PRO BOWL TOPS MLB ALL-STAR GAME … AGAIN

By Murray Chass

July 15, 2012

The day after the All-Star game Major League Baseball issued a news release declaring a 3 percent increase in the overnight television ratings for the game on Fox. Considering the negative history of the game’s declining ratings, this development appeared to be something worth celebrating.

2012 All Star on Fox 225

In my last column I reported the ratings rise but cautioned that M.L.B. should wait for the final ratings before celebrating anything. I’m not a ratings expert; I frankly don’t care about ratings. In terms of interest to me, they are the television version of WHIP and WAR. However, from scrutinizing All-Star ratings I have learned that final ratings are often lower than overnights.

And indeed that was the case here, except you might have missed it in the blizzard of statistics Fox included in its news release. M.L.B. let Fox do the spinning on this one.

The final score was 6.8, lowest ever rating for an All-Star game so certainly the lowest in the 10 years the outcome of the game has determined homefield advantage (games 1, 2, 6, 7) for the World Series.

The steady decline in the All-Star ratings – all-time lows the last three years of 7.5, 6.9, 6.8 – prompts a theory at which Commissioner Bud Selig and other link advocates would scoff. Maybe fane are so turned off by the idea of an exhibition game deciding homefield advantage for the sport’s ultimate series that they refuse to watch and give validity to the game.

Lest you understand TV ratings no more than I do, I will explain that ratings convert to number of viewers – or maybe it’s the other way around, or maybe it doesn’t matter – but what the decline in ratings means is that fewer people watch the All-Star game on Fox.

In the seventh year of the link (2009), Fox attracted 14.6 million viewers and an 8.9 rating. The numbers have tumbled since – to 12.1 million viewers and 7.5 in 2010, 10.97 million and 6.9 in 2011 and 10.90 million and 6.8 this year.

All Star Ratings2As bad as this news is for M.L.B., here is worse news. Not too long ago, only a few years, fans and officials and the news media didn’t speak of the baseball and pro football all-star games in the same context. They were played on different planets, in different universes. They were birds of different feathers, not to be compared the relative interest in both was so one-sided.

However, after Fox announced its All-Star ratings, the Web site sportsmediawatch.com disclosed a stunning fact. This was the third consecutive year in which the National Football League’s Pro Bowl attracted more viewers and had a higher rating than baseball’s All-Star game. This year’s Pro Bowl had a 7.3 rating and 12.5 million viewers.

The Web site provided some solace for M.L.B. Its all-star game, sportsmediawatch.com reported, outperformed the all-star games of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

LUCCHINO LAYS IT ON

Larry Lucchino has been in Boston too long (11 years) to think he can bamboozle Red Sox fans, but that doesn’t stop the team’s president and chief executive officer from trying.

An old friend who has lived in the Boston area for many years and scrutinizes the Red Sox closely alerted me to an article in the Boston Globe the other day quoting a letter Lucchino wrote to Red Sox season-ticket holders.

Larry Lucchino

“Revolting, absolutely revolting,” my friend remarked of Lucchino’s letter. The headline on the Globe account of the letter was “Lucchino tries for positive spin on season.” His effort, though, was so blatantly obvious and poor that I feel it deserved an “R” for revolting.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the letter, besides its foolish attempt to fool the fans, was the omission of any mention of the Red Sox manager, Bobby Valentine, as in, “Bobby Valentine is doing a great job in his first year with us, and we expect even better things from him when all of our injured players are healthy and he has the team he signed on to manage.”

But Valentine did not appear in the letter so perhaps Lucchino felt the season-ticket holders had seen enough of Valentine’s act and didn’t want to remind him of the way he had treated a fan favorite, Kevin Youkilis.

When Lucchino wrote the letter, the Red Sox were tied for last place in the American League East, 9½ games from first. By Sunday, the Red Sox were tied for last place, a season-high 10½ games from first.

Here, as reprinted from the Globe, is Lucchino’s letter:

Dear Season Ticket Holder:

As we cross the midpoint of our 2012 season, we thank you for your loyal support thus far. We met many of you at our new spring home, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, and renewed more acquaintances as we opened the 100th Anniversary season at Fenway Park. We sensed that the nostalgia touched you, and we hope to continue to celebrate this special anniversary from time to time throughout the year.

Our play on the field has at times tested the mettle of the faithful. It could be maddening one day, enthralling the next day. Along the way, we have seen our bullpen gel, young players emerge, and veterans lead. We have watched the team coalesce into a close group. Personalities are enhancing the chemistry, such as the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star. And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships.

The one constant on the field has been our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz. How thrilled we were that our gregarious leader reached the 400-home run plateau in a career that we hope will forever be with the Red Sox.

The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list. As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the “varsity,” including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia.

