If and when it comes back, the future of major league baseball with its present course is seriously flawed, getting farther and farther away from a personal relationship with the fan. And here’s why.
I’m a life-long fan of the game of baseball. You know that, after all this time.
I was once a Reds fan, too, listening to their games on old WCKY with a transistor radio as early as the second grade. I knew all the great Waite Hoyt stories during rain delays when he was their play-by-play voice – could recite them as well as he could.
When I was nine years old I could quote you the daily lineup during the Reds’ pennant season of 1961 – Kasko, Blasingame, Coleman, Robinson, Pinson, Freese, Edwards, Post, O’Toole, Purkey, Jim Brosman, Bill Henry…and reserves like Jerry Zimmerman and Jerry Lynch.
I not only knew the Reds…but back in the 60s I could tell you the lineups for the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Cubs, Astros, Mets, and Phillies, as well. I even knew the umpires’ names (thanks to Waite Hoyt) – Bill Jackowski, Al Barlick, Stan Landes, Tony Vinson, Augie Donatelli, and Chris Pelekoudas.
You see, I had this relationship with the game, which made me want to play the game, as well. I was in Little League by the 5th grade, and during the winter when there was no Little League I was throwing a baseball against the back of our house, fielding the rebounds and learning to catch bad hops.
I particularly enjoyed the World Series and the All-Star games…because you got to see how National League teams did against the unknowns of the American League. There was no inter-league play back then. I actually liked it that way. The ONLY time you saw the American Leaguers – Mantle, Maris, Killebrew, Kaline, and Whitey Ford was during the World Series. It was a big deal…and you didn’t have to sit up ’til midnight for the end of games.
But it’s all gone now. With the pressures for change – to adapt marketing and revenues to pay for more teams and 300-million dollar contracts – this is not the same baseball that most of my generation grew to love and support. Baseball at its best was a slow-paced, leisurely game to play and enjoy. You savored it, unlike football and basketball, where there’s a shot clock and you run a play in thirty seconds or get penalized.
Hal McCoy wrote earlier this week on his own website – why can’t they just leave baseball alone? – a commentary on the recent proposal for playing the 2020 season from spring training sites with robot umpires and three divisions (no National and American leagues). Of course, this would make it nigh to impossible for fans in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Seattle to attend the games. But that doesn’t matter. They could watch them on television, where the revenues through advertising would be a thousand times that of a ticket price in a spring training stadium that only seats 7,500.
No umpires? That wouldn’t matter. Just another cost-saving move through the implementation of technology – and someone sitting in a booth to review the tougher calls with replay, slowing down the game they’re trying to speed up. Counter-productive!
If there are no fans (for the sake of health safety) there would be no need for security, either. No goons standing on the warning track between innings canvasing the stands looking for someone who might be a risk.
No fans? Who cares? There’d be no one pestering players for autographs and photos. No one that might be carrying a fingernail file. No one that might sneak in a bull horn, or who might move from their seat in the fifth inning to a better seat behind home plate later in the game. No one to wander aimlessly around the park, just taking in the ambiance of the major leagues. No one that actually might try and play catch with Mike Trout before the game, like that commercial on MLB Network suggests is possible.
To the person, like me, who grew up cherishing every minute of a three-hour game at Crosley and Municipal Stadium (Cleveland) – hoping for extra innings – there’s very little left with the major league experience that’s actually appealing. I still have ticket stubs from Crosley Field ($3.25 for first base box seats). A coke back then was 50 cents. A beer was $2.00. Hot dogs were 75 cents, and an autographed Reds ball could be purchased for $10 (if you didn’t want to collect the signatures yourself).
We used to go early…in time to watch both teams take batting practice. And we’d marvel at infield practice – how Mazeroski and Dick Groat (Pirates) could turn the double play. How Clemente could throw a baseball 300 feet on the fly. I once watched Richie Allen (Phillies) hit five consecutive baseballs OVER the scoreboard at Crosley Field during batting practice, and out onto the interstate. FIVE STRAIGHT!
My dad would find the double-header dates on the schedule, and make it a point to see two games for the price of one. You took your own Decker baloney sandwiches on white bread. Today they run you out of the park after the first game and play the second one four hours later…so they can charge another admission. And double-headers haven’t been ‘scheduled’ for years.
It takes hundreds of dollars to take a family to a major league game now. And again, that experience of being told “don’t move around”, “don’t switch seats”, “stay away from the players”, and “don’t bring a camera with a telephoto lens”. My neighbor used to take beautiful 8mm movies of Reds games shot in Crosley Field. You wouldn’t get them anymore, for security reasons. These are the days of ‘stalag’ baseball. They have video games at the ballpark to entertain the kids, but big deal. Kids can play video games at home. And they wonder why they don’t play baseball.
It’s really hard to get excited about spending $300…and be shown to your seat like its solitary confinement. It’s strange to watch Joey Votto play in person, while knowing if you made the attempt to meet him before a game – to actually interact with him – you’d be abruptly dismissed. Major league players now tell you about the meetings each spring over ballpark and player security. Long live the memory of what happened to Tom Gamboa (Royals first base coach attacked by two drunk fans years ago in Chicago).
Now it’s a game for television, not for live consumption. It’s about money and fitting as much revenue as possible in a prescribed time period. God forbid extra innings that might cost the network additional programming time. We’ve got to get this thing played on time – predictable – like watching a movie on HBO. Keep the line moving.
As Hal wrote, they’ve changed it all, including the strategy part. Relief pitchers have to face a minimum of three hitters – to speed up the game. Hurry in, hurry out, get home so you can watch more television…and more commercials. We talk about stress in modern society? Go to a Braves game in downtown Atlanta and fight the traffic, and then fight the economy of baseball once you get inside the park. Gulp your Valium with a $10 beer.
Topps baseball cards were a nickel in 1962, and you got eight cards in the pack…with a stick of gum. This year you can buy ten cards (no gum) for ten dollars, a wonderful change. What fun. Where do I sign up?
I still love baseball, but I try to block out what I just described – every word of it true. Now I watch 12-year-olds play in Versailles, Minster, and I spend my dollars to help them learn. I look at the old cards I still have. A nickel’s worth of memories and smiles. And I think…Rob Manfred, you don’t know baseball, and you don’t know business – just the modern business of baseball.
You don’t know Bill Veeck. You never heard of Bill Veeck. It used to be fun. But I promise you…..
Times change. The starting lineup doesn’t matter…anymore.