The Key to Baseball’s Future: Compromise

Below you’ll find two quotations.  Take a second to read them both over.

I have talent, no doubt. My advantage is that I know the game well. The reason is that I grew up in it and had a good teacher in my father. I’m sure that whatever I am as a man and a ballplayer comes from the way I was raised. But am I a superstar? Oh, no. I don’t think I stack up with the great players in the league.

“Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn’t care. Because you got him. That’s part of the game. It’s not the old feeling — hoorah … if you pimp a homer, I’m going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot … I mean — sorry.

Derek Byrd

You’ve probably guessed that both of these quotes can be attributed to MLB players.  In fact, they’re both MVPs.  That’s about where the similarities end.  Much has been made of Major League Baseball’s “culture war” and these two sentiments do a pretty good job of summing up the battle cries of each side.  

The first one is Cal Ripken, baseball’s “iron man.”  The second is Bryce Harper, arguably baseball’s best active player and almost certainly loudest voice.

In the 25 seasons between Cal Ripken’s MVP win and Bryce Harper’s, the world has changed rapidly.  Baseball?  Not nearly as much. But is that a bad thing? Well, the way you answer that question will probably determine which side of baseball’s widening fault line you belong.

 

The Case for the Old

Much of the recent headbutting over baseball’s culture stems from the collision of the new vs. the old.  The perceived erosion of the game’s traditional elements has certainly led to some tension between the old guard and those who would seek to modernize the game.  While the game runs the risk of eventually being relegated to second-tier sports status by refusing to adapt, it’s worthwhile to celebrate and attempt to preserve some of the charms that made baseball America’s pastime in the first place.

One of the most controversial aspects of baseball is the pace of the game.  Younger fans don’t seem to have the patience for a season of 162 games that clock in at over three hours a pop each.  There’s also the perception that there isn’t a whole lot going on 90% of the time the players are on the field.  

While those criticisms might be in line with the on-demand culture of the past few decades, we should consider that preserving one last bastion of timelessness might be a positive.  Baseball games might not always be action packed, but they do create an environment of relaxation; an environment where you don’t have to rush.  A respite from calls, appointments, and notifications of every sort is something that the endless summer vibe of baseball can provide.

Another point of contention in the culture war is on-field conduct, especially how to act when you’ve made a great play.  

Hall of Fame pitcher, Goose Gossage made headlines back in March when he criticized Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays with a few choice words: “Bautista is an f—ing disgrace to the game.” He went on to take issue with Bautista “Throwing his bat and acting like a fool…”

While Gossage used a colorful outburst to illustrate his point, there may be something to his sentiment.  Against the backdrop of a culture that perhaps too heavily values stardom and individual self-promotion, maybe there is room for baseball to set the example for acting like you’ve been there before.

These are just a few examples of the old school mentality that makes baseball the nostalgic portal to another time that has captured American imaginations for generations.  It might be easier to deem baseball’s traditions obsolete, but working to preserve them may help maintain some of the wonderful but increasingly inconvenient values of yesteryear.

The Case for the New

On the other hand, values and nostalgia don’t pay the bills and numbers don’t lie.  The hard truth that baseball purists need to face is that the sport has a problem.  It’s actually not an immediate problem, which makes it easier to ignore, but doesn’t make it any less real.

The Washington Post published an article a little over a year ago about the decline in youth baseball.  The Post quotes Rich Luker of ESPN’s polling department who does an excellent job of summing up the reality the MLB will be facing over the next twenty years:

“If baseball does nothing, they’ll probably stay flat for another 10 years.  But 20 years from now, they’ll be moving to a secondary position in American life, doomed to irrelevance like Tower Records or Blockbuster Video.”

If being compared to blockbuster isn’t enough of a death knell, the numbers back up Luker’s projection.  Major League Baseball has the oldest viewers on average of any of the big four sports at 53 years old and climbing.  For comparison, the NBA boasts the youngest fanbase at 37 years old and staying flat year over year.

While MLB ratings have remained decent and game attendance has not seen any significant dip, an aging fan base that’s not being replenished by a younger demographic spells trouble down the road.  So what’s at the root of this climbing average age?

derek byrd

Sophomore MLB commissioner Rob Manfred posits that the single biggest predictor of avidity in sports is whether you played as a kid.”  If his line of thinking is right, then we have to turn our eye to youth baseball.  Those numbers don’t look great either.

