State of the Sport: Baseball Now and Later

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine recently who’s a big football fan and a sports fan in general. His shortcomings include rooting for the Atlanta Braves and Florida State for no good reason but whatever. We talked about the future of baseball and I thoroughly enjoyed it. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement announced today that was signed by BOTH MLB and the MLB Players Association (some people forget the latter is involved and want to blame Selig for everything), we get a better picture for the immediate future and the immediate future includes 5 years of baseball guaranteed.

The MLB Draft 

This was the area that took the biggest hit and I’ll let Bill Shaikin give you a quick rundown:

That’s a pretty big deal to me. A lot of people (especially the Kevin Goldstein’s of the world) talk about how you would not see kids like Bubba Starling of the Cubs and Zach Lee of the Dodgers on a baseball team but roaming the gridiron of the football fields. One of Baseball America’s scours, Aaron Fitt thinks it’ll strengthen the collegiate baseball programs and I can’t disagree that it won’t, but I just worry how many of these multi-sport athletes we lose to football or basketball? This is something can could legitimately affect franchises for a decade, maybe even two, and to me that’s a problem. I want the best athletes that can play baseball in baseball. Not football. Not basketball. Lots of writers have talked about how the majority of the teams went over slot recommendations in the 2011 Draft (approximately 20 of the 30 teams). Kids still want to see the money, and by baseball owners not willing to shell it out, they take a gamble on the popularity of their own business.

Oh by the way, with the new “Super 2” ruling, players can become Free Agents faster. Good for them, bad for the fans.

Technology

Remember when the NFL and its fans were all scared of instant replay? Well Baseball is finally catching on, now saying they’ll review fair/foul and trapped balls. MLB needs to keep up with the technology and maybe Fox will even let them use their thermal imaging camera. Don’t be afraid of technology, baseball… there will still be a human element to the game. I mean shoot, we’ve had A Machine win the World Series two years in a row!

HGH Testing and Tobacco Usage

These were issues pushed by the players and I think it’s great. They want to have a clean image free from steroids and just an overall positive image from the public because let’s face it: most celebrities are not like you and me. They’re really good at something that pays a lot of money, and I’m really good at something that pays only a little bit of money. There might be other differences in there. Baseball needs to continue to be ahead of the curve when it comes to public perception of a dishonest game. You can tell steroids are mostly out of the game by the numbers and despite the lack of HR records being set, there are still people coming out and tuning in to watch a ballgame. If baseball has a scandal on the horizon though, they need to make sure it gets addressed and not try to sweep it under the rug.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s done re: Social Media policy. This is probably going to be better known as the “Logan Morrison Rule.”

All-Star Games

The “Derek Jeter Rule.” I get athletes want time with their families and such but you’re in the entertainment business whether you like it or not. So dance for me, monkey! The way things were, you couldn’t blame someone for taking time off — the season’s grueling and everyone’s hurting by May, and it gets worse as the months go on. The fans vote on the position players they want to see, whether they’re right in voting a player in or not so don’t the fans deserve to watch who they voted in? I say yes. This was a good move in my opinion.

Expanded Playoffs and the Houston Astros

It’s gonna happen. The only question is for the expanded playoffs: “when?” 2012 or 2013? It’ll be a one-game playoff for the right to participate in the AL/NLDS. It will be fun for baseball fans and probably 9 innings and plenty days of suffering for the two 1-game playoff teams. Don’t be surprised to see this kind of thing expanded to another team so that there are four one-game playoffs in the distant future. Don’t ask me how it’d work, I just think it’ll happen.

The Houston Astros in 2013 will be in the AL West to soak up the cellar there for a little bit and will finally rid the Giants of their season-ruining ways with their AA lineup. This of course makes for interleague all-season long. No more “The Cardinals and Rangers have only played 3 times” dialogue but will be more like “The Giants took 3 of 4 from the Royals this year, how will that change the gameplans of both teams?” My take on it: it may not be as bad as everyone thinks it will be, but I do like the old way better. What it hopefully does is decrease the amount of divisional games and expose fans to more teams, more ballparks, more players and more great minds out there in the game.

Baseball needs the competitive balance to keep working towards maintaining the competitive balance in the sport. And expanding the playoffs might do just that. But check out this little nugget I found on the summary of the CBA on mlb.com:

One team exceeded that $178MM and it was who else: the New York Yankees. The luxury tax limit goes up $11MM since for some reason the economy will get better and everyone can afford $4,000 season tickets in the nosebleed sections in LF thus giving teams the power to give players like Aubrey Huff 2 year/$30MM contracts to play the OF once he’s done in San Francisco. I like that 50% number. Anything that penalizes the Yankees makes me happy.

Replacing the Baby Boomers and Advanced Statistics

This part was not in the CBA. This was all inspired from that conversation I had. My friend noted that the Baby Boomers are going to die off sooner or later and with that will die off a significant number of baseball fans, thus leaving baseball to rely on its younger crowd now to make sure the fanbase stays. I said to my friend that every sport, especially baseball in its more than a century of existence has had to deal with the challenges of marketing to its fans. The future will be no different and they need to ensure that baseball is an accessible game for all and this is being done with newer baseball stadiums, their MLB Network and even the encouraging of the use of social media to be connected with the game. Fans of the game want to be a part of the game in some fashion. This is one way.

The other way is through advanced statistics. Baseball isn’t just for the middle-class Joe, it’s for freakin’ everyone. Short people, tall people, skinny people, David Wells, stupid people and definitely smart people. The people that have brought us different advanced statistics show us new ways to think about the game, and it’s beautiful. They challenge us to not rely on the common stats of AVG, HR, RBI but maybe consider other things such as OBP, wOBA and wRC+ for a hitter. That’s awesome.

Baseball needs to stay connected with its fans and do its best not to alienate them. With the newest CBA, I’m not convinced they had that in mind to the highest degree as a lot seems to be focused on money for the owners and for the players. Baseball is still a business. But it is still our pastime.

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