SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

Name:

Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Importance of Adjustments in Sports

According to Baseball Prospectus, Mike Trout could have retired after the season before last at the ripe old age of 25 and gone down as one of the ten best position players ever to play Major League Baseball.  Not only is Trout an amazing talent, he also has been terrific at making adjustments.  Early in his career scouts thought he might be vulnerable to the high fastball; Trout adjusted and thwarted attempts to stymie him.  Trout was frustrated with his ranking as a centerfielder; he did drills to improve his reaction time to fly balls and rejoined the top third of all defensive centerfielders.  That is what the great teams do.  Some players and coaches and teams can do this; others cannot.  Whether they can do this or not defines their careers.


Juan Samuel was supposed to be the next great Phillies player after Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and started out his career red-hot.  Then opponents figured out a weakness -- the outside breaking ball.  Samuel could not lay off it, ending up striking out a ton and playing himself into the role of a super utility players.  He just did not remain good enough to be an every day player -- his weakness would get exposed if opposing pitchers saw him too often.


Andy Reid right now is the best coach not to win a Super Bowl.  His main flaws -- bad clock management and inconsistencies picking talent in Philadelphia.  Every year the team went into the season with a pronounced weakness or two that, despite public statements to the contrary, came back to bite the head coach and his ambitions.  Since he has been in Kansas City he only has had the role of head coach -- perhaps this season could be the charm for him.


Chip Kelly dazzled at Oregon in what retrospectively was a relatively short tenure.  College coaches have all the power and can be dictators.  History has told us that what has worked in college does not necessary work in the pros.  Kelly, with his innovative thinking, got off to a good start with the Eagles.  But then he kept on doing the same thing, to the point where former offensive lineman Evan Mathis said the rest of the league knew what was coming and when.  Sure, the Eagles could get a play off quickly.  The problem was that the other team could guess what it was.  Chip Kelly is now back in college, trying to rekindle his old magic.


Buddy Ryan was an innovator with the 46 defense with the Chicago Bears.  Ultimately, the league adjusted to that scheme, but before it did Buddy's defenses were something to behold.  In contrast, Buddy was a lame thinker on the offensive side of the ball and refused to innovate or adjust.  He had a unique, transcending talent in Randall Cunningham and couldn't figure out how to make him into the best quarterback in the league.  Poor Cunningham played without a running game and with replacement-player-plus level receivers and a tight end with a big reputation who dropped the ball a lot.  He deserved better; Ryan ended up out of a job because he refused to adjust his thinking as a head coach and value the offense half as much as he valued his defense.


The Philadelphia Phillies were terrific in the 2007-2011 time frame.  Part of their success resulted from their outstanding development of three perennial MVP candidates -- Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.  Part of their success resulted from their maximizing the value of retrospectively vastly overrated prospects to land the likes of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.  But the team kept on getting older after their World Series victory of 2008, when the average age of a player was about 29.  They added the ultimately underperforming Raul Ibanez when he was 36 and the oft-injured Placido Polanco when he was in his early 30's.  They also failed to embrace the type of analytics that other teams, particularly the most innovate ones, were using, teams like Boston, St. Louis and Houston.  What resulted was their slide from a perennial contender into a team whose season was over by the All-Star break.


Pick your city, pick your discussion.  The Mets loaded up on starting pitchers with a tremendous amount of promise -- DeGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Harvey, Matz, Gsellman.  The problem is that when you have so many young pitchers before the age of 25 throwing as hard as they can for long periods of time, they are bound to get hurt.  And many of them did.  The tragic part for the Mets is that this happened before with pitchers named Isringhausen, Wilson and Pulsipher.  Only Isringhausen had any type of career, and that was as a reliever.  The other two got so injured -- as did the Cubs uber-talented Kerry Wood and Mark Prior -- that you knew that what portended to be a team that could get everyone out might end up being a squad that would have difficulty getting players off the disabled list.


