Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Going, Going...Yeah It's Still Dull

I know I’m not in the minority when I say this: Baseball is boring. Our national pastime has got to be most mind-numbing national sport (and I use the term “sport” loosely) of all national sports. Hell, cricket is more interesting and I don’t even understand it.

You’d think this thing that’s so important to our national identity would have the freedom to reinvent itself so people might actually watch it. Think again—the House wants the Commerce Department to randomly test players of all pro-sports and get teams to contribute millions to a fund that would run ads discouraging young people from using steroids.

Why can’t there be two baseballs: a boring one, where the teams disallow the use of performance enhancing drugs, and a slightly less boring one, where it is allowed? If everyone agrees on the rules, it’s not cheating and it would lead to better safety measures because we would remove the incentive for secrecy. But I guess our representatives don’t care about keeping our national pastime alive.


Hamel said...

Any sport that does not encourage physial contact is not a sport. Here's how I'd improve baseball.

1) The batting team sends one player to the batter's box. The other eight players line up anywhere in foul territory they would like.
2) When the batter hits the ball, the fielding team attempts to get him out. The eight batting teammates get to charge the field and create havoc.

Are you going to bunt? Well, do you want to put 7 near home to maul the catcher before he can make a play, and send one to first to kick the crap out of the first baseman just in case. Or do you spread the players out near the outfield, just to throw off the opposition. Admit it, this would *not* be boring.

Melissa said...

Even with steroid use, the game is still like watching the grass grow, watching paint dry, etc.

David said...

I dunno, Hamel, it sounds a lot like football, and that's pretty boring (though it is a significant improvement). How about we build on your idea and add pit traps and wild animals (say what you want about gladiators, no one called that game boring).

Chris said...

Oh, shit man, THAT would be frickin' awesome. You have a sick sense of humor, David Youngberg. Wild animals, sick!!!!

Yeah, adding 'roids to baseball would be awesome, but I think what we really need is the introduction of a LEGITIMATE dodgeball league. I know that I won't gather much support from fellow geeks (afterall, whose the stereotypical loser in that game, uhhh, the geek; but I RULED in this game - and still do, though I haven't played it in a hella long time.) Now that, would be hella cool!!!

Anonymous said...

It might just be me, but I actually enjoy watching baseball. It seems people are hopped up on this cocaine of a sport they call American Football which entails a nose candy party called the Super Bowl. Baseball is a summer sport. It is a time to slow down, sit back, drink a beer, and talk to your friends.
Should there be a league that allows steroids? Certainly not. The question is who does a better job of keeping players off steroids? MLB or the legislature. I think we all agree MLB would do a much better job--lets leave it to them.

-Kyle M.

Anonymous said...

Man, I have a lot of problems with this post.

First, a quote: "But I guess our representatives don’t care about keeping our national pastime alive."

Baseball is not on the brink of collapsing. If anything, recent attendence figures and television ratings show that there is an increasing interest in baseball. Yes, baseball is not as popular as football, but it is still far from dying.

You even grant that the sport is "so important to our national identity" yet at the same time imply that it is on the brink of death. (I would also argue that baseball isn't so important to our national identity, but that's another issue.) However, it is not on the brink of death. Last year's playoffs and World Series marked an incredible surge in interest in baseball as of late. Two years ago the playoffs also gained incredible attention from the public. Most of this is probably due to the backstories of the teams involved in the past two postseasons. I'm sure even you had at least one conversation about the Yankess losing to the Red Sox or the Red Sox finally winning a Series. Maybe not. Whatever. All I'm saying is that baseball is not on the brink of death, and I don't think that steroid policies are going to be the nail in the coffin.

As further evidence of the vitality of baseball I give you the Washington Nationals. This team had absolutely no fanbase in Montreal and Puerto Rico. Yet with their move to Washington the team's attendance figures have nearly doubled. The fact that their attendence figures at home are as high as they are is also striking since they must compete with the Baltimore Orioles for fans. Both teams have decent attendence so far, and in a market that is not nearly as big as Chicago, L.A., or New York. I should add that it is still early so my insights on baseball trends for this year may be premature.

Second, the first year that the MLB instituted steroid testing the power numbers actually increased, meaning that it is not necessarily true that steroid policies would make the sport boring--that is if you equate power production with excitement, which I personally do not. Here's the link with the stats:

Scroll down to see the "Juice Box," which contains the statistics. The relevant figures are the pre-2004 seasons compared with 2004 and 2005. 2004 marked the first year of steroid testing in MLB, and the stats that year actually jumped. However, you may point out that in 2005 there is a drop-off in production numbers. While this could be an effect of the increasing boredom of baseball due to tougher drug policies, I think that it is too soon to make any conclusions on the 2005 figures since the season has just begun. We'll have to wait and see how the stats pan out.

