By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
If it is remotely possible in this day and age of clickbait, hot takes and incessant trolling, please try to take this message as sincere. Baseball has problems. Big ones. And if you are a fan or follower of the game – and I am – then ask yourselves this question:
What, exactly, does the game give you anymore?
Oh, there is a good story every now and then, including the 2019 Washington Nationals, who lost their marquee player (Bryce Harper) to free agency, got off to a horrible start, then rebounded to win the World Series. That was all good stuff. But beyond that, in 2019, Major League Baseball gave you longer games than ever before, less action and, now, more arrogance. In the midst of a pandemic, owners and players have engaged in very public and quite embarrassing campaigns to smear one another, which seems like a peculiar strategy for a business now delivering a terribly flawed product.
Earth to baseball: you’re losing us. And the fact that you’re losing us now, when we get excited to see 40-something quarterbacks play (bad) golf in a charity event, should tell you something. Now make of this what you will, but I recently asked, on Twitter, the simple question of whether people wanted baseball to return in 2020.
A whopping 60 percent basically said no, which is a staggering number for any sport, at any time, let alone in the midst of a global crisis when people are clamoring for entertainment.
Now consider this: earlier this month, ESPN conducted a study in which 65 percent of fans said they want sports back without fans in the stands, 76 percent said they want sports back if strict safety precautions are taken for the players, 88 percent said they plan to watch sports when they return.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of baseball fans are now saying they don’t want the sport back at all in 2020.
That’s a pretty stark contrast, no?
Of course, during that span, baseball’s “labor” dispute has soured sports fans everywhere, but that is really only part of the story. The part that baseball is missing – and we’re talking about players and owners here – is that the game now borders on unwatchable, at least during the regular season. Other sports have changed their rules over the years and tried to tighten up the television product, so as to ask less of fans in an age where everybody always has something better to do.
Baseball, meanwhile, takes longer to throw a pitch, longer to put a ball in play, shows less creativity than ever before. Runners are rarely put into motion anymore. Analytics have overrun the game because there is more than a century’s worth of data for people to pore through.
And you know why there is that much data? Because baseball never alters the rules. At least not really. If they did, analytics would be at least a little less valuable because the samples would be smaller. Even the analysts would be kept on their toes. And if and when they catch up? Change the rules again.
On this last point, owners and players are complicit. Owners want more wins for less money, which is what any good business wants. So they spend less on players and more analysts because the strategies work.
Meanwhile, players – with their union emboldening them at every turn – defiantly and arrogantly take too long between pitches, embrace the analytics because home runs get them paid, show no interest in the greater good. The owners and commissioner don’t fight enough for the pace-of-play issues. The players couldn’t care less. And the message to the fans is pretty direct.
We’re still making our money. It’s not our fault if you’re dumb enough to watch. Screw you.
But now? Sadly, many of us hope the game is headed for a work stoppage, be it during the pandemic or after it. A crisis, after all, might lead to real change. And if comes to losing a season to improve the longer-term future of baseball, well, I’m for it.
And from the look and sound of it, most of you are, too.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.