They Say It's Not About Money: So one of the two leading golf organizations in the world decides to go with a network that to my knowledge, has never produced one hole of televised golf, to broadcast its leading championship and says it's not "simply the financials." Really? So what IS it about? The quality of Fox's golf coverage? Oops, there isn't any. The commitment that Fox has exhibited to the game of golf through its regional sports channels? Oops again. I mean, come on now. NBC has not only broadcast the U.S. Open for the last 19 years, but their parent company also owns, are you ready for this, the GOLF Channel. Talk about a broadcast organization with a commitment to golf, I think you need to start with Comcast. How can the USGA on one hand ban the belly putter to maintain the integrity of the game, and on the other one give a television deal to a network that until recently was never even mentioned in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence, with golf. The USGA, in my opinion, has lost all credibility regarding any claims about integrity, loyalty, honor, etc. in the game of golf. Fox has bought their way into the NFL, NASCAR and now USGA events without, in my opinion again, increasing anything except their own hype. Remember, Fox was the network that decided the way to increase the value of the viewer experience for hockey was to put a blue dot on the puck. Don't get me wrong, I certainly understand the economics of big time sports broadcasting. But the last time I checked, the USGA is a non-profit organization whose main purpose is to conduct championships at every level and along with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, to maintain the Rules of Golf. This clearly smells like a money grab by the USGA and a big investment by Fox as they launch their new Fox 1 network, clearly competing with ESPN and NBC Sports Network on the national stage. But unlike other sports, golf is not easily or cheaply produced. It's narrow demographics and expensive production because of having to cover so much real estate, especially during the U.S. Open, make it a challenging proposition that CBS and NBC have been able to fine tune over the years. Now Fox expects to jump in the deep end of the pool and we don't even know if they can swim.
Baseball Races and Baseball Runaways: First of all, I need to comment on how contested the wild card race will be in the American League this year. Their are four teams within 1.5 games of each other, and the top wild card team, Texas, is only 1/2 game out of first place in their division while Tampa Bay only trails the Red Sox by 1.5 games. If you think Kansas City and the Yankees are still in the hunt, then you can expand the race to eight teams competing for four spots, assuming Detroit's five game lead over Cleveland is safe. This should be pretty compelling and a rating's bonanza, with only the White Sox, Angels and Astros eliminated from the major markets. The team that has to be loving this is the Oakland A's. The Rangers lost Nelson Cruz to suspension and the Angels, despite the big payroll and high profile lineup, are out of the running. Love it, hate it or just plain don't get it, moneyball is alive and well in Oakland.
Now the senior circuit, otherwise known as the National League (because they were around first), isn't quite as competitive. My Atlanta Braves have totally taken the drama out of the East, what was considered by many a very competitive division at the beginning of the season. After a thirteen game winning streak and sweep of the Nationals in Washington, the Braves own a seemingly insurmountable and totally improbable 15.5 game lead on the Nationals. Really? That's almost insane.
The real story here is that the Washington Nationals, with a legitimate chance last year to win the World Series, rested its star pitcher Stephen Strasburg in the post-season. Perhaps the thought was that they were built for the long-term and would be back there again. It doesn't always work that way in sports, however. The Atlanta Braves were on top for over fifteen years and won a lone World Series. The Buffalo Bills were in four consecutive Super Bowls and came away empty. It took Phil Mickelson, the second best golfer of his generation, almost a decade to capture his first major championship. What made the Nationals, a franchise with virtually no history of success, think that they could afford not to seize the moment? I thought it was a huge mistake a the time, and I still do, for them to shut Strasburg down completely. It probably made sense in September when it was apparent they would be in the playoffs. But to rest him in October was just crazy.
In both leagues, the teams that have heated up with the weather are making news. The Dodgers were left for dead in May, with talk of manager Don Mattingly's job being in jeopardy. Not so much now as they've stretched their lead over the D'backs to five games after winning fifteen straight road games. And the feel good team from Pittsburgh is almost assured to not just break their sub-.500 season streak, but have real shot at winning the Central Division in the NL. Of course to do that, they need to avoid another late season fade like those that have haunted them that last couple of years. It's hard not root for the Pirates unless, of course, if you're a Cardinals or Reds fan.
And then there are the Detroit Tigers, winners of eleven consecutive games. That would be pretty big news except that the Braves are in the midst of a season-best thirteen game streak of their own. The Tigers are good and when their pitching staff is on, as it is right now, they are really tough to beat. All in all, this is shaping up as a terrific September and October in baseball.
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