We’ve more than crossed the tipping point. The more you know of a person’s race, gender, vaccination status, town of residence, religious activism, if they wear a mask, or education level, you can say what political party they are. They hunt? Republican. They have a doctoral degree? Probably a Democrat. You’ll be wrong some times. Maybe a Latino from Texas or Florida is more likely to be Republican than a Latino in California, but even there the geography informs you. If we get two or three data points we can be 75% sure of your party.
It shouldn’t be a shock that if we can use your identity to predict how you vote this well, politics is a divisive thing in America. We live in an era where people are more invested in their personal “brands” than ever, and they like to advertise their identity. A Trump flag on your house, a mask on your face, or even just what neighborhood you’re living in is a way to advertise your brand. In a “smaller,” more interconnected world created through the internet, we tend to find the people most like us, and part of how we do that is virtue signaling our beliefs and values. In doing so, we’re also telling some people we’re not interested in having them be a part of our lives. We’re a part of the “community” we told you we’re a part of with the Ukrainian flag, or #BackTheBlue, or hammer and sickle in our profile- so stay away if you don’t agree.
It’s pretty obvious this brand, identity driven politics is divisive. People voting for the opposite side are quite literally rejecting our identity as a person. It’s not just that the other side has bad ideas, their existence is offensive now. People wonder why moderates are going extinct in public office, but the truth is kind of obvious- many active Democrats really hate Joe Manchin and think he is of nefarious ideals, and Republicans in many places feel the same about Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney. In fact, one could argue the party base hates moderation from their own even more than they hate the other side. This manifests itself in Democrats who are certain Donald Trump would be in jail by now if Merrick Garland wanted to make him be, or Republicans who think “Q” is going to come remove Joe Biden for stealing the election.
There is an increasing identity wrapped up in how voters view the political parties, but if us going further and further into every day life. Very, very few places are politically competitive, because Americans are “self sorting” into communities that think and live like themselves. America’s cities have a strong leftward tilt because left identifying people moved in and right-leaning people don’t want to live there. Rural areas trend even more red, because progressive minded people find less and less of interest there. Suddenly rural Colorado and Georgia are electing Boebert and MTG and Queens and Detroit are electing AOC and Rashida Tlaib. Most of America doesn’t even live in a politically competitive place, and know less and less people who disagree with them.
When MTG talked last week about a “national divorce,” she was simply doubling down on her divisive political brand, but it’s pretty much happening around us. We’re sorting ourselves away from each other. Our tolerance for people on the other side is disappearing from our political consciousness. Ron DeSantis is building a Presidential campaign on banning books, but Tennessee is one upping him by banning drag shows. Increasingly it’s hard to live in a place where you are a political minority, because things you want to do in your life are not being allowed by the majority. Identity is our politics now, and it is way more complex than simply race, gender, sexuality, or other demographic traits- it’s literally how we live.
With the exception of 2020, I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t go to at least 25 professional baseball games in a year. We’ve had our 17 game season ticket plan with the Phillies since 1991 and our 18 game plan with their AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, since their 2008 inception. I love baseball more than most fans, and certainly for me the league is hardly dying. My 3-0 Eagles are a one day a week thing until the Phillies season has ended.
Baseball has issues though. The league is definitely making money, sure, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. In the American League, you have five teams heading for a solid 90 losses or more, while eight of the fifteen teams are on their ways to losing seasons. In the National League, seven of the fifteen teams are going to smash the 90 plus loss barrier, eight are on their way to losing seasons, and a solid three should lose 100 plus this season. Essentially baseball has 14 winning teams and 12 playoff spots, so only one decent team per league doesn’t get a participation trophy. Meanwhile half the teams in the league are absolute garbage, totally abysmal to watch, and give you no reason to care about them if they’re your team. This in a league where games are longer and longer to watch, hitters strikeout a lot, and fundamentals have been replaced with the analytical theory of three true outcomes. I get it, the sport is not the healthiest it ever has been, even if TV revenues are setting records, and guaranteeing franchises (even small ones) about $100 million before anyone steps through the gate.
