By Marc Platt
When I was 6-years-old, I bought my first pack of Topps baseball cards. This was the summer of 1966 and the first card I saw was a Sandy Koufax card. He was my first baseball hero. A Jewish iconic Los Angeles Dodger first ballot future Hall of Famer.
He was a pitching legend during his baseball career, which would end after that 1966 season after the Dodgers were ceremonously swept out of the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles. Koufax was elected 1st ballot in 1972 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Here is something to think about. There was no Internet or 24-hour cable stations. There were three networks, local radio and TV stations, daily newspapers and magazines. Baseball was called "The American Pastime" and at that time dwarfed the NFL, NHL and NBA in popularity.
Baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were nationally well-known in every household in America.
NBC aired the "Saturday Game of the Week," a weekly broadcast that sports fans watched, especially young boys who wanted to know who these players were.
My point is...The world and America was smaller. There were fewer Major League franchises and the stars stood out and were covered by the media to a starving public.
Fast forward to 2015 and most franchises air all of the games to their local markets, Fox rarely airs "Saturday Game of the Week" anymore, ESPN and MLB Network do have a lot of national programming to a more limited audience.
This is troubling if you love baseball.
MLB is still thriving as attendance has risen, despite the suffocating costs to attend an MLB game in the present economic conditions.
The NFL and NBA are still national sports who market their stars throughout the country. Baseball has the All Star Game and the season-ending playoffs mostly designated to cable networks. There are so many games that it is apparent that only locally regionalized fanbases really care how most teams are doing.
The only thing baseball can possible do is make some sort of package deals that would expose the entire country to their product. There really needs to be national coverage of small market teams so they can grow their fan bases amongst younger viewers.
Young boys and girls need to fall in love with baseball in America.
I live in Los Angeles where the Los Angeles Dodgers have had issues because they signed an $8 Billion TV deal with Time Wrner/Comcast and only 35% of the Los Angeles market can even watch the games. Many games that are carried on partner networks like TNT, ESPN and MLB Network are blacked out in the Los Angeles market because of the contract The Dodgers signed with Time Warner. DirecTV viewers are shut out from the Dodgers TV network and this has angered the old guard fans who previously followed every game on television.
This is just an example how baseball has lost its way nationally. When charter franchises like The Los Angeles Dodgers can't even find a way to get the games to a local television audience, how can we expect the sport to survive the corporate structure and attitude that has been evident for the past several years?
There was a time in the recent past when cable providers would carry the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox games all over the country throughout the long 162-game season. That was great brand-building and now those days are long gone.
Yes my friends, baseball is now a regional sport.
Calvin Cambridge: Did I come here to play, or did I come just for a show?
Coach Wagner: You were only here tonight to increase attendance, not to play.
(from 'Like Mike' 2002)
Attendance, money, network coverage...Need I say more? That is why the playoffs are now four rounds of best of seven.
Now it is even harder thatn ever to win a championship and the Miami Heat most likely will repeat. The seem to be the class of the NBA and Lebron James is on a different plane than EVERYONE else left in the playoffs.
Meet the Heatles again. Remember when everyone (except peeps in Miami) laughed at the notion "Not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6..." championships were possible with this squad. We are not laughing now.
They started to dance through the eastern conference with an opening round sweep. Just insert _______________ for the 2nd, 3rd and finals round's victims. It doesn't matter. We will watch the charade that is going on all around the Heat as they confidently dispose of each opponent put in front of them.
Maybe OKC comes out of the west, but that road became tougher when all star guard Russell Westbrook got hurt. He is out and Kevin Durant is having to rely on the other parts in place.
Denver, Memphis and the Spurs are looking sharp in their opening series. The Clippers and Warriors are up and down, but rate a look to be the victim against Miami this year. Father time and bad luck plagued the Lakers and they buckled with a D-League squad on the floor in the final game of their exit to San Antonio. The Spurs looked okay, but will have to step it up against more competitive foes.
So we go through this long postseason to crown the Heat once again.
Baseball is just around the corner. Oh yeah, they're already playing. Oops.
Who to blame....Laker Owner Jim Buss? Head Trainer Gary Vitti? Coach Mike D'Antoni? How about Kobe Bryant?
