• 02/20/2012, 12:19AM ET

FFTI II: Did the McGwire-Sosa chase save or ruin baseball, or neither?

YODA (89-8-13) vs BBK (61-12-8)

With one swing of the bat, a HR can change the momentum of a game (or even a playoff series). And sports rivalries do make for good story lines.

The McGwire-Sosa HR chase did bring excitement. However, to say that these guys "saved" baseball is giving them far too much credit. It ignores the bigger picture.
In this TD, I'll expand on how MLB would have indeed been just fine without their chase.

On the other end of the spectrum (and with the benefit of hindsight), there are those claiming the McGwire-Sosa chase ruined the game. They claim that since the offensive prowess "came from a needle", the entire sport is not just tainted, but indeed ruined.
I personally find that viewpoint a bit absurd. McGwire and Sosa are two of the more famous juicers, but they're hardly alone in their transgressions. It's not just Bonds either; players continue to get nabbed to this day.
And MLB lives on.

The answer, therefore, is neither.
The chase didn't save baseball. Nor did it ruin it.

Singling out the McGwire-Sosa chase is yet another case of journalists and pundits looking to spin a story with a convenient oversimplification.

Best of luck, BBK.

I was on a backroad in Mississippi in my 1993 Eclipse, driving from Orlando to Memphis. Where were you when McGwire broke the homerun record? Many on this site probably remember exactly where they were.

The numbers clearly show that baseball isn't suffering, and the most recent World Series game 7 was the most watched game since the 2004 Red Sox title (go Cards).

It's impossible to quanitfy exactly what the HR chase did for baseball. All we know is that baseball was trending upward before the chase, and continued that trend afterward. Fans that had once loved the game, and left after 1994 were back and I was one of them. The HR chase was national news, and put the sport back in the national limelight.

Can we definitely prove that the chase is the reason for baseball's rise once again to national prominance? No we can't, we can simply try to connect the dots. Those dots show a huge decrease in attendence after the strike, and a gradual increase in the years that follow. The most significant media event during that time was the HR chase. The chase is the event that brought baseball back to the casual fan. The event is important, and it helped save baseball.

We can't "prove" whether or not the chase led to baseball's recovery; that's why the TD topic is debatable.
But you haven't really disagreed with my stance. You've conceded that MLB was already "trending upward before the chase".

To illustrate further, let's look further at the late 90s:

In '96 (first full season post strike), avg attendance rose 6.5%.
Feel-good stories in late '95 like Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's Iron Man streak and Ken Griffey Jr's "Refuse to Lose Mariners" had restored some faith in MLB.

In '97, averages rose another 4.9% to 27,877. In the 5 full seasons pre-strike (89-93), the avg was 27,348. The fans - diehard and casual - were back at the ballparks.

In '98 (chase-year) we saw another rise of 4.2%. We also saw attention boosters such as more expansion (D-Backs ranked 3rd in attendance) and the Yanks setting an AL record for wins (114).

Then in '99, attendance dropped 1.8%.

Good (and bad) stories like the chase come and go.
Baseball fans had returned a full year before it - and the chase itself didn't have a lasting halo effect.

There's just too much tradition and resilience in MLB to call the chase a savior.

You show the attendance figures, and how they were increasing, and try to match them with a corresponding story from that season, presumably as a means of explaining the bump. This approach would suggest that you beleive that the story lines drove the bump in attendance, but your overriding position is that the biggest story line of them all; the one that drew incredible attention had no affect on baseball. So you beleive that the D-Backs drove baseball's resurgance, but not the most publicized HR chase in over 3 decades?

Perhaps it will help if I give you some numbers outside of just attendance to help put the chase in perspective. From the Tribune...
Overall national TV ratings increased 11% from 97-98.
Late summer games featuring McGwire or Sosa saw a 36% increase from 97-98.
WGN's Cubs broadcasts saw an overall 38% increase from 97-98.

