Anxiety in Atlanta

Turner Broadcasting executives are an unhappy bunch this morning.

Their network is televising the American League playoffs, and the League Championship Series will be Cleveland vs. Toronto, barring two unforeseen comebacks by Boston (vs. the Indians) and Texas (vs. Toronto).

One of Major League Baseball’s smallest markets vs. its only Canadian team battling for the right to represent the DH league in the World Series.It had to be TBS’ nightmare scenario long before the playoffs began Tuesday with the AL Wild Card game.

Canadian teams are the scourge of the American television networks.

If you ever took time to analyze the NHL schedule on NBC Sports Network and NBC itself, you will notice there are extremely few games involving the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Senators, Oilers, Flames, Jets and Canucks. If a Canadian team is involved in a game on an NBC property, it will certainly be  in the United States.

During the first three rounds of the playoffs, if NBC broadcasts a game from a Canadian arena, it will use the CBC or TSN feed. ONLY if a Canadian team plays in the Stanley Cup finals will NBC send Doc Emrick, Eddie Olzcyk and Pierre McGuire north of the border. I’m sure an all-Canada final would cause some NBC execs to pull out their hair, but it hasn’t happened since 1989. ESPN wasn’t thrilled with its first Stanley Cup Finals, Canadiens-Flames in 1986. ESPN also had two finals from Edmonton and one from Montreal in its early years of televising the NHL, and USA Network did three from Edmonton and one from Vancouver when it had a contract from 1981-85.

The Raptors are almost never featured by TNT, ESPN or ABC for its NBA coverage, except during the playoffs. The Canadian teams in Major League Soccer, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, never have home games shown by ESPN or Fox Sports 1.

ESPN will show an occasional Blue Jays regular season game from Rogers Centre, but almost always it’s against the Red Sox or Yankees, and it is NEVER on Sunday Night Baseball. The good thing for Toronto is it can play Saturday afternoon games, since it is exempt from Fox’s exclusivity rules, which don’t allow local telecasts of games when it is broadcasting.

If the NFL placed a team in Canada–highly unlikely–would CBS or Fox show the game anywhere outside the visiting team’s footprint? Would NBC ever televise a Sunday Night game? Same for ESPN on Monday night and NFL Network on Thursday night?

I, for one, am glad the ALCS now looks like it will be Toronto-Cleveland.

The good citizens of Toronto need something to cheer about, since the Maple Leafs have been pretty much putrid since winning their last Stanley Cup in 1967, and Toronto FC won’t be winning the MLS Cup anytime soon. Yes, the Argonauts have won more Grey Cups (16) than any other CFL franchise, but how many people outside the nine CFL cities (and all of Saskatchewan) know this?

Cleveland broke its sports jinx in June when the Cavaliers (or, LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers) won the NBA championship, but the Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948. The Tribe played far too many seasons before tens of thousands of empty seats at Municipal Stadium (The Mistake by the Lake), and now don’t get the proper support at Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field, which once had a streak of 455 consecutive sellouts. Cleveland needs something to take their minds off the Browns. If the Indians make the World Series, it will work out perfectly: the Cavaliers will start their season while the Indians are in the World Series, so they don’t have to think about the Browns, period.

The dream ALCS for any network is Red Sox-Yankees (it isn’t mine). It happened in 2003 and 2004, but in was a different era for the playoffs. First, there was only one wild card team, so that team did not face a winner-take-all game to get into the main bracket; second, the wild card could not play the champion of the same division in the division series, so the Red Sox got to avoid the Yankees in the division series in both instances. The Yankees had the best record in the AL both times, and instead got to face Minnesota, which has won only one playoff series (2002 ALDS vs. Oakland) since winning the 1991 World Series.

Boston has the better chance of extending its series, simply because the next two are at Fenway Park. But the Indians beat the Red Sox’ two best pitchers, Rick Porcello and David Price, so John Farrell is up against it. And Terry Francona would love nothing better than to clinch the series at Fenway, where he managed the Red Sox from 2004-13, leading Boston to two World Series titles with sweeps of the Cardinals (2004) and Rockies (2007).

Texas is really behind the 8-ball. For the second consecutive year, the Rangers lost two games to the Blue Jays in Arlington. The Rangers have been a terrible home team during its playoff history. It lost Games 4 and 5 to the Giants in the 2010 World Series, and had to watch San Francisco celebrate at what was then Rangers Park (now Globe Life Park). The Yankees clinched the ALDS in 1996, ’98 and ’99 in Arlington. Tampa Bay won twice at Texas in the 2010 ALDS, even though the Rangers won all three in St. Petersburg.

Call the Rangers’ home struggles in the postseason the curse of Bowie Kuhn. It was Kuhn, as Commissioner of Baseball, who vehemently opposed the move of the second Washington Senators to Texas for the 1972 season. Bob Short, the owner of the Senators/Rangers, was a cheapskate who took a sweetheart deal from Arlington to play in a crappy minor league stadium in the shadow of Six Flags. Ted Williams may also be cursing the Rangers; he was the Senators’ manager who was forced to move from D.C. to Texas, and he absolutely hated Dallas/Fort Worth.

The Rangers are proposing to build a new ballpark with a retractable roof in time for 2021. Geez, shouldn’t that have been done in the 1990s, when George W. Bush owned the team and the Rangers were attempting to replace the decrepit Arlington Stadium?

Today is travel day in the AL. Hopefully by Monday morning, we’ll have our Blue Jays-Indians ALCS all set.

As for the NL, it was Blue Friday. The Dodgers beat the Nationals in Washington, and the Cubs won 1-0 on an eighth inning home run by Javier Baez.  Game two for both series today.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on October 8, 2016, in Major League Baseball and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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