Ratings drive

Right about the time you were rising this morning, heading to the gym, brewing a pot of caffeine injection, or frantically trying to find where your kids last left their rain gear, the Red Sox were landing in California after an all-night flight that followed last night’s loss against the Yankees that just had to — HAD TO — be on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

That’s about 3 a.m. Oakland time. Mix in jet lag, the time difference, and the probability that most of the players didn’t see a hotel bed until a couple of hours later, and well, forgive the Red Sox if they’re a little dragged when they take the field tonight against the Athletics.

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And all they have to do is face Cy Young candidate Dan Haren — he of the miniscule 1.64 ERA. Thank you notes to TV executives and Major League Baseball are assumed already in the mail.


But the Sox realize they might as well cry over the milk staining the carpet in the corner of the clubhouse. It is TV that drives the game, and what billion-dollar investors Fox and ESPN say, goes. Red Sox-Yankees bring the ratings, so both networks leap at the chance to show the teams at every chance they get. Which is only part of the reason the other 42 or so states hate the Red Sox or the Yankees. The poor Angels, Tigers and Indians are like the pimply-faced genius in the back of the classroom, still waving his hand for some attention.
Whether it be oversaturation or the fact that Boston’s lead has reached double digits, but the rivalry, sorry, RIVALRY(!!!) has eased back somewhat from its previously forced proportions. Is there a more obvious reason as to why we have this inane unbalanced schedule in the game than filling more pockets with cash from the result of what these matchups and their Nielsen numbers bring to smiling tube number-crunchers?
But there’s something to be said about the nature of what these games used to mean when they play them seemingly every other week. Last night was the 12th meeting already between the two. That’s 22 percent of Boston’s 55 games having come against New York. And the Red Sox still haven’t even run into the Devil Rays yet.
How many of these Yankee-Sox games have been wrought with intensity and drama that the RIVALRY(!!!) is expected to bring every time they step on the field? Four. All three games of the mid-April series, which the Sox swept had some sort of intrigue, and last night’s Alex Rodriguez redemption show. That’s one-third of these games being even worth talking about for any length of time the following day.
The Yankees gained a game on Boston after winning two of three from the Red Sox in the weekend series. They are now just 12 ½ out. Raise your hand if you’re uncomfortable with this.
They won’t meet again until late August, which probably has TV guys scratching their heads desperately seeking alternate programming for the next three months. ESPN will fill next week’s Sunday night hole with the Cubs and Braves, who never seem to get any TV time either, do they? Meanwhile, Fox, which isn’t shy about having officially become YES National, will probably conjure some excuse to bring you Yankees-Pirates (Tony Armas and Shawn Chacon look for revenge on their former franchise!!!) next Saturday, and in fact might have an easy one should Roger Clemens indeed make his debut.
“It’s bad the way baseball sells its soul for television,” writes the Oakland Tribune’s Art Spander. “The way it schedules games for ratings instead of for the people who play them, people expected to survive coast-to-coast red-eye flights and then be prepared mentally and physically.”
Particularly against a guy who has won three in a row and hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs since April 13, the only time this season he has allowed as many as three, well, good luck. Popularity has its price, and tonight the payback for the Sox comes in the form of Dan Haren.
But I’ll bet the ratings were killer.

  • Speaking of cross country flights, a tip of the cap to Joy of Sox for spotting this quenching interview with former Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, who cited Wade Boggs as the teammate he considered the biggest beer drinker he’d ever seen.

    Wade was the kind of guy who was always the first one at the club house. So he’d get to the clubhouse, and he’d bring a six pack with him. He’d be there drinking a beer when someone showed up, and as we were all packing our stuff up out of our lockers and getting our bags ready for the trip, Wade would sit there and drink that whole six pack.
    Now, at the time, we were flying out of New Jersey, so it was somewhat of a drive from Yankee stadium to the airport in New Jersey. Wade would drink another couple of beers on the bus to the airport. At the time, we were flying this older airplane, it couldn’t make it across the country without refueling, and it wasn’t the fastest airplane in the sky. So we would stop in North Dakota or something. Wade would drink about a half rack between New Jersey and North Dakota, and it would take about a half-hour to an hour to refuel once we got there, so he’d have a few more beers while we were grounded in North Dakota.
    Once we got back up in the air, Wade would drink another 10, 11, 12 beers on the way out to the west coast. The whole flight from coast to coast usually took us well over 7 hours. We’d touch down at Sea-Tac, hop on the bus headed to the Kingdome, and Wade would have another beer or two on the bus. Then, all of us would get to the Kingdome and unpack our bags and sit around and BS with each other, and Wade would have a beer in his hand the entire time. He was always one of the last people to leave the club house too. So I’d say that all in all, he drank over 50 beers on the trip, and this wasn’t just an isolated incident, he did that almost every time.

    Finding this boast somewhat incredulous, the radio hosts at 950 KJR got Boggs’ former Devil Rays teammate Paul Sorrento on the horn, and he confirmed that Boggs would pound at least 70 beers on a coast-to-coast trip. That seems impossible, but then again, so does willing yourself invisible, so who knows.

  • Speaking of Boggs, the Kevin Youkilis’ likeness to a righthanded Boggs has been somewhat of a whisper over the years, just starting to gain steam now that Youkilis has busted out. But Newsday has another comparison to a former Yankee to gnaw on: Paul O’Neil.
    “To be compared to Paul O’Neill, to be put in the same sentence with him, I’ve just got to say, ‘Thank you,”‘ Youkilis said. “His teammates loved him.”
  • First the press box cookies and now this.
  • The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers proposes a trade for the White Sox to land Alex Rodriguez.
    “Given the growing desperation of the two teams [Yankees and ChiSox], is it out of the question Sox general manager Ken Williams would package Joe Crede and Mark Buehrle to the Yankees for [Alex] Rodriguez, outfielder Melky Cabrera and a live arm or two?”
    Well, that seems plausible. The folks over at the wondrous Fire Joe Morgan take Rogers to task for this idea.

    So, the proposed trade is:
    YANKEES GET
    1. Decent LHP (28th in VORP this year) who has a career K/9IP rate of 5.3, which is: eh, and who could leave at the end of the year
    2. Good defensive third baseman who has shown good power in the past, whose career OBP is a Guzman-esque .306
    WHITE SOX GET
    1. One of the very best baseball players of all time
    2. A 4th OF who’s 22 years old and had a .750 OPS last year
    3. A live arm
    4. Another live arm
    Seems good to me. Ball’s in your court, Cashman.

  • Speaking of Joe Morgan, Awful Announcing (quickly becoming another favorite) apparently went to sleep last night with reverberations of the ESPN announcer whining about Manny Ramirez playing too shallow. And how many times has him doing just this played to his advantages as an outfielder? Where in the world was that little tidbit of info? Do they do any research down there? At all?
  • Finally, today’s tidbit as to how far the NHL has fallen, the NBC affiliate in Tampa, which won the Stanley Cup way back in ’04 you might recall, pre-empted Saturday’s Game 3 between the Ducks and Senators to bring you…The All Children’s Telethon.
    “To watch the NHL Stanley Cup Final Game # 3 @ 8-11PM on Saturday, June 2nd…our viewers will need to seek alternative sources… such as: in-home, hotel, restaurant and sports bars with a Satellite Dish…that receives another NBC-TV Station,” wrote Paulette Maige Outlaw of WFLA-TV Programming in a statement.
    We’re not sure how much the NHL donated towards the cause of the kids.