I live in a bubble. In this bubble, people really, really care about Justin Upton and B.J. Upton. There's another Upton who gets press outside of the bubble, but there isn't time to care about that. Where's B.J. going? What kind of trade package would it take to get Justin? It's warm inside this bubble. There's a mini-fridge and everything.
And another thing about the inside of this bubble: I'm not worried about MLB, the Business. That's because it's doing fine. Heck, it's doing great. There isn't a whiff of labor strife. Attendance has never been higher. Teams are signing billion-dollar mega-deals with regional networks. MLB Advanced Media is a malfunctioning ATM, spitting cash all over the place.
But as a reminder, there is still a lot of chatter outside of the bubble about baseball needing help. Did you know the World Series ratings were low? The lowest they've ever been, apparently. I did a roundtable on HuffPost Live about how the World Series can better compete with the Super Bowl. I didn't realize I was out of my bubble. It was weird out there. Asking why the World Series can't compete with the Super Bowl is like asking why the World Series can't compete with Fifty Shades of Grey. The correct answer to the question is "Wait, what?" I forgot that people still thought baseball was in trouble.
One of the other writers in the roundtable was a writer for the Atlantic who argued that baseball should be worried about the decline of the World Series. His solution? Move the games to a neutral site:
More importantly, though, many who got to Big Easy for Super Bowl week won't care one bit about football, or sports. They'll go for concerts, swag, and celebrity-hosted red carpet parties thrown by Playboy or GQ or shoe companies or the makers of every beer, wine, spirit, and soft drink on earth. They'll go because they're rich and famous and want to show it, or just because New Orleans is The Place to Be that weekend. When was the last time a World Series felt that essential? Or even at all relevant?
Hey, I got swag before the World Series game I attended. It was an orange towel with a Giants logo on it. It also had a Chevy logo on it, and I was supposed to wave it around my head when things got exciting because wheeeeeeee free towel.
But I guess the rest of it is a fair point. Not the idea about moving the Series to a neutral location, but the difference in popularity between the two championships. There aren't a lot of parties before the World Series. The shoe companies stay away. I thought I was invited to a Playboy party, but it turns out that was a really, really cruel practical joke that I'm not going to get into. The World Series didn't feel essential outside of San Francisco or Detroit. The ratings were low. It was still a top-10 TV draw, but it wasn't a national event.
And it never will be again. Baseball is doing the backstroke in liquid cash, the World Series ratings are at an all-time low, and both things can be true at the same time.
Baseball is a regional sport now.
We've all accepted that inside the bubble. We know which teams are doing well financially and which teams aren't, but more importantly, we know the entire league is healthy. We know it's healthy because of the strengthening regional ties.
The reason for the regionalization is simple. The baseball season is so, so damned long. Have you ever stopped to think about 162 games. Like, really think about it? It's insane. In those 162 games, players rise, fall, get hurt, and come back. Rookies debut, get sent down, come back up, and replace the veterans who were good 100 games earlier, but aren't good now. Pitchers show up barely removed from the independent leagues to claim bullpen spots, and new closers emerge as if from an assembly line.
So much happens in a baseball season. Which means that if you're going to follow baseball -- the game a lot of us grew up with and played -- it means you're likely to have the time for only one team. That's it. You can follow that team and its ups and downs for six months, but unless you're fully committed to diving into the pool of obsessive wonkery, you're not going to have time for any of the other 29 teams.
That means watching your team on TV. That means going to a few games every year. That means buying a shirt or jacket or hat. That means talking about your team in the workplace, and yelling profanities when things doesn't go your team's way.
And that also means when the World Series comes along, you're really, really unlikely to watch a whole lot of it. You might turn it on, see Austin Jackson leading off against Madison Bumgarner, wonder who in the hell those guys are, and flip back to whatever awful reality show you secretly watch. A reality show like football. Because you know who Jay Cutler is, and you can derive some small pleasure in him getting sat on.
Football has 16 regular-season games every year. I can enter "Mike Trout catch" into MLB.com's video search and come up with a great one that I haven't seen yet, even though I'm smitten with everything the guy does on a baseball field. I can't keep up with everything that Trout or the Angels do, even though it's literally my job to follow baseball. There's just too much baseball, too many teams, too many games, and too little time.
Yet I've watched the highlights of almost every football game this year, even though that is most certainly not my job. There's a show of football highlights once a week. I set the DVR. I'm pretty caught up on this football thing.
That's the advantage football has. And the gambling! But it's also much easier to know what's going on with all 32 teams. It's why the Super Bowl will always be a huge international event. Moving the World Series to a neutral site won't change the disadvantages that baseball has in becoming a national sport. Getting One Direction to do a seventh-inning stretch show during a one-game World Series isn't going to help it, either. Nothing will. Baseball will never be the national powerhouse it was, back when there were three networks and 16 teams.
But it's also nothing like this. Now that's a sport in trouble. Baseball is in anything but trouble right now. Financially, it's kind of a Golden Era for baseball. One of the consequences is that the World Series ratings suffer. Which, well, okay. That's an acceptable casualty. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with the sport, and it certainly doesn't mean there need to be drastic changes.
Now if you'll excuse me, there are some Michael Bourn rumors inside this bubble that I really need to pay attention to.