Mandel’s Musings: Baseball Playoffs Will Tell Us How Popular the Sport has Become (Or Not)

Will the 2023 baseball playoffs attract a wider audience?

By Scott Mandel

As MLB’s playoffs move into the next round, we’re about to find out if the once national pastime has grown in popularity with its rules changes and greater emphasis on athleticism and speed or, it is continuing to recede into a sport with regional popularity.

Minnesota had its first playoff success in the first round

National TV ratings will show us where it’s at. Will fans across the country, particularly in markets that no longer have teams playing, like New York, tune in to watch Texas versus Baltimore. Or, Minnesota versus Houston. Or Philadelphia versus Atlanta. Or Arizona versus the Dodgers.

These are medium-sized markets with the exception of Los Angeles, and maybe, Atlanta, which is not a gigantic media market but is a large population center, regionally. The problem is, most casual baseball fans could not name one player on Arizona or Minnesota and possibly not even on Texas.

It says here, national television ratings are going to tank in the worst of ways for Major League baseball’s post-season. It also says here, the World Series ratings are not going to be anything MLB will want to brag about. My guess is the ratings for the World Series will be much greater in Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic, where baseball is truly the king of sports.

It’s a great game, but like hockey, it has become regional. Houston fans could care less about what’s happening in Arizona and New Yorkers won’t pay attention unless there’s possibly a former New York player of interest on a remaining team. And we’re not referring to Sonny Gray or Jordan Montgomery. 

Let’s face it, the NBA and the NFL have developed powerful national appeal. They also have much younger fans than major-league baseball. Basketball and football are not better games than baseball, but they are much better as television sports. They are faster and more dynamic sports, which always works more exciting on TV. It also looks more exciting when you’re there in person, to be honest. Baseball is a thinking person’s sport. There is a strategic element behind every pitch . Younger fans neither have the time nor the capacity to think along with a baseball game, it appears.  plus, football and basketball have developed all of the ancillary benefits of the gambling industry. Bidding on these games has become a gigantic draw for these sports. Maybe baseball and hockey should follow suit. 

So, for the five of you planning to tune in over your weekend, from 1:00 PM in the afternoon to midnight to watch Adley Rutschman, and Corey Seager, and the rookie outfielder with Arizona whose name escapes me, and Mookie Betts, and even former Yankee bust, Sonny Gray, consider yourselves loyal fans of our once national pastime.