Now just imagine if it was ESPN, and not Fox Sports, in charge of carrying Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game.
Considering the resources, resolve and ratings that come into play for a situation like that, you think Yasiel Puig would have been allowed to miss out on a National League roster spot?
Compared to the Puig Push that could have taken place on so many ESPN platforms, it would have made Tim Tebow look like Tiny Tim.
Perhaps the Dodgers’ 22-year-old rookie outfielder from Cuba could still be named as an injury replacement, although it won’t be from the fan online “Final Vote” announced this afternoon that showed he came up short behind Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman for that 34th spot on the team.
Fox simply did not have as many opportunities to prop up the Puig storyline and, in return, increase the likelihood of more bi-coastal curious viewers for a quasi-exhibition game that has had issues in recent years attracting a sustainable audience. Not when compared to what ESPN has in its serendipitous arsenal — such as the ability to put Puig on the air today for a one-on-one with anchor Max Bretos that ran all day on “SportsCenter” and could be viewed on ESPNLA.com.
No matter how much Fox’s Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talked up the Puig’s exploits during regional coverage of Saturday’s Dodgers-Giants game in San Francisco last Saturday, Puig struck out four times and that the game went to only 22 percent of the country. That, and McCarver reiterated that he wasn’t convinced Puig had played enough games to warrant a selection.
“I’ve softened on it but not much further than I have last week,” McCarver said this morning, before the “Final Vote” had been revealed, and obviously sabotaging any help Fox needed to push the game by simply presenting his honest opinion. “I understand the sentiment and the emotion behind Puig’s inclusion, but five weeks does not a season make. A guy like Freeman is more deserving.
“We did have a chance to see the impact and electricity and buzz that he presents. He’s a fascinating player. But as far as an All-Star? In my opinion, there are others more worthy strictly for one reason – they played the whole first half.”
No matter how many times the Prime Ticket Dodger telecasts pushed the Vote Puig campaign, the fact that Puig has hit a modest .250 with no homers and a 33-percent strike out rate from July 3-10 could have resonated more with short attention span fans than that .443 clip he had with eight homers and a 20 percent strike-out rate between his June 3 debut and July 2.
There’s all kinds of perceptions out there that ESPN can get things done when it needs to for its own benefits.
“In particular, they’re not happy with ESPN,” Olney said on a recent “Baseball Tonight” installment, noting that the baseball page of ESPN.com made some reference last Sunday to promoting Puig votes.
Olney said that Braves pitcher Tim Hudson thought the network “had an agenda,” causing the reporter to respond: “I can promise you that there was not a big memo that went out telling everybody to push for Puig. The Braves should know that what’s pushing Puig now is not a conspiracy, but the excitement that always comes along with the climb of a young player.”
Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said today he thought “it’s interesting people perceive ESPN promoting a game that’s on Fox as having some kind of push. We know it’s an exciting story and we’re in the business of eyeballs. It would be fun if he got in. But I don’t think there’s a particular pushing happening one way or another.”
It’s just that the story has already crossed several boundaries.
Eric Dodd, Time magazine’s New York City-based reporter covering sports, culture and entertainment, posted an argument on the KeepingScore blog under the headline: “Please Stop Saying Yasiel Puig Shouldn’t Be an All-Star.”
At least he said “please.”
“Puig has simply been one of the most riveting stories in baseball over the last three months,” wrote Dodd. “He’s managed to change the Dodgers’ narrative from one of a bloated, floundering franchise to one of the NL West’s most compelling team. His mammoth home runs and laser-like assists from the outfield regularly top nightly highlights, and his inclusion on the NL roster would inevitably be a ratings boon for Fox …”
The Wall Street Journal, which knows its numbers, also pointed out in a recent story that Pittsburgh’s Frankie Zak has the record for playing the fewest career games before his All-Star selection – 44 of them in 1944, compared to the 38 that Puig could appear in by Sunday.
McCarver said he found it most interesting that the MLB seemed to enjoy the debate in the media over the last couple of weeks rather than act upon creating a rule that would avoid any further confusion.
“I’m not sure Major League Baseball wants a solution to this problem,” he said. “From a business standpoint, it’s smart for baseball to want this controversy. There’s been so much talk about it, it’s more fun. Both sides could be right.”
Speaking of both sides, we’ll defer to Fox baseball analyst Eric Karros, who in his 14-year MLB career (1,755 games and 7,100 plate appearances) did not make an All-Star team despite finishing as the career L.A. Dodgers leader in home runs and, in 1995, finishing fifth in the league MVP voting:
“This is my take: As a player, I wouldn’t have wanted him to take a spot. There’s a pecking order, you pay your dues, it’s a right of passage,” Karros, who’ll be on Fox’s coverage of the Dodgers-Rockies game Saturday (4:15 p.m., Channel 11), said this afternoon.
“But as a media member, and as a fan – absolutely I want to see Puig there. That would make the game far more interesting.”