Failing to adjust or persisting in doing things the old way get management and teams into trouble.  Doing something the same way over and over again and expecting a good result but then failing has been called by some the definition of insanity.  Teams that truly innovate -- the elite soccer teams are among them -- videotape players and do a computer analysis of their workouts and their repetitive motions to ensure that the work they do strengthens the players and does not put undue stress on one part of the body to cause a recurring injury.  They have adopted cryotherapy rooms to take down a player's inflammation after working out and also focus strictly on sleep and diet.  Oh, sure, Chip Kelly did that in Philadelphia, I forgot.  The problem was that the didn't do enough to get the respect of the players with his communications and style to get them to buy in. 


Examples abound.  Adjustments are critical.  The teams that win, adjust, even if they are Golden State by maxing out their payroll to remain more than very relevant when they inked Kevin Durant.  That's an adjustment too.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Season 3 of Last Chance U.

Worth watching if you are the type that watches auto racing for the crashes.


The head coach is an aggregator, a snake oil salesman, but far from a molder of men.  A huckster, a hipster, with little in the way of the traits that you like to see developed in  your own kids.  Zero humility, tries to pass for wisdom what is his unique version of, in his own mind, street smarts.  Profane, ill-mannered, uncouth.  Makes for good TV, but not for a good life.


Talk about college players having zero leverage.  You end up at a football bordello like Independence because you have nowhere else to go.  You are desperate to get to the FCS or FBS, you had character or academic lapses or both, and you as a poor kid make your deal with one of many devils -- the dictators/predators who run these banana republic fiefdoms for their own personal glory.  The head coaches anesthetize themselves by keeping kids eligible so that they can go on to play at four-year schools.  Whether the kids belong in college is open to debate; the "system," as it were is at best paternalistic and at worst exploitative and racist -- using the kids without compensating them meaningfully.   These kids can be like cans that get kicked down the road -- all with a view of providing players to the big-time schools.  What would be more interesting is to see what happens to them within five years.  Do they get their degrees?  Are their degrees helping them make a good living?  Or does the system chew them up and spit them out.


The head coach tries to come across as the hero, albeit someone who runs his program on his own terms.  The junior college president at best is na├»ve and at worst has prostituted his mission in order to gain some fame for his school that has eluded his other programs.  The question is why and at what cost? 


It is interesting watching.  I feel for each and every one of these kids.  They are young, some are desperate, some spoiled, some frustrated, some in need for honest-to-God therapy for what they have gone through in life.  But they are kids, mostly poor kids.


They deserve better than this wacky system provides them. 

The Early Part of FBS College Football Season is Stupid (for the Most Part)

Silly.


Insulting.


Who cares?


Yeah, Texas A&M beat up on FCS Northwestern State last night in Aggieville.  Sure, the alums got to have a few pops and tailgate, the Aggies got to kiss their dates, the home team got a win.  But what does the game mean?


Absolutely nothing. 


Zilch.


Why?  Because no one who counts will give the game any credence when it comes to determining whether premium-paid head coach Jimbo Fisher's team is worthy of a playoff bid.  The opponent was an FCS team; the Aggies were supposed to block them all the way into the cheap seats.  And poor Northwestern State's players.  What good comes out of a game like this?  What character is built or revealed when your school gets paid an appearance fee to help its coffers so that you can be a tune-up game for an FBS team? 


None.


Zilch.


The game is dangerous enough.  The stakes are high enough.  It makes no sense to schedule cupcake games.  Player fewer games if they have to in order to look out for the physical welfare of the players, who are in a plantation-like system with zero leverage and zero post-playing benefits should they suffer injuries that could be debilitating for them.  But playing games like these?  There is no purpose.


