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

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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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

All Star Game Snubs

Derek Byrd
All Star Game Snubs

The Major League Baseball season will come to a halt next week to honor the 2015 All Star Game played in Cincinnati on Tuesday July 14th. The starters and reserves have been selected and like every year, there have been some great players left off the roster. Part of this is because of fan voting. Up until 2 weeks ago, the Kansas City Royal fans had eight out of nine players as the leading vote getters for their position. Major League Baseball corrected it and we now have four Royals in the big event. Let’s take a look at two notable snubs from both the NL and AL.

1. Justin Turner 3B Los Angeles Dodgers – NL

Turner is having one of his best seasons of his career. While it may have taken him awhile to realize his potential, Turner is hitting .314 with 11 home runs and 38 runs batted in. Not bad for a guy who normally averages 3 home runs, 24 runs batted in and a .286 batting average each season. The 30 year old arrived in Los Angeles last season and really feels comfortable. His stellar numbers this year come a year after he hit .340 with 7 home runs and 43 runs batted in in just 288 at-bats. Turner is not a part of the Final Vote and will look to be added as an injury replacement.

2. Brett Gardner OF New York Yankees – AL

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury had the Yankees rolling at the top of the order early in the season. When Ellsbury hit the DL, Gardner didn’t allow the Yankees to miss a beat. Gardner has been a great table setter at the top of the order for the Yankees. For the season, Gardner sports a .296 average with 9 home runs, 39 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases. Keep in mind Gardner hits leadoff so to have 39 runs batted in is pretty impressive, especially when you have guys at the bottom of the Yankee order like Didi Gregorious and Stephen Drew who both have hit sub .200 for much of the year.

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Potential Players to be Dealt at the Trade Deadline

Derek Byrd
Potential Players to be Dealt at the Trade Deadline

As the season has progressed to June, it is becoming apparent who is in the playoff picture and who is already thinking about next years. July 31st is a big day in baseball as it is the MLB trade deadline. There probably isn’t another sport with a more active day for transactions than baseball. As teams get to July, it becomes apparent who is buying and who is selling at the deadline. Sellers are those out of the contending picture looking to bring back young prospects to develop for years to come whereas buyers want to add an major league ready arm or bat to help make the push for a division title or wild card berth. Let’s take a look at some names who general managers will be looking to move.

Scott Kazmir – P

Kazmir currently plays for the Oakland Athletics who at 23-36 are 5th in the AL West. Kazmir is in the final year of a deal that pays him $13 million. His left arm and final year of his deal makes him extra attractive because no one is on the hook for him next year. He’s 2-4 with a 3.14 ERA and has struck out 61 batters in 63 innings. He could definitely improve on his 2-4 record if dealt to a better team.

Cole Hamels – P

Hamels was rumored to be on the move during the offseason as the Phillies front office knew they were not going to contend much in 2015. However, they held onto Hamels in hopes that his stock would rise if he pitched well and teams realized how much more they need him. The Phillies are 22-36 and Hamels has been terrific which plays right into general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s hand. Hamels is 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA while striking out 84 batters in 81.1 innings.

Carlos Gomez – CF

The Milwaukee Brewers are 20-37, 5th in the NL Central so it’s time to sell. They may have one of the best players to be had at the deadline in 29 year old center fielder Carlos Gomez. Gomez has all the tools to play in the big leagues and has demonstrated it at different times during his career. He’s slated to make $9 million next year which is a good value for what he brings to the table. He can definitely help a team today and won’t be of much help for the Brewers today.

For more on potential players to be dealt at this years deadline, check out this article at BleacherReport.com (http://ift.tt/1HRE396)

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

Kris Bryant: The Next Great Hitter?

Derek Byrd
Kris Bryant of Chicago Cubs

For the longest time, Chicago Cubs fans have wanted Kris Bryant to play on the major league level. As a freshmen in college, Bryant hit .365 with 9 home runs, was a freshmen All-American, was Co-Freshmen of the Year as well as Co-Player of the Year in the West Coast Conference while playing for San Diego. As a sophomore, he was a First Team All-American and was named to the collegiate US National Team after hitting .366 with 14 home runs. His junior season was one to remember. Bryant blasted 31 home runs, an NCAA record. He had more home runs individually than 223 teams within the Division l ranks. He took home the Golden Spikes Award as well as Dick Howser Trophy, both recognizing the best player in college baseball. With all that accomplished, he headed for the MLB Draft.

Bryant, the 2nd overall draft pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft, has absolutely crushed minor league pitching since joining the Cubs farm system. There usually is a learning curve for hitters from college to the minors as the adjust from metal to wood bats but Bryant picked up where he left off. In his first minor league season at Class A level, Bryant hit .336 with 9 home runs and 32 rbi’s in just 128 at-bats. Collectively in the minors over three years, Bryant has hit .327 with 55 home runs and 152 runs batted in.

Bryant started the 2015 season at AAA due in large part because of collective bargaining rules that allow the Cubs to keep Bryant one extra year on a minor league contract instead of paying him major league dollars a year earlier. However, Bryant was called up on April 17th, 2015 and after getting off to a bit of a slow start has picked it up of late. He’s hitting .276 with 3 home runs and 19 runs batted in 87 at-bats. He figures to play third base but can play the outfield as well. He recently just missed hitting for the cycle going 3 for 4 with a single, triple, and home run. Even as a rookie, pitchers do fear Bryant having walked him 20 times already. Bryant sports a .417 on base percentage, which is one of the best in the league. There’s no telling how good of a hitter Bryant can be, but what we do know is that he can certainly hit.

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

Tiger Woods, the Designer?

Derek ByrdMaybe Tiger Woods best days are behind him.  Maybe he will move onto something else in life, but what?  Can he stick around the game he loves even if he can’t play at the level he once had?  It looks like Woods has found another way to stick around the golf game.  Tiger Woods is redesigning a golf course in Beijing, China.

While he’ll be spending much of his time practicing, he’ll now have another project on his hands.  This redesign project in Asia will pay Woods a whopping $16.5 million.  The project will be two parts in which there will be a future course that Woods will be required to redesign.  Tiger will be working on Beijing Tian’an Holiday Golf Club which when finished in the end will be rebranded as Pacific Links National Golf Club.  Pacific Links International, a Canada-based company that markets a global reciprocal membership plan to golfers are the ones in charge and who have hired Woods.

This is not the first time Woods has tried his turn at architecture in golf.  In 2006, he announced Tiger Woods Designs.  However, he did not fair well with his first three projects in Dubai, Mexico, and North Carolina all stalling due to the economic recession.  With that said, he has had some previous successes.  In December of 2014, Woods opened his first completed course at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico called El Cardonal.  He’s also opening his first course in the United States this fall located outside Houston called Bluejack National.

While golf is not huge in Beijing, it is popular amongst the wealthy.  It will be interesting to see if Woods can balance time between practicing and getting this course together.  He was not previously playing his best, and such a project could hinder his comeback.  For more on this article, check it out here.

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