Fans care about PEDs … sometimes

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NPR has a story about the polling relating to fans attitudes about PEDs in Major League Baseball. Their look at the polls shows that, among other results, 60 percent of those surveyed said it matters to them “a lot” if baseball players use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. Twenty nine percent said it matters to them “a little.” Only 9 percent said it matters “not at all.” There are some other results in there too which suggest thinking in keeping with that.

I’m kinda dubious. I obviously write a lot about PEDs because I find it interesting and important, but based on my interaction with readers and baseball fans in general — not just the vocal ones who comment — I’m not sure there is anything approaching a consensus of this among fans.

I think fans care a great deal and have very strong opinions about PEDs when the matter is placed before them. Like, when the story like the one we’ve been tracking the past couple of days first breaks and/or when they are asked specifically about PEDs.  I do not, however, think that PEDs are an issue that fans care about all that much in the day-to-day of their baseball fandom. I don’t think that it consumes anyone or changes their opinion about baseball in general. Yes, people say it does. They say it has soured them. But those anecdotal responses are simply not borne out in any tangible way when you look at attendance, revenue, TV ratings or people’s overall attitude about the game.

I also think there is a heavy dose of provincialism among fans when it comes to PEDs. If an already loathed player like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez is implicated, yes, they hate PEDs. If a player on their team’s rival is implicated, oh man, that guy is a disgrace. If their own player is implicated, however, it’s amazing how fast they’ll tell you that PEDs don’t matter, that the guy is the subject of a conspiracy, that he’d still be an All-Star, that “everybody does it” or any other number of other things which seek to diminish the problem. I’ve noticed this in a major, major way in Brewers fans who, in my experience anyway, will go to some pretty extreme lengths to defend Ryan Braun or to otherwise diminish the allegations against him.  They’re even bigger Braun apologists than I am.

Not that this is surprising or even bad. It’s just like any other issue in baseball. Fans hate beanballs until their pitcher starts throwing them. They think stealing a base when you’re up by ten runs is low rent unless their team does it. The opposition’s showboating player is a classless hot dog, their showboating player is just filled with joy and enthusiasm and all the good stuff of life. Go back and look at Tony La Russa’s record of taking offense at violations of unwritten rules by opposing teams and not really noticing them when the Cardinals did it.

Which isn’t to say that people don’t have actual moral and ethical beliefs about players taking PEDs. It’s just that they’re not nearly as deep as people may say when asked a point blank question about it by a person taking a survey. Their convictions on it will ebb and flow depending on the news cycle. Or their fandom. Or if the guy was already thought of as an S.O.B. And no matter the case, there is nothing to suggest that PED stories have any large overall negative impact with respect to how people view the game.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.