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Left Coast Bias: MLB on TV Will Be A-OK - Broadcasting & Cable

Left Coast Bias: MLB on TV Will Be A-OK

The A-Rod steroid scandal stinks on many, many levels; but it won't hurt Major League Baseball as a TV product one bit
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It might be the humble Midwestern upbringing, but I'd still like to believe that good things happen to good people. I also have faith in the opposite, meaning Bernie Madoff is going to end up in a tiny cell with Celine Dion music pumped in 24/7, and a cellmate with irritable bowel syndrome.

So that's why I have loved watching the saga of Alex Rodriguez this week. This guy has shown some of the worst judgment a person in his position can possibly have, subjecting his body to disgusting foreign substances and setting a terrible example for young boys everywhere. But enough about dating Madonna.

The A-Rod story stinks on many, many levels, and it will stick around for a long time in one form or another. But while conventional wisdom states that this will be yet another ugly black eye for baseball, with more fallout to follow, the truth is it will not hurt Major League Baseball as a television product one bit.

With pitchers and catchers reporting this week, there will be a ton of talk about drugs. And then everyone will go back to focusing on—and tuning in to see—their own teams.

We'll be wondering if—make that hoping that—the Yankees' payroll (which equals a decent-size country's GNP) will lead to another year without playoffs, and we'll be curious as to whether poor Manny Ramirez will survive if he only gets $45 million over two years. C'mon, President Obama, get the guy some bailout money.

But this year's pre-season distraction began with Sports Illustrated finding A-Rod's name on a list of players who had 'roided up earlier this decade. At this point, shouldn't baseball just release a list of All-Stars who didn't use back then? Greg Maddux, please step forward. The rest of you, what's with those rashes on your necks?

Then ESPN's Peter Gammons landed an interview with the player, and while many thought Gammons went too light on A-Rod, I was more enamored with Rodriguez's performance. During a couple of those long pauses in the most disingenuous television appearance since the great William Jefferson Clinton told us what he didn't do, I promise you A-Rod was not soul-searching. The only searching he was doing was for the words written for him by his PR people, the words he had momentarily forgotten. I kept waiting for him to turn to someone off-camera and say “line.”

So baseball fans will now be bludgeoned by yet another onslaught of drug stories, when all we really want to talk about is whether our team's pitching staff will hold up. And when the season starts up, outside of checking out which stadium boos A-Rod the loudest, we'll all be tuning in just to watch baseball. The companies that cover the game nationally like Fox, Turner and ESPN won't feel a thing.

“We'll find out,” says Fox Sports President Ed Goren, when asked whether he thinks this scandal will hurt the game as a television product. “It hasn't in the past.”

Goren agrees with me that the economy and the challenging ad sales market are much bigger land mines than a new steroid scandal. Then again, on the flip side, maybe ratings will go up a bit if people can't afford to go to as many games.

When I was a kid in Minnesota and you'd ask, “What are the Twins on tonight?” you were asking which channel. Clearly that question has a brand-new meaning. But we'll still all tune in to find out.

E-mail comments toben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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