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Baby Boomer Baseball

The Chairman doesn't lose too many battles, but Jerry Reinsdorf's attempt to install a fellow chairman, the Red Sox' Tom Werner, as the next baseball commissioner fell short last week.

Most fans in these parts never had heard of Werner or the newly-anointed Rob Manfred prior to the owners' conclave in Baltimore. However, now it's common knowledge that Reinsdorf wanted someone with the potential to be a hard-liner when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season. The Chairman figured that Werner could fill that role even though Manfred was the chief negotiator for the owners in 2011 when the current contact was enacted. Apparently Jerry didn't think Manfred did a very good job.

But debate and contention work better than a bunch of wealthy guys all nodding in agreement over a deal consummated behind closed doors prior to the "official" gathering. So the Chairman filled a commendable role in this one. Furthermore, something tells me to be elated over the result.

Despite the fact that MLB has $9 billion in revenue with teams like the Dodgers selling for more than $2 billion in 2012, the media is filled with premonitions for Manfred about the formidable challenges he will face when he takes the reins at the end of the year.

Most notably mentioned are the 3 1/2-hour games and the aging Baby Boomers who comprise the bulk of the people who continue to follow the sport.

Looking at the latter issue, much of the focus dwells on TV ratings. For instance, half of the viewers of last fall's World Series were 55 and older, which makes sense because kids have homework and school while guys like me can sleep in the next morning.

In addition, baseball tends to be a local game. Fans in Boston and St. Louis had a stake in the 2013 series with their teams competing, but why would you expect folks in places like, say, Topeka and Boise to get excited?

We went bonkers in 2005. Much more so than any other big league city. That's the game's nature.

Despite declining TV ratings, teams continue to hammer out lucrative local radio and TV contracts, and MLB's national contract doubled two years ago to $1.5 billion annually. The contract has another seven years to run. If you put the games on TV, old people will come.

But what about the kids? If you believe the ratings, a 10-year-old simply won't sit in front of a TV watching a ballgame. I do believe that. However, sitting at The Cell on any given day, there are kids everywhere. While seats behind the plate for tonight's game against the Orioles go for $75, you can pay a third of that to sit in the K Zone with Chris Sale going to the mound. A seat in the corner of the upper deck can be had for less than $10. All of which means that Mom and Dad can still take the family to the ballpark.

When Bud Selig became commissioner in 1992, major league baseball drew 54 million fans. Last year that number was 74 million.

This may come as a shock to the pundits who trumpet the news about baseball's decline, but those kids at The Cell and other ballparks someday will be adults and eventually old people, who tend to watch baseball on TV. It's possible that Rob Manfred might be aware of this.

Television is the engineer driving professional sports, dictating the pace of the games. Check out the guy in the TV pit in back of third base at The Cell between innings when he holds up the colored squares telling the players how much time they have between innings. In days long ago before television, once a team was retired, sides were switched in short order. The players even left their gloves on the field. Today there's a lull before the team at bat takes its position on the field. Why hurry? Play doesn't resume until television advertising gives its pitch.

Football might be worse with all the TV timeouts, boring the bejeezus out of the folks who pay hundreds of dollars for a seat. And the NBA has the obligatory TV break halfway through every quarter.

While most fans seem to appreciate replay review, it's another extender of games. Last Wednesday's now-famous 7-1 Sox loss in San Francisco has become the centerpiece for those of us who would be content to have the umpires make the calls without those guys in New York being the final judges. Rule 7.13, stipulating that a catcher can't block the plate without the ball, was the culprit as Gregor Blanco was out by eight feet. Or was he?

Including Robin Ventura's dirt-kicking tirade - Why was he mad at the umpires? They called Blanco out - the game was held up for approximately 10 minutes so that a decision could be rendered that Tyler Flowers was guilty of breaking the new rule. It happened again Sunday in the first inning when Adrian Nieto tagged out Jose Reyes. Apparently Nieto didn't provide Reyes a path to the plate even though Reyes clearly was out.

