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Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Friend's Lament: Why aren't we as interested in baseball as we used to be?

A good friend e-mailed after the All-Star game asking this question.  I offered the following:

1.  The strike of 1994 started the decline deep down.  How could both sides let the World Series get cancelled?

2.  Then there was the Steroids Era.  The owners let it happen, the non-using players knew it was going on and did nothing (if this were the Black Sox era, Judge Landis would have banned all of them), and the glorified fans known as many of the baseball writers chronicled and cheered the glorious offensive records that were being set, while conveniently ignoring whispers and the size of the average player.  What made it worse is that overall Major League Baseball did not apologize for this travesty.  Sure, there was the Mitchell Report and yes, the baseball writers are guarding the Hall of Fame with their lethal keyboards, but let's make no mistake -- that era was awful.

3.  Analytics have taken over the game for better and for worse.  "Moneyball" was great, showing that a little engine that could could outwit the big spenders.  It also showed teams that having a good face and being built like a tight end did not guarantee success in baseball, and that you could be built like Kevin Youkilis and excel.  But there are so many analytics today that unless you have a masters in math you cannot figure all of them out or calculate them.   And all those analytics do what math is designed to do -- to prove something.  Which means that while I might prefer Mays and you might prefer Aaron, there is some PhD in math from MIT who never played Little League who can prove who was better and why.  And there's fun in that for the math guys, but not for those of us who like the smell of the grass, the thwack of the bat, the thump of the ball into the mitt.

4.  It's hot out there.  Even at 7 p.m. in many parts of the country, the temperatures and humidity are high.  And that makes it no fun to watch games in such blistering heat.

5.  Tickets are more expensive, and so is parking and beer.

6.  The games are so gosh-darn long.  A game takes 3:30 to play, and the ball is in play for about 15 minutes.  There is only so much catching up one can do with friends over that long a period of time.  Forty years ago I went to a game at Vet Stadium in Philadelphia, Randy Jones of the Padres against Steve Carlton of the Phillies.  Game was over in 1:28.  Great game, home team won, hot day, but game  was short.  MLB should think about that.

7.  The offense is terrible.  Strikes zones seem bigger, pitchers throw extremely hard on every pitch (and injuries have not abated over time, which is sad given that if front offices can figure out analytics to guide their selection of players, they should be able to figure out physiology enough to keep their pitchers healthy.  Long gone are the days when Iron Man Joe McGinnity pitched both ends of long-gone doubleheaders for the New York Giants -- and he did not miss time because of arm injuries).  No, I don't want to return to the Steroids/Amphetamines Era, but OBP  is the lowest it's been in 35+ years.

8.  Even with the fun parks, the game seems antiseptic.  There is no Cal Ripken streak, no great  recovery by the BoSox after being 3 games down in the 2004 ALDS, no huge names with personality.  Sure, there is Mike Trout, but who else is there?  Miguel Cabrera is great but doesn't seem to have pizzazz, and Albert Pujols has tailed off.  A-Rod is damaged goods; Derek Jeter retired.  The newer phenoms don't have the buzz yet.

9.  Is baseball losing kids?  My son doesn't follow it, and many of his friends do not.  They love basketball and soccer (which has grown in the US tremendously, especially interest in international soccer) and football.  Baseball is the game that I went to with my dad.  Carlton and Schmidt are greats that I refer to.  Even I saw Mays, but he was at the end of his career.  Many great industries lose their preeminence when they think they are on top, and then fail to save themselves.  About 45 years ago boxing, tennis and horse racing were much more popular than they are now.  There's a lesson in that somewhere.

10.  There are so many choices for entertainment.  Baseball used to have fewer competitors.  Now there are great restaurants, other teams, big TVs with comfortable chairs and cable in the air conditioning of your own home.  Back then, a trip to the ball park was something special and more affordable. 

I still like the game.  My dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia when I was three.  I saw Aaron, Clemente, Mays and the hapless Phillies.  Parking was strange, the Vet then was new and space-age like, and the Phillies got better.  We talked baseball all the time, kept score, and looked forward to our father-and-son outings.  And because of that, I'll always be a fan. 

But it's just not the same. . .


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...


Reasons #3,5,6 and 7 are the most important ones.

Good compendium here. Plenty of food for thought...


12:22 PM  

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