Today’s video is a segment of an August 2010 broadcast between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. Some background: both teams were pushing for the NL Central crown, and bad blood earlier in the season prompted ESPN’s David Schoenfield to declare this as “baseball’s best rivalry.” Here, we see Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina confront Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips during the game to challenge Phillips’ comments the evening before. The confrontation led to a bench-clearing brawl, player and manager ejections, and concussion that ended the career of Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue.
What is particularly intriguing about this video was that MLB.com chose to feature it at all. Baseball tends to be the “grey lady” of sport, reveling in tradition and enforcing strict rules about player uniforms, appearance, and conduct. Yet here, incivility between two small-market teams is on full display. The commentators add to the conflict, stating “this is not baseball” yet reminding us that there is “not a lot of love between these two ball clubs”; talking players as teammates yet framing Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter as an instigator who “[when he’s] not whining about his own teammates, he’s whining about somebody else.” As well, the broadcast camera focuses on the brouhaha rather than panning away from it – in contrast, incivility by spectators is often hidden from view.
Understand that media is drama, and sport is media. Andrew Billings discusses how the Olympic Games – the “biggest show on television” – are carefully constructed to highlight drama often because spectators know little about the sports or the athletes themselves; they need the dramatic frame in order to make sense of it all. Moreover, sports fans crave rivalry. Rivalries help fans Bask in the Reflective Glory of their teams (Cialdini et al., 1976) and provide fans with a sense of social identity – the “in-group, out-group” notions that drive social interactions within and around sports (Armstrong & Giulianotti, 2004).
Already concerns about 2011 Worlds Series between the Cardinals and the Texas Rangers are surfacing (Crupi, 2011) as the teams hail from small markets and lack history (three games total in the 2004 season). Without the rivalry, all we have is the baseball. And who wants to watch that?
Our question: In the absence of large media markets, might MLB be able to boost sagging ratings with bad blood?