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Baseball Is Boring?

Someone in my office asininely stated today:

“How can you watch baseball? It’s so boring.”

I tried to explain to him that he was literally saying that relaxing in the sun, drinking cold beer, and watching sports was boring.

He retorted: “It wouldn’t be boring if it wasn’t baseball.”

This little exchange reveals a whole lot about the sad state of American culture. Baseball is supposed to be our game. It is the game that is passed down from fathers and mothers to children over years of time. Our education on the game is nurtured; certainly, lessons on the virtues of spiking an opposing catcher or middle infielder are saved until our children are of a mature age, while the lesson that baseball is a children’s game is constantly repeated from our first day at the yard. Through the 80’s this was the way it was, and anyone lucky enough to be born before 1990 knows the immense, if not mandatory, popularity of baseball.

This is no longer the case. The children of the yuppies, babysat by the TV since their post-1990 conceptions, can tell you all about Harry Potter and Pokemon, but have no idea what a balk is, have never followed a pennant race, have never played catch. These are the people who say that the game their fathers and mothers and older brothers and sisters love is boring. These are the people who don the hot-selling fashion caps, committing horrendously offensive baseball sins, like wearing a Dodgers cap in Giants colors, without thinking twice. And without retribution, too, because none of his peers are die-hard fans. There is simply no room for the obsessive fan in hip society; baseball is for golf-playing fogies, while LeBron and Terrell Owens continue to hold down center stage in the pop culture of sport.

This is not a trend: this is an epidemic. Baseball, the once proud champion of American sports, has been ushered to the fens, helped into retirement by steroid scandal, the All-Star game flub, and falling interest in playing the game. A caveat: baseball might not be the most popular sport, but to those who know the game, it will never be boring.

Fail Baseball Looks

So the past few post have been at least semi-serious, but the game is also pretty damn fun, too. Baseball players are perhaps the squarest of all pro athletes, and the epic baseball looks are innumerable: fros, gold rimmed glasses, mullets, porno mustaches, etc. Check the photos below and feel free to drop some pictures of fail styles, too. Just as a point of discussion: even though the late 70s and 80s are generally considered the most horrendous in terms of style, I think an honest look at 1989-1991 reveals that these three years were the pinnacle of awful baseball fashion. Now, the pictures.

 

The Wizard throwing down an epic sideburn to 'stache combo. Note the width of the chops, as well as the soul patch. The sad thing is that you KNOW this was money in San Diego at the time.

The Wizard throwing down an epic sideburn to 'stache combo. Note the width of the chops, as well as the soul patch. The sad thing is that you KNOW this was money in San Diego at the time.

 

If mustaches could juice, this is what they would look like. That thing has biceps.      

If mustaches could juice, this is what they would look like. It actually looks like his upper lip is made of hair.

 

The juiciest jheri curl I have ever seen. It's like Pedro Martinez dressed up as Rick James

The juiciest jheri curl I have ever seen. It's like Pedro Martinez dressed up as Rick James.

Selig: Strike, Steroids and Incompetence

Is there anyone more inept at his job than Bud Selig? As an avid baseball watcher during his reign as commissioner, I have seen more blunders and screw ups than I ever thought possible of a man who makes more than $18 million a year.

Take your choice: The strike in 1994. The 2002 all-star game embarrassment. Making the all-star game one of the most meaningful games of the year. Or presiding over baseball for what is now known as the “steroid era.” Any of these things can be looked at as microcosms of the man himself.

Selig was handed the keys to America’s past time and wrecked the car before he could turn the corner. Under Selig, Major League Baseball has also seen the number of African-American players drop to an all-time low in 2007, at 8.2 percent. This not only hurts baseball as a business, but as a sport in general, because of the loss of many young, marketable athletes to other sports such as football or basketball.

You can’t point to any one person and say this era of steroid induced baseball is his fault. However, shouldn’t the man on top admit to some of the responsibility? That is something Selig has yet to do. He sat by, turning a blind eye, while players were becoming massive hunks of veins and muscles, destroying records of yesteryear. Yet, when people demand answers, he can do nothing but point the finger in the other direction.

The bottom line is this: When you see a great franchise come along, it always begins with stability at the top — something Selig can not provide. And all of the scrutiny and recent disgust toward baseball rests at the top, as it should. So, when I look back on Selig’s reign as head honcho, I don’t see glory years or the creation of the wild card, I see a strike, steroids and utter incompetence.

The Steroid Book Circuit and the Business of the Fallen Athlete

Take a look at photos of Alex Rodriguez in 1998 and Barry Bonds in 1992. Now look at photos of the same athletes from 2005. In my opinion, it doesn’t take much more than a simple photo comparison to plainly discern that both Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds used steroids with at least some degree of regularity. Not surprisingly, hungry, savvy journalists sought out those involved in Bonds and A-Rod’s performance enhancement and have turned heads and profits off of their published findings. The Barry Bonds book, A Game of Shadows, delves into the whys and wherefores of Bonds’ involvement in the performance enhancement industry, revealing a gazillion dollar business that serves high-income, high-performance clientele. No one remembers or cares about the names of the authors, and I can assure you that those men now employ several accountants to keep track of their shiny baubles.

However, the spoils that the Barry Bonds scandal created (and continues to create) for the writers of A Game of Shadows, were deserved: good journalism based around fact-finding created a book that not only explored the on-field results of Bonds’ drug use, but the whole of the operation and clubhouse culture that put the syringe in Bonds’ hands in the first place. Conversely, the A-Rod book appears to be a step in the wrong direction, sensationalizing the accusations levied at Rodriguez with even more sensational, speculative evidence provided in significant part by that wholesome bastion of morality, justice, and truth we know by the name of Jose Canseco.

