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Dominican Republic fans cheer with a sign bearing plantains during the World Baseball Classic final against Puerto Rico in San Francisco, March 19, 2013. (STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS)
Dominican Republic fans cheer with a sign bearing plantains during the World Baseball Classic final against Puerto Rico in San Francisco, March 19, 2013. (STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS)

Daily Grind

Dowbiggin: Low U.S. ratings aside, WBC has been a treat for baseball fans Add to ...

The World Baseball Classic wrapped up Tuesday night with the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico dodging rain drops in San Francisco. The tournament has been a treat for baseball fans eager to see competitive games this early (is the hot dog the national dish of the extroverted Dominicans?), not just languid spring training games with many substitutions.

For the people who pay the bills in Major League Baseball, the WBC has been less of a thrill. Four-time World Series winner Jack Morris, now an analyst on Sportsnet, says he can understand the polarizing effect of an elite March baseball tournament.

“If I was an owner I wouldn’t let anybody play,” Morris said prior to Tuesday’s exhibition game with Houston. “But I also understand the ramifications for the other countries. In the U.S. it’s not a big deal, we have MLB for most of the year. But for the other countries I think it is a very big deal. You can’t take that away from them. I realize why players want to represent their countries. That’s just human nature.”

The timing of the WBC is less than perfect, says Morris. “Spring training is not a great time for it. You don’t want guys getting hurt, and we’ve seen Brett Lawrie (of the Blue Jays) and David Wright (of the Mets) get hurt when they’re away from the teams that pay them.

“Some of those injuries might have happened in spring training anyhow. But I also know that it’s hard for guys to go maximum effort early in the year when they’re not in game shape. It’s hard to know what will happen when they give that effort so early in the season. So I’m not sure what they can do that will make everyone happy.”

In the past, MLB could always rationalize the tournament by pointing to worldwide viewership numbers when Japan or South Korea played to huge TV audiences. (In Japan, the games reportedly draw better than the Olympics.) But with the tournament going to the MLB Network from ESPN, ratings have plummeted.

The USA/Canada game dropped from 1.9 million in 2009 to just 763,00 this year. The late-starting final this year with tiny Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the game won’t help U.S. numbers, either.

To really push ratings the event needs a long USA campaign. Say in a final against Canada? Hey, we can dream.

Canadians tuned-in

In Canada, the WBC was on the national carrier Sportsnet, hence beefier numbers than those on cable gypsy MLB Network. The average audience for Sportsnet’s national coverage to date, is 286,000, an increase of 197 per cent over the 2009 average audience of 96,000. The average audience for all of Team Canada’s games was 338,000, an increase of 21 per cent over the 2009 WBC.

Deep thoughts from Dr. Sutter

Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter is a proponent of the No Big Whoop school of coaching. Asked if his star defenceman Drew Doughty is suffering emotionally from being goalless so far this season, Dr. Darryl responded, “Who cares? Maybe he’ll score three tonight. A defenceman’s always one game away from being at his career average.”

“I don’t think it [weighs on him], but I don’t lay him down on the table and ask him that. It’s about winning. It’s one thing you take from winning a championship – when you talk to the players, they just want to win. It’s not about goals and assists. It’s about winning, and you try and just keep everybody in line.”

Whatever Sutter said, it worked. Doughty got off the schneid with a goal last night.

Delicate balancing act

The TV coverage of the rape convictions of two football players on a Steubenville, Ohio, high school team has shown the precarious line travelled when the media cover stories that mix sports and criminal sexual behaviour. From the Steubenville case, which was real, to the Duke lacrosse case, which wasn’t, media must balance fact with emotion when athletes appear in court as suspects.

CNN fell afoul of groups fighting sexual assault with what some felt was sympathetic coverage to the convicted teens. According to a petition now being circulated, CNN decried the loss of bright futures for the boys as it showed the weeping teenagers after the verdict Sunday. Where was the empathy for the victim?, they ask, in their demand for an apology from CNN.

Then there were the predictable links made between football and aggression by those who have that axe to grind. As if shutting down a high school program, however entitled, will end sexual assault.

One thing we can say for certain based on our own modest athletic career. None of this is new. Silence has always abetted this behaviour. What has changed, however, are attitudes about reporting and punishing sexual assault. And that is the one positive in this case.

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

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