SAN FRANCISCO — This is where the World Series was played when I first cared about baseball.
It was 1962 and nothing in my fourth-grade world matched the importance of San Francisco Giants playing the hated New York Yankees in Game 7 of the Fall Classic at Candlestick Park.
Our TV presented the games in grainy black and white, but my imagination supplied the vivid orange “SF” on Willie Mays’s cap and the red, white, and blue bunting draped over the rails at the Stick.
The ’62 Series had Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda playing for the Giants and Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra with the Red Sox-beatin’, corporate Yankees. It was must-see-TV for me. The Yanks won Game 7, 1-0, scoring the run on a double-play grounder in the fifth. The Giants went down hard in the bottom of the ninth when McCovey lined to Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third (after a Mays two-out double). Three months later, Charles Schulz ended a “Peanuts” strip with a panel showing a frustrated Charlie Brown asking, “Or why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?’’
None of this exists today.
The 2014 World Series resumes at San Francisco’s spectacular AT&T Park Sunday night and there won’t be many elementary school kids watching a game that starts past 8 p.m. on the East Coast and ends around midnight. The 2014 San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals are putting on a pretty good show, but they lack star power and they are participants in an event that is slowly dying. It really wouldn’t matter if every Series at-bat featured Clayton Kershaw vs. Mike Trout.
Today, the World Series is like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the Miss America pageant, Timex watches, and sitting in your favorite chair surrounded by a stack of daily newspapers. It’s like “Peanuts.’’ It was once the biggest event in sports. Now it’s a relic of a simpler time before the Worldwide Leader and the World Wide Web. My fantasy baseball world of 1962 has been overthrown by the fantasy baseball (“where you can win millions!”) of 2014.
In 2014, the World Series is your father’s Oldsmobile.
When an earthquake interrupted the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park, then-commissioner Fay Vincent delivered perspective, referencing the World Series as “our modest little event.’’
The commish was being humble. But now — when compared with the Super Bowl, or even a mundane “Monday Night Football” game — our vaunted Fall Classic really is a modest little event.
I blame no one. It’s evolution. Baseball is too long and slow for modern attention spans. The games drag, especially with late-inning pitching changes. The glut of games on television and the introduction of interleague play has blurred the identity of the respective leagues and taken away the mystery of star players in faraway lands.
In 1962, it was a big deal to actually see Mays and the Giants on television. Today, you’ve got Buster Posey in your pocket. Expanded playoffs exhaust fans in cities eliminated before the World Series. The game has also lost most of its appeal in America’s inner cities owed to fallout from NCAA scholarship regulations — baseball is a non-revenue college sport that provides few scholarships — as much as anything.
Outgoing commissioner Bud Selig is in San Francisco on his victory lap, receiving deserved congrats for a period of unprecedented growth in Major League Baseball. The top bullet points on Bud’s résumé: revenues have grown from $1.2 billion to $9 billion in Selig’s two-decade administration; the last 10 years represent the top 10 years of baseball attendance; the sport has enjoyed labor peace since the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Unfortunately, the average age (according to Nielsen in 2013) of a World Series viewer is 54.4 years old. Five years ago, it was 49.9. Children ages 6-17 account for only 4.3 percent of the World Series TV audience. This is not what you would call a “future.’’
MLB rightfully worries about scheduling any postseason games opposite almighty football (imagine your showcase event getting hammered by “Thursday Night Football”?), but the TV ratings for this Series are bad. Game 1 was the lowest-rated World Series opener of all time, attracting 12.2 million viewers. In 1980, 54 million people watched the Royals and Phillies in a World Series game. A New York Times Page 1 story Friday noted that the United States-Portugal World Cup match this past summer earned a rating twice as large as the first game of this World Series.
The explosion of cable, of course, has shrunken even the hottest products on the tube. No NCAA Tournament game will ever earn a higher rating than the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson showdown of 1979. But baseball is dropping like an infield fly rule popup. Too many of the games have stretched too long and, some of the networks (FS1, really?) were too hard to find in the early rounds. Now the chairman of Fox is telling us the vaunted World Series may be broadcast on FS1 before the end of the current contract.
The 2014 Giants and Royals are worthy Series foes. Baseball is still closer to perfect than any other game. But it is not a game of its time.
Nothing is the same as it was 52 years ago, and for the most part that is a good thing. But there’s something about being here that makes me sad for baseball, sad for America, sad for sport fans of 2014.