MLB Needs To Embrace The Star System

MLB and baseball as a whole are going through an identity crisis at the moment. It is a sport taking a big hit right now. It’s not dead, but it’s on life support. Even with an enthralling 2016 postseason and home run numbers sky-rocketing, baseball needs a change. The solution isn’t changing the game, but rather grasping what they already have. Take a page out of Hollywood’s book, MLB, and embrace the star system.

Baseball purists have never had to promote their stars to get people to watch. The sports star systemworld has changed. I’m not a huge fan of the NBA, but you have to recognize how massive that league has become worldwide. They’ve got major fan bases in China and Spain and Brazil. Their league spans the continents. The MLB does not.

It really is that simple for the NBA. They just promote their stars more than their teams. A game of Oklahoma City vs. Houston is not billed as “Thunder vs. Rockets.” Instead, it’s “Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden.” That can really make all the difference. Within the NBA, there are legions of fans who support players, not teams. While that would probably never catch on in a city like Boston, it has made the popularity of the NBA soar. That kind of exposure of players creates an entire universe of heroes and villains, bringing infinitely more passion and hatred and a rooting interest for the league.

You don’t need me to tell you the MLB has nothing close to that. This past weekend should’ve been hyped up like a heavyweight fight, a 15-round title match between Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge. Saturday’s game was a match-up between two All-Star pitchers. One of them was Chris Sale, the best pitcher in the league. That game was on Fox Sports 1. FREAKING FOX SPORTS 1. Women’s Golf was deemed the better product to watch on Fox. Women’s golf over Red Sox-Yankees with Chris Sale on the mound.

There is really no reason why the MLB can’t be a better league than the NBA. Baseball has always been a worldly sport. Basketball has just started to be in that discussion the last decade. There are no super teams in the MLB. Aaron Judge just went 0 for the series against the Red Sox. He isn’t coming to Boston next year. David Price did not ask to go to Cleveland after they handed him his lunch in last year’s playoffs. My point is, this is not the NBA. If you take the positives from what they have done, you will far surpass the NBA.

The Star System Doesn’t Even Need Personality

The stars don’t even need personality, they just need to be promoted like stars. James Harden, Steph Curry, even Kevin Durant, these guys are dry. They’re boring. They aren’t polarizing. Yet, people would think they are because their names are EVERYWHERE. So don’t tell me Mookie Betts can’t be marketed because he isn’t as funny as David Ortiz. It’s on the league, not the players, to make this sport more popular.

So I’m calling out Major League Baseball. I don’t want more Yankees and Angels fans, I want more Aaron Judge and Mike Trout fans. I want people to know what number Kris Bryant is. Give me people who know what team Bryce Harper plays for. I don’t want a World Series of Astros vs. Dodgers. I want a World Series of Carlos Correa vs. Cody Bellinger. Give me a reason to watch the game. The sport is dying, unfortunately, but the players are still the same. Give the game to the players, not the purists.

Ballparks Must Stop Playing “God Bless America”

There’s two songs that everyone expects to hear when they go to a ballgame. The first, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sets the tone of the game. Then there’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played during the seventh inning stretch. These two songs are staples of the great game of baseball. Ballparks must stop playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Its purpose went stagnant years ago.

There’s a few reasons why ballparks must stop playing “God Bless America” at ballgames.Ballparks Must Stop First, it’s too redundant. Now I love being an American. I’m thankful to God that I was born an American. But how many times do I have to stand up and pledge my allegiance? Whose approval do I need? And why of all places should it be at a ballpark? With politics dividing our nation in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Civil War, the last thing we need is a song that puts people on the spot if they don’t stand up and place their hands over their hearts in the seventh inning (I stopped doing it months ago). I’m not at a ballgame to prove that I love my country. In fact, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. That’s what makes America great. We have the freedom to express ourselves anyway we see fit as long as we’re not infringing on the rights of others. You love “God Bless America”? Hey, great! It’s your right. But don’t tell me that I have to love it too.

The Man Who Wrote The Song Didn’t Even Like It

Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918 and thought it too depressing, so he shoved it in a drawer for 20 years. He dusted it off when World War II broke out and the rest is history. To clarify, Berlin didn’t think the song sufficied so he put it away. Berlin released it only when a radio show host asked him for a song about America she could play on her show.