Third, for a man who doesn't seem to know or care a lot about sports you sure seem full of opinions on what constitutes a legitimate sport. What, might I ask, is your definition of a sport? I think that your opening paragraph shows a lack of understanding of the game. But, to be charitable, you were probably attempting to be humorous so I shouldn't take your opening paragraph too seriously. My bad.

Fourth, baseball does have the freedom to reinvent itself and has done so many times over in recent years. For example, tha All Star game has changed, there is talk of changing the schedule, teams have relocated, the DH was introduced in past couple decades, the introduction of a Wild Card playoff spot, divisional restructuring, and so on. On this one issue--the use of substances that baseball has banned itself--there is a consensus that baseball should change (not create ex nihilo) its policies to be more strict.

The problem from the government's point of view is that baseball receives special status as a business: MLB is not party to certain anti-trust legislation. Since the MLB gets special legislative considerations the government thinks they have legitimate warrant in dealing with an institution that is communicating a poor message to the nation. Now I understand that you're not in favor of the government being involved in baseball. Good, I'm not either. But it's important to point out why the government has taken this issue up. It is not a case of a privately owned business being taken over by Captiol Hill. I don't know how many people actually get this part of the story. Still, as I said before, I think that the government should let the MLB handle its own problems--I'm with Kyle M. on this one. The MLB should be policing this situation on their own, and I think that they will in the near future.

Fifth, the link between professional athletes' use of steroids and the use of steroids by adolescents is a touchy issue. Recently two high school athletes died due to use of some performance-enhancing drugs. This story is probably not representative, though, so I won't blow it out of proportion. However, if we accept some of the tenets of Social Learning theory (the theory is exactly what it sounds like), then we can understand why it might be important for famous and influential athletes to communicate an anti-drug message through the media. I think that this would be a positive thing--at the very least not a negative thing--for professional sports organizations to contribute to. Once again, I am unsure if the government's role in this fund is helpful, but I think that whatever the reason for the creation of such a message the message may be valuable.

Lastly, I'd like to reemphasize that the excitement of a sport is not always a function of the amount of physical contact or displays of pure power. Lynn Swann was an elegant football player who studied ballet, and was by no means a powerhouse. But his elegance added to the excitement of his performance. In the same way there are very elegant features to baseball. Pitching is an especially good example of this. Situational hitting and exceptional defense are elegant features of the game. And it's not as if there aren't displays of physical power in baseball. Have you ever seen a 95-MPH fastball? Can you imagine how difficult it is to hit a baseball at that speed? Also, the amount of strategy involved in baseball is much higher than some of the other "more exciting" sports. Even baseball executives have exciting strategies--e.g. Moneyball GMs vs. Old School GMs.

I wouldn't discount baseball yet. It has survived many other setbacks from gambling to cheating. I think that this is just another one of those hurdles that baseball will outlive no matter what the government does. At the very least, take my wholehearted endorsement of the sport as indication that there still are people who passionately care about baseball.

Anonymous said...

David, does "poker" count as a sport? It's shown on ESPN2, but it doesn't meet your definition of physical contact? I guess it probably wouldn't, would it.

David said...

Wow look at all the posts. I should complain about lots of other national pastimes. (Stay tuned for "Apple Pie Can Kill You" and "How to Disrobe the Statue of Liberty." :))

Some clarifications: I wasn't being sarcastic when I called baseball barely a sport (I'll be posting my definition of "sport" in a moment) and it's immaterial telling me hitting a fast ball is hard. Lots of things are hard. Giving a cat a bath while wearing a radiation suit is hard, but it ain't no sport.

Strategy doesn't matter, either. Unless you want to call Risk a sport.

I was, however, being sarcastic when I said keeping the national pastime alive was inherently important. Of course it isn't (but a lot of people say it is). It's not like the world will explode if people stop trying to hit a fast ball (which I hear is really hard).

Now when it comes to baseball, you have to admit the trend isn't good. Check this out:

Notice how in the last ten years it was at 50 million, then it went up to 70 million, then it went down to 60 million. Is it "dying?" There's debate about that, but it certainly isn't growing (the ten year trend suggests a leveling out).

Of course baseball has lots of chances to re-invent itself, but why shouldn't those chances be maximized? Why build that barrier? Some one else said that there absolutely shouldn't be a league that allows steriods. WHY NOT? Just because you find it interesting without them doesn't mean most people do (and since there are players who are willing to take illegal drugs to please fans suggests there are a lot of people who would like this).

Everything we do involves some kind of risk and it's wrong to deny people from taking it if they so choose (as long as they don't hurt others). It is fundamentally about freedom and that is a national pastime that IS inherently important.

Anonymous said...