To be sure, I haven’t seen Canseco as a worthwhile human being since that ball bounced off his head and into the stands for a Home Run, and, after he released his snitch-fest of a book, I lost all respect for the man. Sure, Canseco might have a valid opinion of A-Rod and the needle based on personal experience. But the point is that this book, as opposed to the Bonds book, does nothing more than point a 300-page-long finger at A-Rod. And the finger is being pointed by none other than Canseco, baseball’s equivalent of Sammy Gravano. More importantly, there’s no hidden business to be discovered here, no earth-shattering scandal, no BALCO, no Greg Lewis, no subsequent Roger Clemens investigation–only piles and piles of cash flowing into the author’s bank account, more face time for Canseco, more clubhouse issues for Girardi and the Yanks. The dude juiced. So did Adam Piatt and FP Santangelo and Eric Gagne and all the rest. I can appreciate that A-Rod’s fame almost dictates that an expose be written. I simply see this book as more major progress toward a book that might be titled “Steroids and Still Mediocre: the Marvin Benard Story”, something I think all purists would like to avoid. The game needs level-headed investigations conducted by clever minds, seeking to re-legitimize the game and make the national pastime whole again. What baseball certainly doesn’t need is tabloid-style, needle-chasing journalism that looks for the short-term buck, rather than the long-term good of the game.

30 and Done

56, the number of games Joe DiMaggio had successfully gotten hits consecutively in. Many say it is a record that will never be broken. Never is a long time, but we see so few players get to a 20 game hit streak during the course of a season only to shortly after fizzle out, it quite possibly may be the one record no one will ever sniff.

Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals entered tonight’s game with exactly a 30 game hit streak only to watch it wash away on the shores of San Francisco. Zimmerman, who went 0-for-3 with 2 walks, was in the same shoes of so many before him Wednesday afternoon, watching a tremendous 30 game hit streak fall by the wayside to leave DiMaggio as the undisputed king of the hit streak.

30 games is an outstanding accomplishment in itself, however it is only slightly   halfway to the titanic number 56 which is over 1/3 of the season. Only one player in the last 68 years has even reached a 40 game streak, which was was Pete Rose who had a 44 game streak in 1978. Now I am not a huge betting man, but if it was between eternity and DiMaggio, I would take DiMaggio.

“Inliers”, Gladwell, and the National Pastime

Baseball is a most unforgiving game. The “game of inches” is indeed just that; it is generally the execution of the fundamental minutiae of the game of baseball which determines the winner. A 500-foot solo home run is less valuable than a two-out knock with runners on second and third. A 7-inning, 15 strikeout performance might be more eye-popping, but a four-hit CG shutout is simply more beneficial to the team in both the long and short run. In baseball, as a rule, the spectacular is generally cast aside in favor of the W. Indeed, the common protest of common, non-followers of the game is that “Baseball is boring.”

This rule is unique to baseball. A Laker win just isn’t as satisfying without at least a few Kobe throwdowns, much like the way a Terrell Owens TD grab isn’t complete without an outlandish, “now-THAT’S-entertainment” celebration. However, despite the “boring” tag that has been applied to baseball since patience became a vice in America around 1998, MLB franchises on average continue to pay higher salaries to their athletes and draw more fans annually than any other major American sport. Yet, it continues to be the “boring” sport in the mind of your average American.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping point, has an email conversation with Bill Simmons posted on Espn.com centered around some of the concepts discussed in his most recent book on success, Outliers. In this conversation, they discuss the idea of the “Inlier”, the exact opposite of an Outlier. If you haven’t read the book or aren’t familiar with the concept, check out the section about Larry Holmes (Inlier) and Muhammad Ali (Outlier). Basically, Holmes ends up an inlier because he’s at the mercy of his situation, forced to take mandatory fights against no-name competition until Mike Tyson (Outlier) comes in to take the title. Holmes, despite being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World, simply isn’t remembered. He’s not the Louisville Lip. He didn’t Rumble in the Jungle or Thrill in Manila. He’s boring. But is it his fault? Simply because Ali and Frazier were done and Holmes had no rival to his place at the top, it’s Ali who gets biopic after biopic, and not Holmes. Holmes, by the way, has a very interesting spot in the recent HBO documentary “Thrilla in Manila” where he says “Ali hit like a butterfly, and Frazier hit like a bee.” Interesting, considering that outliying Ali was America’s favored fighter of the two.

Holmes’ experience is very similar to the conception of the national pastime as boring. The MLB is America’s richest and most enduring professional sport, the Heavyweight Champ of sporting revenues, dedicated fan bases, and tradition–the MLB is the Larry Holmes of the American pro sports scene. Baseball constantly produces quality sporting events filled with drama and tension found in no other sport. Yet, it continues to be the Inlier of the pro sports world, with the tomahawk dunks and Ocho Cinco celebrations taking their place as the must-sees, the leaders, the Outliers. There simply isn’t an Ali/Frazier of the MLB, and most fans hate the sport’s most widely advertised rivalry, Red Sox/Yankees, anyway. There is no Monday Night Football for the MLB; there are, however, endless streams of midweek day games and interleague matchups of the Toronoto @ Houston variety. To simplify: superstar Manny Ramirez has around 4 plate appearances a game, a mere ninth of his team’s offensive opportunities, and hits around 40 home runs a year; LeBron James plays 45 of 48 minutes every night, takes 30 shots a game, and dunks about 40 times a week. Considering the small attention span of the internet generation, it’s easy to see who gets more face time. Thus, the modern way to market pro sports teams to the average American has become Entertainment over Victory, a truly horrifying development. Left with a slow game pace, few superstars, and no slam dunks, a good ol’ winning team will continue to be the most marketable product in the MLB.