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No longer the ratings king, baseball finds its happy place in the TV world

Bruce Dowbiggin posts his perspective on the world of sports each morning.

That was one small step for San Francisco but one Giants step for MLB. A predicted one-sided World Series now has legs for the TV audience.

TV ratings for the San Francisco Giants' NLCS Game 7 clincher on Monday ranked well behind the U.S presidential debate and the NFL's Monday Night game between Detroit and Chicago. You can understand trailing President Obama and Governor Romney and their 59.2 million viewers. But should a run-of-the-mill NFL game (10.1 million) beat one of the prime jewels of the MLB season (8.1 million)?

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Baseball ain't what it once was, the dominant sport in the U.S. The NFL is the NFL. Unto itself. Baseball is still captive to its Boomer fans swooning for Ken Burns. It would be stretching things to say hip-hop culture and the indie movement embrace the game. Its stars are a long way from the NBA of LeBron and Kobe and Melo. Can't think of many pickup lines that start with, "So which Verlander pitch do you fear most?"

But MLB has made a very healthy recovery from its disastrous 1994 strike. The steroid scandals of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez have been minimized in the public mind. Some fans will never come back– supporters of the Montreal Expos?– but baseball has found its happy place in the television universe that defines the sports hierarchy these days.

A prime baseball game now draws the same numbers as an NBA postseason game, the final round of a PGA Tour major or an NCAA Bowl game. (That blows away an NHL game on U.S. TV.) Baseball isn't the champ, but it's a reliable draw and, unlike its sister pro sports, MLB doesn't lock out its players anymore.

Despite the heroics of Pablo Sandoval in Game 1 it's hard to know whether the Giants make this World Series a classic that breaks recent viewership numbers. But the fact that baseball is still alive and capable of having eight million or more tune in for a game is an object lesson for all of its competitors and their labour lawyers.

Brought to you by FOX

Last week we were ragging on the MLB International TV feed which Sportsnet is contractually obliged to carry. Rick Sutcliffe, no virtual strike zone and some poor camera calls were bugging us.

But Game 1's World Series of product placement on FOX has us reconsidering. Before the first pitch, FOX trotted out its latest American Idol Phillip Phillips winner to do a grunge American anthem. Then there was a free taco from Taco Bell for a stolen base. Billy Crystal was front and centre shilling for his new film. Then there was the opening pitch by Budweiser. No mas, no mas!

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Finish what you start

While Game 1 was no contest, FOX's Tim McCarver picked up the slack with a classic rainy day story, reminding viewers of the best-pitched game ever on July 2, 1963 in San Fran. It was a 16-inning, 1-0 win for the Giants. San Fran starter Juan Marichal threw 234 pitches while Braves starter Warren Spahn faced 56 hitters. McCarver said Marichal's manager Herman Franks wanted to take his starter out, but the Giants' ace said, "If that fat old man can keep going, so can I." McCarver missed the best part: When he gave up the hit to Willie Mays in the 16th, Spahn was 42 years old.

Gotcha game

Interesting to see American sports writer Jason Whitlock, who is black, talking about the "bubble" surrounding black quarterbacks in the NFL. Whitlock, who is often a contrarian on race matters, suggested on that the petulant performance of Carolina QB Cam Newton after Sunday's loss is due, in part, to enablers in the black community protecting Newton from legitimate criticism as a means to protect him.

"Black sports fans and black pop-culture media (not sports media) have created a loosely-formed-but-influential social-media and talk-radio information bubble for black QBs. This network of groupthink roars on sports-talk radio, black-owned radio stations, Facebook and Twitter, pumping out the message that Newton, (Robert) Griffin (III) and others can do no wrong and any criticism of them is rooted in racism. Fear of backlash from this network of well-intentioned enablers causes many mainstream sports analysts (media and fans of all colors) to avoid being totally honest about black QBs."

Whitlock points out that this does not happen to white quarterbacks. Which was pretty much the point Rush Limbaugh was making in 2003 when ESPN fired him from its NFL broadcasts after he said that the media went soft on Donovan McNabb because it wanted a black quarterback to succeed. Whitlock was among those who went after Limbaugh at the time, saying he was just trying get attention for his radio show.

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When Whitlock was challenged on his contradictory stance Wednesday, he wrote that Limbaugh was not qualified to have ripped McNabb in 2003, because the conservative radio host wasn't a sports guy of long standing. Which is the, "You can't criticize music unless you play it" logic. Lame.

But Whitlock has perfectly captured the media gotcha syndrome pertaining to race in the U.S. Some can talk about it, Others, not. And no sign that any of that will change soon, however the U.S. election turns out. / Twitter: @dowbboy

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