Period.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

On Urban Meyer

What's the standard?  What do we want our legacy to be?  What do we want others to say about us?  How will this conduct -- or absence of action -- look if it makes the newspapers?  How would we feel if Courtney Smith were our mother, sister, daughter, friend?  How do we deal with colleagues who have significant problems?  Is having a criminal record or doing something criminal but uncharged or unpleaded or unproven enough to lose one's job?  What is the standard?  Is it that there was no cause under a contract to terminate a highly paid professional without paying him $40 million?  Was it that key players said they would sit out the season and transfer if the head coach were fired?  Was the school worried about losing an edge in recruiting were the coach to be terminated?  What does "deliberately lied" mean?  Isn't lying bad enough without having to qualify it with an adjective?  What is the significance of the cognitive impairment as to the employee's memory?  Does it mean that he gets a pass on this situation?  Or wouldn't the university be worried that this impairment negatively effects the employee's ability to perform the required roles of his job?  What about accountability?  Who, precisely, is accountable for what?  What about the employee's conduct?  Can he talk with his players with a straight face about their accountability?  What about his contrition?  How can he expect more from his players when he looked like someone who was forced to read something he didn't believe in, as if he were a hostage in a far away land?  What if the employee hadn't had the record of success that this employee has had?  What if the sport were tennis, one that few pay attention to and one that generates no revenue?  Then what?


These questions swirl and swirl and will continue to swirl.  There is an idolatry about college football and the men who coach it in certain bastions around the country -- Tuscaloosa, Alabama, State College, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Ohio, among others.  What is the brand that the trustees of Ohio State are trying to build, enhance and protect?  What is the message that they are trying to send?  Did Urban Meyer do enough?  And even if he didn't do enough, should he be fired for not doing enough?  Is he the first boss who kept a favorite on his team, a favorite with significant character issues?  Did those character issues affect that coach's performance?  To what degree does what one does outside the workplace read onto the workplace?  Are we holding Urban Meyer to a standard that many cannot meet?  Does it make a difference that what happened is in a college setting?  Does it make a difference that parents put their children into the stewardship of Urban Meyer and his coaching staff -- an autocratic, unforgiving environment in the best of times? 


Shouldn't it matter that Zach Smith repeatedly committed character violations?  Should it matter that he had problems dating back as far as nine years and that Urban Meyer gave him chance after chance after chance?  Did Meyer do it out of blind loyalty to Smith's grandfather, former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce?  Or did Meyer keep him aboard because Smith was a good coach and wanted to keep an eye on him and hope to influence Smith to be a better person, to get help, and to supervise him?  Didn't Meyer realize that lives were at stake and that one bad character can tarnish the reputation of the entire football program?  In two different locations?


Most importantly, what about Courtney Smith and all victims of spousal abuse?  Doesn't she matter?  Aren't there bigger issues at stake -- such as the safety of the entire university community?  And isn't that much more important than the brand of the football team and who is coaching it?  And wasn't the safety of Courtney Smith and her children more important than anything else the trustees of Ohio State can think of? 


The questions are swirling.  And they will continue to swirl.  This is not the easiest of situations, but after last night it seems that everyone lost.  Ohio State lost, the Ohio State football program lost, Coach Meyer and his coaching staff lost.  And, sure, no one wins in a situation with facts as ugly as the ones presented.  But last night you had an administration suspend a coach for three non-league games, suspend the athletic director (who seemingly has less power than his key employee, Urban Meyer) for six weeks.  They avoid a contractual dispute with Meyer to the tune of $40 million, they avoid players transferring and recruits avoiding contact with Ohio State coaches and going to play for rivals.  They will continue to fill the stadium.  The idolators will continue to wrap their identifies around the Buckeyes, the Horseshoe, their idiosyncratic rationales why the head coach remains on the job and their unchallengeable belief in the institution that is Ohio State football. 


And then there is Coach Meyer.  He won, didn't he?  He keeps his job, gets to pass go and collect his $40 million dollars.  He gets to keep one of the top head coaching jobs in the country, gets a chance to build on his number of national championships.  He gets to continue to do what he loves.  But at what price?  Many will not look at him the same way again.  Many will believe that Ohio State checked all the boxes on its investigation but that the trustees premeditated that it would come out this way.  Many will believe that he relied on a peculiar excuse to get a pass in a very serious situation.  And many will have linger doubts every time Meyer talks whether his memory is accurately or what he is saying comes from his mouth deliberately or in some other way. 


