Cardinals, Rangers go 7. Will this Series boost baseball?

The Cardinals and the Rangers played yet another game for the history books. Will this Cardinals-Rangers epic help generate interest in future World Series?

Jeff Roberson/AP
St. Louis Cardinals greet David Freese (right) at home after Freese hit a solo home run off a pitch by Texas Rangers' Mark Lowe in the 11th inning to win Game 6 of baseball's World Series 10-9, Thursday. Will this Series, one of the most thrilling ever, bring viewers back to baseball?

Six exhilarating World Series games. One more to go.

But will the thrill of this World Series translate into heightened interest in the Fall Classic next year, or will the excitement subside after the final out?

Tonight’s Game 7 has a lot to live up to. Thursday night’s World Series Game 6 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers may go down as one of the greatest in history.

"The greatest game I've ever played in," said Cardinals’ right fielder, Lance Berkman said of his team’s 10-11 comeback victory over the Rangers.

"In the 31 years I've been alive and the 11 years I've been in the big leagues, this was pretty special, man," said Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, whose Game 3 heroics were just the beginning of the legendary play that has become par for the course this World Series. "This is what baseball is all about."

In a matchup that has been this good, with historic pitching and hitting performances from both ball clubs, a litany of wild finishes, and Texas manager Ron Washington’s dugout dances, anything less would have been a letdown. But has it translated to heightened interest?

There were early indications that the TV ratings were getting better and better as the matchup between the Cardinals and the Rangers progressed. But despite the thrilling games, not to mention the increasingly emotional gushings of TV commentators and sportswriters around the country, last night’s Game 6 didn’t get quite the viewer love it deserved.

The game did win the ratings night for FOX, crushing the Thursday night competition with a Series-high 17.54 million viewers. But that was an 11 percent drop from the last Game 6 in 2009, when the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 to clinch the World Series title. Two years ago, 22.3 million people watched that game, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as last night’s matchup.

So what gives? Some of it might have to do with the trajectory of the game itself. The excitement didn’t really start until the eighth inning: With the Rangers up by three runs, and three of their best pitchers lined up to close it out, it looked to be all but over for the Cardinals. But they rallied back from their final out twice, took the game to extra innings, and won it in the 11th inning on a walk-off homerun from David Freese. But that didn’t happen until around 12:30 a.m Eastern Time, after 4-1/2 hours of baseball. A lot of people had gone to bed by then.

More likely, however, it’s because World Series TV ratings are more at the mercy of the local media markets than anything else. Despite being a far less interesting game, 2009’s Game 6 involved the Phillies and the Yankees – two teams that have a much larger fan base than either the Rangers or the Cardinals. Indeed, out of the 10 World Series played over the past decade, the five with the best ratings have involved either the Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.

The Super Bowl, by contrast, has become an event in itself, drawing in an average of about 80 million viewers each year and routinely setting records for the most-watched TV program in history, regardless of who is playing.

And there doesn’t appear to be any rollover in interest in the World Series from year to year. The 2004 Series, when the Boston Red Sox made quick work of the Cardinals to win their first championship since 1918, garnered over 23 million viewers in each of its four games. The next year’s Series, between the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, didn’t manage a single game that cracked over 20 million.

None of this means you should skip Game 7 tonight. Given the way this series has gone, you might be missing history if you do.

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