The game is not broken though. Revenues are great. The players and owners both do pretty well, though the owners do better. Minor leaguers don’t get paid great, but I sat at games all of last weekend with 8,000 or so fans a night in Allentown. There is interest in the game, even if it doesn’t match the NFL anymore. Who cares? Money is being made, even the Royals sold for a billion dollars recently. I have a few tweaks to the game I would do to make it better, but I wouldn’t run a full scale overhaul. Here’s my in depth ideas…
Salary Floors, Roster Sizes, Trade Deadlines, and September Call-Ups
Lots of people like to complain that ballplayers make a lot of money. Why? Baseball players are the reason the league is making money. The problem with the game is not that the Dodgers are paying good players and putting a good product on the field, it’s that Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Detroit never intended to put anything even subpar on the field. Between the local market television deals all 30 clubs sign and the national deal the league signs, every single ball club in the league makes $100 million before selling tickets, merchandise, parking, and concessions. Requiring clubs to put 80%, or even all of their TV money back into the baseball payroll seems like a reasonable way to insure teams don’t run out totally no-name line-ups. A salary floor with the existing luxury tax rules would create some level of parity.
I don’t have any big issues with the 26 man roster or the 40 man roster sizes. For that matter, I think the IL rules have actually improved over time. About the only thing I would change is not counting starting pitchers who aren’t starting that day against the 26 active player limit, unless the team is designating them as a position player option (so basically Ohtani or any pitcher you’d consider to pinch hit). If a starting pitcher isn’t pitching that day, now that we have a universal DH, they’re effectively a dead roster spot. Since most teams carry five starting pitchers, you’d open up four roster spots more every day on the 26 man roster. In order to prevent managers like Gabe Kapler from adding four more relief arms, I’d mandate it be two position players and two pitchers, basically meaning a team could carry one starting pitcher, ten relief pitchers, the starting nine position players in the lineup, and a six man bench. This would take some work with the union on how pitchers are paid different for on and off days to still meet their guaranteed contracts, but the union would jump at the chance to get four more players service time and big league paychecks each day.
I don’t love the new trade deadline rules. The end of July deadline, formerly known as the non-waiver deadline is definitely exciting, but the season has almost a third left beyond that. I would bring back the August waiver trades. In order to prevent losing teams from just dumping players to save salary, I would require teams to take back Major League salary in any August trades. Trades could only be made with baseball purposes in mind then.
I’m actually fine with MLB’s 28 player limit for September call-ups. Would I be fine with 30? Yes I would, but there’s really no need to give managers a full AAA squad as extras. Since I’d already be discounting the four inactive starting pitchers from the numbers anyway, 28 is fine to me. And again, one pitcher and one position player each. With AAA baseball now playing until nearly the end of the MLB season this year (three days apart), there’s no need to call everyone up. There’s a place for young guys and depth players to keep getting their reps at.
Expansion, Realignment, Schedules, and Playoffs
Baseball needs to do two things that are sort of at odds- make sure all the fans can see their stars play, regardless of divisions, but also cater to what really still sells the game- regional rivalries. In other words, you should see Mike Trout play in Philadelphia and Washington at least every other year, but I also get that Phillies-Mets games are what gets me psyched up for baseball. So, here’s my expansion and realignment plans for MLB…
National League East- Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos (expansion), Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets
American League East- Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
American League South- Kansas City Royals, Nashville Rays (Relocated from Tampa and preferably renamed), Texas (Dallas) Rangers, Houston Astros
National League South- Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds
National League North- Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals
American League North- Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins
American League West- Seattle Mariners, Las Vegas A’s, LA Angels of Anaheim, San Jose (Expansion team)
National League West- Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants
On-Deck Expansion (In Order): Portland (NL West), Charlotte (AL South), San Antonio (NL South), Salt Lake City (AL West), Indianapolis (either North), Tampa/Orlando (either South)
Obviously this represents a major change to the current alignment by adding two teams and going to four divisions instead of three. Moving the A’s and Rays out of failing stadium/market situations into the booming Vegas and Nashville markets helps both. I’m not convinced the Bay can’t handle an AL team with the Giants though, as it’s a mega market with good baseball fans, so I immediately give San Jose (the tenth largest city in America) a brand new AL team. On the NL side I side with bringing back the NL East Canadian rivals from Montreal as the new expansion team and sliding their old replacements in Washington south to be the big market down there, rather than keeping the Nats with the northeast markets and adding a Southern team. Atlanta and Miami need someone to hate.
