Thursday, August 05, 2004

Watcha Gonna Do When Fishermania Runs Wild on You?

Warning: this post is lengthy and involves a lot of professional wrestling talk. It's totally relevant, but I thought you should know about that before you proceed.

Before I get underway, I meant to link to this yesterday. David Vescey discusses some finds in his collection of 70s and 80s baseball cards, and it's the best thing Page 2 has ever done.
You apparently needed three things to be a major leaguer in 1979: big hair, porn-star-quality facial hair and huge wire-rim glasses. Terry Humphrey hit the trifecta in Topps No. 503.
It gets better from there. Now, powered by the new lyrics to Born in the USA, on to the rasslin.

We here at Distinguished Senators are big fans of Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, a crusading newshound in the tradition of Clark Kent and Peter Parker (I can't think of any real journalists). Fisher conducted a chat on the Post website today, and there was some baseball stuff in among all the talk of libraries and DJ salaries. Direct your eyesight here:
Angelos' comment about there being no real baseball fans in Washington was at best idiotic, at worst a veiled racist comment worthy more of Clark Griffith.
Indeed. It's a shame Clark Griffith was such a racist (and, more to the point, segregationist) because he was a hell of an interesting character. More on that over the weekend, probably.
Angelos can't have it both ways--either there are tons of baseball fans here who have helped to support his team and whose loss he stays up at night worrying about, or there are no fans here and Washington can't support a team of its own. But not both.
Hold on now! I don't like Angelos - you know that. But Fisher is here doing what he accuses Angelos of doing. Angelos was quite clear here: there are no baseball fans in DC, but there are in Maryland suburbs, and these are the fans he fears losing. Fisher makes it sound as if Angelos said no one in the entire area was a baseball fan, and that wouldn't be racist at all. So, either he's a racist for saying the fans are all in the majority white suburbs, or he's got no fans to lose. But not both.
The truth is that this area would support a team easily, and that Angelos would lose some fans from Washington and Virginia and maybe parts of Maryland, but he'd also gain from the competition with an NL team for the hearts and minds of residents of the region.
I like this idea. I like it a lot, but you'll have to allow me a rather self-indulgent digression to explain it.

In this matter, as in so many others, professional wrestling can be very instructive. Allow me to set up the scene: in the early 90s, the World Wrestling Federation was easily the country's top wrestling promotion. The WWF's flagship television program was Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, which came on Monday nights, oddly enough (and was usually followed by Silk Stalkings or La Femme Nikita - what a great channel!) . Raw ran unopposed from 1993 to 1995, and with no competition the show was allowed to become rather dull. Not wishing to give away on TV what they could charge for on pay per view, management booked Raw to feature mainly matches between established stars and "jobbers," the guys who always lose (where have you gone, Barry Horowitz? A nation turns its something eyes something something). Everyone knew what was going to happen, and it didn't make for exciting television, but it was the only show in town. Ratings were consistently between 2 and 3.5 of whatever it is you measure ratings in (ampules?).

Meanwhile, philanthropist jackass Ted Turner had been pouring money into the WWF's competition, Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling. WCW had maintained its TV presence on the weekends until September 1995. Monday Nitro debuted that month and took the wrestling world by storm (that's the kind of thing you say about wrestling on TV). The inaugural episode saw Lex Luger, who had appeared in WWF rings only weeks before, show up and do... well, something. It was ten years ago, so lay off. Into early 1996, the ratings of both shows stayed in Raw's old 2-3.5 ampule range. According to my genius calculations, this means that rather than WCW taking the WWF's audience, the Monday night wrestling audience effectively doubled. Keep that in mind.

Soon, Nitro's ratings began to climb and climb. Powered by the nWo invasion storyline (you can still see the t-shirts. I mean actually on people), ratings moved steadily in the the 3s and eventually the 4s as Nitro ran off a long streak of victories against Raw. Nitro was the thing to watch, particularly if you were big fan of Scott Hall's fake-ass Scarface accent and Ric Flair's leathery man-boobs. Faced with extinction, the WWF innovated. Gone were the silly (relatively speaking) gimmicks; no more wrestling plumbers or Sgt. Slaughter pretending to be Iraqi. WWF owner Vince McMahon allowed his performers to craft their own personae and was rewarded by, among others, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and the Rock. As these gentlemen became household names and Raw began to push the envelope of extreme (e.g., saying "ass" and flipping people off, both techinques used to great effect by this blog), Raw clawed its way back until, by 1998, both shows were in the 4s and 5s every week.

So, what's the lesson? Conventional wisdom in 1995 held that either Raw or Nitro would fade away as a result of the direct competition. In fact, just the opposite happened. With more and better product out there, wrestling grabbed hold of the nation's pop culture conciousness in a way it never had before, even during the glory days of Hulkamania. Total viewership skyrocketed. It is entirely reasonable to think that more baseball in the Baltimore/DC area will result in more baseball fans than even a successful O's team could attract alone. Imagine the excitement the six times a year the Orioles and Senators would play each other. Imagine the effect competition could have on the way Peter Angelos runs his team. It's no coincidence that the A's get the small half of a shared market and are the most innovative team in baseball. Angelos' objections aside, a baseball team in Washington would not just be good for DC residents; it would not just be good for baseball as a whole; it would be good for the Orioles.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I think your comparison is lacking. For one thing, the Orioles don't have a belt to throw in the trash. For another, WCW's road to success was paved by decades of arm-wrestling contests, Dungeons of Doom, and sinister midgets; no such preparation is evident for this baseball project.