Urban Meyer thinks he did nothing wrong.  He fought for what he believed in -- which is himself, his legacy, his longevity, his contract, the $40 million dollars.  He can continue to believe and think what he wants. 


But so can everyone else.


Ohio State did not conclude anything here.  It just started a raging debate over the absolute control head coaches and football programs have over some boards of trustees and college presidents and what is or is not appropriate conduct by a head football coach. 


And does it have to be about laws, charges, what is proven or not proven, convictions, plea bargains?


Or can it just be about culture?  A culture of being forthcoming, a culture of accountability, a culture of doing the right thing regardless of whether law enforcement is involved.


Urban Meyer and his supporters won last night.


The question now is -- what did they win and who did they beat?



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Guilt Watching Football

They say in certain parts of the United States that there are two sports -- football and spring football.  Football means big dollars for those universities who play it well and has some, if difficult to define, value at schools whose players play before sparse crowds and have little if any chance to play professionally.  But football programs are not moneymakers at most schools; the stats suggest that at FBS schools only one in five make money.  And if you look at the costs involved in running a football program at the collegiate level, well, they are high.  At some colleges you might see more personnel attending to the football program -- which services say 100 kids -- than there are deans to administer to a student body that can number in the thousands if not more. 


The NFL, of course, is a big business. 


At colleges and in the pros, fans can turn out to tailgate, bond, have fun, eat, drink, cheer, what have you.  They devote entire weekends at times to doing just this.  People also bet on games, because the theory is that football is the easiest game to bet on -- there is a point spread.  In every other professional sport you get a set of numbers -- you have to bet $2200 on Manchester City to win $100 in a match versus Huddersfield, or $170 to win a $100 if you have the Phillies at home over the Marlins. 


Football players suffer horrific injuries.  Some end seasons; others can end careers.  Players play with injuries that might have a civilian walk with a limp or on medication for a month.  The long-term effects are stunning.  Pick up a magazine, a newspaper, a twitter feed, and almost every day you read a story about the long-term effects of the game.  From Ricky Dixon to George Andrie to Antwaan Randle-El to Kevin Turner to Andre Waters, the list goes on and on.  And atop that, the horrors that have persisted for former players and their families to collect funds from the class-action lawsuit settlement fund, whether it be callous, uniformed rejections of claims to unscrupulous lawyers trying to get a slice of the settlements. 


Yet, we still root.  We go to parades when our teams win, and we adjust our weekends to make sure we will be available to watch our team on Sundays or in the playoffs.  Is this a Christians versus Lions thing?  A gladiator thing?  What urges or needs are we satisfying if we feel compelled to watch young men -- most of whom are carrying way too much weight according to various healthy weight standards -- bash at each other week after week so that one team can get this oddly shaped ball across a goal line to rack up points?  Would we, ourselves, want to take the risks that for short-term glory and big bucks (and, yes, the average pro career is about 3 seasons and many players end up broke, depressed or divorced after their careers end) in exchange for long-term damage to our mental and physical well-being?  Would we want our friends or loved ones to do this? 


I am by no means an expert on how people make decisions, but how they make decisions fascinate me.  Some go by reason, some go by feel, others go by experience, and yet others go by impulse or emotion.  My sense is that people lie to themselves that their favorite players will be okay or that their fandom is justified because the players know and assume the risks and therefore if they get maimed or cognitively impaired, well, that comes with the territory and it's not their -- the fans' -- problem.  Or they just don't think about it, period.  But the evidence is there -- young men are getting hurt and impaired for the long-term.  That's not an opinion, that's a fact.