I hate the unbalanced schedule, yet I do think you should play your division rivals more. I would have teams play 14 times against each of their three division rivals, 7 home and away. I would have every team play six games, three home and three away, against the other 12 teams in their league. Finally I’d have each team play one three game series against each team in the opposite league, each year. That adds up to 42 division games, 72 league games, and 48 inter league games, for a total of 162 games.
Playoffs? You talking about playoffs? There are four divisions in each league, and each winner would make it. In my ideal world, that’s it. I know the owners would never allow that though. Two Wild Cards in each league, matching the current six team playoffs, would be great. If they insist on going to eight teams, fine I guess, just make it best four remaining records, not each second place team. Best of three in the first round, best of five in the second, and best of seven in the LCS’s and World Series.
The “on the field” Stuff
Umpires? Shifts? Pitch clocks? DH’s? “Ghost runners” on second in extra innings? These seem to be the debates that really animate debates between fans. For what it’s worth, I still like the product overall. Do I miss stolen bases, hit and runs, double switches, and bunts? Yes. Baseball’s greatness was always grounded in being a thinking man’s game. It’s sad to see that diminished because ironically the “spreadsheet nerds” in front offices think it’s all homers, strikeouts, and walks. But I digress…
Umpires and Challenges- Prior to replay review being introduced to baseball, I would have told you the human error of umpires is part of the game. Allowing replay review challenges changes this in two ways though. First, just about every play should be subject to review if some are. Second, it’s time for at least a robotic strike zone. If getting it right is important, get it right. There is no in-between. Also though, make the number of challenges make sense for me. Also, just have the league office handle all challenges and speed it up. Why do the on-field umpires need to re-watch the play?
Shifts- I hate the shift. What I think I hate more than anything about it is when one of the infielders is way out in the outfield taking away clean singles by playing halfway out. Infielders should be in the infield. I think I’m okay with the rules changes that say two guys have to be on each side of second base. That’s as far as I’d go though. Hitters need to stop trying to pull every pitch with maximum launch angle. There are more than three true outcomes, just ask Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose. Learn to hit the ball the other way.
Pitch clocks and mound visits- I’m 100% with the new pitch clock rules and limiting mound visits. Good job by MLB.
The DH- I’m not desperate for more offense, but this is just a quality product issue. Do you want to see 9 professional hitters or 8? For me, the answer is obvious.
“Ghost runners”in extra innings- This rule has been super unpopular with many people, and I don’t know why. Do you really want 20 inning regular season games lasting seven hours? No thanks. I would play through the 12th normal and then go to ghost runners to get some scoring going. Long games wreck bullpens and cause injuries. I’ll take a hard pass, in the regular season. Play all night in October.
Sticky substances on pitchers, batting armor- Pitchers don’t need any extra help getting spin on the ball, so I think the ban is warranted. Pitchers need to be able to throw inside and back a hitter off the plate though, so all the “body armor” these guys wear is unnecessary to the game. Hard no thanks from me.
PEDs- I don’t hate PED use the way some folks do. With that said, rules are rules. I like the rules banning players from the postseason who are suspended any games that season for cheating. Half season bans are light compared to many international sports. 162 game bans would be serious.
The Hall of Fame is a museum, it is not a church. If we’re going to enshrine players in the Hall, they should be enshrined for their play, not their morality. This is not to overlook the terrible behavior of a Ty Cobb or Pete Rose, that should be a part of their plaques. It’s to say there should be plaques.
