The NFL might never have had a more successful season than the one that started on Sept. 9, 2021, and ended last Sunday. The TV ratings were monstrous and the playoffs were so taut that a Super Bowl won on a touchdown with 85 seconds remaining wasn't in the top five for exciting games.
As this was taking place, Major League Baseball was following a 2021 season that ended with its all-time worst ratings for the World Series with a lockout that has no end in sight.
What can be said without question is neither the owners and their man, Commissioner Rob Manfred, nor the players and their leader, Tony Clark, have revealed an appreciation for how much trouble baseball is in with the sporting public — even if everything was going on as scheduled right now in Florida and Arizona.
I just keep using this as my crisis capsule:
Atlanta and Houston played a six-game World Series and they used 66 pitchers.
There were a couple of games where I couldn't take it any more by the fourth inning. I would switch outlets to re-watch an hour of "Killing Eve," and when I went back to "Killing Baseball," Joe Buck would be saying, "And that does it for the bottom of the fifth.''
Not wanting a pitcher to face a lineup a third time has been transformed into not wanting a pitcher to face a lineup a second time. The numbers indicating this strategy presumably are accurate, but it has come with a slight cost:
The ruination of baseball at its highest level.
Every pitch is an anguished decision between pitcher, catcher and some guy in the dugout advising on pitches. And there's high percentage of hitters that would rather get down 0-2 in the count than to swing at a pitch that's not in the little box perceived to be their power zone.
The San Francisco Giants came from oblivion to win 107 games last season, a miracle season based on waiting for pitches and 599 appearances by their bullpen (tied for second in the majors).
That was fun for Giants fans and terrible for baseball. Looking at more pitches, using more pitchers, and on goes the nightly crawl to a finish, until the decisive game of the World Series can't draw a TV audience that beats a bad Thursday night matchup in the NFL.
The big brains and their computers have destroyed baseball. And that's easy to do, because basically the game is played one-on-one: pitcher vs. hitter.
The shift that overloads the right side of the infield and puts the second baseman 50 feet in front of the right fielder, that's annoying, but the constant marches from the bullpen, and pitchers still throwing sliders when behind 2-0 in the count, and batters refusing to swing at a hittable pitch because it's not quite fat enough — those are the root causes of MLB's crisis.
The NFL also is bringing never-played, analytical types into power (including new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah), but they will never be able to do real damage the NFL. It's an 11-on-11 game, and all the analytics on the planet aren't going to keep Aaron Donald out of your backfield.
The NFL can't be ruined by analytics, only tweaked.
PATRICK'S PLUS THREE
- You know these Winter Olympics were a dud for the United States when our No. 1 star, California native Eileen Gu, with three medals in freestyle skiing, was competing for China, her mother's country.
- Bud Grant's last game as a player before becoming the 29-year-old coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was in Canada's East-West football game on Dec. 8, 1956, in Vancouver.
"There were six of us from Winnipeg and I wanted to get on a flight the next morning," Grant said last week. "They told us there were no seats. I was walking out of the hotel the next morning and was told there was a call for me. It was the airline saying they had room for us.
"Calvin Jones, the great lineman from Iowa, said he was going to sleep in and take the late afternoon flight. If I had missed that call, the rest of us also would've been on that flight. And that's the one that flew into the mountain and killed Calvin and everyone else."
Trans-Canada Flight 810-9 hit Slesse Mountain due to severe icing and turbulence. All 62 people on board died, including Jones and four players for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
- Another Bud moment: In a 43-5 playoff victory for Winnipeg vs. Saskatchewan on Oct. 28, 1953, Grant had convinced coach George Trafton to let him play safety rather than corner because he "could read quarterback Frank Filchock's eyes.'' Bud intercepted five passes that day. Really. Five interceptions.