Baseball is Fine

Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy recently wrote that baseball’s sky is falling. He’s not alone in that common take. It seems that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agrees. They argue the game is too slow, analytics are changing the game, that there are too many bad teams, that the game lacks faces. On each point, their arguments come off flat though.

Is a baseball game too slow? The average baseball game is about three hours and five minutes, which may very well be too long for someone with the attention span of my younger dog. For comparison though, Sunday football games kick off at 1pm, and the second NFL game of the day typically kicks off at just after 4pm, or about three hours later. That’s better than the prime time games, which go longer because of commercials. It’s worth noting that an NFL game is 60 minutes in length, meaning two-thirds of the time I’m watching the Eagles, I’m getting some non-action garbage. NBA and NHL games tend to stay a little under three hours, but feature a similar ratio of game to non-game time. Despite all of the discussion of baseball’s pace of play, they objectively don’t have a problem here that every other sport has- Americans can’t pay attention to something for three hours.

There is no doubt that analytics have changed baseball, and particularly play-by-play outcomes within baseball. Defensive “shifts” of player positioning around the diamond have decreased the number of base hits in a game, something Phillies fans saw all too much in the Ryan Howard era. The increasing refinement of relief pitching has hurt offenses as well, as there are now specialists to get every kind of hitter now. Hitters are refining their swings to increase their “exit-velocity” and “launch angle,” in part because it’s harder to hit a baseball past defenders anymore. It seems like analytics have changed everything, in part because they do. Do we really want to “dumb down” the game though to decrease strikeouts and home runs? Is the game really more interesting because we have more singles sneaking through the hole? I’m very skeptical that analytics are what is hurting baseball.

There are some terrible baseball teams in Baltimore, Kansas City, Miami, and Texas, just as New York had two rotten NFL teams last year, the Cleveland Browns are perpetual garbage, and the Brooklyn Nets are among probably a dozen NBA teams in purgatory. Sports are going to have bad teams. Baseball is no different. The mega-markets- New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, San Francisco, and Phoenix- all are enjoying seasons where they have teams in contention, which is good for the sport’s economics. The thing is, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Cleveland are all small market teams that are in contention too. Kansas City won a World Series three years ago. Pittsburgh has been in the post-season recently. New York and Chicago have teams having lousy seasons right now too. Baseball doesn’t have a particular problem with competitive imbalance, at least not beyond any other sport’s issues.

Does baseball lack “faces” to market? Shaughnessy seems to imply that baseball needs a “flat Earth” moron like Kyrie Irving to make headlines. Perhaps baseball needs LeBron James type figures leaving their teams in shambles every four years to find the next greener pastures, or Kevin Durant taking the easiest way possible to a title, but I disagree. No, Mike Trout is not one to make headlines with his mouth, but is that necessary? Is Bryce Harper not interesting enough? Obviously the face of the game has changed a bit, the brand is more global now, and maybe that has left some people without stars to latch on to. I’m not sure baseball, or really anyone, needs ball players to start talking about a flat Earth though to be interesting.

Baseball certainly has some issues, I don’t disagree with that. Games are unaffordable for most families- my Phillies seats cost $45, a beer is running around $13, and the cheapest food is $10, and that’s after the gas to drive there and $18 to park. Most Americans simply don’t have that kind of disposable income anymore. While I generally support the idea of guaranteed contracts, teams have been getting themselves stuck in bad contracts with aging players that are past their primes. I could go either way on banning defensive “shifts,” though I think that’s a dangerous direction for the game. Prime time and playoff games start too late for most people, let alone kids, to watch. I could go on with my list of changes to the game, but I don’t think the game is broken. I’ve gone to 26 professional games this season because baseball and the beach are really the only two uses I have for the Summer.

