Mike Trout

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.

Jorge Posada highlights 16 one-and-done players on Hall of Fame ballot

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24:  Jorge Posada addresses the media during a press conference to announces his retirement from the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on January 24, 2012 in the Bronx borough of  New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada received only 17 total votes (3.8 percent) on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. Unfortunately, he is one of 16 players who fell short of the five percent vote threshold and is no longer eligible on the ballot. The other players are Magglio Ordonez (three votes, 0.7 percent), Edgar Renteria (two, 0.5 percent), Jason Varitek (two, 0.5 percent), Tim Wakefield (one, 0.2 percent), Casey Blake (zero), Pat Burrell (zero), Orlando Cabrera (zero), Mike Cameron (zero), J.D. Drew (zero), Carlos Guillen (zero), Derrek Lee (zero), Melvin Mora (zero), Arthur Rhodes (zero), Freddy Sanchez (zero), and Matt Stairs (zero).

Posada, 45, helped the Yankees win four World Series championships from 1998-2000 as well as 2009. He made the American League All-Star team five times, won five Silver Sluggers, and had a top-three AL MVP Award finish. Posada also hit 20 or more homers in eight seasons, finished with a career adjusted OPS (a.k.a. OPS+) of 121, and accrued 42.7 Wins Above Replacement in his 17-year career according to Baseball Reference.

While Posada’s OPS+ and WAR are lacking compared to other Hall of Famers — he was 18th of 34 eligible players in JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s WAR-based Hall of Fame metric — catchers simply have not put up the same kind of numbers that players at other positions have. That’s likely because catching is such a physically demanding position and often results in injuries and shortened careers. It is, perhaps, not an adjustment voters have thought to make when considering Posada’s eligibility.

Furthermore, Posada’s quick ouster is somewhat due to the crowded ballot. Most voters had a hard time figuring out which 10 players to vote for. Had Posada been on the ballot in a different era, writers likely would have found it easier to justify voting for him.

Posada joins Kenny Lofton in the “unjustly one-and-done” group.

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez Elected to the Hall of Fame

1990:  Outfielder Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos in action. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule  /Allsport
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The 2017 induction class of the Baseball Hall of Fame was announced Wednesday evening and we have three inductees: Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Raines and Bagwell had to wait a good long while to get the call. Rodriguez is in on his first year of eligibility. But nowhere on the plaque will it say how long it took. All that matters now is that three of the greatest players of their respective generations finally have a place in Cooperstown.

Players must be named on 75% of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballots to get in. Raines was named on 86% of the ballots. Bagwell was named on 86.2%. Rodriguez was named on 76%. Non-inductees with significant vote totals include Trevor Hoffman at 74% and Vladimir Guerrero at  71.7%. The full results can be seen here.

Others not making the cut but still alive for next year, with vote totals in parenthesis: Edgar Martinez (58.6); Roger Clemens (54.1); Barry Bonds (53.8); Mike Mussina (51.8); Curt Schilling (45.0); Manny Ramirez (23.8); Larry Walker (21.9); Fred McGriff (21.7); Jeff Kent (16.7); Gary Sheffield (13.3%); Billy Wagner (10.2); and Sammy Sosa (8.6). Making his final appearance on the ballot was Lee Smith, who received 34.2% of the vote in his last year of eligibility. He will now be the business of the Veterans Committee.

Players who fell off the ballot due to not having the requisite 5% to stay on: Jorge Posada; Magglio Ordoñez; Edgar Renteria; Jason Varitek; Tim Wakefield; Casey Blake; Pat Burrell; Orlando Cabrera; Mike Cameron; J.D. Drew; Carlos Guillen; Derrek Lee; Melvin Mora; Arthur Rhodes; Freddy Sanchez; and Matt Stairs

We’ll have continued updates on today’s Hall of Fame vote throughout the evening and in the coming days. In the meantime, congratulations to this year’s inductees, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez!