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Baseball's image problem?

by Chris Tubbs

Baseball has an image problem.  Like the attractive girl in high school who blossomed too early, MLB has peaked and can only look back to its glory days. The funny thing? They’ve had some of their best success ever in the last decade and nobody has noticed. They’ve got an image problem and the NFL knows how to capitalize.

This year has been one of the most interesting and pleasurable baseball seasons in nearly two decades. You have real division races in five of the six divisions. Atlanta’s running away with the NL East, but there are huge detractors as to whether or not they can actually win in October. Several teams have had double digit win streaks. Small market teams like Tampa, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh all have real chances to make the playoffs.

Miguel Cabrera has a chance to win a second consecutive triple crown. Mike Trout continues to blow people’s minds.  You've had Atlanta and Detroit on double digit winning streaks at the same time. Last time that happened?  1884. The American League didn't even EXIST in 1884. This is uncharted territory for MLB. You could have incredible postseason match ups. Yet as soon as preseason football kicked off, everyone forgot MLB.

Have you ever watched preseason football?  It’s painful.  I know it’s still technically football, but the game is barely even that.  It’s one or two series from names you know and three quarters of spending time figuring out who the players on the field are.  That’s not fun to watch.  It’s excruciating.  Fourth quarter preseason football should be implemented as torture by the US military.  Why would you subject yourself to this kind of pain, especially when there are other (read: anything) things you can watch. 

We live in the greatest era of television watching the world has ever seen.  A viewer has THOUSANDS of options of what to watch, but still offers to subject themselves to watching two monkeys throw poop at each other (this would also be the case for a Cardinals/Browns regular season game).  HDTV, satellite TV, DVR, online viewing, mobile options….there are no ends to possibilities of how to watch.  Teams offer exclusive content and highlights.  Why are people so quick to bail on games that matter for games that don’t?

Football is our new drug.  We’ve entered an incredible drug culture in our world and no one is immune.  Whether it’s football, or extra prescriptions, or whatever vices people choose for their addiction, people cannot get enough of their fix. But it’s not football’s fault that baseball can’t keep people interested. That’d be unfair to football. They’ve got their own (PED) issue. 

No, baseball has issues because it refuses to look forward.  It’s only now that they’re starting to look at the present, as evidenced by the Biogenesis rulings. They’re finally concerned about the games now, and not the games of the past. Credit to the league for finally trying to set things right, but it’s nearly too late.  Most people aren’t going to come back to baseball because they’re hungover from football’s glow.

Doesn’t mean baseball is innocent of driving fans away. The MLB brass has tried to push their weight around for a long time. Now that they’ve actually listened to players, fans, and the like, things are changing. Their long games, constant PED suspicion, and lack of stars have certainly not helped their case. It’s easy for the NFL, and to a smaller degree, the other leagues (NHL, NBA, MLS, etc) , to capitalize on their mistakes. But that doesn’t explain why people would choose unimportant, irrelevant preseason football over baseball’s stretch run.

Baseball needs to change their season. Start the season in mid-March, since Spring Training no longer carries the same importance it once did.  You can keep the spring training sites happy by playing the first two weeks as you normally do, but use the September call up here so you can still evaluate.  End the regular season on Labor Day.  By then, everyone’s moving to football.  You’ll be up against the first weekend of college football, but you can live with that.  Football, college and pro, isn’t going to be as critical in September.  Put the MLB playoffs in September and finish the World Series by 10/1.  Since you know the owners will never reduce the number of games (best solution), this is a nice compromise.

Baseball has its detractors and certainly has brought a lot of it on itself.  Sports fans have enough room in their life for more than one sport, but when there’s an alluring glow of their favorite drug (football), it’s hard for a new drug to take over.  So long baseball and your exciting season.  The world has unimportant football to watch.