Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Buck explains why he thinks World Series ratings were down this season

Alex Reimer
November 27, 2018 - 2:58 pm
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Count Joe Buck among those who thinks the action in this year's MLB postseason was lacking. 

In a phone interview with WEEI.com, the longtime Fox broadcaster, who will be on the call for Vikings-Patriots Sunday, said he thinks the product's plodding pace shares some of the responsibility for the diminished World Series ratings. Viewership for Red Sox-Dodgers was the fourth-lowest ever, and down 25 percent in comparison to Astros-Dodgers last year.

“The games were really not that compelling,” Buck said. “(John) Smoltz has gone from the darling three years ago to, ‘He hates baseball.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s that he loves the game, and he’s not that (removed) from playing, and he wants to see a certain approach that’s starting to disappear in the game. I’m not sure analytics, launch angle and all of that is producing better baseball. He has said 1 million times to me, because they’re allowing the shift, sluggers say, 'If I hit the ball on the ground, I’m going to make an out, because everyone is on this side of the field. So I’m going to swing and try to launch the ball out of the ballpark, and we don’t care about strikeouts.' That might be fine in the regular season, but the better at-bats belonged to the Red Sox, and to me, that’s why they won. They fought to get on base, they went deep into at-bats, and they were able to put the bat on the ball, and get runs. I think that’s always going to help a team win. It might not be the only way, but my God, if putting the bat on the ball and creating action isn’t better than swinging and missing, then I don’t understand it either.”

All of baseball’s changes –– emphasis on launch angle, shifts, disregard for strikeouts, managers’ proclivities for incessant pitching changes –– are on full display in October, when the games matter most. Only twice this postseason did the Red Sox play in a game in which both starting pitchers finished five innings or more.  

These trends are the recipe for four-hour games, which may have also negatively impacted the ratings. The Red Sox’ Game 4 classic against the Astros, for example, saw its ratings peak at 10:15 p.m. The game didn’t end until three hours later. 

Buck says he would like to see earlier start times, but understands why network executives want to hold off until primetime on the East Coast. “When you’ve got games ending –– forget the East, but the Midwest, Mountain Time Zone –– when the game is ending at midnight, nobody likes that,” Buck said. “I just don’t know what the answer would be. If it started earlier, it may be worth a trial.”

In addition to going just five games, this year’s World Series only featured two contests decided by two runs or fewer. The lone one-run affair was the 18-inning bonanza in Game 3, which lasted into the wee hours of the morning, and to quote Buck, featured some of the “worst at-bats you will ever see.”

Earlier this month, Fox Sports executive Michael Mulvihill told Sports Business Journal the Red Sox’ declining national appeal was one of the possible reasons for the weak World Series numbers. Buck disagrees, saying he thinks the Red Sox and Dodgers were the draw to this year’s underwhelming Fall Classic.

“I think the Red Sox are one of the premier brands in sports, not just baseball,” he said. “Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. If you had six games, seven games, tight games –– and there were some in there, obviously, we had an 18-inning game and then a really fun one the next night –– but if you had a longer series, the overall numbers would’ve been better, and I don’t think there’s anybody who knows television who disagrees with that.”

Author's note: The previous headline of this article, "Joe Buck blames baseball's plodding pace for diminished World Series ratings," did not represent the full context of Buck's comments. It has been changed. 

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