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July 7, 2011

The BP Wayback Machine

State of the Game

by Joe Sheehan

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.

Does Bud Selig believe that baseball isn't an inherently interesting game? So said Joe in the article below, which originally ran as a "Prospectus Today" column on July 13, 2006.

Hey, no wonder the AL teed off on Trevor Hoffman’s splitter Tuesday night: he doesn’t actually throw one. My error; Hoffman is a fastball/change-up guy, something a number of readers pointed out to me, and I’m pretty sure the extra-base hits he allowed were on change-ups. I wish I were better about this; not so much recognizing pitches, which is hard, but at least remembering repertoires. I know Hoffman’s out pitch is a change-up and just whiffed Tuesday, but I’ve given guys sliders they didn’t have and splitters they wish they did.

I’m pushing the second-half preview back a day, because it’s really long and it’s not ready yet. Stupid parity.

OK, that’s only part of the reason. Actually, I want to vent about some stuff today. Tuesday, Bud Selig spoke to reporters, and during that exchange, he expressed the idea that a rule should be established that would prohibit pitchers selected to the All-Star team from pitching on the Sunday prior to the game.

The staggering ridiculousness of that idea--let’s impact the championship season for the sake of an exhibition game in which 45 players will appear and Matt Holliday will be among the leaders in playing time--strains my vocabulary, my imagination and my patience. It is, however, wholly consistent with Selig’s apparent view that baseball isn’t a terribly interesting game, and desperately needs bells and whistles to keep the attention of the public.

See, the All-Star Game was never meant to “count.” Although it did mean more to players of two generations ago, that’s largely because the two leagues were distinct entities, with a rivalry, with history, with animus. The National League looked down on the American as an upstart, even 60 years into its existence. There was a difference in style of play and the NL’s pace of integration. All together, it made for All-Star Games in which the teams cared about winning. The usage patterns--the stars played and substitution patterns more closely resembled baseball rather than P.E. class--reflected this passion.

Interleague play is just the most recent and most visible reason for the decline in the All-Star game’s popularity. When you can see the stars of each league square off in June, why care as much about one night in July? But the last decade has seen the National and American leagues reduced to mere conferences under the banner of “MLB.” Bud Selig wanted this very much, wanted the leagues folded into one house for all kinds of administrative reasons, but you can’t do that, then take away the uniqueness of the All-Star Game, and expect no cost.

Of course, those factors never actually enter the discussion. As I’ve written in the past, all of the landscape changes in the Selig Era are assumed to come without a cost. MLB doesn’t self-evaluate well at all, and hasn’t made the connection between the structural changes and the lack of passion about the All-Star Game, or the role of the expanded playoffs in the perception of competitive balance in the 1990s, or those same expanded playoffs and the loss of drama in September.

When you look deeper at these cycles, what you see are decisions that are driven by a complete lack of trust in the product. Selig, who I’ll blame individually for a process that certainly involves more people than him, doesn’t believe that the greatness of major-league baseball is in the day-to-day of a six-month regular season. Virtually every decision he’s made over the course of his comissionership has detracted from that element, that thing that really does make baseball great, in an effort to garner short-term attention with parlor tricks. The three-division set-up, wild card and expanded playoffs all cheapen the regular season in an effort to add false suspense and more postseason baseball, assumed to be all that people will watch. Interleague play was designed to heighten interest in-season, but MLB trusts that concept so little that it restricts the games to good-weather months and plays them mostly on the weekends. Tricking up the All-Star Game, which really should sell itself, by linking it to the World Series was more sleight of hand, not to mention ignorant of how little home-field advantage means in baseball.

That Selig would even suggest that teams do the exact opposite of what they should—use their best starters on the weekend before the All-Star Game, so that they can start shortly after it, essentially squeezing an extra start from them—shows that he doesn’t get baseball at all. The regular season, the races, are the sacred part of the game, not a commercial-laden dog-and-pony show that is often rendered unwatchable by the broadcaster. (Seriously, how do you stretch what would have a been a 2:15 game into a 3:20 telecast?)

I’m writing about this today because it’s personal. I’ve come to realize that baseball doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me. I’m a 35-year-old white guy with no kids, a decent but not great living, who has no memory of a time when he didn’t love baseball. Baseball has me, and like any relationship where one partner loves the other more, baseball will abuse that relationship with no fear of reprisal. Virtually every change to the game in the Selig Era has been designed to diminish my experience at the expense of the much larger base of people who don’t care so much about baseball. That’s never so apparent than at the ballpark; I don’t mean to sound like I'm twice my age, but the NBA-ization of a ballgame has gone well past the point of sanity.