The pageantry, logos, uniforms, choreography and physical talent attract, tantalize and enchant the fans.  But I, for one, watch with great ambivalence and great reserve.  Sure, I like my hometown team, and I want them to beat the teams from other cities, especially those whose fans disrespect the area where I grew up (and there are many, as that is Philadelphia).  But I didn't feel the rush when the Eagles won that I felt in 2008 when the Phillies won the World Series or 1983 when the 76ers won the NBA title.  Perhaps it's because I like those teams and sports better; I went to those teams' games with my father, who died young.  Or perhaps it's because I don't like the fact that impressionable young men are being sacrificed for the glory of wealthy institutions who, in the end, treat them like commodities, especially at the college level, where the Lord-like coaches get paid huge sums while the players are subject to all sorts of ridiculous rules that virtually indenture them to a school with little compensation or recourse. 


The facts are there.  Young men are getting hurt, and far worse, impaired.  This game is hazardous to their health.  If football were a cigarette, it would come with a "black box" warning that exclaims that participating in it is hazardous to a player's health and could kill him.  Does football at all levels have a better lobbying group than the tobacco industry did?  Or does the general population just like football more?


We all should think about how we will feel about our society fifty years from now when more data emerges, data that suggests even more long-term danger for participants.  And, given the size and speed of the players, football fifty years from now, if it exists, will resemble a combination of Greco-Roman wrestling (only using the upper body), flag football and rugby -- with almost no hitting allowed. 


And, believe it or not, American civilization will survive and might even like the newly configured game. 


Because right now, it is hurting former players' quality of live, cutting lives short, and, yes, killing people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Suggestions for Improving Baseball and Making it More Attractive for a Younger Fan Base

I exchanged texts this morning with a friend who recently retired from a distinguished career in broadcast journalism.  We were reminiscing over the days when we went to baseball games that ended in less than two hours.  My favorite was when the Phillies beat the Padres at Veterans Stadium 4-2 in less than 1:30 featuring a match-up of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton and ace Randy Jones, who put together several great seasons in the mid-1970's.  His featured a match-up in San Diego featuring Jim Kaat, who had a long and distinguished career in the big leagues.


Today, the average age of a fan is 55.  The average game takes well over 3 hours to play.  The ball is in play less and less thanks to theories involving taking pitches, striking out, launch angles, the value of home runs and the like.  Tickets are expensive despite the fierce competition for the average fan's entertainment dollar.  Climate change also can make it more unbearable to sit outside for a lengthy period of time. 


The most significant changes that baseball made over the past 50 years involved lowering the height of the pitcher's mound in response to dwindling batting averages in the late 1960's and early 1970's, adding the designated hitter in the American League and enforcing the strike zone rule (and holding umpires accountable if they did not do so).  The latter meant that effectively umpires had no leeway in calling the lower 18 inches of the zone a strike, and many were reluctant to do so.  Again, effectively, that meant that pitchers had a much larger strike zone to play with and developed pitches to take advantage of the more strict enforcement (read:  sinkers, splitters).    That change took place about 10 years ago.


There are several changes that baseball should consider in order to add more offense to the game and to quicken games, as follows:


1.  Enforce time limits in between pitches, in between at bats and in between innings.  How many fans have been to minor league games that end in 2:15 or less -- without any sacrificing of the quality of the product?


2.  Create the following rule -- every pitcher inserted into a game must pitch to a minimum of three batters in an inning or until the end of the inning (so that a team can pinch-hit for him if it's his turn in the lineup after getting two outs in the prior half inning) and no more than one pitching change per inning (unless a pitcher gets hurt).  This will eliminate the specialization of relievers.


3.  Consider, for fun, letting a team have a third catcher available in the stands, a la the "emergency goalie" in the NHL that creates good will among the fans.  In this fashion, the team can have an "emergency" catcher should the back-up get used as a pinch-hitter or himself have to enter the game because of injury.


