Stop Calling Baseball Boring (even if it is kinda boring)
Earlier this year, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton hit a baseball out of Dodger Stadium.
The mammoth home run was one of rare proportions, only four other baseball players over the stadium’s history have equaled that feat. SportsCenter threw it in its Top 10 highlights of the night. The MLB Network showed it non-stop for three months straight. The sports blogosphere couldn’t get posts up fast enough.
It was, by all accounts, a pretty intriguing moment…
Yet there has been a lot of time devoted in the past 18 months explaining to the public that baseball and intrigue are moving in opposite directions. The Wall Street Journal has told us there are only 18 minutes of action in the average game. ESPN’s
brand strategy sycophant sports business reporter Darren Rovell says the average fan’s interest in baseball is dwindling. A report in Vice Sports quotes actual baseball players saying they would rather do anything else than watch the game they play.
Of course, these indictments often bring out baseball stalwarts (read: older, white males) to tell the rest of us why the detractors are wrong. “Baseball, like life, revolves around anticlimax,” says long-time baseball writer Joe Posnanski. “The game is defined not by constant awe-inspiring moments, but rather by its dearth of them,” crows an article in The Week. “It’s the stillness at the heart of the game that I love”, the San Diego Free Press’s Jim Miller wrote in 2014, echoed in a Guardian article earlier this year.
But what all of these guys, from the whiny manbabies with no attention spans to the grey-bearded windbags clinging to nostalgia, fail to realize are that they themselves are boring. And wrong. And they aren’t helping.
Look, anyone devoting any of amount of time to telling the greater public that baseball is somehow richer for being boring is either paid to lie, on the verge of becoming a senior citizen, or both.
This is a sport that can’t decide on what pitcher from the past should live on with the nickname “The Human Rain Delay” (Mike Hargrove or Steve Trachsel, the battle rages on). Current pitchers aren’t any better, with players like Boston’s Clay Buchholz taking over 24 seconds to deliver a pitch. The new commissioner even had to institute a pitch clock because the increasingly prolonged dance between the pitcher and catcher made the game feel like a chess match between the two, and while there is an element of precision that goes into every pitch — with fractions of an inch determining whether a ball snaps into a catcher’s mitt or is gawked at as it triumphantly makes it way to some schlub’s lap in the upper deck — people aren’t exactly plunking down money for tickets or plopping down on the couch to watch live chess.
Whether Major League Baseball likes it or not, the Norman Rockwell portrait that old-time American sports writers like to box baseball into doesn’t resonate with the Internet age. The league needs to lighten up, from its castigating fines to its ‘play the game the right way mentality’, or else it’s going to waste a prime opportunity to eat into football’s waning market share by sticking to the unwritten laws of decades past.
A good portion of the previously mentioned Vice Sports article focuses on how baseball is different in Latin countries. Those leagues are known for not being as rigid in baseball’s “unwritten laws” – players can flip bats, celebrate home runs and show emotions without fear of upstaging the other team. Watch this highlight video from the Dominican Republic’s team in the past few years of the World Baseball Classic. Any of those celebratory actions would almost certainly result in some kind of retribution (most likely in the form of the player being hit by a pitch) in an MLB game.
It doesn’t help baseball when fans of generations past (and current players) chide athletes like Yaisel Puig for bat flips or Bryce Harper for showing emotion, especially when these are some of the most beloved players by the younger demographics of MLB fans. In any other sport, instead of being pummeled with pejoratives, these players would be commended with cliche sports platitudes about “being a warrior” or “having heart.” The reverence given to baseball’s code, hailing players who adhere to “playing the game the right way,” is absurd and a big reason why people think the game is so boring.
The insistence to hold onto this code is boggling, because baseball is at its most fun when it’s ignored. I dare you to watch this Jose Fernandez GIF without laughing.
Same goes for these clips of players clowning Adrian Beltre. And it’s not just MLB – I could watch this bat flip from Korea for days:
Here’s the kicker for you sports business types: this stuff makes me want to keep watching baseball.
And it’s not as if the league isn’t trying to combat its falling popularity. In addition to speeding up games, MLB has done a good job distributing its content. Its app has been the top grossing sports app for some time. The league recently signed an exclusive deal with DraftKings, trying to draw in fans through the red-hot trend of daily fantasy leagues.
Yet there’s only so much the league can do. They’re trying to appeal to the same demographic who spent $100 a pop to watch Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight even though anyone who has more than an average interest in boxing knew Mayweather was going to dance and dodge his way to a win, yet who still complained on Twitter when they didn’t see a bloodbath. Like boxing, baseball hasn’t necessarily changed, the public’s expectations have.
However, despite what the pearl-clutchers of passed baseball generations would have you believe, people’s waning attention spans doesn’t mean baseball is doomed. Major League Baseball made a record $9 billion in 2014, despite the World Series getting pummeled ratings-wise by the NFL. Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is probably going to make $300-$500 million in free agency before the decade is over. Baseball isn’t going to fold up overnight because the teens decided to fire up Twitch.tv instead of MLB.tv.
But this month, millions of people will spend some of their time watching NFL preseason games over baseball. One sport is televising glorified three-hour practices three times a week, while another has 12-15 games being played six out of every seven days. One sport is rounding into its playoff stretch, the other won’t play a meaningful game until after Labor Day. One sport has a Dominican launching massive home runs to defeat the New York Yankees – the most Googled sports franchise on the planet – in the midst of a playoff chase. The other has a washed-up hype-fueled re-tread throwing trivial touchdowns.
Remind me what sport I am supposed to believe is boring?
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