Baseball is dying, you guys

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God, it was such a good week here in Minneapolis. A fun All-Star Game. Big stars. Streets, seats, bars and train cars filled with excited baseball fans. The nation’s attention turned, as always, to the Midsummer Classic.

But, sadly, none of us were aware that this was actually a wake, not a celebration. Because [altogether now], baseball is dying, you guys:

Major League Baseball has never been better — at least that’s what somebody will tell you and sell you.

Except it’s untrue . . . Baseball is losing its luster. As ticket prices get higher, interest goes lower. As options on television expand, baseball’s grip on the American public gets ever more slippery.
That’s Mike Downey of CNN. But, of course, it could’ve been anyone over the past century and change, lamenting the death of The National Pastime. Let’s see if he gets the Baseball is Dying Bingo!
Seventeen of the game’s 30 teams have poorer attendance than a year ago at this time. World Series television ratings get more disappointing year after year.
Major League baseball has seen its top-10 attendance totals in its nearly century-and-a-half history over the past ten years, and attendance has been at or near record highs on per-game attendance over that time as well. That there is falloff from historic highs does not mean there is an attendance problem in Major League Baseball. Go take a gander at the kind of gate teams did in the so-called Golden Age. In 1957, the defending World Series champion Yankees drew 1.497 million fans, leading all of baseball. In 2013 the team with the worst attendance was the Tampa Bay Rays. They drew 1.510 million fans and their support is talked about as if it were a dire crisis. Perspective, please.
Household-name players — I mean popular and scandal-free ones like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter — have come to the ends of their careers, with no clear heir-apparents.

Is there a star player of today you’d go out of your way to see?

“Hey, Felix Hernandez is in town!” “You wanna go to the ballpark tonight and see Adam Wainwright?”

Those are your All-Star starting pitchers. Would you recognize either one if you saw him coming toward you on the street?

This is just pure old-man/back-in-my-day-ism. If you can’t look around baseball and not see who the big young stars are, you’re just not paying attention. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Carlos Gomez, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Arolidis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Troy Tulowitzki, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jose Altuve and any number of other amazing players may be somewhat hard to make out immediately if they’re wearing a suit and tie, but I feel like not at least giving one of them a nod as, perhaps, an exciting player says far more about Mr. Downey than it says about the state of baseball.

Ultimately, though, Downey’s criticism boils down to (a) World Series TV ratings; and (b) the fact that there is not another Derek Jeter waiting in the wings. We’ve talked so much about TV ratings in the past here that I won’t rehash it. As for the Jeter thing: I’m curious as to how many people thought Derek Jeter was going to be Derek Jeter back in 1994 or 1995.

Oh well. Now I’m getting angry and that could lead to me being disrespectful. But I won’t do that. This is a funeral, after all, and no one should make a scene at a funeral.

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.