Why sportswriters love Bruce Springsteen

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If you spend any amount of time following sportswriters — especially baseball writers — on Twitter or Facebook, you know that they love, love, love Bruce Springsteen. It’s just a thing they do, almost uniformly. I’ve suspected it’s largely a demographic thing. If you’re a white dude in your 40s and 50s like so many of these guys are, you came of age between “Born to Run” and “Born in the U.S.A.”

Yes, you also came of age between the Ramones’ first record and The Replacements’ “Let it Be,” but today’s sportswriters tended not to be the kinds of people who were into that stuff. The cool popular kids of the time liked Foreigner or Boston and crap like that. The picked-on or marginalized subcultures were more into the punk stuff. The people smart enough to like thoughtful, blue collar storytelling but weren’t edgy enough to get into the Clash were more likely to gravitate to The Boss.

Drew Magary has a deeper explanation of it today over at The Concourse. It involves David Eckstein:

Bruce Springsteen is the perfect embodiment of what sportswriters want to see in the athletes they cover. He is the musical David Eckstein. He’s tough! He’s scrappy! He comes from humble roots and is self-made. He’s blue collar. He’s the first guy to get to the stadium and the last guy to leave. He runs out his pop flies. He’s loyal to his home state of New Jersey, even though he moved to L.A. for a bit and also has a house in Florida. He is every shitty, awful sports-unicorn trope amassed into a single singer-songwriter. And he writes songs that are “rocking” without anywhere being close to threatening. He is the underdog that so many sportswriters want to see in themselves, which is how they end up composing endless paeans to the sax break in “Born to Run.”

That’s all possible, I suppose. It does a better job of explaining it than anything else.

Not that I care. I like Springsteen just fine. He’s not my favorite, but he’s cool. I wouldn’t pay what it costs to go to one of his shows, but I own a couple of albums. I don’t seek his music out when I’m looking for something to listen to, but I don’t change the channel if he comes on the radio. While the level of love some have for Springsteen baffles me, I would think you’ve got to reach really damn hard in order to actually dislike him or his music.

But man, I do hate it when people are Springsteen evangelicals. When they act like they have to hip you to him or his music as if you’ve never heard of it before. Dudes: he was one of the the biggest freakin’ stars around for a couple of decades. Don’t act like telling me to listen to “Thunder Road” is like handing me a map to some hidden, forbidden kingdom.

Anyway, next up: why sportswriters like Dockers so much.

 

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.