Money Talks and Fans Walk

By BILL SIMMONS  |  December 14, 2011

"There's so much more emphasis on individuals now," says Gus Ramsey, a longtime baseball fan who produces SportsCenter for ESPN. "Between baseball cards and rotisserie leagues, you tend now to root for people more than teams -- the guys you picked for your fantasy team, or the guy whose rookie card you invested in. That's why fans are less loyal today, and I think that's why they're more prone to get frustrated when the players let them down."

That doesn't stop players and ex-players from selling themselves like prostitutes. Older stars like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams signed as many things as they could, benefiting from careers long since passed. Active players also profited from the memorabilia surge, and most of the nice moments in baseball were irrevocably tainted. For instance, when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's all-time hits record in 1985, he supposedly changed his uniform every inning, then sold each uniform to sucker collectors as the "game uniform" he wore on that historic date. With deceptions like these and the number of "entrepreneurs" who falsify autographs, bats, and cards, many innocent collectors have been burned.

It's tough being a fan these days. How can you identify with players who make a thousand times more than you? How can you root for a sport in which ticket prices escalate every year and the owners and players have shown no regard for you? How can you like baseball if you're a little kid and all the World Series games are shown at night -- because the owners and the television networks are trying to earn all the prime-time money they can? How can you root for players who charge you for their autographs at autograph shows?

"Another problem is that the previous generations glorified baseball," says WEEI's Glenn Ordway. "Today we find too many faults with these guys, not just in baseball but in all sports."

Add these problems to the labor troubles and the number of stars who disappointed us off the field over the past 20 years (Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Pete Rose, to name a few), and fans have obviously been pushed over the edge. Attendance dropped dramatically in the post-strike 1995 season, by more than 30 percent. It's easy to believe baseball's fine if you live in New England (where the Red Sox, who routinely came close to selling out Fenway this season, will rule until the last day of the apocalypse), but in other cities the game is lagging. Severely. Four cities have pennant-contending teams for the first time in years -- Texas, Seattle, San Diego, and Houston -- and all four teams have failed to draw as many as 15,000 people to key home games this month. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Detroit have all drawn crowds of under 3,000 people this summer.

"There's been a fundamental change in the relationship between the public and its teams," says Bob Sales. "A good team will usually be successful, but a bad team won't be successful because there's no foundation for a loyal relationship anymore. Why should the fans care?"

The sport of the suburbs

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