Perhaps you think that this was isolated to the respective cities involved in the chase? Not so my friend. The USA Today saw a 21% increase in sales after McGwire broke the record.

You linked ratings to story lines, and this was the biggest story of them all, and as these numbers show, it clearly drove interest in the game.

I didn't say the chase had "no effect". I merely stated that it by no means saved baseball, which is the topic at hand.

A strike prompts doomsayers to predict a catastrophic unrecoverable collapse. Disgruntled fans rightly claim they'll never give "those greedy bastards" another dime.
The strike did sting, but a century old institution like MLB is irrepressible. Fans forgive.

The various storylines (Ripken, Griffey, Yanks, expansion, etc) illustrate that MLB had a tremendous amount going on in the late 90s (as usual) in addition to the chase.
We also shouldn't forget the introduction of wildcard teams. This contributed to full ballparks late in the season as more cities remained in playoff contention.

Attendance and TV ratings trended up for several yrs prior to the chase.
The HR record, as with any historic event, did bring extra temporary attention and sold papers. But that's not the crux of the debate. It didn't save the game.

Some fans took awhile to come back. For many purists, baseball was "back" as soon as the CBA was settled and players took the field.
History shows us an overwhelming love of the game, chase or no chase.

So we both agree that baseball was saved, and that the respective story lines are what brought that interest back. The difference is that you're minimizing the affect that the HR chase had as one of those story lines, and I'm recognizing it as the the largest and most significant event during baseball's climb back.

My issue with your approach is that you're looking back on events, and simply making an assumption as to what would have happened had the chase never existed. Your thought goes:
94 strike - huge decline in attendance
98 HR chase - huge spike in interest and attention
today - the state of the game is strong, and would be with or without the chase.

The problem is that you've done nothing to substantiate that opinion. I have yet to see a reason why you beleive that baseball would be fine with or without the chase. You simply remove the largest media event baseball has had in decades, and pretend like it made no difference. That's completely invalid.

The reality is that you cannot separate the strength of the game today, with the single largest media event that spurred the interest to get it there. The two are forever linked.

Good TD Yoda.

Comment #1 has been removed
February 20, 2012  12:25 AM ET

Two excellent TDers on a topic outside of their normal comfort zones. I like it.

February 20, 2012  12:51 AM ET

I'll say I disagree, but will wait for BBK

Comment #4 has been removed
February 20, 2012  10:15 AM ET

It sure gave Baseball a swift kick in the balls, but even to those people for whom they said it ruined it, they are a minority... a small chink in baseball's armor, so to speak.

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February 20, 2012  10:49 AM ET

... a small **** in baseball's armor, so to speak.

been dying to use that one have we?

February 20, 2012  10:49 AM ET

ohhhhh, that's just wrong

February 20, 2012  10:54 AM ET

anybody that followed baseball that summer got caught up in the chase, I know I did. it was fun and piqued even non-baseball fans interest. Did it save baseball? I don't think so

February 20, 2012  11:06 AM ET

It's for the public.

February 20, 2012  11:34 AM ET

It's for the public.

Or causal fan.

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February 20, 2012  04:37 PM ET

I totally agree with BBK! The stirke all but put Baseball in the coffin forever. No one disagrees that after the strike baseball was on life support in the ICU!!! Then, along comes the homerun derby of McGwire and Sosa! I believe they singlehandedly breathe life into MLB. I believe that just like with Jeremy Lin and NBA, There wouldn't be any MLB without McGwire and Sosa!

No one really cared at that time whether MLB was around or not (alot like the NBA this year)! They (MLB) needed something to bring it back to the forefront! McGeire and Sosa did that!

Come to think of it, there are alot of parallels from that season with the MLB and the NBA! Wouldn't you agree?

February 20, 2012  04:48 PM ET

We all make mistakes. I thought it was pretty cool when I was 18. Had the windows completely blacked out, sound system hindsight, yes I realize that I was a loser.

February 20, 2012  05:42 PM ET

Sosa vs McGwire was the only reason I started watching baseball


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