USA Today's panel: the game needs to stay ahead of the drug curve

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USA Today runs their fifth and final part of their panel-of-experts series this morning.  Today they cover a few of my favorite subjects:

World Baseball Classic: The experts think they should change the scheduling of the WBC or pull the major leaguers out of the tournament altogether. Injuries are a big factor here, but I found Dusty Baker’s comments on this most compelling. He had several guys out last year, and his starting catcher — Ramon Hernandez — didn’t get to work with all of the team’s pitchers until just before the regular season started.  It seems to me that getting your catcher on the same page as the staff is one of the more important things that has to happen in camp, and the WBC makes that really hard.  Personally I’m not fan of the WBC — I think the major league season features the best international talent already — but there are some serious drawbacks to it even if you like it.

The World Series: Scott Boras talks about partial neutral-site scheduling and the creation of a Super Bowl destination experience/weekend extravaganza. I hate this idea with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. When something acquires the name “Classic,” as in “Fall Classic,” it seems to me that the last thing you want to do is to mess with it. Ask the people at Coke.  But even if you’re going to change it, Boras’ idea of modeling it on the Super Bowl is particularly horrifying, what with the Super Bowl being a turgid, overly-commercialized soul-sucking experience and everything.  My rule still stands: if baseball wants to be successful it should watch whatever it is the NFL is doing and then do the exact opposite.

Fan safety: The panel thinks that they should extend the safety netting to the edge of dugouts at every ballpark, or even use Plexiglas. I’m all for this (the nets, not the glass).  I’ve stated my reasons about this in the past.

PEDs:  The panel thinks that baseball needs to look beyond steroids and HGH and ahead to medical advances such as stem cell breakthroughs and figure out ahead of time how the game will handle this.  Scott Boras is particularly on-point here, noting that at some point they’re going to figure out a way to grow back someone’s rotator cuff using stem cells. What if a healthy player uses such therapies and it allows him to throw the ball 120 mph?  The example itself may be silly, but the idea that the game needs a framework in place to deal with whatever advances come down the pike before players start exploiting them in the sly is a good one.

Oh, and Boras also offered the closest thing you’ll ever see to a mea culpa:

“The steroid thing fell on the players. It should have fallen on people who are responsible for the
administration of the game — myself included, to be honest with you. It was one of the worst things that ever happened to the game.”

Not the strongest acceptance of responsibility you’ll ever hear, but it’s more than the owners and administration have ever offered.

Sadly, however, Boras’ admission of complicity in the steroids scandal will put his Hall of Fame case at risk . . .

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.