Empty Seats, Pac-12 Football Power Shift, Warriors-Rockets, Lillard's Perspective
Baseball has an attendance problem. And it’s getting worse.
According to the SF Chronicle’s excellent national baseball writer John Shea, crowds were down 4% across the league last year and—based on the first five weeks of the season—could drop even more precipitously in 2019.
Our Giants, who used to sell out every game, are down 17% so far in '19, averaging only 32,000 and change. While the locals’ attendance decrease can be blamed primarily on the team's poor performance, a number of factors are at play nationally.
The game has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and all the changes have had a negative impact on attendance.
Pitch counts, the epidemic of relief pitchers, and the rarity of starting pitchers lasting beyond six innings have lengthened games and produced constant breaks in the action. Over the weekend, 249 pitchers were used in 26 games...an average of just under five per team per game! We've seen shutouts recently in which four pitchers were used to throw nine scoreless innings.
Used to be you’d take the starting pitcher out when he was getting shelled. Now he’s removed when he approaches his third time through the lineup. Imagine Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax being told, “we don’t want you to face a hitter three times or throw over 100 pitches tonight." Crazy!
But the proliferation of relief pitching is only one of the things that has reduced action on the field.
The game has turned into a home run/strikeout fest. An alarming number of at bats result in strikeouts, home runs or walks. Fewer and fewer balls are actually put in play. Defensive shifts are also a culprit, turning ground balls that were once singles into groundouts and double plays.
Finally, because of the emphasis on home runs and the difficulty in eluding shifts, managers are eschewing many of the basics of baseball that we all grew up with—the hit and run, the sacrifice, the stolen base. All are becoming endangered species.
If this keeps up, big crowds may also become an endangered species.
Pac-12 Power Shift: My how times have changed in the Pac-12. The post-spring practice top 25 from CBS' Dennis Dodd, one of the most knowledgeable college football writers in the country, includes four Pac-12 teams. None are from Los Angeles. None are from the Bay Area. None are from Arizona.
The league's top four, according to Dodd, are Oregon, Washington, Utah and Washington State.
And I'd have to agree with him.
This will be a challenging year for Stanford, with the nation's toughest schedule and no Bryce Love. UCLA will be better under second-year coach Chip Kelly, but has a ways to go to return to prominence. Between defections, admissions scandals, and incompetence in the head coach and athletic director positions, USC is a total mess. Cal has a good defense but no offense. Neither Arizona school is strong enough to crack the top 25.
But the worst part of this is that, in all likelihood, the conference won't have a playoff team for the fourth time in six years.
Warriors-Rockets: Golden State out-hustled Houston in games 1 and 2, but the shoe was on the other foot in game 3. The Rockets out-rebounded the Warriors by 20 and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. As Kevin Durant said afterwards, "that's the reason why they won."
Durant has been nothing short of spectacular throughout the playoffs, but Steph Curry continues to struggle, missing four layups and a dunk in game 3. Let's hope Curry emerges from his funk tonight and the Warriors remember to board.
Perspective: Sometimes it's important to remind irate talk-show callers, insult-screaming fans, veins popping, red-faced coaches, and announcers who equate playoff games to World War III, that sports is supposed to be fun.
Congrats to Portland guard and Oakland native Damian Lillard for keeping things in perspective. Here's Lillard's take on "pressure" from an interview in Sporting News:
"Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man who doesn't know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom who is trying to scuffle to pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don't get me wrong, there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people."
Almost makes you want to root for the Trailblazers.