By Rob Kotaska
If you look at the schedule of nationally broadcast games on the days that matter (Fox Saturday and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball [now less than it once was without Miller and Morgan]) you will find the schedule littered with Yankees and Sox. They pull in big ratings, there is no doubt. But there are 28 other teams in the league. It feels like they should all be featured a bit more than they are in the modern era version of “Game(s) of the Week”.
This overweight of Yankees and Sox in nationally broadcast featured games is accentuated when the two pillars of payroll excess meet in what has become a bit of a tired rivalry due to the constant over exposure. Cue the same tired highlights, “insert Bloody Sock and Jeter tripping into the stands”. Free agency can also contribute to waning interest, even the most vitriolic of conflicts are vulnerable. (see my waning disdain for the Coral and Teal in South Beach).
You can only be so mad at certain laundry for so long. Even Bobby V. seemed to note the fading of the rivalry in the national consciousness. His comments this spring were an obvious attempt to stoke the waning fires of the rivalry. While the hatred may always be in the minds in the eastern corridor, it does not consume the country as a whole as much as the two team’s fan-bases might think. (2004 was the peak, once the Sox won it all most of the drama and interest was nullified. They were now Yankees-lite with a different accent)
When the Sox and Yankees meet for a weekend series it feels like the original “Gilligan’s Island” theme. They are the only two teams who get name checked that weekend, while the rest get “and the rest” as the Professor and Mary Ann did in the “black and white years”. Major League Baseball needs all of its teams to be viable for it to survive. Unfortunately payroll disparity is a fact of MLB. But who gets the national stage does not have to be. Besides you cannot convince me that the Rangers-Tigers was not as compelling a match up, if not more than the Yankees-Sox. The Rangers and Tigers were ALCS opponents just five months ago. That seems more than worthy of the spotlight that weekend national games provide.
It does not end with good teams. Give me the Royals vs. Baltimore every now and again. I was at the Hall of Fame a few years ago, it is easy to forget that prior to the big money era both franchises were really good. It seems that the only time they get one of the two big “Games of the Week” they are propped up by a super power. This only reinforces the “less than” label that affixes itself to the mid-market teams. Another potential “pro” for increased national exposure for these perennial also-rans is that maybe they would be more willing to spend some more cheddar to avoid national embarrassment that can come with fielding a team funded on the cheap. It is one thing to be blown out by the Yankees. After all, “they have 5 times our payroll”. It is another thing to lose to Seattle by that same margin.
It may take Anheuser-Busch and Frito Lay a while to adjust to lower household ratings. They did sign up as sponsors for MLB, not the Yankees and Sox. Besides “Utz” was the Yankees official snack last time I checked. My counter would be that you are potentially reaching different households than would tune in for the “biggest rivalry in MLB”, allegedly. Ask a Cubs fan about the Cardinals…you might just see that quote is not undisputed…it is just reported on more than the constant noise from the East Coast.
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