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March 1, 2013

Pebble Hunting

Watching the Worst Game of 2012

by Sam Miller

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Mr. Selig,
Thank you for contracting with us to do a thorough review of the sport of Baseball. While there are undoubtedly successes that you should be proud of, it is admirable that you would invite critical outsiders in to attempt to streamline your processes, upgrade your capacities, and develop a sturdier brand in this ever-changing market. The sport of Baseball has a lot going for it and we want to make sure that it maximizes its potential.

At your suggestion, we reviewed an entire baseball game, from the pre-game chatter to the final out, looking for weaknesses in the product and opportunities to improve. The game we chose was between two teams from your biggest and most lucrative markets, and was played during the crucial final weeks of an exciting 2012 Baseball season. What follow are our notes from the game of September 20th between the Mets (New York) and the Phillies (Philadelphia).

First inning
We enter this review fully aware that we are not experts in Baseball, but in economics, management, and synergizing our business acumen with our business jargon. However, unless we are mistaken, the starting pitcher is the most important person in any individual game. So we must ask whether there aren’t better choices to pitch than Baseball has chosen for this game:


After an informal poll around the office, it was determined that there are a significant number of better choices than these two young men. Among the suggestions we heard: Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Roger Clemens, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, and Ryan Dempster. Mr. Selig, Baseball has a limited number of opportunities to sell itself—2,430 per year. These games are precious. Baseball should not allow even one of these opportunities to be squandered on an experiment such as J. Hefner v. T. Cloyd.

While watching the first inning, we were initially confused by the rules. The first six batters all singled and the next two were put on base by alternate means. As was later in the inning made clear (double play), there are also negative outcomes for the batting team, but until nearly 20 minutes into the game we were unaware of this. Expecting your audience to understand the intricacies of the sport will limit your audience. We hypothesize that a large number of viewers watched the first four, five, or six events in this game and, assuming that the batters would always single, lost interest. It is our recommendation that, on the left-hand side of the television screen, Baseball display a grid of all the possible outcomes of Baseball, something that looks like a Keno grid. The grid will be organized from the most negative outcome to the most positive. Fans will no longer be left to imagine what might happen, or to process on their own scale what actually did happen. Ambiguity is terrible for your bottom line, Mr. Selig. This is Baseball, not the AMC network.

On that note, we are generally approving of the simple directness of Baseball’s Keys to the Game:


Runs will be key for both sides tonight, certainly. The word “maybe” should be stricken, and replaced with the word “definitely.”

Other notes:

While commenting on the quiet crowd, a Baseball announcer for Philadelphia notes that “you have to kind of pack your own enthusiasm tonight.” This sounds too much like a picnic. Nobody ever got rich selling picnics, Mr. Selig. Please figure out a way to sell enthusiasm at the park itself, and restrict fans from bringing their own enthusiasm into the stadium.

Finally, we hate to say we told you so, but:


Unfortunately, the replacement for Mr. Hefner is no improvement, from a marketing perspective:


Second Inning
Pardon me if this question feels condescending, but … does anybody actually watch Baseball? We understand from your market share and revenue figures that people pay to have Baseball around them, but as far as the actual watching? Notice this representative sample of attendees at the Game under review:


"N" means they aren't looking at the game. "Y" means they are. This snapshot was taken in the middle of an at-bat, and so far as we can tell roughly 85 percent of people at the park—including the batter—have no interest in watching the action on the field. This might be telling, unless it is part of your business plan somehow.

Other notes:

This might be beyond the scope of Baseball’s responsibility, but can we make it clearer whether games are hot or cold? It’s a small thing, but storytelling involves establishing a setting, and the setting of a Baseball game is not established forcefully enough. For instance:


Again, we understand if you are limited in this field. However, even Baseball’s own employees are muddying the picture


and could presumably be compelled to present less ambiguity with their choice of sleeves.

Third Inning
I want to start identifying some of the most exciting moments of the game in each inning. We don’t have specific directives for how to monetize these moments, but we simply want to make sure that we don’t ignore them, and that Baseball doesn’t forget them, in our further discussions about action plans.

So in the third inning of this Baseball game, we determined the most interesting and exciting moment was probably this one:


It doesn't seem like much, but Baseball isn't giving us much to work with. Maybe we could make posters of it?

