Baseball used to be considered that “national pastime,” but has been supplanted by football in the last few decades. Football easily lends itself to gambling. There are far fewer games and the results of those games, if deemed important, are easily controlled by referees and a few players and coaches under control of the league. Under orders, they can create illogical wins and losses.
Baseball can be managed that way too, not as easily. It is possible, however. Baseball players are some of the best athletes alive, with superb instincts, able to hit a 100 mph fastball thrown from sixty feet away. Pitchers don’t overpower batters as much as engage in deceit. They know that if a batter correctly guesses what is coming, any pitch might end its journey in the seats. Imagine that a batter is merely tipped on the next pitch … it is not guaranteed he will take it downtown, but suppose he is tipped on three pitches in one at bat. The odds heavily favor one of those pitches ending with a home run.
This explains, in my view, the heavy scoring in late innings of last night’s Houston-Los Angeles contest. The only thing that appears certain to me is that the League wants the Series to go seven games.
I remember in years past that World Series contests have been four game sweeps or five games … one team obviously superior to the other. Such an outcome has to disappoint advertisers, who pay premium prices and hope for a real contest. It is not a stretch to speculate that advertisers have told the league that they want seven games, close contests, lots of home runs and late inning drama. Major League Baseball, which has seen its ratings plummet over the years, goes along. It is in survival mode.
I remember in years past that Superbowls were often blowouts. Denver lost two contests, 1988 and 1990, by a combined score of 92-20. Such defeats would not have been scripted. When a game is lopsided fans tune out, and private house parties become card games and genuine social events. The game takes a back seat, advertisers cry in their Budweiser. It is not unreasonable to speculate that they approached the league and threatened them … give us a contest that keeps fans engaged beginning to end, or refund our money.
Take the 2014 Superbowl, for example. New England was obviously chosen in advance to win, but Seattle wide receiver Jermaine Kearse did not get the memo, that is, he was a real player doing his best to win. Our friend Straight wrote about the acrobatic catch he made towards the end of the game, catching a deflected ball as he lay on his back, obviously unscripted. This put Seattle in position to win the game. Straight described the situation in a long and very interesting comment last February:
“…starting at 1:08:27 you see something odd. Certain players seem almost concerned about this great catch. Star CB Richard Sherman (with the long hair) looks like how a Patriots player should look. Compare his expression to #25 in front of him (who is clearly not in on the fix). Something wrong with that picture? Owner Paul Allen look shocked, and not in a good way, despite his family celebrating around him.
Drastic measures were needed, and Seattle coach Pete Carroll, a brilliant football strategist, inexplicably called for a risky pass play on the one-yard line, which New England intercepted.
But the game was not over … New England had to run a play to avoid a safety … instead, they ran a long cadence and a Seahawk jumped offside, thereby moving the ball out to the six yard line, where fake super-quarterback Tom Brady twice took a knee. There was a fight on the field as some unruly Seahawks (who probably felt a sure victory had been given away) started a fight. One was ejected.
The 2016 Denver victory over Carolina looked scripted, with quarterback Cam Newton fumbling and idly watching as Denver recovered it. Football players are instinctual men, and a fumble produces a wild charge to recover the ball. Newton’s standing and watching has fix written all over it.
I don’t imagine that most NFL or MLB games are fixed … they don’t need to be. Most don’t matter. But when billions in advertising money is on the line, all bets are off, so to speak. Last year’s World Series, Cubs and Indians, looked hinky, and this year Cleveland, probably the best team to assemble in some decades, is again taking a powder to larger TV market rivals.
Gambling is the mother’s milk of all sports. Back in the early 90s I got involved in fantasy football, and because of my accounting skills, ended up running a league. It was work, and I tired not only of the gambling, but of football in general. I was fatigued by watching games only to see if certain players succeeded. I gave up the fantasy league, quit watching football, and did not start again until our move to Colorado in 2009. In the entire period 2009 to now, I have not bet one single dollar on an outcome. I simply enjoy the athleticism. I love to watch Denver and Green Bay, but only if they are winning. Otherwise I have better things to do.
When I ran that fantasy league, I naively imagined that the NFL could not be too happy with the rise of such a gambling enterprise. Fantasy baseball had been around for a while, but never really caught on. Fantasy football took off like a rocket. Not only did the NFL approve of it, the league was behind the scenes pushing the enterprise.
Think about it … football fans watch their own city’s team religiously, and have only mild interest in other games. So TV rating are always skewed to the home city. Fantasy leagues create nationwide interest in every single game, even between mediocre teams.
This has driven national ratings to new heights. Every game that is telecast has national appeal. Fantasy Football is a brilliant advertising maneuver. The league loves it! (Ratings are currently in decline, I know, and league moves such as the early morning London game (extending Sunday viewing time from early morning to late night) have not fixed the problem. These are clever people … they will figure it out.)
One final note … the NFL moved the extra point from the two-yard line out to the twenty to create more tension for an otherwise sure thing. That can be read as follows: after a touchdown was scored, TV viewers would leave their sets in droves, heading for the fridge or the bathroom, so that advertisements in that game segment were drawing low ratings. The NFL gave the fans a reason to stay put. (You thought they did it for competitive purposes?)
That is football logic. That is how the game is played, for advertisers.