Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Baseball Versus Jock Itch...

 "The Duke of Dunstable had one-way pockets. He would walk ten miles in the snow to chisel an orphan out of tuppance..." -- P.G. Wodehouse, "A Pelican at Blandings"

That quote applies equally to the owners of Major League Baseball teams and the Players.

A pox upon both their houses.

When it comes to "America's Pastime" The Overlord gave up the childhood love affair many years ago.

It was 1994, if I recall, and the powers that were in MLB had announced that due to "labor problems", the World Series would be cancelled that year.

 After they had already played a full season

That had been, to my memory, the third work stoppage in approximately ten years, and the fight was always the same -- guys who got paid a lot of money to do something that others would do for free just once, complaining that they weren't being paid enough.

I'd like to deconstruct that thought for a moment. The words that I'd specifically like to key in on are "labor" and "problem".

First, I'd like to dispute that people who play a game for a living -- especially one as physically un-taxing as baseball -- labor.

The Overlord played the game for many years, certainly not at the professional level, of course, but very well. His main defect in terms of baseball was an inability to "hit the bender", as they say. He also couldn't throw one, either, but that's neither here nor there. For many years, the Overlord played the game at every infield position quite well. Just not well enough to advance beyond a certain level.

And considering the incredible amount of time that gets wasted during play, any physical exertions were hardly much of a consideration. Having hit a double, one knew that there would be about 5-10 minutes to rest up as pitchers took their time, signs were passed between dugouts and players, batters would be stepping out to spit or grab their crotches, or someone would slow the pace of play down to give a reliever time to warm up.

Or the reliever would walk in from the pen and take time to throw his allotted warm-up pitches.

One could not even assume you'd leave second base, at all.

Short bursts of activity followed up by long periods of sheer boredom is not "labor".

You could have time to eat a three-course meal standing at second base, so that catching one's breath or relaxing recently-pumping muscles was a given.

The Overlord turned to soccer and hockey (especially hockey) for his athletic thrills and fun.

(As an aside, no Major Leaguer would last 2 minutes on the ice, and yet almost every hockey player I've ever known plays or has played baseball at an extremely high level, and with ease).

My younger brother was always better at the game than I was, and also more passionate. He played collegiate baseball and then went into coaching, narrowly missing his own chance to "go to the show". In his time, he coached players (prior to their arrival in MLB) like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez (and quite a few other recognizable names), and today, he is a Division I head coach and recruiting director. He's also a very successful manager in one of developmental leagues during the summers.

If you ever want to talk baseball with someone who knows the game, look him up. He'll give you a permanent hard-on for the sport.

My nephew was also a D-1 player, and if he hadn't fractured his neck a week before the draft in his junior year, he might be playing shortstop or pitching on your favorite team right now. I have a younger cousin of 16 years who is already on various "radars" as a potential starting pitcher somewhere.

Baseball runs deep in the family.

I stopped watching, except for a handful of games every year, because the frequent squabbling over money, the increasing price of an afternoon at the ballpark (do I get a free blowjob with that $100 ticket, the $30 parking and that $16 beer that I can't refill after the 7th inning, fellas?), and the sheer BOREDOM that attends the game now makes it a torturous experience to invest much time into it.

A baseball player (excluding pitchers, naturally) probably engages in about 4-6 minutes of anything approaching intense physical activity in a 3-plus hour game. The rest of the time is spent standing around waiting for something -- anything -- to happen. A remote prospect in a day-and-age when the typical game involves 13 pitching changes, no one steals bases, everything is either a homer or a strikeout, no one bunts, and everyone complains about "shifting" (hit the other way, Asshole! Or is that beyond your capability, you "superior" athlete, you?).

No, I'd rather watch or engage in a game of hockey. Nothing beats hokey, especially live (it loses much on television).

Basketball is a joke. The players, regardless of their skill and athleticism, sez me, are a joke.

Football is on the same path that baseball is on, as the game becomes bogged down in petty bureaucratic process in which you get to see more referee calling bullshit procedural penalties and wasting time under a replay hood than you do game action. 

Next is the idea that baseball players have "a problem" with being or getting paid.

The AVERAGE MLB player, as of 2021, was paid $4.17 million dollars.

This is roughly 78 times the average American salary ($51,000). That would be the people who buy $100 tickets, $12 hot dogs, and so and so forth.

Now, let's consider who or what the "average" MLB player is.

He's likely to be someone who pinch hits or pinch runs half a dozen times a year, and probably gets 12-15 opportunities to start during the course of a season as the star players get extra off days. He's likely to be a long- or middle- reliever, who may, likewise, get into 12-15 games a year, and with the new-fangled penchant for "spot starters", maybe pick up an extra three or four games.

That "average" $4 million player is being paid to mostly to sit on the bench, and serves as either an insurance policy in case a true starter goes down, a temporary stopgap, or as a last-hope type of thing where you "need something" to win a game and a manager has placed a bet on a player who hasn't seen a live pitch or run the bases in three weeks in the bottom of the 9th on little more than a pious wish.