As if I listed separate sufficient conditions for what a sport is when I listed strategy and difficulty as characteristics of sport. Your reading of that part was superficial and wildly uncharitable. As if I would suggest that every hard activity is a sport. Certainly I do not think that difficulty is a necessary nor sufficient condition for something to be called a sport (but I do think that it affects the excitement, which is the case I was trying to make in the comment). Some people may find playing baseball, basketball, or cricket very easy. Would those activities then not be sports to those people? Of course not. There are a whole host of reasons that baseball is in fact a sport--not least of which is the pragmatic fact that most every person condisers it a sport. (Sorry, I'm pretty sure you're in the minority when you question whether it's a sport. However, even the minority has equal claim to the truth so I'm willing to hear what you have to say about sport-hood.) What might other characteristics of a sport be since you didn't post your definition of a sport? (I'm sure you're burning up that keyboard with your insight on what a sport is as I type this--You did say you would post your definition of a sport "in a moment" two and a half hours ago.) That the activity be physical (baseball is), that it be competetive in a wide sense (meaning with oneself or with others), that it have rules, and so forth. Now let me repeat this so you do not misconstrue what exactly this list means: These factors do not independently of one another make baseball a sport. However, the interaction between these and other factors does make baseball a sport.

Also, the point that baseball "isn't growing" may not be the best interpretation of the data since it's possible that the attendence record reflects other factors that decrease attendence (such as cost, time, etc.) and fails to consider the fans of baseball who stay at home to watch the game. Still, by this insufficient measure baseball is close to as popular as it has been in the past twenty years--if we look at raw attendence alone. However, there are more games played now, more teams than there were fifteen years ago, and so forth, so it might be that baseball is just bigger now than before. Then again, the fact that there are more teams and more games, not to mention an extensive minor league market, might be an indicator of baseball's vitality.

Check out the television ratings from past World Series:

These ratings seem to show that baseball is as unpopular as it has ever been--at least for a span of four to seven games. But the past two years have seen an increase in viewing audience, and we must still remember that baseball has been trying since 1994 to recreate its image. As you may know, 1994 was a strike-shortened season, and that season fans left baseball in droves. Baseball is still fighting back from that situation, and I think that it speaks to the vitality of baseball that Ed Goren of Fox sports calls the relatively poor ratings of even the 2000 World Series "respectable in today's world."

"It's not like the world will explode if people stop trying to hit a fast ball (which I hear is really hard)." I don't know who the people are that claim saving baseball is inherently important (they go suspiciously unnamed in your post), but I think that there is a large part of the population that would very much like to see people continue to hit fastballs. Take myself and the people who buy nearly 70 million expensive tickets each year to baseball games and the home viewers as a part of that group.

Finally, it's nice to see that towards the end the comment starts to resemble something Toby Keith would write: "Everything we do involves some kind of risk and it's wrong to deny people from taking it if they so choose (as long as they don't hurt others). It is fundamentally about freedom and that is a national pastime that IS inherently important." Yes, freedom is inherently important, and there is risk invovled in sports. But this organization has freely deemed drug use inappropriate, and the Alex Sanchez-es of the world have been sanctioned by that organization. The MLB has chosen to prohibit steroids. On that issue they do not want to reinvent themselves--probably because they think that excitement isn't related to the muscles of its players. Allowing performance-enhancing drugs isn't necessarily an opportunity to maximize utility. For every Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi there is an Ozzie Canseco and a Jeremy Giambi who takes steroids, gets big, and flops. Steroids would not undeniably make baseball more exciting. Some even feel that baseball in the steroid era is not nearly as exciting as it was in the 80s when players were less sculpted. I think that the MLB's decision to ban steroids reflects these opinions and also promotes the image that the organization wants to project. Can't this be an instance of freedom in action since the MLB has chosen to ban steroids? The MLB was dealing with this issue (to the same conclusion to ban steroids) before Henry Waxman got his moustache in all of this.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me but my clock is WAY off. You said you would give a definition of "sport" over four hours ago.

David said...

Sorry about the delay in the definition posting. After I put up this one, I got side tracked and it slipped my mind (and I didn't think people were so anxious to read it).

Let me take this point first: "Can't this be an instance of freedom in action since the MLB has chosen to ban steroids?" OF COURSE IT IS; that's what I said at the begining. I just don't understand why it's illegal to form an additional baseball league that allows steriods (and other drugs).

I'll concede that the numbers concerning baseball are sticky (perhaps it is growing, but the questions are: is this a unique occurance--two years isn't enough to conclude much--and is it growing faster than the US population).

My reference to baseball dying was from coverage I remember hearing during the '94 incident when attendence was down and how horrible some politicians thought it was. The idea that the world would end if people stopped hitting baseballs was mostly a literary tool (I say mostly because people are always paranoid when it comes to changing trends, like those who think the institution of marriage will fly apart if gays start exchanging vows). Just to push the point home (ooo baseball reference!) a little more, clearly some people thought/think baseball is vitally important as it got its own special anti-trust laws (though I'm not really a fan of those laws to begin with, this exception was made nonetheless).