What’s Wrong with Major League Baseball?


What’s Wrong with Major League Baseball? Everything!

What did the steroid era do to fans of Major League Baseball? Skepticism of current MLB players still using performance enhancing drugs aside (Jose Bautista?), the steroid era has seemingly left a void in professional baseball. Are the current players meeting the expectations of their fans? Will baseball ever recover? Will the fans ever recover?

When spring rolled around this year, friends began emailing and calling about the upcoming MLB season. Talk about fantasy baseball drafts, predications on who will win their division, wild card teams, and general excitement about catching a game ensued. Who will dominate this year? Will MLB have a 20 game winner or a Triple Crown winner? How many home runs will lead the league and who will be the league leader? Excitement began to bubble then the most thought provoking question about the upcoming season was asked, “who do you want to see play this year”? The sad truth is no one.

Living in southern Californiacan spoil you. Not because the Dodgers have been great for the past ten years and life as a baseball fan can’t get any better. Having access to two professional baseball teams within an hours drive is the spoiler; and the San Diego Padres just a couple of hours away. Taking the opportunity to see players and teams play for granted has become a part of life. You name the player chances are I’ve seen him play. Good for me, so what’s the point? My childhood dreams have come true, I finally have access to see any professional athlete or team play and I don’t really care. How can I take baseball, the first sport I loved, for granted. What happened?

What excuses can be made for a lack of interest about going to the ballpark for a dog, a cold one, and watching America’s past time? As we grow older we don’t make as much time for the things we did when we were kids? The cost of tickets and parking is too much? Traffic is horrible. Been there, done that? In 100 games attended not one foul ball or home run has been hit to me for a “free” souvenir. I’m self conscience about seeing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”. The ten 21 year old kids on my row will keep making a beer run in the middle of the inning. Nah, all of those reasons seems too flimsy of an excuse. At the heart of the matter is a lack of enthusiasm for the players and teams in today’s game.

Now let’s ask the next round of important questions. Why is there little to no enthusiasm for baseball fans to rally around today’s players and teams? Is Major League Baseball to blame due to a lack of marketing the game and their players to their fans? Perhaps. Does MLB or ESPN highlight any other teams outside of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox? No they don’t. It makes sense to highlight those two teams as they have combined to win 7 out of the last 15 World Series but that rivalry has gone stale… even to hardcore baseball fans.

Does there need to be a salary cap in MLB so every season a different team, in theory, has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs and possibly the World Series? A salary cap wouldn’t hurt. This would put an even larger emphasis on each team’s scouting, drafting, and farm systems; something that should be happening regardless. A notion lost on many teams (hello Chicago Cubs). Would this drive overall attendance and spark a flame in Major League Baseball again for the casual baseball fan? Definitely. Yet this would only mask part of the problem in baseball.

Bud Selig may dodge the salary cap solution and brining greater parity to baseball, which works in the NFL, by adding an additional wild card team to the playoffs; there is a possibility of two total Wild Card teams in the 2012 playoffs. Wild card teams do not mean punching bags for division winners. Since the wild card format was put into effect in 1995, 4 wild card teams have won the World Series:




2004BostonRed Sox

5 wild card teams have advanced to the World Series since 1995:

2000 Mets

*2002 San FranciscoGiants

2005 Houston Astros

2006 Detroit Tigers

2007 Colorado Rockies

* In 2002 the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants faced each other in the World Series.

Without conversations of baseball in December and reducing the total number of regular season games, this solution solves a temporary competitive balance in baseball; adding more teams to the party. Hopefully this restores the faith of fans for a couple small markets teams and gets them going to the ballpark again.