The Mets, we were delighted to see, chose to bring in a new pitcher to replace unmarketable Collin McHugh, but 

are you serious that this is the best you can do? 

Fourth inning
Mr. Selig,
An important maxim of business is Of All The Things That Are Important To Big Business, One Of Them Is Most Certainly Or Probably Timing. It occurs to us while watching the fourth inning that Baseball does not do an adequate job of following this advice. Let me explain:

There were no hits in the second inning, or the third, or the fourth. The past 15 batters have seen just 45 pitches and made 15 outs. Among the outcomes, as registered in the Play log:

Groundout (weak 3B)
Groundout (front of home)
Groundout (weak 3B)
Groundout (weak 2B)
Groundout (weak SS)
Flyball (short RF)
Groundout (weak 2B)

What we are seeing, it seems, is a pitcher’s duel. Two young guns at the top of their game! Two upstarts putting down the big boppers! A duel to the depth! What a story. Except that Baseball went and ruined it by having eight runs in the first inning and taking all the fun out of the past three.

Now imagine that those runs all scored in the fourth inning. Or the fifth! Or the ninth!! Suddenly, Baseball fans get hours of drama with a stirring resolution.

Has Baseball considered editing these shows so that the dramatic parts are more evenly spaced out and the suspense and tension have time to build? It’s what all the reality shows do these days.

Other notes:

The most exciting moment of the fourth inning (tie):



The other most exciting moment was when we realized that Ben from Lost might be sitting directly behind home plate. This might be the most interesting thing to have happened in the history of Baseball. Do you think?


Fifth inning
New pitcher!


Oh ffs

Since there’s still not much happening, I want to call your attention to two things. The first is the most exciting moment of the inning:

I hesitate to commit to this idea, but it seems that baseball could benefit from more on-screen promos. Bill Bellamy, with no sound, in a box too small to see, is literally the best part of this game so far. 

And the second is what do you think Ben from Lost is eating?

It's either finger food or something he has to eat with a fork or spoon. After he takes a bit, he doesn't so much chew as ingest, licking the roof of his mouth and swirling the flavor onto his cheeks. This suggests he is eating something oily and savory, or perhaps ice cream. It's not chips, and it's not popcorn or Cracker Jack. My guess is french fries with a multiple-modifier dip, such as garlic-parmesan caesar dressing. Or, perhaps, a gelato. 

Sixth Inning
This kid's yawn looks so nice.


Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a minute. Mr. Selig, may I have a nap?

Seventh Inning
I love my job and I take it seriously. I went to the Wharton School! I will do almost anything for money. But I don't think I can watch this game anymore. 

I close my eyes and listen, instead. There are so few fans at the game, hundreds perhaps, and the microphones pick up the smallest sounds. This is the actual audio of 30 seconds in the middle of an at-bat, pitches going on and everything: 

There is a charm to this type of audio. But Mr. Selig, remember that there are kids watching these games, so we need to be very serious about profanity that makes it onto the air. For instance, the audio from the Mets dugout was very audible all night long, leading to this: 

Now, Mr. Selig, this is not something to ignore. Kids love profanity. So we should encourage this sort of thing as much as possible, so more kids watch your stupid product. 

Eighth Inning
Mr. Selig, a man is dead. 

Literally. No joke, 

no hyperbole, 

a man has died while consuming your product and nobody cares because presumably this happens all the time. He had a name, Mr. Selig. His name was Robert Paulson.

His name was Robert Paulson. 

His name was Robert Paulson. 

Ninth Inning
Mr. Selig. 

It says here that there were seven runs scored by the Phillies (Philadelphia) in the ninth inning. Seven runs scored against the home team in a game that was already well out of reach and devastatingly boring. Mr. Selig, I'm not going to review this inning for you. I can't do it and I won't do it, and if it comes right down to it you can have your stupid money back. I have already watched Josh Edgin relieve Jeurys Familia relieve Elvin Ramirez relieve Manny Acosta relieve Robert Carson relieve Jenrry Mejia relieve Justin Hampson relieve Collin McHugh relieve Jeremy Hefner. I watched a pitcher get an eight-run lead in the first inning and immediately walk the leadoff hitter in the next. I watched that same pitcher get walked in the eighth inning, up eight. I felt like these guys

and I felt like these guys

But mostly I felt like this guy 

If that's what you're going for, well done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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