At the time, the run gave the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead, which the Sox wiped out with six of their own in the bottom of the first thanks to a grand slam by none other than Conor Gillaspie and a two-run shot by an even more surprising Jordan Danks. Pitchers Scott Carroll, Daniel Webb, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka walked seven hitters, before Petricka somehow got two outs in the ninth after the Jays loaded the bases.

Baseball games take time. About the same amount as an NFL game. Studies - well, stop watches - have determined that in terms of actual action, baseball has about 18 minutes per game while football has 11. Whether it's a pitcher looking in for his sign or 11 behemoths bent over in a huddle, the casual fan doesn't see much going on in either game for the majority of the contest.

As far as I'm aware, I haven't heard a lot of cries to speed up football. Being the leader of sports gambling, the bettors might be thankful for the incessant breaks so that their heart rates can return to normal before the ensuing mayhem resumes.

No, baseball bears the brunt of criticism for being too slow. It's not undeserved. For those of us who are fascinated by the game, we notice aspects like the placement of the defense; we like to guess what the pitcher will throw; we speculate whether the manager will hit-and-run; we think about similar situations from other games. These machinations fill up the time when the action lags.

Assuming that games take about three hours, an addicted fan would spend the equivalent of three months of a 40-hour a week job watching the season unfold. That's like a summer job, something that we coveted as kids. We Boomer baseball fans still have a summer job. It's voluntary to be sure, but we enjoy going to work.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.


1. From Jim Price:

Enjoyed reading your piece about Baby Boomer Baseball. But as a guy who spent nearly 25 years in marketing and now makes his living with kids and baseball I am not sure I agree with you about the kids being at the games.

A couple of months ago, I went to KC to watch the Royals play the Angels. Yes, there were kids there. The problem was, they weren't watching the game.

Turns out, behind the concourse in the outfield, behind the fountains, lies a kiddie paradise. There they have everything so that a child can come to the game and not have to watch it. Stunned as I walked around back there, I saw a little league field, batting and pitching cages, a baserunning area, a miniature golf course and a full-size carousel - yes a merry-go-round, as we used to call it.

I don't know how many other stadiums have these kid areas, but my guess is that many do. With baseball games becoming ever longer, the attention-deficit generation seems destined to walk away from our game, and the baseball owners are paving the way for them. Clearly the reason for these areas is the fear that without them, they won't get enough butts in seats. But that's a short-term view. Baseball is a complicated game and when you don't really understand it, you'll never become a fan. Kids spend an inning watching and four innings with amusements with no view of the game. You don't build fans that way. Not in my opinion.

Jim Price is the owner of the BASH Sports Academy and a youth baseball coach.

2. From Bill Blackwell:

As always, I enjoyed your take on the new commissioner and the selection process.

In evaluating Commissioner Selig's tenure I think the biggest gaffe has been addressing the future of the game for the financial gains of the moment. When baseball let television dictate starting times of post-season games, kids were no longer able to see the most important and impactful games of the year.

Remember when we were kids sneaking transistor radios into classrooms to be able to keep up with a World Series game? Now with 8 p.m. East Coast start times kids hardly ever see the beginning of games - let alone the conclusions.

In 1960, I can tell you exactly where I was watching Bill Mazeroski's game-winning home run, but years later how many kids watched Joe Carter circle the bases against the Phillies?

I understand the economics of how much revenue networks are able to bring to the table for prime time and that is great for the current owners, but at what cost to the future of the game?

Now even more scheduling and start times are dictated by the networks. How many times do teams with more of a national following (Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals) get stuck on getaway days playing the Sunday Night Game or the Monday Night Game of the Week? Baseball has to realize that the future of the game is based on young people following their favorites and building a rapport for the game. I'm afraid those days have passed.

Bill Blackwell is the former general manager of the Charlotte Knights.

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