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Can A Curse-Breaking World Series Bring More Fans To The Sport Of Baseball?



We've said it before. We'll say it again. Just two days until the election is over. That might seem like a long time to wait after all this campaigning, but hey, Cubs fans waited 108 years. I am joined now by Mr. Mike Pesca. He hosts "The Gist." It's a podcast that comes out from Slate. He's here now. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Collect - hi. Collectively, they waited more than that. But individually, I don't know if there is a 108-year-old Cubs fan. There are about 450 108-year-olds in the country, and most of them were insentient when the Cubs last won, but yes, let's give them credit.

MARTIN: (Laughter) All right, fine - the details. And I know there are people out there who are like, whatever, this happened so many days ago. I don't even like baseball. I've heard it for days. We don't care because this was a really big deal, and I didn't get to talk to you last week. I mean, we - there are so many things to talk about because...


MARTIN: ...You know I'm not a baseball fan. I watched this whole darn thing, and I wasn't alone.

PESCA: I've been thinking about that.

MARTIN: There were lots of other people who did this.

PESCA: Yeah, I've been thinking about that, too. And the ratings reflect that it was the highest-rated game since '91. They had an audience of 50 million at their peak, an average of 40 million. Now, here's the thing.

When we talk about average ratings, that's great. Compared to baseball, football - and maybe you've heard the chatter this year - ratings are down, yet - but they're not even close to what baseball's ratings are. To not compare it to the Super Bowl, that's not fair - 114, 112 people watch the Super Bowl.


PESCA: But just the semifinals...


PESCA: ...The conference championship games last year, 53 million watched the AFC championship game. So more people are watching the semifinals in football than in baseball. And yet - and yet - there is something about baseball, perhaps this Cubs moment, but something about baseball that seems joyous and possible.

MARTIN: Say more because I grew up in a state with no baseball team, no professional sports, actually - great state of Idaho - but there are no sports. So I didn't have, like, a parent who brought me into this world of baseball. And it seems like that's the thing that happens. And for people like me, it's a really high barrier to entry as a sport. It's not for the fair-weather.

PESCA: Yes. So think about the ways we get into sports. Baseball, I do think, is generational and it's passed down and you have to be inculcated into the glories of a team. And this is because it goes back 100 years, and the pace of the game doesn't match modernity. And football has the advantages all talked about - how great it looks on television.

I would also say just aesthetically, an individual play in football - there was just a random catch in the Thursday night football game. Mike Evans caught a ball on the sidelines and then was hit hard. And I could show that to someone who had never seen either sport and they would glory at the athleticism of that play.

MARTIN: And you get it, yeah.

PESCA: Can't find the - yeah, I can't find the equivalent in baseball. But I do think that when it's all added up, there is something about baseball that evokes empathy. And a football championship - like, of course when the Saints won, those fans, long-suffering, were exultant, right? But there's something - and that will happen if the Lions or Browns ever win. But there's something about a football championship that's a conquest. And at least with this baseball championship, that seems more like a liberation. So I think the upside, once in a while, of baseball can be inspiring.

MARTIN: All right. I'm going to stick around. I'm, like - I'm going to become a baseball fan, I've decided.

PESCA: Just wait 108 more years. It'll happen again.

MARTIN: (Laughter) For another dramatic game. Mike Pesca. He hosts "The Gist." Hey, thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.