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

78 Comments

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.

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

Getty Images
1 Comment

It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.