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Tuning out (cont.)

Posted: Monday October 23, 2006 12:20PM; Updated: Monday October 23, 2006 2:14PM
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Meanwhile, some speculate that the way Fox presents its telecasts has also caused viewers to flee. Hoffarth sees the network's flaws, but also suggests that Fox doesn't get enough credit for what it does right.

"I'm not a fan of the constant replay of every single pitch," Hoffarth said, "nor of the sound effects, or the moving graphics, or extreme closeups, but the fact Fox keeps experimenting to see what takes and what doesn't is commendable. At least baseball has never resorted to glowing balls or pick trails to show where hits land in the outfield. There are too many baseball purists on their production team to mess with the game there."

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That said, whatever your opinions of Fox's announcing crews are, Hoffarth says the network could do better.

"It seems pretty obvious that a postseason game without a Vin Scully doing it is just missing the boat," he said. "Here's the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time, sitting home in October. One thing that might be an option is to have the home-team broadcaster do an inning or two, like NBC used to do way back when. This World Series would be nice to hear Ernie Harwell, at least."

If that isn't enough remembrance of things past for you, another ongoing question concerns whether MLB needs to bring the World Series back to the daytime, at least for one game. It certainly wouldn't help the short-term ratings, because more television sets are on at night, but it could be a valuable loss-leader to attract more kids, not to mention their parents and grandparents.

"I think it would recapture some of the older fans that can still remember what day games were like, and how it influenced the American culture," Brown said. "Ask some of our older fans how many skipped out of school, or listened to the game on transistor radio in class, what kind of memories those day games invoked."

Disclosure: I had about 15 classmates gathered around me and my '70s-era portable radio, out in front of the school library in ninth grade, clock ticking on my first class after lunch, when Rick Monday homered to win the 1981 NL pennant in a deciding Game 5 for the Dodgers.

Stories will always be baseball's bread and butter. Baseball's postseason ratings suffered early because, as Brown said, "some teams backed into the playoffs this year, and the [series] were not compelling, with a number of sweeps or near-sweeps."

Added Kissell: "One thing that may be hurting baseball is that Fox and ESPN put so many of their eggs in the basket of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Maybe if they tried to capitalize on the stories elsewhere in the league, fans would be more invested in other teams."

The hard truth is baseball probably won't ever again be as relevant on television as it used to be. The best solution for fans would probably be for the sport to embrace what it is rather than make the sacrifices -- awkward starting times, long commercial breaks, etc. -- to compensate for what it isn't.

However, with the money that can still be wrung out of the sport if the squeeze is just a little tighter, the members of TROUBLE will just have to continue to adjust, and count their remaining blessings.

A former sportswriter with the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times, Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers and baseball at Dodger Thoughts. His book, The Best of Dodger Thoughts, is on sale now.

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