and analysis to the NFL Draft - a sporting event in name only - than any other news story. This is during both the NHL and NBA playoffs, during Bonds' home run chase, and during St. Louis Fist Baseman Albert Pujols' record breaking 14-homerun April. But no, focus is placed instead on whether or not No. 2 Draft Pick Reggie Bush's parents were involved in some innapropriate deal that may require him to forfeit his Heisman Trophy. Granted, this is a big story, but it is NOT bigger than the Bonds story.

Granted, the NFL has far surpassed MLB as the 'nation's passtime' despite claims to the contrary, and college sports only dominate the headlines for a small part of each year, but baseball seriously gets the shaft coverage wise. I have a few theories why:

1) Violence = Ratings

Despite the occasional hit batsman or outfield collision, baseball is a relatively peaceful game that doesn't have a lot of confrontational highlights. Slam dunking over someone's head is meaner and more agressive than a beautiful 4-6-3 double play, and gets thrice the coverage because of it.

2) Statistics

The average sports fan wants fodder to discuss over the water cooler, and seeing a home run, a strikeout, and the score of a ballgame is apparently enough to do that. We typically don't see a pitcher's WHIP, or a batter's OPS discussed on TV, because the average viewer doesn't care about statistics. The average viewer, like the average Yankee fan, cares more about wins-losses than any other useful statistic. However, to fully understand a 1-0 game, or even an 11-4 game, you need more than just that info. You need a least a line score, if not some analysis - was it the starting pitcher or the bullpen that gave up the majority of the runs? Were they all earned? Was the ball flying out of the park, or was it a slapping the ball in the gaps kind of day? You bet that you'll see the Lakers highlights talk about assists, blocked shots and technical fouls and during football season you'll see enough analysis to make you sick. So is it really the stats?

3) Pacing

Baseball is a patient sport - an at bat can last 7-10 pitches, plus throws to the first baseman, a catcher's visit to the mound, etc - ie. a good at bat can last a few minutes. Compound that by the minimum of 27 batters per team, and we're talking about a long game. There are not always easy ways to edit a game to make it into a fun, 25 second clip. Sports and the news have a lot in common this way - and that is why a serious sports fan and a serious citizen will read a newspaper for their news over a blurb inbetween the naming of Tom Cruise's baby and Bush taking softball questions from some hicks in Georgia on the evening news.

4) Baseball Fan's Literacy > Any Other Sports Fan's Literacy

Baseball fans pour over box scores, the blogs and the daily sports pages daily, as the huge number of fantasy baseball leagues will tell you. No other sports have really gotten as big fantasy wise as baseball has. Why? Because the fans care about the actual stats and dig deeper than fans of any other sport. I suppose this is also because baseball is simply a more complicated sport and therefore the fans will tend to be more intelligent, or else they wouldn't understand what consitutes a balk, or a quality start, or the difference between a curveball and a slider.

So because we read more, understand math more, and are more patient and peaceful, we suffer. I hope that perhaps we will see a sea change in this area, and come to a place (or a network) that will give more comprehensive analysis to those fans out there, like myself, who really care.


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should issue a fatwah against ESPN. Ever since I joined Xtreme Islam, I've been issuing fatwahs against everything - from Jews to Polar bears. Intimidation can get you anything you want, but violence helps sometimes too.

The reason why ESPN doesn't give time to MLB is because the Yankees are not allowed to play against themselves every night.


Matt P

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I will agree with you that the NFL gets far more time than MLB I dont think any other sport or league really does. You mentioned hockey, this past season I had to start visiting (the canadian ESPN) for all my hockey news.
I would say ESPN looks something like this...
5)Olympics/World Cup/Things the rest of the world cares about


At 4:10 PM, Anonymous edbanky said...

You know, I am a damn astute MLB buff, and I still can't quite grasp the balk. I suspect that no one REALLY knows; it's one of those things people profess to know because they don't want to look stupid.

Ain't it basically "you can't try to deceive the runner in your delivery to the plate?" I guess there are a few tangibles, like not stepping off the rubber before throwing to a base. But mostly, I think it's a big conspiracy.

Anyway, cool to find a fellow FB.netter who also shares a love of The Game.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so I'm a lifelong Giants fan. We should trade barbs sometime. Like you could rib me for when the Mets shoved JT Snow's dramatic potential series-making home run down the Giants' throats via Felix Rodriguez, back in whatever year. I could give you a rough time about the Mets perpetual underachievement as the Braves' footstool (well, except this year!).


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