Today’s post is slightly different than our usual fare, because we are without rules. A reader requested that I check out his post and discuss it. You know when you’re reading an article and your mind is chattering about what you’re digesting? Yeah, that’s what mine was doing. I put those thoughts down on paper.
… I wanted to get your thoughts on an article I wrote. As an up-and-coming sports journalist whose favorite sport is baseball, the sport’s future concerns me. I wrote more in-depth about this on my blog, which can be found at http://theledgesports.com/2015… If you do happen to read it, please let me know your thoughts. Thanks!
So our goals are two-fold.
- I’m going to oblige a reader
- I’m going to break down his writing and thoughts with some carefully injected notes.
You sure you want to do this, Justin? Cool. Tell you what, I’ll do exactly what we all do when we read, except I’ll do it openly, honestly and without filter. Let’s roll.
I love baseball.
I love baseball far more than the average person loves baseball. It captured my heart the second I got a participation trophy in tee ball as a five-year-old.
Hey, that’s when I fell in love, too. I had the powder Blue Jays uni with the bird on the chest. A kid from LA adored Fred McGriff for this reason. Nice job bringing me back.
I fell even more in love with the sport around that age while watching “SportsCenter.” They showed highlights of Hall Of Fame first baseman Frank Thomas hitting multiple home runs (absolute moonshots, of course) in a game. No, I don’t remember what game it was, how many he hit, or how far they went.
I remember standing in center field at the old Tiger Stadium, Thomas was up. He smashed a low line drive that I instinctively broke in on and then, before I had time to blink, the ball was screaming over my head. Strong mention of a guy that everyone identifies as iconic and not a steroid user.
Forgive me if my memory is a little hazy. After all, it was about 15 years ago. All I know is that I was mesmerized by it, and this obscure memory has stuck with me to this day.
I know you said it was a long time ago, but the use of “obscure” and “mesmerized” feels contradictory. I’d be less nebulous if possible. I love words.
The point of that story is that baseball captured my love at a young age. If I didn’t see players like Frank Thomas bringing excitement to the game, there’s absolutely no way I’d be in love with baseball today. But, along with the Frank Thomas memory, I remember doing something most young baseball fans did in elementary school. I idolized players.
Around this time, Major League Baseball benefitted from having a legendary group of shortstops serving as faces of the game: Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, and even Miguel Tejada while he was in his prime.
I vividly remember a group of us kids playing during recess or after school, pretending to be these players. I’d yell, “I’m Nomar!” as I fielded an imaginary ground ball backhanded and threw off-balance to the imaginary first baseman. My friend would say, “Fine, I’m Jeter!” as he did the same thing (except we all know Jeter didn’t have range. But that’s a different story).
I love this. Any baseball kid worth a damn played these sort of role playing games. We’ve all done it and can relate. Your readers can stand by your side. Good stuff.
The stretch of 1997 – 2000 was absurd for Nomar. 27.6 WAR. One of the greatest runs for a SS in history.
I would have been Nomah (how’d you miss that opportunity?), too.
Obviously, the league has since cracked down on performance-enhancing drugs, and rightfully so. As exciting as baseball would be with players all roided up, it’d be unfair to the players who value their health over hitting bombs and destroying their bodies with steroids.
I appreciate you mentioning this. The acknowledgment that there were men making this choice is a strong, worthwhile play. I, and many others, left millions of dollars and years of service time on the table by opting to play without chemical enhancement. You know my stance on supplements (whether “natural” or made in a lab by now), and it is always worth mentioning the detrimental impacts to health that they have. There has certainly been a cultural shift in baseball itself, and many, many of the top players now stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a strong stance against any PEDs.
Plus, for hardcore baseball fans, the low-scoring games these days aren’t so bad to watch.
I actually appreciate them more. Learning how to watch a pitcher seamlessly adjust from pressing the gas pedal to applying the brake makes the game feel like poetry. It’s then that we truly appreciate the power and beauty of baseball. I’m not sure this requires being a hardcore fan, merely an adjustment of expectations. Why should we believe that home runs are inherently more exciting than a perfectly executed slider that leaves the batter frozen?
Pitching duels are awesome. Now that steroids are (mostly) out of the picture, the sport needs a form of entertainment other than the long ball. The decline in double-digit scoring games isn’t negatively affecting baseball, it’s something else ruining baseball’s excitement factor, and my blood boils every time I talk about it.
This paragraph feels contradictory. You state that there are fewer home runs in baseball, home runs are entertaining, but fewer home runs don’t make baseball less exciting. Logically, this doesn’t parse well. But before we get into the argument that you’re beginning, I’d challenge you here to dive deeper about runs in games. From sportingcharts.com:
“As you can see, there has been two defined periods – one of growth between 1992 and 2000 where runs per game rose from 8.23 runs per game to a peak of 10.28; and a period of decline between 2001 and 2013 where runs per game declined to 8.33 runs per game in 2013.”
