If history is any guide, figure this week to be one of the slower weeks of the baseball offseason. There’s turkey to make, you know. In lieu of actual news, I’ll try to post some interesting links for your reading pleasure.
Here’s one. It’s actually a transcribed speech, but it’s still good. It’s from baseball’s official historian John Thorn, talking about the current state of the game and the disconnect we’re experiencing between the quality of play and quality of the players on the one hand and the aesthetic qualities on the other. Well, first he talked about freedom of the press, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, but then he got to that part:
The dilemma for owners and players and fans may be understood as The Paradox of Progress: we know he game is better, so why, for so many, does it feel worse? I submit that while Science may win on the field, as clubs employ strategies that give them a better chance of victory, Aesthetics wins hearts and minds.
I get that. I have no objective argument with most of the strategic choices teams and front offices make — who to pitch, how to pitch, when to bunt, how to construct a roster — for they are manifestly sensible. Experience, run expectancy calculations and other math generally bear all of that stuff out. And, of course, there is no doubting whatsoever that the skill and talent of the current crop of players is vastly superior to anything seen in the past. Especially the pitchers.
But, as I’ve noted before, I’m not necessarily watching baseball to see efficiency in action. I’m watching to enjoy a game and connect with some players whose careers I can follow and enjoy over years and years. Increasingly, however, the game is a fairly slow, slogging, choppy and a less-than-ideal product in that regard. Action is low, players are viewed as increasingly disposable and the prisms through which I have historically viewed baseball are increasingly cracked. I wrote about this with starting pitching vs. heavy bullpen use earlier this year, for example, and most of that sentiment still holds.
Which isn’t to say that baseball is dying or going to Hell or anything like that. As Thorn notes in the piece — and as I have also noted many times in the past — people have been saying the game has been going to Hell since the 19th century and it still hasn’t gotten there. As a prediction, such sentiments have been dead wrong. Don’t let anyone complaining about the current game get away with claiming that he or she has a monopoly on insight into the current game.
But as a statement of aesthetic preferences, well, they stand on their own, at least for the person offering them. The issue becomes what to do if more and more fans’ aesthetic preferences are offended. What then?