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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

For readers who skip the sports page, an update: There are no New York teams in the MLB playoffs this season. The Mets were dreadful right out of spring training, while the Yankees high-salaried lineup succumbed to age and injury.

Prominent was tabloid bad boy A-Rod — Alex Rodriguez — the handsome third-baseman whose well-publicized woes keep him in a dead heat with Miley Cyrus for the title of America’s Most Tedious Celebrity.

How long before they’re photographed leaving a nightclub together?

But I digress. With no New York teams in the running, it follows that tout le monde has wearied of baseball. That’s a French phrase signifying “everybody who matters.”

Not you, Pittsburgh. Oakland? Fuggedaboutit.

It was therefore inevitable that the lordly New York Times would greet the playoffs with a mighty ho-hum in the form of an essay by Jonathan Mahler entitled “Is the Game Over?” Because the Super Bowl gets much higher TV ratings than the World Series, all the luster is supposedly gone from the game once called “America’s Pastime.”

Oddly, Mahler’s main journalistic credential is Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, his book about the serial killer “Son of Sam,” the 1977 Yankees of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson fame, and owner George Steinbrenner—the Donald Trump of his time.

Anyway, never mind, as Mahler concedes, that baseball has achieved competitive balance and overall financial success it never enjoyed during its “golden age,” i.e. when he (and I) were small boys. There have been seven different World Series champions in the past 10 years, only one of them the Yankees. By every objective measure except national TV ratings, the game’s thriving.

Today he thinks NFL football has all the advantages. “Teams play only once a week, and when the postseason arrives, every game is an elimination game,” Mahler writes. “But its real advantage is that it’s louder, faster and more violent—which is to say, better in tune with our cultural moment.”

It’s an advantage to play only once a week? That’s just one reason I’ve always regarded the NFL as a colossal bore. Sure the Super Bowl’s a huge TV event in January, when half the country’s stuck indoors, eager to get loaded and gamble. At most Super Bowl parties I’ve attended, people hardly watch except when the hardcore guys start yelling.

College football’s much the same. Where I live in SEC territory, football fans devote months to obsessive chatter about the upcoming season. Then come three or four cupcake games, a handful of exciting conference matchups, maybe a bowl game, and then eight more months of phoning radio talk shows to gossip about high school recruits and conspire against the coach.

Are they even sports fans, these people? Some, sure. But a lot of them are mainly there for the identity politics and the party.

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