We talk an awful lot around here about how silly the whole “baseball is dying” argument is, how those who make it are totally ignorant of the economics of the game, the nature of baseball fandom and the like. Today Grant Brisbee has a great post up explaining that in greater detail:
But as a reminder, there is still a lot of chatter outside of the bubble about baseball needing help. Did you know the World Series ratings were low? The lowest they’ve ever been, apparently. I did a roundtable on HuffPost Live about how the World Series can better compete with the Super Bowl. I didn’t realize I was out of my bubble. It was weird out there. Asking why the World Series can’t compete with the Super Bowl is like asking why the World Series can’t compete with Fifty Shades of Grey. The correct answer to the question is “Wait, what?” I forgot that people still thought baseball was in trouble.
I think the best part of it is that framing device: the bubble thing. That we, as baseball fans, live in a bubble. Two bubbles, really. Baseball fans are in a bubble that separates us from the outside world to some extent. A bubble which keeps outsiders from appreciating why baseball is not dying and not really appreciating the basis of baseball’s economic and popular strength. Meanwhile, fans of one team tend to not know what’s going on in the fandom of other teams, at least not in great detail.
It’s a basic fragmentation/specialization/vertical integration thing. A phenomenon that in most markets shows a vibrancy and strength. In sports, however, it’s seen as a weakness for some reason. As if there is something wrong with baseball no longer being a point of great cultural consensus.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.