It’s the middle of July. Across most of America the mercury is pushing 100-degrees. It’s the one agreed upon dead spot in the sports calendar save for the MLB All-Star Game. This triggers the annual spate of columns and think-pieces centered on the decline in television ratings for the Midsummer Classic.
Back when Tim McCarver worked his first All-Star game in 1986, it drew a 20 rating. Last year’s event in Kansas City rated an all-time low of 6.8, which translates to about 10.9 million viewers — not terrible for network television in July. The All-Star Game has lost about a million viewers each of the last four years. McCarver calls his last one for FOX tonight, and odds are it continues the trend and sets a new ratings low.
On Monday The Atlantic threw its hat into the ring trying to come up with reasons for the sharp decline and focused on the 1993 Game in Baltimore. The crux of the argument is that then-Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston loaded the American League team with Toronto players and he purposely avoided using Mike Mussina of the hometown Orioles. It set off a wave of bad feelings and put more of an onus on the All-Star managers to put every player on the roster into the game, bottoming out with the 2002 game that ended in a tie when Joe Torre and Bob Brenly ran out of bodies at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
The Atlantic piece uses a quote from Bub Selig in the wake of the 2002 debacle to make its point:
Selig has insisted that the 2002 All-Star tie debacle was a result of what happened in Baltimore in 1993. “The game had slipped,” Selig told reporters in 2005. “I think in 1993, it started to slip. When Mike Mussina didn’t get in the game in Baltimore and Cito Gaston got booed. It was very ugly.”
It’s an interesting thought, but hardly the only reason for the Game’s decline in popularity. Realistically there’s been so much written about the subject it could be its own temporary (and unpopular) exhibition at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. We all can agree way too much time is spent fretting about the overall health of a sport, which had four franchises evaluated at over $1 billion by Forbes earlier this week, on the basis of a one-off exhibition in July. (ESPN’s ratings for the Home Run Derby on Monday were up, even with the Berman-factor.)
For most of its history the top draw for the All-Star Game was it gave fans the chance to see players they’d never see outside their home markets. When I was a kid as a Tigers fan growing up in Connecticut there were only a handful of chances to see my favorite players on television, mostly when they played against the Yankees. Back then it would tick me off Terry Steinbach would get the American League starting catcher nod over Mickey Tettleton. Nowadays I can easily watch or listen to every Tigers game — sans Saturday blackouts on FOX — on my iPad, laptop, XBox or phone thanks to the MLB At Bat App.
The continued involvement of McCarver as the voice of baseball probably hasn’t helped the sport over the years, either. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that many folks would rather watch an episode of ‘Storage Wars New York’ or ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ on AMC than spent three-plus hours with McCarver’s two-minute breakdowns of routine 6-3 putouts, or inventing different ways to spell words. Another thought? Following baseball over the 162 game season is a grind, the four-day All-Star break is a welcome relief.
The proliferation of baseball — and all sports — on cable and the Internet has stamped out any charm the All-Star Game once held. For me, it’s as simple as that, regardless of whether or not the game “counts” for something or my favorite players get to pitch an inning or one at bat. Even so, we’ll still get the same columns this time next July coming up with new explanations for the Midsummer Classic’s fall from television grace — just be sure to swap out the ratings for Tuesday night’s game from last year’s and you’re halfway done.
Real games on Friday can’t arrive soon enough.
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