Youth baseball participation has been declining for the better part of twenty years. Some of this has to do with increased participation in other sports, especially basketball, and soccer.  That coupled with the pressure for elite young athletes to focus on honing their skill at one sport has left baseball as the proverbial last kid picked in gym class.

Because this is something of a long-term trend rather than a recent development, youth baseball recruitment is now faced with recruiting kids whose parents never played the sport themselves.  This has fed into the growing disconnect between young people and what was once America’s game.

With a potential slow decline on the horizon, it would be negligent not to give some credence to the criticisms flying from the new school camp of the culture war.  Bryce Harper, quoted at the top of the piece, might not be the traditional ambassador of baseball, but as a young elite player, his feelings probably closely mirror those of the young fan that the MLB is failing to hook.

ESPN recently published a piece about Harper’s crusade to make the game fun again.  Regardless of what you think of Harper personally, his comments that baseball makes it difficult to express yourself as an individual hold some water and may shine a light on why the sport has difficulty attracting the younger generation.  

SPORT MLB BASEBALL

It doesn’t lend itself to highlights like football and basketball do.  The game is a story, a battle, that takes place mostly in the minds of the pitcher and the batter.  That doesn’t make great social media fodder and it definitely doesn’t create the brash superstars that have driven other sports, especially the NBA.

Faced with these pending challenges, there’s little doubt that baseball needs to make some changes, but drawing the line will be difficult.

Moving Forward

So where are we left after listening to the battle cries of each side of the culture war?  Hopefully, somewhere squarely in the middle.  The future of baseball needs to be about compromising between the things that have made the game great for over a century and the realities of the modern age.

More social media integration and more on-demand content may help.  The MLB is already undertaking projects to that end.  Some of the new rules put in place last season that requires batters to stay in the box and that limit the time between innings should help to keep the game moving at a good clip without forcing stringent time constraints that could damage the soul of the game.

As far as on-field celebrations and individual expression go, maybe the NFL model can provide some guidance.  NFL players are known for their signature end zone dances but excessive celebration and especially taunting can saddle you with a 15-yard penalty.  Baseball probably doesn’t need to legislate this difference but drawing a distinction between celebrating and gloating might prevent the younger players and fans from feeling stifled while maintaining the dignity of the game for the more traditional sluggers and their fans.

 

While the war rages on, one has to hope that when the dust settles, a version of baseball equal parts new and old will remain and continue to enthrall Americans for generations to come.

from Derek Byrd Derek Byrd’s Blog Post on Cal Ripken Baseball http://ift.tt/1qJ0FH5

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3 Reasons Why Apple’s Huge Home Run Deal With Major League Baseball Will Be A Success

Instead of the usual paper notes that we sometimes see during the games, coaches and managers will now use a 12.9-inch iPad pre-loaded with a custom software called “MLB Dugout,” thanks to Apple’s multi-year deal with Major League Baseball.

Swing batter, batter

The “MLB Dugout” app will allow managers a chance to see player performance statistics, access videos of previous games, and to get a specific look at pitcher-hitter matchups. According to the Wall Street Journal, the visual of the game will become more clear and relatable to players of today’s time.

Here are three reasons as to why Apple’s deal with MLB  will be a success.

1. Faster statistic rates for increased performance

MLB teams will be able to view performance stats from current games and past seasons to help coaches evaluate the changes needed to improve player performance. This will allow overall productiveness during team practices, and give the players a sense of accountability when working on their technique.