4.  Study lowering the pitching mound. . . again. . . and what the effect of doing so might have on offenses.


5.  Eliminate shifts.  Every position must have a fielder in its designated area. 


6.  Add the DH to the National League.  Who wants to see a pitcher hit?  You wouldn't want your plumber to try to tear up and re-do your path if he is not a mason, so why have pitchers hit if they hardly practice hitting? 


7.  Sponsor "The Great American Home Run Hitting Contest" in regions around the country and put up a big prize.  You can run regionals at minor-league parks and then culminate the challenge at a fan fest before Game 1 of the World Series.  This might spike interest in the game, too.


8.  Stop being greedy about the times when you feature post-season games.  Do all of them have to start at 8:30 at night?  By the time a game might get interesting (that is, after the starting pitcher goes through the lineup once or twice), kids have to go to sleep and get ready for school.  Try having games start at 6 p.m. or have an afternoon game every now and then.  Even adults who have to get up and go to work might not watch the Series unless their team is involved.


9.  Figure out a way to have the average fan not feel stupid and relate to the game.  It's great that the teams rely on stats -- they were ignorant for decades, but even fans with advanced degrees cannot make heads or tails of "Baseball Prospectus" or the metrics that teams deploy.  In "Men at Work," the late Hall-of-Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn described is approach to being a great hitter thusly -- "See the ball, hit the ball."  Today you need a masters in higher math to understand how teams are evaluating players and getting their hitters and pitchers to change their approaches.  What's the fun in that? 


10.  Consider shortening games to 7 innings.  The average human attention span once was 22 minutes; now some argue it's under 10 seconds.  Sure, there are a lot of details here -- from how much to pay players to how this might have an effect on pitchers and rosters, but if the practical effect were to ensure that a game would take only two hours to play, I think that more fans might be attracted to the product.


11.  Finally, baseball needs to get out of this rut of strikeouts, walks and home runs, needs to create more situations where there can be two-out rallies and balls hit off the wall.  Perhaps some of the changes I outline above might help accomplish this goal.  But let's face it, no one wants to go watch a game that ends 3-1 that takes 3:30, that featured 10 pitchers, 23 strikeouts, 8 walks and 4 solo home runs.  Sure, a win's a win, but paying $50 a ticket for a family of four plus parking and concessions is a lot to task for that type of product.  Especially when there are so many alternatives on which to spend one's disposable income.


Food for thought.  Your thoughts?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Signs of the Times -- More Soccer, More Problems for Other Sports in U.S.?

Times change.  Demographics change.  Preferences change.


There was a report yesterday that not only is ESPN all in for Serie A, the top league in Italy, but it also inked a deal to televise the FA Cup, England's broad in-season tournament that affords opportunities for teams at the lowest club ranks to challenge the heavyweights.  And one key aspect of all this is that ESPN was in serious talks with Serie A before Juventus acquired Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.  All these rights are US only.


Fox already televises Germany's Bundesliga in the US, and Bein televises La Liga in Spain in the US.  I'm sure at some point someone will purchase the rights to televise France's La Ligue, which basically means the rights to Neymar and the Gang at PSG, Lyon (a fertile ground for developing players) and a few other decent teams (most of the teams in La Ligue just are not all that good, but La Ligue is still the fifth or sixth best league in the world). 


More proof that there is pressure on the entertainment dollar in the United States.  That pressure extends to how we receive our entertainment, as the investment community focuses on declining enrollment with the major cable companies.  Consumer Reports even has gone so far as to advise its readers to move away from cable, get a good internet connection, and then purchase various packages from internet providers -- YouTube TV, Hulu, Netflix and the like, as well as packages from various leagues.  Technology increases the pace of change, it increases our options, and it increases the demands on our discretionary spending.  All of this means that selective viewers will find ways to avoid the compulsory offerings that come through cable subscriptions and elect to purchase what they really want to watch.  That could mean that fewer viewers will watch games that are featured on cable in which they are not interested.  My sense is that Major League Baseball could suffer further, as could, among others, college football and college basketball.  Ice hockey probably will lead that group.


