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MLB missteps with Astros series reveal harsh truths about baseball’s grim future

More of the same from MLB. Composite image by Jack Brame.

It happens every spring. We see headlines like this:

MLB Looks to Grow Its Younger Fanbase.

MLB Needs to Invest in Youth to Keep Baseball Alive

MLB Explores Growth in Younger Fan Base

U.S. Baseball Fans are Too Old, Too White and Too Few.

And every fall we learn that baseball, despite all its efforts to grab younger fans, saw its TV ratings and attendance dwindle and its fan base grow older.

To paraphrase the Pogo comic strip, baseball has met the enemy and it's baseball.

Consider last week, Game 2 of the Astros vs. White Sox. It's the playoffs, baseball's annual showcase. Interest is sky-high in Houston because this is the Astros revenge tour to show they can win without cheating. For the rest of the league, a chance to boo the evil Astros and hope they lose. All the ingredients for a terrific game were in place.

The game was telecast on the MLB Network, owned and operated by Major League Baseball, so it was baseball's decision who'd be in the broadcast booth. Who did baseball, so desperate for younger and more diverse fans, pick?

Bob Costas – age 69. Buck Showalter – age 65. Jim Kaat – age 82. Three white guys on Medicare. Asking young people to spend four hours listening to those guys is like telling a teenager he's going to spend spring break visiting his grandparents in Phase 3 of Del Boca Vista.

During the game, Costas spent five entire minutes rambling about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon between White Sox manager Tony La Russa, early 1900s Philadelphia A's manager Connie Mack (team doesn't exist anymore), and our 16th president Abraham Lincoln.

This was after Costas mentioned the train above the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid and proceeded to offer a history of rail travel in America.

I love baseball. It's my favorite of the four major pro sports. I probably watched 130 Astros games on TV this year. They're an amazingly fun team to watch. If the Astros and Giants get to the World Series, I'm grabbing my kid, digging up the coffee can buried in my backyard and buying tickets to every game.

I watched Costas, Showalter and Kaat do Game 2 and wondered ... what the hell are these guys talking about?

During the first inning, Showalter praised the physical attributes of the White Sox' Cuban-born third baseman Yoan Moncada, to which Kaat replied, "Get a 40 acre field of them."

Kaat's comment was interpreted by many as a racial throwback to a post-Civil War proposal to give freed slaves 40 acres of land and a mule. A few innings later, Kaat apologized for the comment, after making it clear that he was ordered to read the apology written by someone on the MLB staff. I do not think Kaat meant his comment in a racial sense. I do think it was just a dumb thing to say, a bolt of lightning from 7th grade history crossing his mind. His comment actually was an attempt to compliment Moncado. Jon Gruden's emails, however, another story.

Baseball's attendance this year was down 12 percent from 2019 the last full season. More fans attended games two decades ago than now. Baseball's TV ratings are down, too. Most alarming, the average age of a baseball fan is 57, older than fans of the NBA (42), NFL (50) and the NHL (49). Young people are turning their backs on "America's pastime." Only seven percent of baseball fans are under 18 years old. Is Bob Costas aware that Connie Mack doesn't move merch at Academy Sports and Outdoors?

Crying out for younger and more diverse fans, here come the playoffs and the MLB puts three white senior citizens in its owned & operated broadcast booth.

The main complaint about baseball is it's too slow. Now games take 3 hours and 11 minutes on average. Yankees vs Red Sox games (they seem to play each other 100 times a year on TV) take forever. Baseball has tried limiting mound visits and the constant merry-go-round of relief pitchers. Nothing seems to work, games are slower today than ever. Fifty years ago, games took 2-1/2 hours.

There are some far-out proposals to put a rocket under baseball games, like moving back the pitcher's mound, allowing batters to "steal first base" on wild pitches and passed balls, outlawing infield shifts. I'm against those. But robot umpires calling balls and strikes may be a smart idea. Computer line judges have improved tennis. All the calls are correct now, and players can't scream at the human umpire in pointless, time-wasting arguments they never win. Baseball should consider allowing computers to call balls and strikes … or fire umpire Angel Hernandez once and for all.

The entire Astros-White Sox broadcast was creaky. Ah, but there is an easy, doable solution. Why do I have to come up with all the good ideas around here?

The MLB Network owns two channels on cable systems, its regular spot and an alternate channel. Why couldn't they have put the White Sox broadcast team on one channel and the Astros crew on the other? I'm guessing that Costas, Showalter and Kaat worked no Astros games this year. Or one or two at the most. When you're not familiar with a team, that's when Connie Mack stories make their appearance.

Meanwhile, Astros broadcasters Todd Kalas, Geoff Blum and Julia Morales called almost every game (not counting a few national broadcasts). And when Jeff Bagwell joins the booth, Astros games become must-see TV. Kalas is a strong play-by-play guy, Blum and Bagwell are insightful and really funny, and Morales adds a touch that's just right. The Astros announcers are not a bunch of homers who would offend non-affiliated fans.

I'm sure that White Sox fans would have preferred their announcers over Costas and Co. on the MLB Network, too.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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