Baseball’s real problems are not the ones being cited by Dan Shaughnessy or Commissioner Rob Manfred. Baseball hurt itself by trying to compete with the NFL business model. Baseball is being hurt by a segment of fans with a low attention span. Baseball needs to be family-economic friendly. Baseball needs to not let franchises get themselves in over-leveraged holes, like Miami, or in decrepit situations like Oakland and Tampa Bay. Baseball needs to stop chasing marginal fans who can’t pay attention to a whole game.

What baseball doesn’t need is “flat Earthers” slapping singles to right-field in two hour games. Just saying.

2018 MLB Predictions

It’s MLB Opening Day, my favorite day of the year! For the first time in several years, I have high hopes for my Phillies to do some winning. I trust the prospects.

Without wasting much time about how nostalgic I am about today, here are some predictions on individual awards and statistical champions:

  • NL MVP- Bryce Harper
  • AL MVP- Mookie Betts
  • AL Cy Young- Justin Verlander
  • NL Cy Young- Stephen Strasburg
  • NL Rookie of the Year- JP Crawford
  • AL Rookie of the Year- Gleyber Torres
  • AL Manager of the Year- Terry Francona
  • NL Manager of the Year- Joe Maddon
  • NL Home Run Champion- Bryce Harper 43
  • AL Home Run Champion- Aaron Judge 45
  • AL Batting Champion- Mookie Betts .340
  • NL Batting Champion- Charlie Blackmon .347
  • NL RBI Champion- Bryce Harper 125
  • AL RBI Champion- Aaron Judge 131
  • AL Wins Leader- Corey Kluber 20
  • NL Wins Leader- Stephen Strasburg 21
  • NL ERA Leader- Clayton Kershaw 2.27
  • AL ERA Leader- Justin Verlander 2.67
  • AL Innings Leader- Justin Verlander 218
  • NL Innings Leader- Max Scherzer 214

With the individual picks in, the big stuff- who’s going to win this year? I’ll work backwards:

  • World Series- Cubs over the Astros in 6.
  • NLCS- Cubs over the Dodgers in 7.
  • ALCS- Astros over the Indians in 7.
  • NLDS- Cubs over the Rockies in 4. Dodgers over the Nationals in 5.
  • ALDS- Astros over the Yankees in 4. Indians over the Red Sox in 5.
  • NL Wild Card- Rockies over the Brewers.
  • AL Wild Card- Yankees over the Twins.

NL East:

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Philadelphia Phillies
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Miami Marlins

NL Central:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Milwaukee Brewers
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Cincinnati Reds

NL West:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Colorado Rockies
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Francisco Giants
  5. San Diego Padres

AL East:

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central:

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Chicago White Sox
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Kansas City Royals

AL West:

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  4. Oakland Athletics
  5. Texas Rangers

Dear @MLB: Impeach Rob Manfred for his “Pace of Play” Initiatives

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I don’t go to baseball games to see how fast they can be finished. No one does, really. I spend thousands of dollars going to 40 some professional games a year, and I do so because I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the thinking aspect of the game. I enjoy the game itself. Yes, a game lasts three hours. It’s not a game that lends itself to instant gratification. It’s a game that takes time, requires thought, and generally lends itself to the strategically inclined. It’s a game of inches, adjustments, and patience. Baseball fans like all of this stuff. They also enjoy kicking back in their seat, with a cold beer in their hand, and watching the game. It’s what we pay for.

Apparently Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t think that’s the case, or more likely, takes us for granted. In his efforts to bring more marginal fans into the stadiums and watching the TV’s, Manfred is hellbent of making baseball more timely. He thinks baseball needs to improve it’s pace of play to be more interesting. He thinks that baseball can somehow emulate the pace of play in other sports, sports like the NBA that are basically built for constant action. What he thinks is basically incorrect.

Manfred’s latest brilliant idea, limiting the number of mound visits a catcher can make, is idiotic. He has floated equally silly ideas about how many pitching changes a team can make in an inning, and putting a base-runner at second base to start innings during extra-inning games. The goal? Less stoppages. More action. A faster game. He thinks this will bring more fans to the sport in 2018. He essentially is saying society is too ADHD for baseball.

