The Field of Dreams game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox on Aug. 12 turned out to be a ratings grand slam for FOX Sports. Nearly six million viewers watched the game, the highest rating for a regular season baseball telecast on the network since 2005. The number was also a reminder how fractured our television viewing habits have become for the once National Pastime.
By coincidence, as the Field of Dreams game was being hyped, I was reading Curt Smith’s “Voices of The Game,” his excellent history of the evolution of baseball broadcasting on radio and television. The book was published in 1987, two years before the movie, “Field of Dreams” was released to the public. But Smith, a former speech writer for two U.S. presidents and once a guest on my radio program, compiled a great history on the genre, which holds up to time some 34 years after its publication.
Smith’s chapter on baseball’s television broadcasting rights is of particular note in light of the Thursday night telecast on FOX. In 1976, after NBC had exclusive coverage of baseball’s regular season and post season for 11 seasons, MLB split the package with NBC and ABC. Part of the deal included ABC carrying Monday Night Baseball during the regular season. The network, which had turned Monday Night Football into a must-see, prime time event, promised to do the same for baseball. In the end, it did not happen, as the Monday Night package in 1976 finished with a 12.6 rating.
MLB would kill for a 12.6 rating today. The sport cannot even snag a 12.6 for most of its post season telecasts. FOX is doing cartwheels over scoring a 3.2 for the Dreams game, as well it should. The network had the most-watched program on a Thursday summer night, so of course, FOX and baseball are wearing wide smiles. But the numbers from the telecast also serve as a stark, history lesson how divided our television viewing habits have become, especially with other attractions tugging at our attention. In other words, today’s 3.2 dream rating, would have been a nightmare, 45 years ago.