Pete Rose may be a jerk, but he’s a jerk who has the most hits in baseball history. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Put on his plaque that he broke the rules and bet on baseball, or any other negative thing you want. It’s all true. And this is about the history of the game. You can put him in and still keep him banned from any role in the game.
You can probably guess my position on Barry Bonds, on A-Rod, on Clemens, on Sosa, on McGwire, or even Curt Schilling (who didn’t cheat, he’s just a jerk). You can’t write the history of baseball without any of them. Sure, Barry Bonds isn’t the man Hank Aaron was, and you can easily say that on the plaque. For the most part though, I put them all in.
Maybe the way to make this work is to do an exhibit on the PED era when you put them in. Satisfy the purists that way. I’m not really comfortable with the morality of baseball writers dictating what history gets remembered from the game, as morality tends to change with society, but history shouldn’t. I’d like to see the players have a bigger say, if not the say over who gets in down the line. I think it would be a lot more telling than leaving it to the press alone.
The minors… I would greatly reform the minor leagues. Florida and Arizona would be strictly Rookie League Ball clubs at the complexes, with every MLB getting four additional affiliates in the rest of the states. I would try to geographically align the affiliates in their home media markets as much as possible, while still trying to have a team in driving distance of all of America, if possible. Obviously I’d fix the pay too so no player earned less than $75k a year.
I wrote 90% of this piece in September’s final weekend in 2022. I need to reread it. But what do you think?
If you’re about my age, you have 2008 and 2017, and if you’re a Philadelphia fan I don’t have to tell you what either one was. We also can vividly describe you SpyGate, Joe Carter, watching Allen Iverson play whole playoff series by himself, Ryan Howard’s achilles, and Eric Lindros’ concussions. Folks just before my time had the Broad Street Bullies, 1980 Phillies, and the 1983 Sixers. Philadelphia fans who are adults today have had to endure three straight NFC title game losses, but let me tell you, we’ve had it good. My grandfather’s generation had it rough. He saw his first and only Phillies title at 50, two Eagles titles in his life, two Sixers titles, two Flyers titles, and the A’s and Warriors pack up and leave town. Fans before that may not have seen any success that wasn’t from the old Philadelphia A’s. Even as bad as it was though, those old guys created the generational bond that stretches from William Penn’s statue across South Jersey, down through Delaware and Northeast Maryland, west to Amish country, and north to the Lehigh Valley. We’re surrounded across the northeast by more “elite” cities like New York, Washington, and according to the press, Boston. Cheesesteaks and beer, baby. We know our teams will break our hearts plenty, yet we keep the faith that a World Series or Super Bowl run is coming.
Some athletes just get Philadelphia, and right now we’re gifted with them. I mentioned Kelce above, and at this point he’s part of our folklore here. Bryce Harper’s time in Philadelphia has already shown him to be one of us. In fact, the current Eagles and Phillies teams are as good of a representation of us as could exist. Joel Embiid has shown himself to understand Philadelphia in a way many athletes cannot (ahem, Ben Simmons). The Flyers have had a rough decade or so, but I’m keeping faith that we’ll have an Orange and black parade or two in the next one. It is simply a great time to be a Philadelphia fan.
Tonight, for the fourth time in the Super Bowl era, the collective populace of the fourth largest media market in America will sit on edge as our Birds go for the title. Grandparents, small children, and raging adult fans like myself all alike will wake up tomorrow elated or depressed by the result of a game. We’ll be readying to go to the parade with our buddies we grew up with, or settling in for snow season and waiting for the next chance to do it again. Either way, I think we’re all proud to be represented by a team that is as gritty and tough as we are.
Amazingly, I think today might be a lower key Super Bowl for me. I’m going to grab a Wawa Italian hoagie, visit some people, and try to watch every damn second of this one. Hell, I may not drink so I can go into town to get a cheesesteak tonight 😏. I don’t hate the Chiefs fan base like some, I was in Omaha (big Chiefs country) when they won a few years ago and I gained some real respect for their fan experience, but the Eagles have to defeat Andy Reid in this one.