Ron Jenkins, Ron Jenkins

Column: Should MLB shorten season?

46 of 50 most-watched games in 2013 were NFL games

Like so many of my peers, I felt an almost tangible mood letdown after watching the U.S. men’s national team exit the World Cup in a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium. It was not just that the U.S. had a great chance to win the game in regulation, or even that we now have to wait four more years for another World Cup. It’s how much we get wrapped up in the whole thing, how much we come to care, how up and down our emotions go over the course of a game and the tournament as a whole.

Losing that feeling of aliveness is a kind of grief; it is difficult to replace, though surely people try.
“I can’t wait until football season,” several of my friends groaned.

Wait, football season? I love American football as much as the next person, but aren’t we in the middle of baseball season? You know, “America’s pastime?” Isn’t there a good three months left of the season? Can’t we get excited about that? The truth is, most of us do not, at least not until late September or into October.

Look, I am a baseball guy. I played 17 seasons of it competitively, including a couple years in college. My voicemail recording insanely broadcasts to the world that the Cubs are going to win the World Series. I am on a lifetime mission to visit every baseball stadium in the country and I am more than halfway there. One would think I am the target audience for the MLB. And I do check the standings every once in a while, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I watched a game on television. Maybe the 2005 World Series, which the White Sox won.

Apparently I’m not alone. According to a list compiled by Sports Media Watch, the most-watched baseball game of 2013 was Game 6 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. The game did not even make it into the top 50 most-watched sporting events of the year. A stunning 92 percent of those top 50 were NFL games. But it’s not just football that overshadows baseball: even the NHL receives higher television ratings than baseball does.

It gets worse. An article in SB Nation demonstrated that baseball ratings have been falling within the sport ever since 2007. According to Sports Illustrated, one recent game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim received a — wait for it ­­— 0.0 rating in Houston. Yes, you interpreted that correctly; almost no one watched the game, even though it was, in fact, broadcast.

The question all this begs is why doesn’t anyone care about baseball anymore? I am sure there are plenty of answers to this question, one of which simply deals with the slow pace of the game. I suppose there probably has been some sort of steroid era fallout, too.

The length of the MLB season is also a part of the problem; 162 games for each team, plus the playoffs for whoever makes it to that stage, far and away the most games in a major American professional sport. The next closest is the NBA with an 82-game regular season, which means teams play about half the number of games as an MLB team does.

Obviously there is something to be said about the way different sports affect human bodies. And surely big money factors in here somewhere. But I think the reason so few people are engaged with the MLB on a consistent basis is that the games just do not mean enough. In a three-game group stage in the World Cup, games are loaded with meaning. Same with a 12-game college football schedule or a 16-game NFL schedule.

How about a baseball game in the middle of July? Not so much for a nation that loves drama and entertainment as much as we do.

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