For years I had been telling myself that baseball still reigned supreme in this country, that Americans still held the national pastime in higher regard than the NFL.
Then I had an epiphany after watching Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night. To a baseball aficionado, the game had a little bit of everything.
Pitching: A masterful performance by the Giants’ 21-year-old rookie starter Madison Bumgarner, who blanked the Rangers, owners of the majors’ highest team batting average during the regular season, in eight innings. In the history of baseball, only one starting pitcher younger than Bumgarner has thrown eight shutout innings in a World Series game.
Hitting: In the third inning, San Francisco designated hitter Aubrey Huff, who grew up a Rangers fan, mashed a two-run home run that seemingly landed down the road in Cowboys Stadium.
Fielding: The Giants put on a defensive exhibition. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez was all over the infield making plays. Left-fielder Cody Ross had a nice sliding catch, and catcher Buster Posey threw out Josh Hamilton, the modern-day Mickey Mantle, trying to steal second base.
And yet, I thought to myself, “More people are probably watching Sunday Night Football.”
Turns out I was right. And I’m OK with that.
USA Today reported that the New Orleans Saints’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers (11.8 percent of TV households) outdrew Game 4 of the World Series (10.4). CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported it was the first time an NFL regular-season game has out-drawn a World Series game.
Curiously, the NFL has traditionally conceded Sunday nights to the World Series. That changed this year, and it has proved that football is king in this country.
And it’s relatively easy to explain.
Popularity in football, a game that features a collection of the world’s best athletes engaging in violent collisions at high speeds on every down, has soared.
As attention spans and attention to detail have waned in society, so has interest in baseball, the game that prizes those two attributes.
And although USA Today reported that the Giants’ World Series-clinching Game 5 victory out-drew Monday Night Football in terms of television ratings, it is clear baseball is falling behind.
The best thing baseball had going was performance-enhancing drugs. Big biceps brought big home run numbers during the steroid era.
However, the advent of drug testing stifled those numbers. According to Baseball Almanac, from 2005-09, the highest rating a World Series garnered was an 11.7, in 2009. The lowest rating a World Series garnered during the 1990s was a 14.1, in 1998.
To be fair, baseball isn’t doing itself any favors. The regular season is too long — the World Series stretches into November. And any World Series without a team from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston isn’t going to draw the average sports fan to the tube.
But ever since gladiators clashed against fellow human beings and animals alike, the spectator has been fixated on action and violence.
Today’s sports fans are no different.
Baseball can’t compete with that. A sport based more on strategy and proficiency will always fall victim to a sport of pick-sixes and spread offenses in the public eye.
If I’m the only one jumping out of my seat because of a perfectly executed suicide squeeze or a flawless relay from an outfield wall to home plate, that’s fine with me.