Kobe is one tough SOB. He wants trhe world to know he IS the Lakers. 17 seasons and thousands of minutes running up and down the NBA basketball courts at the highest possible athletic level caught up with him on Friday April 12, 2013. He tore his achilles tendon and ended his season and the Laker fans hopes for a playoff run in an impossible season.
This season WAS impossible for a myriad of reasons.
They started off 1-4 and fired then coach Mike Brown. THEN Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchack interviewed Phil Jackson and had everyone's hopes riding sky high. With ailing Jerry Buss dying in the hospital, Jim and Mitch made a decision on their own. They hired Mike D'Antoni for several seasons without consulting vice president Jeanie Buss, who runs business operations and is NOW engaged to Phil Jackson. Jackson wanted to come back, because he thought this was a squad that could win another championship.
Kobe obviously wanted Phil to come back. He gave interviews at the time practically pleading for Jim and Mitch to bring him back. Mike D'Antoni's hiring would prove to be the downfall of Bryant's season after all.
Jerry Buss died after the all star break. Jeanie and Phil showed up to Staples Center ONLY to raise Shaq's jersey with the other Laker greats. Kobe started a streak of about 6-7 games when he nearly played EVERY minute of each game to secure the victory. The wins piled up, but Kobe was limping around the floor and was VERY tired throughout that final run of his 2013 season. Kobe kept saying in interviews that he "HAD TO" play all these minutes.
So we have to lay the blame at his feet. It is not like he is a racehorse who cannot speak. Kobe told D'Antoni he wanted to play those minutes. D'Antoni will take most of the heat for allowing this to happen and he deserves that heat. Mike gets paid millions to "JUST SAY NO." Kobe Bryant is a man who doesn't take no for an answer.
I wouldn't be too surprised to see Phil Jackson in the front office next season. His future wife Jeanie Buss is now one of the owners of the team.
Meanwhile...The Lakers WILL get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs and D'Antoni will survive and Kobe Bryant will be back next year slower and older.
You cannot say the man doesn't try hard enough. Good luck Kobe, I will be watching.
Young men all over America are in love....With baseball...It's not quite the way it was 100 years ago when it was the ONLY game in town.
RIGHT NOW we have the NBA winding down, hockey gearing up from their strike-shortened season and GOLF, yes golf. The Masters are infinitely more interesting with the re-emergence of Eldrick Woods (AKA Tiger) as a real threat to take it as the Number 1 golfer in the world. He is also dating skier Lindsay Vonn. He is happy, in love and playing great.
Back to baseball. I love the Dodgers and they are viable. They far outspent every other team in the sport. The defending world champion Giants are great as well. It could be the Dodgers and Giants all the way to the wire. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are also a well-put together squad.
The Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers are to be watched. It will be a long summer.
It all starts today with Dodgers and Giants squaring off atr 1:00 at the stadium here in L.A.
When you say a team is a "Work In Progress," it is usually a bad thing. We are midway through the month of March and the Lakers are playing their best ball. Look out NBA.
Do you really think anyone will want to play them in the first round of the playoffs if Dwight Howard is hitting free throws when the other team is intentionally putting him at the foul line?
Okay. I know losing to bad teams like Phoenix and Washington are not promising signs, but Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant WERE coming back. A few games with them on the court together and with their sea legs under them should do the trick. The Lakers will likely make one more push before the playoffs. I still like their chances at the 6th seed, but we shall see.
Kobe Bryant had a poor shooting night in Orlando in Howard's return to his old arena. Dwight scored 39 points and 25 free throws. This could be bad news for the rest of the league. Howard is getting stronger each game and starting to dominate on both ends of the floor.
Steve Nash is playing OFF THE BALL. Kobe is taking the ball down the court and feeding the beasts. Nash is scoring and now the BENCH looks solid with Jamison, Meeks and Blake holding their own when they come in.
The Lakers could be scary in a half court defensive-minded playoff series and will go into every series as a road team and underdog.
The coach Mike D'Antoni has had to change his coaching style to suit his team and has done pretty well coming out of timeouts. My ONE big issue is not using more of his bench. These 8 guys will get very tired by mid April.
This is the ONE thing Phil Jackson excelled at. Jackson instinctually would go deep in his bench and come away with hot players who had not contributed in awhile. I would like to see D'Antoni go a tad deeper on the road and give his team some rest when they have big leads.
The last month will be very interesting and there are some big games coming up. Be careful not to get anyone hurt before the playoffs start.