News Columns & Blogs

Royals, butts, seats

For the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, the Royals will rank among the bottom five MLB teams in attendance this season. With 11 home dates remaining, Kansas City ranks No. 26 among the 30 big league teams, which is where the Royals ranked in 2009.

Of course, the product KC has put on the field for most of this decade doesn’t warrant spending a lot of hard-earned money to watch them play.

But what about the product on the field in San Diego, Atlanta and Cincinnati.

The Padres, Braves and Reds have played good baseball in 2010. San Diego and Cincinnati came out of nowhere and both teams have led their divisions for much of the summer.

Even so, San Diego ranks only 19th in attendance this season, averaging just more than 26,000 fans per game. You can make the case that there’s a lot of other things to do in San Diego, and you would be right. But the Padres have been one of the biggest surprises of the season and you would think warrant more than the sparse crowds they usually get.

Cincinnati’s lackluster attendance is even more difficult to explain.

The Reds haven’t been to the postseason in 15 years. Cincinnati, historically, is a baseball town. Remember the “Big Red Machine?” That team drew fans in droves. This 2010 Reds team – an exciting one – is drawing only 25,424 per game, 20th in the majors.

Atlanta, who averaging 30,042, has seen its attendance drop off dramatically lately. The Braves – famous for not selling out playoff games during their glory years, rank No. 15 in MLB attendance.

It’s interesting that attendance for the Royals hasn’t taken a small bounce because of the renovations to Kauffman Stadium, which is one of the best baseball parks in the country. But a bad team isn’t much fun to watch and going to a big league game these days is all about spending at least $100, between a ticket, parking and concessions. And that’s if you go on the cheap.

It’s a slow news day in sports when Derek Jeter’s fake hit-by-pitch against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night draws as much discussion as it’s drawn.

Big deal. He didn’t get hit. The pitch was close enough for him to act as if he did. The umpire bought Jeter’s act and he was awarded first base.

Every incident like this fires up the instant replay debate in baseball. In an age in which replay is so prevalent, especially in football, it appears more and more archaic for baseball to continue to use replay only in the most dire circumstances.

Gotta tell you, though, I’m not a big fan of bringing in instant replay to help determine safe and out calls. And I’m definitely against any kind of technology that can be used to determine balls and strikes.

Umpires are as big a part of baseball as players and  managers. Well, perhaps that’s a stretch, but blown and questionable calls are part of baseball’s lore. Sure, a missed call can be aggravating and even maddening (Don Denkinger, 1985), but so what?

I’m normally a pro technology guy, but I’m not so sure it always helps in sports. It’s OK if things are occasionally inexact. I don’t need perfection, I just need competence.

Slowing things down for multiple looks at a play or a situation will usually determine the correct call. I get that. But does it always determine the right call?

I’m a television junkie and always have been. Sunday nights used to be huge in my house growing up, with the likes of “All in the Family,” “Bonanza,” “Mannix,” and “The FBI” showing on that night.

My three current favorites are “Dexter,” the best show on television, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

It’s always exciting when the new fall season begins and though the networks have lost a lot of their clout as cable gains more subscribers, there are five new shows on the networks that I’m anticipating.

1) “No Ordinary Family.” Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, who, when last seen, was dead in a bathtub in “Dexter.”

2) “Raising Hope.” Cloris Leachman, who at 84 is just a baby compared to Betty White, has a role in this comedy, which will look a lot like “My Name is Earl.’

3) “Lone Star.” A breakout star in James Wolk who plays a man leading two lives.

4) “The Event.” If you name a show “The Event” you better deliver the goods.

5) “Hawaii 5-0.” If you re-make a classic show from the 1960s and ’70s, you better deliver the goods.

A sport writer’s memories

In 1980, I covered the Wichita Aeros, the Triple-A team that season for the Chicago Cubs. I hated the Cubs, being a Cardinals fan, but I was sworn to do my duty as a professional, so I covered the Aeros without an agenda.

The team wasn’t very good. It finished 61-74 in the American Association and was managed by Jack Hiatt, who was a catcher for the San Francisco Giants when I was growing up. Hiatt was an OK guy. I don’t really remember much about him.

The guy on that team I remember most – and it included players like Lee Smith, Mark Lemongello, Miguel Dilone, Carlos Lezcano and Karl Pagel – is Jim Tracy, currently the manager of the Colorado Rockies.

Tracy, at the time a pretty hot Cubs prospect, played the outfield for the Aeros. I arrived to games early just to get an idea of what was going on with the team and to foster relationships with players. Inevitably, Tracy is the guy I would end up talking to the most.

We’d sit in the bullpen and talk about baseball night after night. He was the first guy I looked to for comments after a game. He was always friendly and thoughtful and it was easy to tell even then that he had an uncommon feel for the game.

Tracy never did much as a player, but he has been a successful manager. He was the manager of the year last season with Colorado and has the Rockies playing great baseball down the stretch this season.

One thing I know for sure is that the beat writers who cover the Rockies have to love working with Tracy, one of the best guys I’ve been around on the job.