Your guide to what’s ruining baseball in 2015.
A recent New York Times article posits that statistics might ruin baseball. If that’s true, stats are going to need to get in line. I ran a simple Google search to determine what is “ruining baseball” between the end of the 2014 regular season and Opening week 2015. Below is a synopsis of the top unique results.
Source: New York Times, April 8 2015
Hypothesis: “Thanks to ‘Moneyball’ and stats-driven fantasy leagues, advanced statistics have changed how fans think about the game. On the whole that’s a positive trend — but not when the numbers begin to eclipse a more nuanced appreciation of baseball. “
Risk Assessment: The argument here is that paying too much attention detracts from the psychology and love of the game because the stats can’t match the beauty of the plays. This isn’t an argument against “new” stats, even though it’s framed as such; it’s an argument against an entire approach to fandom. The numbers, for most of baseball history, have been the only means for many fans to appreciate baseball at all. Box scores, baseball cards, and leaderboards have been part of the sport’s history since the beginning. On the other hand, we now have access to more ways to watch baseball, from multiple angles, than have ever before existed.
Threat level: Low
Threat: Adam Dunn
Source: Hardball Times, October 23 2014
Hypothesis: “He embodied the three true outcomes. He ruined the game. Or at least that’s how the story will go.”
Risk Assessment: This article is predicting hot takes to come, and I can’t fault author Neil Weinberg for understanding the most common complaint from the fogey-class of baseball writers is that the game is no longer beautiful. Only one of the three true outcomes is actually fun to watch, MAYBE two of them if the strikeout is a swing and miss on something especially nasty. Given the rise in strikeout rate over the last several years, and the panic that’s caused, there’s a compelling, if incomplete, argument here.
Threat level: Guarded
Threat: Media Coverage of A-Rod
Hypothesis: “We had to see our national pastime torn to shreds while many who held a special place in our hearts were ripped from their lofty perches and cast into a fiery lake of media vitriol and public scorn.”
Risk Assessment: John Rocker (yes that one) posits that media coverage of A-Rod diminishes enjoyment of the game. Even a broken clock is wrong twice a day.
Threat level: A-Rod
Threat: Sore Losers
Hypothesis: “I understand that the team’s boundaries were illegally expanded, but I see no value in rescinding a championship seven months after a team won it, especially a Little League team. I’m all for teaching kids about rules and how the world works, but I don’t believe in sore losers complaining about a loss.”
Risk Assessment: The controversy surrounding Jackie Robinson West’s Little League World Series championship is, for my money, the most tragic and disappointing sports controversy in recent memory, but the lesson to be drawn from it isn’t “don’t snitch.” It’s a shame that the kids on the team have to feel the result of having their summer taken from them, but the villain in this story is a system designed to promote winning at any costs and an institutional acceptance of leadership malfeasance.
Threat level: Misplaced
Hypothesis: “A generation of fans that are used to things moving quickly… sitting through a baseball game where a guy is grabbing his cup and spitting sunflower seeds and stepping out of the batters box… this is not something that the generation wants to do.”
Risk Assessment: The MLB clearly believes pace of play is an issue and is taking active steps to improve this. The argument that millennials, as a generation, are demanding this change, and that improving pace of play will in turn ruin baseball, is about protecting the sport from change. The problem with this argument is that baseball has always courted young audiences and traditionally was a much faster game than its become in the past 5 years or so. Not to mention the current generation of players are all millennials themselves. Maybe don’t hate the players, hate the game.
Threat level: Slowly boiling
Hypothesis: “Thanks to the unholy alliance of Fox and MLB, most ”event” TV baseball might as well come with an Adults Only tag. And the fans in the stadium? They’re likely to find themselves shivering in their seats until midnight or later, due not only to late starting times but also to extra-long inning breaks, stretched so the network can sell more beer and deodorant.”
Risk Assessment: Here we have Stephen King arguing that the true cause of pace of play concerns is in the amount of time spent on commercials. He also points out that kids can’t stay up til midnight watching games that start at 8 PM and drag to 4+ hours. He may be accurately pointing to a major culprit in the ever-increasing game lengths. His idea that the MLB’s alliance with TV revenue could be the sport’s downfall may prove prescient. But this is framed with such “get off my lawn”-itude that one can’t help but roll one’s eyes.
Threat level: Moderate
Threat: Clash of Clans
Hypothesis: “When Kuntz walked inside the room, he saw a scene that had become all too familiar in recent weeks: a collection of Royals with their heads down, eyes locked on their iPads. The game was called “Clash of Clans,” and for a period of time this summer, its excessive usage by members of this club exasperated the coaching staff.”
Risk Assessment: The Royals were the Cinderella of the 2014 MLB Season, and the capital-N Narrative of how their season was almost undone by Jarred Dyson and Lorenzo Cain playing an iPhone game is the stuff 30-for-30 docs are made of. While Raul Ibanez’s players-only meeting imploring them to log off is always good advice, I’d argue the team actually overlooked an opportunity at competitive advantage. If they had simply stopped building at Town Hall level 8 and used a Barcher attack strategy, they could have started challenging other teams to league wars and taken advantage of the distraction it caused in their competitors.
Threat level: Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
Source: Townhall.com, February 25 2015
Hypothesis: “Well, it’s official: Democrats try to ruin everything that is fun. A group of California Nannycrats are pushing to make smokeless tobacco illegal for major league baseball players. I know… It’s like banning BBQ on the Fourth of July.”
Risk Assessment: If this law were to pass, it might drive Raul Ibanez out of baseball. If Ibanez had to leave, he wouldn’t be able to have player meetings telling his team not to play Clash of Clans. If his team didn’t know to stop playing Clash of Clans, they would continue being distracted and losing. If they continued to lose, audience attendance would drop. If attendance dropped, revenue would dry up. If revenue dried up, the MLB would go bankrupt. If the MLB went bankrupt, we’d have no professional baseball. I’m not saying it’s definitely going to happen this way, but if you connect the dots…
Threat level: Thanks Obama
Source: Sporting News, March 11, 2015
Hypothesis: “[Soccer games played on the baseball field will] definitely cause an issue, but it’s nothing that we can control, so we can’t worry about it,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s terrible for a field … Grass, dirt, everything gets messed up.”
Risk Assessment: The New York FC will play 17 soccer games in Yankee Stadium this year, which will cause a lot of work for the ground crew to get the field back to baseball shape. Following those 17 games, the Yankees plus around 17 other teams will have to play on some patches of sod or artificial turf, which could pose some elevated injury risk. If the Yankees were expected to be relevant this baseball season, there could be trouble. Thankfully we dodged a bullet this year.
Threat level: Nil
Threat: Long lines at the bathroom
Source: WGN TV, April 6 2015
Hypothesis: “Two bathrooms in the upper deck went down temporarily forcing fans downstairs where we already were experiencing issues with long wait times,” said Cubs spokesman Julian Green. “With 35,000 fans showing up in the ballpark tonight, we were simply not prepared to handle guests during peak periods.”
Risk Assessment: If there’s one thing that can ruin baseball, it’s drunk and angry fans who are finding creative places to relieve themselves.
Threat level: Severe
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