baseball grass

The State of Baseball is Strong. But it could be better. How do we make that happen?


Tom Verducci has a very long but very well thought-out analysis of the State of Baseball as we enter the 2014 season. In a lot of ways it’s the intelligent person’s take on the “Is Baseball Dying?” thing. Being a creature of baseball he understands the current strengths and weaknesses of the game from a competitive, demographic and financial perspective so he isn’t trafficking in the alarmism and broad-brush paining of the non-baseball writers who make a sport of declaring the game dead each fall. As such, it’s an important read.

The facts:

  • While financially flush, the game is dependent on TV money to a huge degree and what happens if something radical happens in the structure of the TV business?
  • A lot of that flushness is based on increasingly local fandom, not national, and while that’s OK for most of the season, it really does bollocks-up the national showcases like the World Series and the All-Star Game and stuff;
  • While still extremely popular on its own merits, baseball’s fan demographics are somewhat worrisome compared to other sports. Yes, people “come back” to baseball when they’re older, but if fewer are with it as kids in the first place, there are fewer to “come back” later;
  • While baseball will never be a kinetic thing on the level of basketball and football, it is slowing down even by its own standards with fewer balls in play, longer games and more down time/farting around time during games;
  • Less quantitatively, there is something culturally anachronistic about the overall vibe of baseball. The fascination among those inside the game and many fans with a conservative culture and a disdain of youthful exuberance, style and attitude. There are structural reasons for baseball not appealing to the young like football and basketball do and we can’t do much about a lot of that stuff, but baseball is really making it harder on itself by insisting on a code of orthodoxy that punishes and shames the Yasiel Puigs and Bryce Harpers of the world while elevating and venerating old farts with 19th century moral codes.

How severe a problem any of these things are is debatable. How severe all of them taken together are is as well. And while it’s possible to acknowledge all of these as problems, even potentially serious ones, and to still think the game is healthy, it is also the case that anyone who cares about an institution should care about improving it and addressing its faults, even if everything is going well in general.  This is where Verducci is coming from here, and I agree with a great deal of what he says in the part of his essay in which he critiques the state of the game.

The second part is a bit more fun and is likely to be the focus of more talk. In it Verducci proposes some changes to the game to address the problems he identifies. Some are great ideas. For example, he talks about instituting The Summer Game. Sort of baseball’s answer to The Winter Classic in hockey, and I think it’d be terrific:

It makes no sense that in one of the few windows when baseball has the sports calendar to itself — the All-Star break in July — it goes dark for two nights after the All-Star Game. It needs an “event.” It should schedule one game for the Thursday after the All-Star Game, bill it as The Summer Game, and play it at an iconic American venue, such as the foothills near Mount Rushmore, the mall in Washington D.C., the Field of Dreams field in Iowa, Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. . . . one regular season game out of 2,430 that is visually stunning, brings Major League Baseball to a place it never has been before, appeals to the “event” appetite of demanding sports viewers, and underscores baseball’s unique place in Americana.

This is fantastic.

Other ideas are not so good. Neutral-site World Series. Allowing managers to mess around with the batting order to send whoever he wants up to bat without losing players once a game. Starting hitters off with 1-1 counts. To be fair, Verducci knows some of these are never going to happen and acknowledges their flaws. He’s merely trying to get a conversation started about such things, and that’s a great idea.

I think one of the bigger things baseball needs to figure out — and how they do it I have no idea — is how to change its conservative culture, how to do better at promoting the game’s young stars and how to do better at promoting the game in general to younger fans. And how to do all of that without being gimmicky or lame.

I feel like this is hard because so much of the dynamic is dictated by baseball’s very structure. Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. You do your time in the minors, where conformity and humility is drilled into you. The very socialization of a player into the game is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. This goes for the coaches too. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Between their education in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through. And even then the showman is roundly criticized and given a way shorter leash if his performance falters than is someone who Plays The Game The Right Way.

Given all of that, how does a young star make the kind of splash a young basketball player or football player does? How does baseball market a cog who has every incentive to eschew a claim to uniqueness given the almost militaristic structure that produced him?

I don’t know how you crack that nut. I don’t know how one can come up through the system required to learn the skills of the game without necessarily losing that flair and that style. The rare cases that are able to bypass a long conformity-instillation process because of their talent — like Puig and Harper — had better be the absolute best right out of the chute. And even if they are, the scrutiny by their peers and the media is still pretty high. How do you sell these guys to young fans if they’re being punished for what’s so marketable about them in the first place?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. Most people don’t. But I like that Verducci has started this conversation publicly. I also like that those inside Major League Baseball — people you don’t hear from or see much of on a day-to-day basis but with whom I have some contact — are wrestling with these issues too.

Baseball is a great game. The greatest game. But so much of what makes it great is holding it up from a wider and deeper audience and could, possibly anyway, present problems for it in the future. I want baseball to always be the greatest, so I want to think about these things too. I hope you do as well. And that, as a community, perhaps we can come up with some small ideas of our own. Because, whether you believe it or not, those people in the game who are wrestling with these ideas are paying attention to folks like us.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card
1 Comment

Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahrio Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lo tof playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game, I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest, and that for New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.


Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.