This is a piece that deals a lot with baseball, so you have been duly noted. In particular it's a rant about ESPN.
The inveterate Chris Dunn and I exchange emails about a wide range of subjects, but baseball is always high on the list. Though a generally good soul, his most notable lapse is being a fan of the hated St. Louis Cardinals, but I can forgive him for it because he is impressionable about shiny objects.
The other day I sent him a note which, even though it was in defense of the Chicago Cubs, even he actually agreed with the point.The background is much too long to get into, but suffice it to say that ESPN has long had a gargantually clear New York bias. Even their on-air commentators will periodically roll their eyes about it. The bias is most-pronounced when they broadcast pretty much every game between the Yankees and Red Sox. ("And in a programming note," I've heard ESPN commentators say, though I paraphrase. "Tomorrow night we'll have the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox. Well, there's a surprise.") But if the Yankees aren't playing or a story that day, the Mets will do just fine. Or any New York team whatever the sport or season. New York is SO big, after all, SO many fans, and fans all over the country, that of course we have to cover them, all the time, with everything. And because the city is so big, everyone cares about them, too, just as much, we know. No one else seems to matter.
That's a story unto itself, but we'll leave it as background for now. This is a more personal rant. And to begin, let's consider a few facts on the table.
Chicago is a pretty good-sized town. In fact, it's the third largest city in the country. Its metropolitan population is 9.7 million people.
Even with the second-smallest ballpark in the majors, and despite being perpetual losers and one of the worst teams in baseball for over a century, the Cubs still draw around 3 million fans a year at home.
When the Cubs travel across the country, attendance for their away games is the second-biggest of any MLB team, topped only by the Yankees.
The Cubs have not won a World Series in 106 years, but if the season ended today, the team would actually qualify for the playoffs. Every time the Cubs have had that rare occurrence, and actually get into the post-season, the baseball world tends to get excited, wondering Could This Be The Year???!
No team in the history of baseball has ever made the post-season with three rookies in their regular starting lineup, and the Cubs are starting four rookies. It's been one of the most notable stories in baseball all season.
The Cubs haven't won 50% of the games in any of the past five years, and finished 74-89 last year, but they have completely turned their team around and have the fourth best record in all of baseball this season.
Right now, the Cubs have won seven games in a row, and 13 of 14. They have the hottest team in the National League.
Now, step back and imagine for a moment if this was the Yankees or Mets. Imagine if they were the hottest team in their league, on a seven-game winning streak and had 13 wins in their last 14 games with one of the top stories in baseball, and not having made the playoffs in years, but now actually qualifying. Imag...Well, actually we don't have to imagine. A little over a week ago, the Mets swept a 4-game series against the Washington Nationals, were on a seven-game winning streak, and moved into qualifying position for the playoffs -- and they were the top story on Baseball Tonight -- understandably -- with an added five more minutes of analysis on how in the world the remarkable team was doing it this year. I suspect that if their games weren’t covered first on Baseball Tonight and then followed up with five minutes of analysis afterwards, half the producers would have been fired.
Compare that to last night. After continuing their winning streak on an exciting extra-inning home run in the 10th inning, Baseball Tonight didn’t cover the Cubs game until the show was half over, 30 minutes in. But this isn't about one mere game. Last week, when the Cubs were playing the San Francisco Giants, who I remind you are the defending World Series champions, and battling each other for the final Wild Card spot in the playoffs, and the Cubs swept them four games in a row, too -- not one of their games was even reported on until a half hour into ESPN's Baseball Tonight show, either. (In fact, almost amusingly, on one of those nights, ESPN covered the Phillies-Padres game covered before the Cubs-Giants. The Phillies are in last place in their division, and the Padres in second-to-last place.) Indeed, for the past two weeks, during this hot streak, it’s been the same. Coverage of the Cubs has been buried in the middle of the broadcast, at best.
Honestly, admittedly biased as I am, I actually don’t expect the Cubs games to be the top story each night, even though we know they would be if it was a New York team. (As I said, when the Mets swept the Nationals they were indeed the lead story each night.) What I do expect at this point is that Cubs games -- most especially those against the defending World Series champs playing for the final Wild Card spot -- be covered at least most of the time before the first commercial break, or promoted to be the first story after returning from the ad. Not consistently buried halfway through the show, night after night. I don't think that's terribly unreasonable in the slightest, even with personal bias.
I really don’t understand it. And what I don't understand isn't just because it's the Cubs. I don’t understand it if this wasn't the Cubs but any team that had won seven games in a row, won 13 of 14 and had the fourth best record in all of baseball. But I most especially don't understand it given those points above. Yes, I completely, 100% understand and appreciate that this is of far more interest to Cubs fans (of whom, in fairness, there are a WHOLE LOT), but I suspect that when any team has won 13 of 14, most baseball fans everywhere are at least interested.. because they are, in fact, baseball fans, and want to see coverage of the hottest teams with the best story -- whoever that team is -- and see it before coverage of two teams in the basement like the Phillies and Padres with a combined record of 100-128.
As much as one might think this is just about the Cubs, it isn't. I'm taking the time to write it and at such length because, of course, it's the Cubs. But this is as much about the egregious, almost laughably-blatant New York bias of ESPN, which I've talked about with others at length, even when a Chicago team wasn't remotely involved. That it's reached such conspicuous levels the past week with the Cubs is what's inspired me to write -- but it's not what got me talking about it in the first place. As I said, Chris Dunn and I have long made it a running joke about changing our appointment schedules because ESPN is broadcasting the Yankees-Red Sox. Or Yankees anyone. Or the Mets Mets Mets. Or KnicksGiantsYankeesMets.
To be fair, ESPN has highlighted the Toronto Blue Jays, who've now won 11 games in a row. Not as their top story as should be the case, but they do get to them before the half hour. Of course, it's worth adding that Toronto is in the same division as the Yankees and just overtook New York for first place. And you wonder why they get highlighted??
And to be fair, it's not just ESPN, though they're the most consistently egregious. But just tonight, the MLB Network listed two possible games they might be airing. One was St. Louis and against Pittsburgh, teams with the first and third best records in ALL of baseball. The other was last-place Cleveland against the second-place New York Yankees. I'll give you one second to think about what's on the air right now. Correct -- New York and last-place Cleveland. Huzzah!
To be fair, as well, perhaps the ESPN thinking is, "We want to hold off coverage of the Cubs to keep viewers watching." The problem with that unlikely theory is that when the Yankees or Mets are doing well, they are the top story, pretty much 100% of the time, not held off five minutes, let alone a half hour to keep viewers watching. And if you are holding off something to tease the audience...then you tease the audience. You let them know something is coming later, so keep watching. But there's been none of that. So, that theory doesn't hold.
Which brings us back to, "I really don't understand it." I've long since figured out their love of All Thing New York. That's a given and obvious, at this point. But burying the Chicago Cubs who haven't won a World Series in 106 years and are on a streak winning 13 of their last 14 games and are actually in position to qualify for the playoffs and have one of the biggest fan bases in all of sports...I don't understand it.
But then, I don't have to understand it. In the end, I'm just glad that the Cubs have won more games than they've lost. Huzzah! I hope they keep it up. I think their team is much too young to win the World Series this year, but who knows? This could be the century.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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