"I will say for the first time there’s an opening," A-Rod told me by phone before Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Dodgers Sunday. "It’s up to us to take advantage of it."
The "opening" isn't a reference to Kim Kardashian's latest bra mishap. A-Rod was referring to the 10 percent drop in NFL ratings, compared with 2015. Keep in mind: A 3 percent drop would give Robo-Commissioner Roger Goodell night sweats. Ten percent means pro football has had a worse October than Billy Bush. The NFL's historically invulnerable ratings had survived Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, concussion suicides multiple crimes against female humanity and a pile of "gates" - Deflategate, Bountygate, Spygate, whatevergate. If the NFL was a person, he'd be in prison. Yet until now, the Neilsens never showed it. Suddenly, ratings are down 10 percent. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of corporate lawyers.
(Note: Some folks want to blame all this on Colin Kaepernick's sideline protests - and, yeah, some folks are pissed off, pro or con - but a 10 percent drop? Nope. Personally, I blame the 10- minute delays while booth dorks psychoanalyze every turnover and score. A dull, one-yard touchdown run - with mandatory review, extra point, commercial block, kickoff into the end zone, and then another round of commercials - can kill 15 minutes. The GEICO punch lines get stale after the third showing.)
But we were talking about A-Rod, whom the Yankees will pay $21 million next year to slap butts and avoid Page Six. Alex says football's woes are baseball's big chance: An exciting World Series could restore the pastime to - well - the Pastime. And he has a point. This is gravy time. Unfortunately, though, to fully reclaim the interest of America - (Note: I'm referring to me) - a particular marquee team needs to be in the mix. Baseball needs a team that everybody loves or hates, and, frankly, that team is still not Boston.
MLB needs a strong Yankees franchise, yet it does everything possible to turn us into the KC Royals of New York. Through luxury taxes, it instituted a de facto salary cap. Though signing bonus caps, it destroyed the competitive advantage of big markets. Next up is an international draft, which was our last opportunity to outspend the Brewers and Padres. The Yankee "Baby Bombers" will get a lot of attention this winter, but we're a Tommy John and a Kevin Maas from mediocrity through 2020 - a multi-year barf reminiscent of the 1980s - which was hardly the sport's golden age of popularity.
Of course, no one atop MLB will do anything about the Yankee malaise, aside from celebrating it. When George Steinbrenner died, so did the urgency to win. Hal pays lip-service to "contending" every season, but that's basically a factor of the additional Wild Card slot, which means anybody over .500 stays in the race through mid-September. Without an Evil Empire, the cheapskate owners get to keep their free agents and their tax breaks, too. Only problem: Come October, we watch the big series between - gulp - Cleveland and Toronto.
Of course, baseball will do well this month in the big markets of Cleveland and Toronto. Damn, I'd hate to be the Cleveland Browns or the Argonauts; good luck generating newsprint. But will fans watch in Texas? Do they hate the Indians, because of the racial implications of their name? Do they root against the Blue Jays because Bautista flips his bat. My guess: They'll tune into the last innings of the seventh game - that is, unless they're binging on Luke Cage.
The NFL's tanked ratings may or may not continue, but you better believe that, come January, the league will have one big advantage. The Cowboys and Patriots will make the playoffs, and everybody loves or hates them. The reason, of course, is Jerry Jones and Bill Belichik - an owner and coach who stops at nothing - even cheats - to win every year. The Yankees were once baseball's version of this. So yes, baseball could have had an opening: this fall. Unfortunately, it closed.