True story: at Petco Park two weeks ago, I watched the game in the upper deck in a row with a handful of BPers. And as you might expect if you’ve ever hung out with this crowd, it wasn’t a quiet group. We talked, mostly baseball, for virtually the entire game, and because of the ear-splitting PA system, it’s fair to say we weren’t able to use a conversational tone.

Come the bottom of the ninth, I think Jason Grady and I were kicking around something…pinch-hitting choices, Jeremy Accardo closing, something like that…and a woman seated in front of us turned, exasperated, and asked us to be quiet. We were, to a person, astounded, I’d like to say I had some witty retort, but I think my exact words were, “Huhblubberoog?”

The baseball fans got yelled at for talking about baseball at a baseball game. Scream at dot races, knock over your neighbor for a free T-shirt, do the wave, get yourself on the big screen doing the macarena, but by god, don’t talk about baseball.

That’s where we are now, and we’re there because the game’s leadership has sent a consistent message that the baseball season isn’t terribly interesting, and that the people who think it is are less valuable than everyone else. So my plea to Bud Selig is this: trust the game. Stop running away from what is, at its core, an absolutely amazing product, some of the greatest athletes in the world playing the best game ever invented. Embrace what makes baseball different and better than the other major sports, a meaningful and story-laden season that culminates in the very best playing for a championship. Refocus the ballpark experience on the product, rather than pandering to the short-attention span crowd.

And maybe, just maybe, remember that the things you love about the game are the things you’ve been chipping away at for 15 years.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

robustyoungsoul

You can set your watch to the annual "Joe hates the All Star game" article on BP.

Jul 07, 2011 05:22 AM
rating: 4
 
Matthew Avery

I find it funny when these things having the "NEW" tag on them on the frong page of the website.

Jul 07, 2011 07:39 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

I heart Joe and all, but he's way off about 3 divisions and the wild card. Also, I've been to 12 major league parks (although not San Diego) and never had the PA and between-inning cheesy stuff impair my ability to watch and enjoy the game.

I do agree with him about the all-star game- and about most other things he writes about.

Jul 07, 2011 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Rogers Centre in Toronto has an excessively loud PA system. Makes shouting absolutely essential. Brutal.

Jul 07, 2011 18:13 PM
rating: -1
 
sykojohnny
(225)

The actual game itself, and the knowledge to understand what is happening on the field are now secondary to "family fun at the new stadium".Many fans remind me of the people at the Lakers game that just want to be seen by the other entertainment industry types at the game, and show off their quality seats which they can afford but you can't. The ultimate enjoyment of a baseball game for these folks is the luxury box where they don't have to bother actually looking at the game live, just enjoy the eats and drinks, talking with the other fortunate ones, and looking at the replay on big screen after it has happened, never understanding why or what happened. Theme park with cute women throwing tee shirts to the crowd with the PA blaring out the decibels.

Jul 07, 2011 08:32 AM
rating: -1
 
bmarinko

Even as a big baseball fan, having someone sitting behind you who constantly talks about the details of the game can be annoying. And I can just imagine the amount of 2nd guessing that would be going on with Joe and the rest of the BP'ers. Hey, its America and you can talk about whatever you like, but I completely understand where that lady who complained to Joe is coming from.

One of the things about baseball that my wife and I enjoy is the spacing and pace. You can sit in the stands and talk about other stuff, yet still be watching and involved in the game. Or if you are at home, have the TV or radio on while working around the house.

Jul 07, 2011 08:39 AM
rating: -1
 
Sacramento

Particularly when Joe said himself "it’s fair to say we weren’t able to use a conversational tone".

How would you like someone yelling in your ear all game?

Jul 07, 2011 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
silviomossa

I enjoy the All-Star game, but also don't take it all that seriously. Therefore, I couldn't write a lengthy defense, nor a lengthy critique. It is, as stated, only an exhibition game.

That said, Joe's critics have to admit that the Selig idea that kicked off his rant (no A-S pitchers going on Sunday) is quite ridiculous.

Jul 07, 2011 09:56 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

But now it's ridiculous in the opposite sense in which it was intended back then. Justin Verlander won't pitch in this year's A-S game - he's pitching Sunday because his team's in a pennant race, and compared to that neither he nor his team give a shit about the A-S game.

So Selig's managed to undermine the only reason to even have an A-S game - the game's biggest stars competing against each other.

The man's a complete buffoon.

Jul 08, 2011 12:26 PM
rating: 3
 
John Carter

Man, I would have loved to be sitting in front of a group of loud talking BPers. I'm sure I would have interjected some of my own observations. Different strokes for different folks.

The main point of going to the stadium for me is to watch the game with a large crowd of noisy people That excludes the noise for the non-baseball junk flashing on the jumbotron. Except for the fly balls and the defensive alignments, you can see the game better on TV.

Jul 10, 2011 10:13 AM
rating: -1
 
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