Baseball Performance

2. iPad’s Over Paper

In the age of digital technology, it makes sense that the MLB would team up with Apple to incorporate iPad’s into the locker room. The paper industry has shifted due to this digital change and the game of baseball could only benefit from this change in a positive way moving forward.

ipadpro

3. Visually Appealing

From the players in the dugout to the team plays being practiced in the field, the visual elements of the game of baseball will now be made available for everyone on the team to see in real time allowing the game to become more interactive for not only the players, but for the coaches as well.

baseballfield

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from Derek Byrd Derek Byrd’s Blog Post on Cal Ripken Baseball http://ift.tt/1TlTPPQ

President Obama Catches A Friendly Match in Cuba

Derek ByrdThis past weekend, President Obama made a historic visit to the Caribbean island of Cuba. This trip was the first time a sitting American president has made a visit to the island in 88 years; the last visit was by President Calvin Coolidge in January of 1928. This trip ended with the President and his family enjoying a game of America’s favorite pastime, baseball. This exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team was a friendly match, and the recognition of a mutual affinity for the sport from both sides.

The game was hosted in Havana’s historic Estadio Latinoamericano, and also coincides with major conversations about Cuban athletes joining our country’s Major League Baseball. For a Cuban baseball player to attempt to joining the MLB, he must defect from Cuba, and leave behind his country, and his allegiance. As easy as it may seem to leave the island, it get’s more complicated, because, in most cases, these men are leaving behind their families to seek a better future.

Once a baseball player reaches the U.S., the process becomes legally intricate. Before a Cuban defector can do business with an American company, like the MLB, he must first establish residency outside of Cuba and the United States. This process can take up to several months, depending on the country. The athletes must also petition for free agency from the MLB, and be unblocked from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before finalizing any contract with a MLB club.

The process is now easier, because amendments made to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) have loosened the salary restrictions of the past. The OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) have now authorized U.S. companies “engage in transactions related to the sponsorship or hiring of Cuban nationals to work or perform in the United States similar to nationals from other countries, provided that no additional payments are made to the Cuban government in connection with such sponsorship or hiring.” These amendments will now ease the pursuit of the American dream for Cuban athletes.

The historic game ended in a victory for the Tampa Bay Rays, but in the grand scheme of things, this match was a victory in the diplomatic relationship between Cuba and U.S.

from Derek Byrd Derek Byrd’s Blog Post on Cal Ripken Baseball http://ift.tt/1Ztw7pl

“Think Hard and Fast About Your Priorities”: Federal Judge Chastises Rep. Chaka Fattah For Not Paying His Criminal Defense Lawyers

JONATHAN TURLEY

Chaka_Fattah_official_headshotPennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah faced a rare tongue lashing from U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III over the failure to pay his defense counsel in his corruption and racketeering trial. Judge Bartle snapped at Rep. Fattah to get “your priorities” straight.

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Virginia Senate Kills Measure To Repeal Criminalization of Adultery

JONATHAN TURLEY

virginia%20is%20for%20loversA legislative proposal by Sen. Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax) would have seemed a no brainer in any legislative body. Surovell was seeking to decriminalize adultery in Virginia. As I have previously discussed (here and here), Virginia has an anachronistic and facially unconstitutional law that makes adultery a crime. Yet, the Virginia Senate killed the bill this month and reaffirmed its intention to criminalize what the majority deems immoral choices by consenting adults. Adultery will remain a Class 4 misdemeanor despite 13 other states that have repealed similar laws in recent years.

View original post 296 more words

Virginia Senate Kills Measure To Repeal Criminalization of Adultery

JONATHAN TURLEY

virginia%20is%20for%20loversA legislative proposal by Sen. Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax) would have seemed a no brainer in any legislative body. Surovell was seeking to decriminalize adultery in Virginia. As I have previously discussed (here and here), Virginia has an anachronistic and facially unconstitutional law that makes adultery a crime. Yet, the Virginia Senate killed the bill this month and reaffirmed its intention to criminalize what the majority deems immoral choices by consenting adults. Adultery will remain a Class 4 misdemeanor despite 13 other states that have repealed similar laws in recent years.

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Indiana Moves Toward Law Giving Police Departments The Right To Withhold Video From Police Body Cameras

JONATHAN TURLEY

legislator_kevin_mahan_1028bwc_leadAn Indiana House government committee voted unanimously to allow police departments to withhold video from police body cameras. Unanimously. These videotapes have resulted in arguably the single most effective deterrent of police abuse in the history of this country. However, Rep. Kevin Mahan (left) (R., Hartford City) wants to leave the release of the evidence at the discretion of the very department that often faces the greatest criticism and costs over such evidence.

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