There’s still a perceived problem with the product on the field. Gone are the guys hitting 60 and 70 home run per year; for better or for worse. Even the 50 home run hitters are scarce. More small-ball you say? This is the new way of baseball for fans to get excited about. Since 2001 when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, only 3 players have stolen over 70 bases in a season: 2004 Scott Podsednik, 70, MIL, 2007 Jose Reyes, 78 NYM, 2009 Jacoby Ellsbury, 70, BOS. More sacrifice hits? The 2010 MLB leader was Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw with 18. In 2001 three players tied for the league lead with 17 (Tom Glavine, Jack Wilson, and Ricky Gutierrez). Okay, no excitement there, and seems not much has changed.

This must be the era of dominating pitching then.

2001 Randy Johnson (Arizona Diamondbacks) led the baseball with a 2.49 ERA. In 2010 Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) led baseball with a 2.27 ERA. Not much of a difference. How about strikeouts per 9 innings? If the players are no longer hitting home runs they must be striking out. In 2001 Randy Johnson led baseball with an average of 13.41. Tim Lincecum had a league leading average of 9.791, a big drop off in the wrong direction. If real numbers work better for you, Randy Johnson struck out 372 batters in 2001, Lincecum lead the league last year with 231.

Hey HogManInLA, that’s not a fair comparison. Randy Johnson is one of the best pitchers of all-time.

Good point. There must be great talent then in MLB. Let’s look at the individual players.

The Sporting News recently released their 50 Best Players in Baseball article by Stan McNeil and Anthony Witardo. Their best player in baseball is Albert Pujols. Not much of an argument can be made against that pick. But their second best player is 26 year old, SS Troy Tulowitzki with the Colorado Rockies. TROY is the second best player in baseball? That says a lot. The second best player in baseball in 5 seasons has only hit over .300 once and has only hit over 30 home runs once; 37 in 2009.  He has never knocked in over 100 runs in a season.

Was 27 year old Joey Votto, first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and The Sporting News fourth best player, your pick for the second best player in baseball? He had a break-through season last year hitting .324, 37 home runs, and 113 RBIs; all career highs but he did not lead the league in any major statistical category. He’s a great young talent and worth seeing play in person but this is another pick based off hope and promise for the future. Maybe the article should have been called, “The 50 Greatest Players that will possibly emerge in the next couple of years”.

Either way this is a winning closing argument for the problem with baseball. There are no great players, other than Albert Pujols, to follow in baseball. Think I’m wrong? How many position players 30 years old and under look like they are on a Hall of Fame track?

Baseball has to admit they are in a void of talent and dampened enthusiasm since the steroid era, I mean the “power era” as MLB now refers to the 1990’s and 2000’s. If the individual talent is not there, MLB has to market their teams. Following the NBA’s marketing plan of hyping one or two teams per season will be the continued nail in the coffin for MLB.

Just to clarify, there are some amazing young and talented players currently in the game. Problem is we don’t know what we have with these young guys yet. Once they string 3-4 years together at a top level, then baseball fans have a reason to be excited. Major League Baseball must do a better job of marketing their players on a national level instead of letting individual teams market their players within their sphere of influence. Boston and the New York Yankees may be baseball’s two most important teams but they are killing the sport. Letting ESPN overhype their rivalry year after year is not helping either.

See them before they’re gone!

Here are a few older reasons to sip a beer, eat a dog, and remember the good old days at the park:

Derek Jeter, New YorkYankees

Chipper Jones, AtlantaBraves

Jorge Posada, New YorkYankees

Ichiro Suzuki, SeattleMariners

Ivan Rodriguez, WashingtonNationals

Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals

Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins

Vladimir Guerrero, Baltimore Orioles

Jamie Moyer… oh yeah, never mind.

A question to The Sporting News:

Have you seen Adrian Gonzalez play? He’s inBostonnow, so you should take notice. Few fans, because of poor marketing by MLB, know who Gonzalez is and realize how special of a player he will be for the Red Sox for years to come. He was tucked away inSan Diegofor the past 5 years with no one in the lineup to protect him still he was able to put up monster numbers in a pitcher’s park. Placing Gonzalez #14 on your list raises serious doubts about your ability to assess major league talent.

Baseball fans, what do you think?