We talk an awful lot around here about how silly the whole “baseball is dying” argument is, how those who make it are totally ignorant of the economics of the game, the nature of baseball fandom and the like. Today Grant Brisbee has a great post up explaining that in greater detail:
But as a reminder, there is still a lot of chatter outside of the bubble about baseball needing help. Did you know the World Series ratings were low? The lowest they’ve ever been, apparently. I did a roundtable on HuffPost Live about how the World Series can better compete with the Super Bowl. I didn’t realize I was out of my bubble. It was weird out there. Asking why the World Series can’t compete with the Super Bowl is like asking why the World Series can’t compete with Fifty Shades of Grey. The correct answer to the question is “Wait, what?” I forgot that people still thought baseball was in trouble.
I think the best part of it is that framing device: the bubble thing. That we, as baseball fans, live in a bubble. Two bubbles, really. Baseball fans are in a bubble that separates us from the outside world to some extent. A bubble which keeps outsiders from appreciating why baseball is not dying and not really appreciating the basis of baseball’s economic and popular strength. Meanwhile, fans of one team tend to not know what’s going on in the fandom of other teams, at least not in great detail.
It’s a basic fragmentation/specialization/vertical integration thing. A phenomenon that in most markets shows a vibrancy and strength. In sports, however, it’s seen as a weakness for some reason. As if there is something wrong with baseball no longer being a point of great cultural consensus.
The Rays lost 4-1 to the Yankees on Monday night, which clinched a postseason berth for the Athletics just as they began their own game against the Mariners. For the 94-62 A’s, it’s their first postseason appearance since 2014 when they lost the AL Wild Card game to the Royals.
Major League Baseball celebrated the Athletics’ achievement by tweeting this fact: The A’s are the first team since 1988 to make the postseason with baseball’s lowest Opening Day payroll ($66 million).
John J. Fisher, who has owned the A’s since 2005, has a net worth approaching $3 billion. The Athletics franchise is valued at over $1 billion. Yet the A’s have never had an Opening Day payroll at $90 million or above and have consistently been among the teams with the lowest payrolls. The cultural shift towards embracing analytics has allowed the A’s to get away with investing as little money as possible into the team. Moneyball helped change baseball’s zeitgeist such that many began to fetishize doing things on the cheap and now the league itself is embracing it.
What the fact MLB tweeted says is actually this: John J. Fisher was able to save a few bucks this year and the A’s still somehow made it to the postseason.
The Athletics’ success is due to a whole host of players, but particularly youngsters Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Lou Trivino, among others. All are pre-arbitration aside from Manaea. When it comes time to pay them something approaching what they’re actually worth, will the A’s reward them for their contributions or will they do what they’ve always done and cut bait? After reaching the postseason in 2014, the A’s traded away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, and John Jaso. Each was a big influence on the club’s success. Athletics fans should be happy their favorite team has reached the postseason, but if the team’s history is any precedent, they shouldn’t get attached to any of the players. Is that really something Major League Baseball should be advocating?