While this infusion of such talent in late July may make other General Managers green with envy, you can be sure that Ben Cherington and his Baseball Operations Staff will approach the July 31 trading deadline with their tireless work ethic. If someone can further help this club, and if the deal makes sense, we will be aggressive. We want to play October Baseball this year.

Keep the Faith, Larry Lucchino

NO PROBLEM HERE WITH REGGIE’S COMMENTS

The irrepressible Reggie Jackson was recently disciplined by the New York Yankees for published comments he made about Alex Rodriguez. It wasn’t much of a discipline; a Yankees’ employee, he was ordered to stay away from Yankee Stadium for a few days.

reggie-thumbnailBut why should he have been disciplined at all? He was talking about Rodriguez and his admitted use of steroids. By using steroids, Rodriguez left himself open to criticism, including criticism by members of the Yankees.

Jackson played the game without cheating and resents players who have surpassed his mathematical accomplishments by cheating for at least part of their careers. Frank Robinson is another Hall of Famer who feels similarly.

Jackson didn’t stop with Rodriguez and steroids. Having nothing to do with steroids, there are some Hall of Famers he found unworthy of the Hall of Fame. He cited Kirby Puckett, Gary Carter, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Jim Rice as examples of the voting baseball writers having too low a standard for election.

Then the writer of the Sports Illustrated article asked “what about Bert Blyleven,” who was elected last year.

“No,” Jackson said. “No, no, no. Blyleven wasn’t even the dominant pitcher of his era – it was Jack Morris.”

My sentiments exactly, which is why I never voted for Blyleven and have voted for Morris every year since I resumed voting and will vote for him until he is elected or as long as he is on the ballot (two more years).

PUBLIC EDITOR JOINS TIMES FICTION STAFF

A year has elapsed since The New York Times, which usually reports history, created its own version of baseball history. In the interim, the Times has rejected repeated efforts to have the once great newspaper acknowledge its fiction or correct the column in which it was born.

On July 13, 2011, the Times published a column by Richard Sandomir, who writes about television sports and ratings but not about baseball free agency.

Arthur BrisbaneThe column was about a new HBO documentary on Curt Flood, and Sandomir, without asking anyone who knew anything about free agency, wrote free agency came about because of three events. He was wrong on two of them. Unlike baseball, a .333 batting average (1 for 3) was not good.

Contrary to the column, Flood’s 1970 lawsuit against baseball did not create free agency because Flood lost the suit and his loss changed nothing about the owners’ practice in signing and retaining players.

Catfish Hunter’s winning 1974 grievance against Charlie Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics, had no impact on free agency because it was a breach-of-contact case and affected no player but Hunter.

The only issue the Times column got right was that the winning 1975 Messersmith-McNally grievance created free agency.

Not wanting to see the Times mislead its readers with fictional reporting, I tried very hard to get the correction-happy newspaper to correct the Flood and Hunter mistakes. I say corrections-happy because the Times believes in correcting all mistakes, which is admirable but in some instances silly.

Nevertheless, I wrote to various editors pointing out the errors and received not one positive response acknowledging that, gee, it looks like we got it wrong. On the contrary, the responses were uniform in their rejection of the idea that mistakes had been made.

Here is an except from an e-mail from the Times’ corrections editor, Greg Brock, who seemed to have difficulty grasping the meaning of the Catfish Hunter case.

“If the Catfish Hunter case is one of these queries,” Brock wrote in an e-mail, “you should go ahead and take that up with the public editor. I spent an enormous amount of time – too much – on that one. I talked to about 8 editors. We do not think that is correctable. That is the final decision and we’re not going to debate it and discuss it further. So there is no point in sending me back a lengthy rebuttal. Again, you can appeal to the public editor.”

Brock’s response and his mention of other editors agreeing with him made me realize that my long-held view of editors was justified. However, I did what he suggested and wrote to the public editor, Arthur Brisbane.

That effort resulted in one of the biggest disappointments I experienced in the newspaper business. I wrote to Brisbane, explaining what I thought was wrong and why. In response he asked if I could provide him with the titles of some books that would independently confirm my position.

I did that – I couldn’t really find any books that didn’t agree with my position – but I went one better. After determining that he would be delighted to talk to Brisbane, I gave the public editor Marvin Miller’s telephone number.

What more could a reporter or an editor seeking information ask for than access to the primary source? I could already see the correction as it would appear on page 2 of the Times.

There was, however, to be no correction. There was no phone call either. Miller and I spoke a couple of times in the next few weeks, me to find out if Brisbane had called, Marvin to find out why he hadn’t.

I don’t know why he didn’t call Miller. I didn’t hear from the public editor again. He has become an accessory after the fact to the Times’ historical fairy tale. His achievement should be added to his Wikipedia page.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.