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Savran: Low-rated Series late show for most

Saturday, October 26, 2002

This is a pretty good World Series that nobody's watching. The television ratings may be boffo from the San Fernando Valley up the coast to Sausalito, but it ain't playing in Peoria or Pensacola.

The reasons are multiple and varied.

The starting time is too late.

Assuming you work for a living, the power of Morpheus begins its attack around 10:30 p.m., which in most games is about the sixth inning. Most fans tell me they'd like to watch the whole game but just can't keep those heavy eyelids propped open.

So starting the games earlier, say 7:30 p.m., is reasonable, especially with the games on Fox, which doesn't have a national newscast. But then you would hear the screeching from the West Coast about the current 5:30 p.m. start times.

It's not so much the 50,000 ticket holders who might be inconvenienced by the late afternoon start, but the huge portion of the West Coast television audience which is sitting on a freeway somewhere eating exhaust fumes.

Of course, they could always move the weekday games to the afternoons. That won't happen because the broadcast rights fees baseball receives would be slashed significantly.

So what's the answer?

How about eliminating the totally unnecessary, information-bereft but commercial-packed pregame show, or at least cutting it down, with the first pitch at 7:45 p.m.?

It might not mollify the left-coasters, but they're more interested in sushi and the grand opening of the neighborhood's newest health food store than they are in baseball, anyway.

It should also be mentioned that it's not necessarily when you start, but how long it takes you to finish -- meaning the games take entirely too long to play. A full minute in between pitches is ridiculous, regardless of the pressure. Isn't it time the league enforced the 20-second pitch rule, even with men on base?

Perhaps people aren't watching this World Series because of the lack of star power. Outside of Barry Bonds, how many high-profile players dot the combined rosters of 50? There are good players. They're just not guys familiar to fans (outside Anaheim and the Bay Area). That tends to be true of West Coast teams anyway. You don't often see their games or see game highlights until the next day, or even read box scores of those games in the morning paper.

And there's a too-often ignored primary reason for the weak ratings: People just don't care about baseball as much as they used to. It's probably best to start with that one.

Putting aside such minor matters as at least attempting to be a reasonable human being, Bonds is truly amazing. Hitters have been pitched around since time immemorial.

The thing about Bonds is, if he gets just one pitch to hit each at-bat, or just one pitch a game, he doesn't miss it. They say you only get one good pitch to hit per at-bat, and that you'd better take advantage because you'll not see another as good. If Bonds gets the one pitch, duck.

So why don't pitchers back him off the plate? Or nail him, especially after he stands at the plate for a seemingly endless amount of time, admiring his handiwork, showing up the pitcher big-time? I can't imagine Michelangelo took as long gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. Phillies' Manager Larry Bowa said Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale would have used Bonds' elbow armor as a target and would have drilled him.

But in the same discussion, Bowa suggested the pitchers of today generally don't work the inside edges. Against Bonds, they're afraid to miss inside, knowing that if they catch too much of the plate, another rocket will be launched.

I also wonder why he isn't thrown more breaking pitches. Granted, if you hang one it's in the bay. But the guy turns on the ball so quickly, even at age 38 when his reflexes ought to be slowing at least a tad, why would you ever throw him a fastball?

Ultimately, how do you pitch to the guy?

The answer is ... you don't. Unless you have no other choice.

Far be it for me to champion the Barry Bonds Defense, but it's totally unfair to label his postseason home runs as "meaningless," as some are doing. The truth is, teams just will not pitch to him in "meaningful" situations. Therefore the homers cannot come in "meaningful" situations. But that doesn't make them meaningless.

I don't know what it was like for Babe Ruth, but I can't imagine he was any more feared than Bonds is today. Of course, it probably helped him to have Lou Gehrig, not Benito Santiago, waiting in the on-deck circle.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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