Even if you’re comparing the peak of run scoring vs. the low point, you’re talking about the average game ending in a score of 6-5 vs. 5-4 or thereabout. We look back on history like we were watching softball games and are now watching baseball again. Challenge your own assumptions when you write. It will make you better and allow your readers to see an angle someone else isn’t trumpeting.
In football, players celebrate after every touchdown, sack, tackle, deep pass, long run, nice catch, etc., with minimal consequences. In hockey, a player scores a goal and parties like it’s 1999 before hugging his teammates. In basketball, a player screams at the top of his lungs in excitement after a dunk, or pumps the crowd up after hitting a pull-up 3-pointer. In soccer, players go absolutely bonkers and rip their shirts off after scoring while the commentator screams “GOAL!” for a minute straight. In baseball, a player hits a home run, flips his bat and watches the ball sail over the fence, but the pitcher cries about it like a 10-year-old little-leaguer throwing a temper tantrum on the mound and the batter is frowned upon for showboating.
Ponder this. If baseball was the same as those other sports, we’d be more like those other sports. Our unwritten rules set us apart. We ask each team to show respect to the other. Can those “unwritten rules” be taken too far? Of course, they all can. But is this truly worse than the excesses in the other sports you mention? If you’re going to make the comparison, be specific and be accurate. By the way, just pushing a bit, playing the other side to be a good partner to you in this process.
The most recent example of this (except it wasn’t the pitcher who threw the tantrum) was April 21 of this season when Jose Bautista hit a homer against the Baltimore Orioles. Bautista, as he usually does, admired his yard work by flipping his bat and watching the ball fly into the stands as he slowly trotted around the bases. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (surprisingly, considering he’s one of today’s most exciting players) took exception to this and instigated an unnecessary heated exchange between him and Bautista.
The most recent example that comes to your mind is one from a month ago? That doesn’t seem to support the idea that “unwritten rules” are killing the sport. But let’s take as given that this is a continuing problem. Is it really a problem? People watch hockey to see the fights. Some of the most memorable highlights from the NFL are defensive players mocking the celebrations of wide receivers. Where’s the proof that a “heated exchange” is ruining the excitement?
My immediate feeling after watching this unfold was utter confusion. Wouldn’t Jones want to do the same thing if he hit a deep home run? Then I remembered, these extraordinarily dumb “unwritten rules” and traditions have brainwashed countless players, managers, fans, writers, and people within MLB. I won’t delve too far into this point because Chris Rock already summed it up perfectly, but baseball will continue its slow decline and lose its young audience if those involved with the sport continue to pretend it’s 1940.
Ummm, we’re not losing our audience. This is a lack of homework on your part. Step up your game, Justin. Craig Calterra powerfully wrapped this brilliant piece with:
But baseball isn’t dying, you guys. Indeed, compared to almost any time in its history, it’s positively thriving. The century-long impulse to write its eulogy notwithstanding.
We need more Yasiel Puig bat flips. We need more Bryce Harpers showing their emotions on their sleeves. We need more Dustin Pedroias hustling to first base after hitting a routine grounder to the shortstop. We need more reasons to sit and watch these millionaires play a sport for three hours.
The entertainment value is dwindling, but it’s not dwindling because of pace-of-play (though, slow games certainly don’t help). The entertainment value is dropping because those in favor of unwritten rules and tradition don’t understand the concept of evolution. They don’t understand that this new era of sports fans doesn’t appreciate baseball’s traditions like past generations.
I would love to hear you dive deeper here. How do you know that? What have you read? Prove it.
They want action, they want passion, they want players who stand out. They want players who are exciting enough for kids to idolize and pretend to be when playing during recess or after school.
I’ve defended baseball in countless arguments over the past few years. I’ve been in a constant state of denial, attempting to formulate an argument that the sport of baseball is healthy and here to stay for the long term. As I continue to watch and observe these games as a fan, that argument only gets more difficult to make. Sadly, if baseball doesn’t fix these issues, I don’t foresee baseball being prevalent when I’m 50 years old (29 years from now). That scares the living hell out of me.
Again, go back and read Craig’s piece. I think you’re off and not marginally.
I will never not love baseball, but I’m done defending it. If it’s going to succeed, changes need to happen fast. However, it’s not just on the Commissioner to make these changes. It’s on this new generation of players to step up and bring something to the table. We love your sport, we just don’t love you.
Hmmm, really? Puig, Papi, Harper, Pedroia…there are countless other emotional players. We have closers firing imaginary arrows into the stands after a save; we have teams engaging in national anthem standoffs. We have choreographed celebrations at home plate and the shaving cream pie in the face has been turned into an art form. If you sift through your piles of baseball cards, there are as many of colorful characters today as there were 10 or 20 years ago. If it’s personality you want, you have it in spades.
I enjoyed this piece, but I think it would benefit most from some evidence. You’re relying on inconsistent anecdotes and incorrect assumptions. That said, I commend your ambition and your passion. Those are the tools most necessary. We are both (we all are) developing our writing techniques and styles and have numerous ways in which we can improve. I applaud your willingness to have your work reviewed publicly. That action, in itself, inspired growth.