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Are sports leagues listening to fans too much?

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Jorge Arangure of Vice Sports has a thought-provoking piece up today. It’s about how, in many ways, sports leagues are abdicating their rule-making authority to the fans and observers who complain the loudest:

Never before has the average sports fan had so much power. An online mandate can force change. And the leagues are willing to listen, not because it will necessarily improve the game, but because ignoring the loudest sector of the public imperils the bottom line—the money, it’s about the money. The competition for entertainment has become so fierce that the leagues will cater to their audiences’ desires, no matter the consequences.

Arangure argues that this has played out in baseball, where calls from fans and the media — mostly online, which serves to amplify the complaints of a relatively small number of people — to speed up the game and institute instant replay have served to set the league’s agenda. In football, outcry over the NFL’s disparate punishments for various offenses by players has clearly made the the league change its policies as well. Arangure worries that “Leagues are creating a dangerous precedent in allowing the public to dictate rules and policy.”

I agree that leagues acting in reactionary ways, as the NFL seems to have done regarding player discipline, is a bad move. The voice of the public had a lot of good points about how the NFL went too soft on Ray Rice and too hard on Josh Gordon, but Roger Goodell’s unilateral changing of policies regarding domestic violence was clearly a P.R. move. One which, because he didn’t work with the NFLPA, may lead to some unintended consequences and/or some harder negotiations later, no matter how well-intentioned the changes were. You would hope that some sort of vision, as opposed to the mere avoidance of bad press motivates a league’s decision making.

But I don’t think baseball has done this. At least not to any extreme degree. Yes, it instituted instant replay after fan complaints about blown calls started to get louder, but it’s not like that complaint was some random and superfluous one. The technology existed to put a system in place and getting the calls right is an absolutely good thing. If anything, they should’ve done it sooner and, if anything, they should have listened to the fans even more closely than they did. No one, after all, was clamoring for a manager-challenge system. That’s what we got, though. And not because baseball fell over itself to cater to fans. It took them YEARS to get there.

Same goes for the issue which leads off Arangure’s article: the growing chorus of voices asking baseball to speed up the pace of play. It’s been placed on the agenda in large part because it has become an increasingly common complaint among the loud hordes he identifies. But are they wrong? I’m not sure it matters where the suggestions come from as long as they are good suggestions. If anything, Major League Baseball spent far too long ignoring fans’ wishes. I’m not going to complain now that they seem to be listening to them more. Especially if fan sentiment works to curb Major League Baseball’s strange tendency to institute strange and gimmicky solutions when left to its own devices.

Arangure closes with this:

The bigger argument now is whether sports leagues have become part of an on-demand lifestyle where we can pick and choose what we like and then demand changes to the things we don’t like. There seems to be little consideration paid to whether something is good for the given sport past the moment’s rage fueling the cries.

Are leagues yielding to rage-fueled cries? Perhaps. But after a century or so of sports’ leagues acting solely in their own self-interest, I’m not gonna get too worked up about them finally listening to their customers for a little while.

Josh Johnson retires from baseball

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Josh Johnson #55 of the San Diego Padres poses during Picture Day on February 21, 2014 at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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Oft-injured pitcher Josh Johnson is retiring from baseball, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick is reporting.

Johnson, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. The right-hander underwent his third Tommy John surgery in September 2015 but wasn’t able to bounce back.

Johnson spent most of his career with the Marlins, but also pitched for the Blue Jays in the big leagues, as well as the Padres in the minors. He retires with a career 3.40 ERA, 915 strikeouts across 998 innings in the majors, and two All-Star nominations. Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. One wonders what he could have accomplished if he was able to stay healthy.

Report: Angels close to a multi-year deal with Luis Valbuena

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 08:  Luis Valbuena #18 of the Houston Astros hits a three run walkoff home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Oakland Athletics 10-9 at Minute Maid Park on July 8, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Angels are nearing a multi-year deal with free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. It’s believed to be a two-year contract with a third-year option.

Valbuena, 31, hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances in 2016. He missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, for which he underwent surgery in late August.

Valbuena has played a majority of his career at third base, but also has extensive experience at second base and has racked up innings at first base and shortstop as well. He won’t play every day for the Angels, as Yunel Escobar lays claim to third base and C.J. Cron first base, but he will give them flexibility and a left-handed bat off the bench.