A cursory look this week at headlines and sports coverage in various publications both print and online underscored the biggest problem currently facing Major League Baseball. It is simply getting the attention of many sports fans. What was once the unquestioned national pastime now finds itself being bumped off the front pages by the NBA, NHL, NFL, even boxing, despite the fact that it is now July, and Sunday marked the halfway point of the season for many teams.
Instead, the sports pages and talk shows were dominated by discussions about Steph Curry’s record contract, the firing of Phil Jackson by the Knicks, Paul George ending up in Oklahoma City, and the possible destination of Gordon Hayward. The NHL’s expansion draft by Las Vegas’ new entry got plenty of ink, then it was right into a flurry of off-season free agency signings, including one that saw the Nashville Predators pluck a rival forward from the team they just played in the Stanley Cup Final, the Pittsburgh Penquins.
NFL training camps don’t open until the end of the month, but there’s already plenty of buzz in various places about the Colin Kaepernick situation, whether the Colts’ Andrew Luck is hurt more seriously than many thought, the acquisition by the Titans of Eric Decker, and all sorts of speculation regarding whether the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense may be imploding. Even a middleweight title fight that saw Manny Pacquiao lose his WBO title got some serious publicity, and an upcoming gimmick fight between Floyd Mayweather and a MMA fighter Colin MacGregor is getting more attention than many baseball games.
The only thing that IS getting baseball some attention is a negative item. Both leagues just set a combined record for home runs in the month of June, something that’s fueling allegations that the baseballs have been juiced to provide more offense. With more runs being scored, batters taking longer in counts, games are also lasting longer, having passed the three hour mark.
MLB’s Commissioner is so concerned about pace of play that’s he’s talking about unilaterally imposing a clock next season to force pitchers to work faster. To be sure there are some success stories this season in baseball, among them the incredible home run paces being set by the LA Dodgers’ Corey Bellinger and New York Yankees Aaron Judge, and the strong performances all season by the Houston Astros, already ahead by 14 games in the American League Western Division, and the Washington Nationals, leading by almost eight games in the National League Eastern Division despite lacking a closer.
But what MLB hasn’t been able to do is dominate attention the way it did in past decades. Off-season happenings in the NFL, NBA and NHL are now such big news that they overshadow regular season baseball games. The NFL draft even gets a higher rating then some World Series contests. By comparison, no one other than the most hardcore baseball fan pays attention to the Major league draft, which goes on for days and multiple rounds.
Baseball can only hope that something else comes along like the Cubs last year, whose run to a World Series title did temporarily put the sport back in the spotlight, capped off by an epic World Series. It does help that the teams of both Bellinger and Judge are in the playoff hunt. But when you’re struggling with offseason acquisitions and free-agent signings for attention, it’s a grim reminder that these days baseball is no longer the top dog in the sports world.