In comparison, even with a COVID-shortened season and the financial difficulties attendant to playing games in empty stadiums, MLB owners made roughly $10 billion in 2021 (it is difficult to say this for certain, as MLB suddenly is not posting it's 2021 revenues online...hmmm, wonder why?), and that was with a claim of having lost $1 billion due to COVID in 2020.

When you stop to consider the "average" player gets $4 million, and we now live in an age of the $300 million "Ace" and $300 million everyday position player, the idea that baseball players are underpaid and don't have a chance to access a bigger piece of the pie, is ridiculous. The players, if they have a legitimate gripe, should be angry that a) their $300 million teammates took their slice, and b) the stupid fucking owners gave that money out and then cried poverty.

Getting paid isn't an issue. The issue is, specifically, who is getting paid. A $300 million contract to a guy who plays every five days and who suddenly can't toss as trike because they took his Spidertack away? A guy who, essentially, got $300 million for being one of the best cheaters in the game (you know who you are, Gerrit Cole), makes a mockery of that position.

And it isn't as if baseball hasn't rewarded cheating forever, given players using speed, steroids, players corking bats for years, and baseball, itself, fidgeting with the ball and redesigning it every so often to either increase or decrease action as it suits their needs (usually just before a large class of upper-tier free agents hits the market).

It's a travesty all the way around. People who talk of "the integrity of the game" while they cry about being underpaid with two-comma money, or who hand out  huge contracts to cheaters, or who have jumped into bed with online gambling operations for a few extra million, have nerve.

And if baseball does not return this year, The Overlord will lose no sleep. The entire kit and kaboodle ruined the game years ago, and they continue to do so with every passing minute.

How so? Let me count the ways! In no particular order:

1. The 7-Inning "Double-header" - A result of COVID, unfortunately the idea will stick. When I paid for that ticket, I expected 18 innings, minimum, of baseball. You're cheating me. Considering I will be in the ballpark essentially all day, so you can sell me more flat beer and stale pretzels for a King's Ransom, you're stealing from me even more. And don't get me started on the truly stupid process where I have to exit the stadium between games and then return to the seat I've already overpaid for because Heaven forfend three people who only paid for one of the games might manage to slip through the cracks and stay for the second.

2. Analytics everywhere! - Baseball has always been a sport of statistics, and people have been arguing ERAs, Batting Averages, Home runs, RBIs and whatnot for a century. With the application of technology to the game these days, however, the math has gotten extraordinarily "granular" and so there is a formula for just about every situation based on statistics that, honestly, usually had their origin in video games ("Launch Angle", "Third time through the lineup", and so forth).

The result of managing a game "by the book" is one of the reasons why the game sucks so hard. It also requires anew kind of manager who has the personality of wet cardboard, since his job is not to "manage" the team as it is so much to carry out the wishes of the analytics staff who call him every few minutes and tell him what to do.

The days of the Manager with personality -- Tommy LaSorda, Earl Weaver, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, have passed. We now have a shop steward on the factory floor, who takes his orders from above, and who has absolutely nothing to say or who shows absolutely no passion about the game itself.

Imagine an Aaron Boone -- in 30 stadiums across America -- stamping on a human face...forever!

(Sorry, George).

All of the things people complain about -- the game is too long, there is no action, The Shift, are a result of data analytics. It has taken all of the "juice" and personality out of the game.

When your next game starts to enter the four-plus-hour territory because "The Book" says make 11 pitching changes, then you know it's becoming a problem. Now, like every other business, Baseball has every right to apply the science of data processing to it's product. The problem is that now the game, itself, is a slave to the computer. And it shows.

3. "Instant" replay - if you can't get it right, anyway, then why bother having it? The few games I have watched in the last few years have shown that even with replay, the umps still get it wrong, they aren't clear on what the rulebooks say, anyway, and this might be the ONE area of baseball that would actually benefit from a technological approach, i.e. robot umpires.

4. Poor officiating - see 3. You're not alone: the NFL has this problem, too.

5. Continuous "labor" unrest - Baseball players do not "work"; they play a children's game. Anyone who tells you "hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do" have never had a 200-pouind man bearing down on them at nearly 40-miles per hour, armed with a stick and a pair of razor blades strapped to his feet, on a sheet of ice with nowhere to hide to avoid contact.

Since baseball players don't work, what little they do is of questionable value, and the specialty of what they do does not translate well into the Real World (i.e. no one ever hired a CPA based on his ability to throw a slider for a strike), the idea is that they should be paid as much as they can manage to get before their bodies wear out (from standing around?).

As a capitalist, I get it, and agree.

As the asshole who is going to pay the exorbitant price for the ticket or the cable package, fuck no.

I know I could live very well on $4.17 million a year to spend 150 games in the dugout. Why can't you?