Oh, I know that football is easy to bet on and will have its watchers, if only because people will seek to recoup from west coast match-ups what they lost earlier in the day.  I get that.  But imagine a world where you can target what you want to watch and pay for it.  Say you live in Boston -- you want a Boston package plus your favorite teams in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.  My guess is that at some point you'll be able to zero in on those and only those teams.  Somehow, the providers will figure out a way to give you only what you want.


The pace of change. . . it will accelerate.  Meanwhile, Major League baseball keeps having longer games at a time when attention spans are shortening, keeps on charging more for concessions stands when innovators like Arthur Blank in Atlanta actually cut prices for football and soccer.  $100 for parking in Dallas?  $10 for a beer in places?  $5 for a bottle of water?


The leagues and teams that figure out how to optimize the delivery of their product for those not in attendance will be the ones that thrive in the future.  The ones that do not will be left scratching their heads wondering why. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Atlanta as a Microcosm of Baseball's Big Problem

  • The average age of a fan of a Major League Baseball team is 55 years old.
  • The Atlanta Braves have won 17 out of 20 games and now lead the NL East by 2 games.
  • Ronald Acuna, Jr. is one of the Braves' leading hitters.  He is an exciting player, is only 20 years old and has hit more home runs at this point in his career and for his age than all but 3 players in Major League history.
  • The other night the Braves drew about 6,000 for a home game during this magnificent run and with all this young hitting.
  • Major League Soccer's Atlanta United team averages 51,000 per home game. 
  • Major League Baseball is by far the best professional baseball league in the world.
  • Major League Soccer is perhaps the 10th best professional soccer league in the world.
Commissioner Manfred, Major League baseball owners, you have a big problem on your hands.  The English Premier League has televised its matches in the United States for several years.  You also can get matches from Germany, Spain and Italy.  My guess is that the demand for MLB games abroad pales in comparison to the demand for international football games in the United States. 


We all know the problems that Major League Baseball faces -- the games are too long, pitchers and hitters dawdle after each pitch, there are too many pitching changes, the ball is not in play all that much, the hitters strike out way too much, the stats make it hard to understand the game, the strike zone, as enforced, has given pitchers too much of an edge, and all of that.  The game is a moneymaker now.  I went to the games with my father, and some of my memories of those games are among the best I have.  One of my kids likes going to an occasional game; the other is a huge soccer and basketball fan and thinks its too much of a time commitment for too little action.  Almost all of his friends think the same way.


Sports tickets are expensive.  So are cell phones and smart TVs.  There is much competition for the entertainment dollar -- restaurants, streaming services, concerts, other sports teams.  The next generations will choose wisely; it is expensive to live in this country. 


Around 1970 the most popular sports in the United States were baseball, football, basketball, boxing and horse racing.  The latter was particularly popular because the track was the only place you could make a legal bet.  Boxing fell apart after Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas "Hitman" Hearns and Marvin Hagler aged out of contention (the golden age of heavyweights was gone by the time they emerged).  MMA has eclipsed boxing, and horse racing barely hangs on.  Baseball has an action issue, football a long-term health issue (although I am concerned that soccer might have similar issues to American football, if not as pervasive, pronounced or publicized).  Basketball is going strong and seemingly getting stronger.


MLB has some serious issues that won't go away and won't get better with age.  Soccer is here, and it is gaining momentum.  Could it be at some point that the U.S. develops a fully blown hierarchy of soccer teams the way they exist in European countries, and could it be before too long that MLS aligns its schedule with that of the rest of the world's leagues -- competing for talent with the likes of teams in Western Europe.  And, if that's the case, could it be that MLS takes football and baseball head on -- and wins? 


Even if that were not to happen, the problems still remain for MLB.  The big question -- what can it do to make its product better and to lower the average age of its fan base? 


They need good and creative minds on this -- now.