The Year of the Pitcher: Secretly Bad for Baseball?Published 6:40pm Monday, August 30, 2010
This baseball season will be known for pitching, and a lot of times its fun to remember a particular season for something. It gives significance to something that is in a long succession, and helps anyone (like me) who is obsessed with chronology to keep track of the sports experience. The NBA in the 90’s could be broken down this way: 90-91 were the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons seasons, 92-94 were the Jordan Domination Period, 95-96 were either Jordan’s retirement era or The Land of Big Men, (A bunch of good 7 footers with Hakeem killing it) 97-98 were MJ’s comeback, and then it ended with a lockout and some very crappy basketball.
Anyway, back to the year of the pitcher. This season has been defined by the number of no-hitters and almost no hitters, dominant pitching winning most important series and Strasberg’s meteoric rise and fall. This is pretty interesting in that it could mean a number of things; the steroid era is done, or pitchers have evolved physically like no one anticipated (Matt freaking Capps casually throws 99 mph for God’s sake, and all of it might come from his insanely thick neck which is much bigger than his head), or umps are widening strike zones, or some combination of those things, or none of those things. It’s interesting for hardcore baseball fans on a number of levels. But it might not be interesting to casual fans, and that’s why baseball’s ratings are in the tank.
According to an article in the Sports Business Journal, ratings in every major market are down an average of roughly 20-percent from just last year, and overall baseball attendance has fallen 7-percent. This could be due to the lagging economy, but television ratings usually go up during a recession because it’s cheap entertainment. So why the lower TV ratings? No O.
The theory I’m currently chewing on that explains this is that general interest in baseball peaks when scoring is frequent. A fun baseball game is usually categorized by a good amount of offense: home runs, base stealing, triples, doubles etc. Also, a lot of hitting leads to more exciting defensive plays: triple plays, diving catches, contests at home plate. This was exemplified by baseball’s ratings spike during the prime of the steroids era. So if the steroids/all offense era lead to an increase in viewership, then logic would dictate that little offense means little ratings. For casual baseball fans, a pitching duel is kind of boring in the way soccer is boring to anyone who isn’t a die hard. Subtlety is un-amusing if you aren’t in on it.
Baseball could change a number of things to increase offense, and the possibilities are endless. But it won’t, because its baseball, and they just don’t change things. And this might be good. Good pitching certainly isn’t bad baseball, its just less entertaining to the casual fan, and if the goal is to rope in more casual fans, the product may suffer. When a failing sitcom brings in a new character to rope in more viewers, it loses some of its integrity.
So maybe the ‘solution’ is to do nothing, and enjoy the baseball season for what it is: the year of the pitcher.