Baseball is dying, you guys, because no one would recognize Mike Trout in a bar

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Ben McGrath of The New Yorker has the latest Baseball is Dying story.

And, actually, it’s a good story, as you might expect from a good writer at a good publication. In it he makes a good distinction — one I should do better about making when I cover my currently favorite beat — about how the metrics of baseball and the cultural zeitgeist of baseball are two different things. Specifically, that’s it’s one thing to say that baseball is financially healthy and gets good attendance but it’s another thing to say it’s culturally healthy and prominent and all of that.

But his mode of testing that cultural health is pretty dubious. It’s the “would you recognize Mike Trout if he walked into a bar” test. No, really:

If Mike Trout walked into your neighborhood bar, would you recognize him? . . . When was the last time baseball’s reigning king was a cultural nonentity, someone you can’t even name-drop without a non-fan giving you a patronizing smile?

He compares Trout unfavorably in this regard to Derek Jeter and David Ortiz, each of whom are big, big stars but who are now fading from the scene. And soon, baseball will have no one to replace them in terms of star power, and that “baseball’s role in the national consciousness” will now suffer.

To which I’d say: how many people would’ve recognized Derek Jeter or David Ortiz if they had walked into a bar before they spent multiple Octobers on national TV screens? Mike Trout has never appeared in the playoffs. He has not won an MVP award. When David Ortiz was his age he played in 86 games for the Minnesota Twins, splitting time with Orlando Merced and Doug Mientkiewicz. When Jeter was 22 he was far more well known, but he had also happened to be playing for the World Series champion New York Yankees. Ortiz and Jeter’s legends — and their national profiles — grew after a decade and a decade and a half of consistently being featured as stars by Fox in postseason broadcasts.

A featuring, by the way, others who lament baseball’s impending death claim was a bad thing because it excluded everyone else who played for teams that aren’t the Yankees and the Red Sox. And which mischaracterizes the nature of baseball anyway, portraying it as a sport where stars rule when, in fact, it is less amenable to domination by any one player than any other major sport is. Was pumping Jeter and Ortiz up to big heights while ignoring the rest of baseball a good thing for the sport? Is teasing a baseball game as “Star 1 vs. Star 2!” wise given the small likelihood that Star 1 or Star 2 will actually dominate the game? I sort of feel like it isn’t, even if LeBron/Kobe or Manning/Brady-style marketing works for the other sports.

But that stuff aside, the people who talk about baseball’s cultural insignificance routinely use hindsight and compare apples and oranges in this way. “Babe Ruth was huge, but who knows who Giancarlo Stanton is?!” they lament. “Mickey Mantle owned the world, but no one could pick Andrew McCutchen out of a lineup!” Never mind that the players to whom current stars are being compared have decades of movies, books and other assorted bits of lore building up their legend.

Babe Ruth was three seasons away from even joining the Yankees when he was Mike Trout’s age. I feel like we can cut some barflies some slack if they don’t recognize Trout when he walks into a bar. Hell, he’s only been legally able to do so for about two years as it is.

UPDATE: Sorry, still thinking about this and the more I think about it the more irked I am at the very premise of the New Yorker piece. The premise being that it’s somehow bad that baseball is no longer the preeminent sport in the American landscape.

Worth noting: When baseball was THE NATIONAL PASTIME three or four teams were good, no one else drew crowds and players sold cars in the winter because they had to in order to make ends meet. A lot of players were out of shape and the quality of the game was pretty poor in many respects. Baseball was a monopoly in many ways and it suffered from the same problems any other monopolies do: complacence and laziness and dumb and destructive management that was never truly punished. Go read the book “Lords of the Realm” to get a flavor of how that all played out from the 20s through the 60s. Baseball’s alleged “Golden Age.”

Baseball is no longer the only game in town. It is no longer the most popular game in town. So what? What did its prominence and popularity do for it back in the 1950s? It didn’t add any money to the bottom line of the many teams which struggled to make ends meet and were forced to sell off their players or move cities. It didn’t give fans a better product. Unless, of course, the fans happened to cheer for the Yankees. In no other area of life do we pine for a time when there were fewer choices and options, yet we seem to do it with sports. Imagine someone saying TV was better when there were only three networks. Imagine someone saying beer was better when there were only a couple of big brands you could buy. Yet people, all the time, say that we were somehow better off as a society when baseball was king.