The NFL would serve as a good model for why Manfred’s plans are doomed from the start. The NFL’s best efforts to appeal to the casual fan in recent years have left them with egg on their face. From their attempts to have it both ways on national anthem kneeling, to their attempts to “get tough” on off field behavior, to their feeble attempts at addressing head injuries, to their completely inept inability to define what a catch is, the NFL’s attempts at change have left them actually with lower ratings than ever before. Is this because their efforts to protect their players and combat domestic violence were wrong? Of course not. It’s because these attempts at doing the right thing, at changing a league’s identity, are not going to bring new people into the game, by and large. You do that through enhancing the experience for fans in attendance, and creating more compelling television for the fan watching at home. One could simply look at the NBA’s recent success with these things and see that.

People who don’t watch baseball now are not likely to start watching baseball because you speed up the game. People who find baseball boring aren’t going to come over because of rule changes. They’re going to come over because the game is compelling TV. You have a game that is going global, who has compelling stars like Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, and an in-game experience for the fans at the game that is enjoyable and relaxing. Changing the identity of the game to chase people who don’t like baseball now is going to leave Rob Manfred every bit as unpopular with the fans as Roger Goodell is with NFL fans. It’s also not going to work- kind of like the NFL’s recent decisions haven’t. Market what we love, don’t chase people who don’t. That’s the formula for success, and Manfred should understand that or get lost.

The Intersection of the Indians and 2018

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The Indians announced today that they will no longer use the “Chief Wahoo” logo on uniforms after the 2018 season. From the New York Times:

The Cleveland Indians will stop using the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms beginning in 2019, according to Major League Baseball, which said the popular symbol was no longer appropriate for use on the field.

The logo has long been the source of anguish and frustration for those who consider it offensive, outdated and racist, but for many of the team’s fans it is a cherished insignia — a divide that has played out at all levels of sports in recent years with teams featuring such nicknames and insignias. Most universities have stopped using Native American nicknames, while other teams like the Washington Redskins in the N.F.L., for example, have resisted growing pressure to do so.

Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish caricature of a Native American that has assumed several forms over the years, first appeared on the Indians’ uniforms in 1948. In recent decades various groups across North America have appealed to the team to renounce the logo, to no avail. But over the past year the commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, has pressured Paul Dolan, Cleveland’s chairman and chief executive, to make a change.

The Cleveland Indians are not the only team with a Native American team name and/or logo in major sports. Obviously the Washington Redskins are the most famous and controversial, but one could also throw in such famous team names and mascots as the Atlanta Braves and the Florida State Seminoles. They have all faced varying levels of protest, and they have responded in different ways.

I must confess that I have a Native American aunt, who has never brought the issue up to me, and is ironically married to a Washington Redskins fan. With that said, I’ve also given the issue very little critical thought. On the one hand, I don’t think naming teams after Native Americans, or individual tribes, should be in any way offensive. On the other hand, that’s not what’s happening in many of these cases. The word “Redskins” is not a name of a tribe, it’s a derogatory term for Native Americans. The Chief Wahoo logo is not a depiction of an actual Native American, but rather an exaggerated cartoon. On the other hand, I don’t see any reason at all that you can’t name Florida State as the Seminoles, or Chicago as the Blackhawks, provided that you are properly depicting them from a historical standpoint. There’s obviously a fine line between paying homage to the first Americans by naming teams after them, and offensively depicting them in manners that don’t do them justice.

As for Chief Wahoo- I think the team probably got this right. It took pressure from MLB and Native American activists, but they got to the right answer. Chief Wahoo was drawn up in 1932, and frankly the stereotypes of that time are largely not acceptable today. I don’t put their hat on the same level as the Washington Redskins being named after an actual slur, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong to act on the matter.

Now excuse me while I go hide my “Palmer Indians” little league hat.