6. Pricing your customers out of the park - two things about the Modern Sports Arena (this applies to sports, across the board).

a) Everything costs 11 times it's real value for no good reason that I can discern. That dry sausage and peppers sandwich I just choked down (because no beer after 7th inning or 2nd period) could easily have been proudly served in any prison cafeteria in America, and was, most likely, prepared by a former inmate, was not worth $10. Considering the half a sausage was burned within an inch of it's life, or had the consistency of a fresh turd, the bread consisted of some strange sawdust mixture, and the peppers were probably "rescued" from the local restaurants' trash buckets just before they were given to charity. I could, and will, say the same about the ice cream, the hot dog that probably began life as a real dog, the popcorn that could substitute for those packing puffs that Amazon uses for everything.

And the entire time I'm there, there is a constant array of hawkers and scoreboard exhortations to buy more, and sundry, of this crap.

b) The extent to which any sport goes to attract "the casual fan", so that walking into the local hockey arena, the building is liberally festooned with "high-end" restaurants and bars (the food is no better than what's at the concession stands, but because you can get something pretending to be steak or lobster, the price rises, accordingly), luxury stores, "interactive" accoutrements, novelty amusements, and so forth, that one wonders if the investment even garners much of a return.

And now you know why you've just gotten fleeced to buy a box of Cracker Jack, because all that money was spent to attract a "casual fan" who is a "casual fan" because they have no interest in the sport to begin with.

So, as examples of how expensive it is to attend any sporting event, but especially baseball, my last visit to Yankee Stadium was on par with what one would expect to pay for open heart surgery. My first-baseline field box ticket cost me $115. I paid $40 for parking three blocks from the stadium. I had one beer at $18, two hot dogs at $12 each, Since I brought a guest, double that.

But the "free" Aaron Judge bobblehead (retail $2.99) went over big with the kid.

7. Poor marketing - back in the day, players were hot commodities, always in demand to speak at public forums, be spokespeople for charities, or to make personal appearances to boost a team or the sport by giving fans access to them. Every game used to see a crowd of kids at the rails prior to the game seeking autographs, or just wanting to see their favorite players, and the players were happy to do it, or, at least understood that this came with the territory.

You see very little of this, nowadays.

The Stars of the Game had their faces plastered everywhere, promoting team and sport, but that, too, has disappeared, except in a few rare instances. For example, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are rarely to be seen in the public eye, despite being two of the best players in the sport. Old Timers games have become opportunities for marginal players to gain a few extra seconds of limelight because the former star players routinely skip them.

8. Poor Play - People do not pay to watch a game that is nothing but strikeouts and homers, with little in between. No more hit-and-runs; no more sacrifice bunting to move a runner; no stolen bases, and even the fundamentals of the game have suffered to the extent that every game has serious instances of poor base running, outfielders with no arms, and this week's sacrificial bullpen call-up.

9. Hypocrisy - this is the biggest sin of all. Billionaire owners who rake in hundreds of millions while putting shit on the field crying poverty only to open their wallets to get this or that "hottest" free agent. Millionaire players who complain about having to pay for their own sodas or bubblegum in the clubhouse, or who treat loyalty to fans as an annoyance, but then get uppity if they're criticized for not running out ground balls.

Baseball -- both "labor" and a management -- have a serious problem that begins with their lack of self-awareness.

How many people who DON'T play baseball for a living got paid during the pandemic? How many of them who didn't get paid during the pandemic have the opportunity to leave one job where they got $4.17 million a year to go to another one that sees their income increase four or five fold?

How does someone with a couple of billion in the bank complain that "labor costs" are driving him out of business then turn around and hand a guy $10 million per to pitch 2/3 of an inning at the end of a game, or $17 million a year to someone who only plays every five days? Or more?

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are that bad every year, how does the owner stay in business, if he's "losing" money? Or the Orioles, for that matter? If this was truly bad for your bottom line, why not sell?

And the thing is, both sides believe they have a point of principle at stake. 

And the thing is both sides don't give a damn about their customers, or the quality of their product.

If you wonder why kids today aren't playing baseball like they used to, blame these folks. They've ruined the game and the entire baseball experience.

I'd rather have Jock Itch than to attend another live game.


JB_Honeydew said...

Baseball died when the true greats retired. The human element has been completely stripped from the game. I'd venture a bet that televising the game is what began its downfall. I'll close by saying this, "The Babe did it on beer, cigars and hot dogs". And I think that pretty much sums it up.

GMay said...

I played almost every sport fairly well, well into my 30s, and would again if my body would cooperate.

Stopped watching baseball in the mid-90s after the Braves won the Series. Had been following them since I was a kid, when Dale Murphy was playing catcher. I had had enough of the "labor" issues, particularly with Tom Glavine leading the charge from the "labor" end.

Ditched pro-sports altogether when I stopped watching pro football about the same time. It was all too...professional. Too much a business. I suppose the MBAs can ruin anything.

College football was the last sport I watched, but even flushed that several years ago because it was starting to mirror the pros. With everyone going "woke" the past couple of years, I'm glad I was ahead of the curve. Pro-sports looks to me, these days from the outside, like the new progressive social status craze, rather than dedication to the sport.