It’s empty nostalgia is what it is. Someone explain to me how either baseball as an institution or we as a society were better off when baseball was the only sport that mattered. In one single way, tell me how baseball or society is worse off now.

David Ortiz thinks the Yankees leaked his 2003 drug test results

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David Ortiz was one of the hundred or so ballplayers who tested positive for PEDs during the 2003 survey testing which was designed to determine whether or not baseball’s drug problem was significant enough to warrant full-blown testing the following year.  His and everyone else’s name was supposed to remain confidential — indeed, the test results were supposed to be destroyed — but the government illegally seized them and, eventually, his, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa’s names were leaked.

While most people have long moved on from those survey test results — and while Rob Manfred himself recently said that those results may not, in fact, establish that Ortiz took banned substances  — the story still sticks in Ortiz’s craw. So much so that he’s still out speculating about how his results were made public. His theory? The Yankees did it. From an interview on WEEI:

“What was the reason for them to come out with something like that?” he said. “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston. This was just something that leaked out of New York, and they had zero explanation about it.”

I’m gonna call B.S. on that.

At the time names were surfacing in connection with those test results, in the summer of 2009, I was given a list of players by an anonymous source. This person claimed it was a list of all 100+ players who tested positive in 2003. Given the nature in which they were provided to me and given that, at the time, there were a lot of people circulating hoax lists, I was dubious to say the least. I had a separate source at the time who knew people who had access to the actual list of players. The source would not tell me who was on the actual list — it was and continues to be confidential — but the knowledgable source did confirm for me that, as I suspected, my list was bunk. I obviously didn’t write anything about it and moved on.

Some added value from that conversation, however, was learning just how few people actually had access to the real list. A small handful of top officials at the union and the league office did, I was told, and obviously the government had it given that they seized it in their idiotic and illegal raid, but that was it. Clubs, I was specifically told, did not have the list.

We’ll never know for sure, but I strongly, strongly suspect that the source of the leak was either IRS/FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, who spearheaded the government’s investigation into PEDs or someone close to him, such as the prosecutors with whom he worked. Novitzky spent close to a decade outing and prosecuting athletes for PED use and, in my view and the view of many others who followed the story at the time, he saw his work as an almost holy crusade. As the above-linked story about the federal court smacking down his seizure of the 2003 test results as illegal, he was often overzealous.

The reporter who broke the story of David Ortiz’s positive test result was Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. Schmidt almost always had the first stories about players being outed as PED users during that period and his reporting on steroids in baseball in general almost always carried with it a pro-government slant. As I said, we’ll never know for sure, but it seems obvious to me that federal investigators and prosecutors were his sources. I suspect they were his sources for the name-naming articles as well. When Ortiz’s name leaked, Novitzky’s investigation was on the brink of being smacked down hard by a federal court and, I suspect, he leaked Ortiz’s name to the New York Times as a means of putting a face on the story and getting public sentiment on the side of those who would name names.

Like I said, though, that’s all ancient history at this point. At least to most people. It’s not to David Ortiz, which is understandable given that the whole incident affected him personally. But I think he’s wrong on the Yankees being the ones to out him. I don’t think anyone with the Yankees knew who was actually on the list. And even if they did, they had no incentive to get into some sort of P.R. war about PED users given that they already at least one prominent superstar getting killed for PED use and a lot of other ones who could possibly have been on the list as well.

But the feds had the list. And a desire to have the bad guys they were trying to prosecute shamed in the public arena. I’d bet a decent sum of money that they’re the ones who leaked your name, Big Papi. I’d aim your rhetorical guns at them if I were you.

 

Buster Posey and Brandon Belt had an on-field tiff Saturday night

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The Giants beat the Cardinals on Saturday night, but there was some grumpiness between a couple of Giants players all the same.

As Hank Shulman reports, late in the 13-inning game Fox TV cameras caught catcher Buster Posey yelling at first baseman Belt after Stephen Piscotty of the Cardinals stole second base. Then, after the final out, there was a brief, cold stare down between the teammates. The issue would appear to be Posey being upset with Belt for not holding Piscotty close at first base and then Belt being upset with Posey for calling him out in front of God and the fans and the TV cameras and everyone.

Neither Posey nor Belt would talk about it to reporters afterwards or on Sunday, saying the matter was between them and that they’d deal with it privately. Which is a smart move.

Of course, if Posey heeded that advice beforehand and took up his dissatisfaction with Belt in private, the reporters wouldn’t have even known about it in the first place.