You’re looking to get into sports media, am I right? You have a story idea, you’d love to pitch it to a publication, and you just need all the necessary ingredients to make it a success. The idea? It’s how baseball has gone wrong. It’s how baseball, once the love of your life and apple of your eye, has succumbed to the Devil’s incantation of home runs and strikeouts.
There are angles of the sport to surely cover that could have merit—like, say, the consolidation of media companies, the decoupling of attendance and revenue, the alliance of sports and gambling entities, the decline of organized labor, and the financialization of the economy—but we’re going to instead focus on how baseball is just aesthetically bad and dumb and boring even though we want to get paid six figures to cover it, and we’re going to lay out exactly how to prove it, no matter the faith you plan on operating in. Here are your rules:
1. Grumpy former player quotes are required
This is the easy part. First find an old school former player, preferably with a bird or flower-themed name. Next, ask them a series of leading questions that imply you’re also in on the joke that baseball sucks, and ask them why they think baseball sucks, too. Boom, they go off: the game is boring and slow and home run happy, they say, and analytics have ruined it with your exit angles and launch velocities and what-have-you. In my day, they say, the game was better because I was in it. Now, let’s get into that analytics part.
2. Focus only on aesthetic aspects of analytical developments
There’s a niche yet internet famous aphorism of “effects bad, causes good” whereby the observer seems to object to all of the material fallout from the various institutions that cause them, yet still believes that those institutions are fundamentally decent and working as intended. You will embrace that cognitive dissonance. Here are effects that are bad:
- Intense bullpen optimization
- Interchangeable roster spots and positions for purposes of flexibility
- Optimized contact for more home runs/extra base hits at the expense of singles
In our next step, we will discuss the things which are ostensibly good, in that you will totally ignore them and pretend they have no effect on the former.
3. Do not mention tanking, payroll, and the CBA
If baseball as an operation is becoming more and more like a bank, then it is your responsibility—nay, your duty—to exclusively present the issue like you’re a customer at an ATM. Presented are the aesthetic challenges laid out before, and obfuscated neatly behind them are:
- Tanking, essentially knocking a third of the league of contention at all times
- The increasing decoupling of revenue and wins/attendance
- Desire for more team control at the expense of paying players, sometimes to the detriment of the on-field product
- Decreasing shares of revenues to the players writ large, and sub-living wages in the minor leagues
- A logical view that all players are swappable parts whose skills can be both perfectly optimized and also devalued in arbitration
4. Ignore any relevant polling on Gen Z, or the youth movement in baseball
An important part of presenting this aesthetic perspective is that, chiefly, you get to decide whose perspective is presented. You are required to assume that the neutral observer is a Baby Boomer, and that every legitimate complaint can only come from a former player from the 1970s. This, thankfully, ignores two important pieces of information: one, that the game is actually younger than any point in its history, and two, that the audience is actually younger than we think.
In a recent piece for the Sports Business Journal, Vince Gennaro writes about Gen Z and their viewing habits:
“A recent quantitative survey of fans across generations, co-authored by the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Institute for Global Sport and Fox Sports, identified some revealing patterns of behavior... For perspective, millennial and Gen X sports fans have a strong preference for the NFL as their favorite sport — by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. For Gen Z, MLB has rallied to pull even with the NFL as their favorite sport... there is [also] a deeper devotion to the athlete vs. the team. When asked if they are bigger fans of specific athletes or teams and leagues, Gen Z favors athletes by a margin of 2-to-1 over baby boomers. Gen Z is markedly more socially conscious than their elders, which influences their fan affiliations. Gen Zers are three times more likely to believe that sports is a powerful vehicle for social progress.”
Which is why it’s increasingly important to ignore this perspective, or the thoughts of anyone born before 1960 when assessing the overall health of the sport. The game’s audience is getting younger and quite diverse, and there are a number of ways in which the game is being threatened from all angles, so in order to grouse about baseball in this one, particular way, there’s a clear playbook that needs to be followed to make all the logic fit together.