Sixty years later, baseball parks appropriately started playing “God Bless America” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It was a song many Americans sang in unity. It comforted Americans during a very dark time in our nation’s history. But now it’s a stagnant remnant and feels too much like an obnoxious “in your face” attempt to prove one’s patriotism. Gersh Huntsman of The New York Daily News stated, “The song still embodies great things about America, but also our worst things: self-righteousness, forced piety, earnest self-reverence, foam.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The song feels so much like a third wheel on a date. You don’t really want it there but you don’t want to be mean and ignore it. It doesn’t have to be there to begin with. And what you had to start was good enough. I’m talking about you and “The Star Spangled-Banner.” I feel proud to stand up and remove my hat for our National Anthem. I even get angry when I hear fans talking during the song at Fenway. “The Star-Spangled Banner” has a very significant meaning to Fenway Park. In fact, the tradition of playing the National Anthem started at Fenway Park. 

The Star-Spangled Banner Suffices

If you’re a Red Sox season ticket holder like me, then you’ve heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” hundreds of times. Not only does it mark the time when fans rise to show respect for the colors and appreciation for America, but it marks the beginning of the game! So why do we need “God Bless America”?

Let’s take a look at a few numbers while we contemplate the answer. Sheryl Kaskowitz’s 2013 book, God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song, states that about 61% of baseball fans would like to see the song removed. Her research also found that 83.8% of “very liberal” people dislike the song, while 20.5% of “very conservative” people” have a problem with it. This statistics highlight the divide and potential for causing conflicts at ballgame.

Going back to my original point, many people see the song as a litmus test for one’s patriotism. Fans who see others not standing for the song in the seventh inning might feel obligated to jeer them. “Why don’t you stand for God Bless America, huh? What are you not American?” Again, no one needs to prove anything to anyone at a ballgame except for your love for the home team. People go to ballgames to get away from politics, religion, work, etc. The last thing anyone needs is a drunken fan looking for an excuse to fight. The Yankees are coming to town this week so we’ll have enough reasons to fight as it is. We don’t need any more reasons.

Ballparks Must Stop Playing “God Bless America”

Now, I’m not for removing any and all things that offend people. Lord knows I love eating hot dogs in front of the PETA protestors in Harvard Square. That’s not what I’m getting at though. Instead, what I’m trying to say is that not only does the song contribute to the divided of the nation because it obligates citizens to unnecessarily prove their patriotism, but it’s unnecessary to begin with. It’s a song that’s overstayed its welcome. Fenway Park plays the National Anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and “Sweet Caroline.” The first two songs are as American as apple pie. So ballparks must stop forcing “God Bless America” down baseball fans’ throats. The first two are more than perfect.

Ballparks must stop playing “God Bless America.” Baseball already has two songs soaked in tradition that people on both sides of the political divide love. So let’s remove that third wheel. Sit back, sing the National Anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and enjoy the game.

Pitchers Taking Too Long Slows The Game Down

Major League Baseball has a big problem right now with its pace. Games are way too long. In the 1950s baseball games lasted about 2.5 hours tops. Now you’re lucky if you’re out in three hours. Some say all the gimmicks and commercials between innings slow down the game.  But it’s the pitchers taking too long that slows it to a crawl. Pitchers are taking more time than ever to focus, wind up, meet with infielders on the mound, and calculate their next pitch.

Part of this issue includes the time lapse between pitches. The Red Sox David Price tookpitchers slowing 25.8 seconds between pitches in 2013 and 26.6 seconds in 2014. Oddly enough, Price did better when he worked faster. His ERA dipped below 3 when he spent 24 seconds or less between pitches. It jumped to almost 3.50 when he approached 27 seconds. But when runners get on base and the score tightens, managers and pitchers take more time to huddle up. Walking out to the mound, chatting with the infield, and mentally preparing for the next batter might be okay for the super die-hard fans, but it’s doing absolutely nothing to keep the younger fan base engaged. In anything, it’s driving them away.

A Solution For Pitchers Taking Their Time

The Atlantic League found a way cut down on this problem. Starting in 2014, coaches can visits the mound only thee times during the course of one game when they are not making a pitching change. They get 45 seconds to talk. If they go over then a ball is charged to the next batter. This approach would not only speed up ballgames, but it would cut down on the amount of time pitchers spend thinking about each pitch. In fact, pitchers could learn from Carl Yastrzemski’s words of wisdom, “The only time I don’t think about [baseball] is when I’m playing it.”

Pitchers Taking Their Time Slows Everything Down

Last February I spent a few hours with former Red Sox infielder Ted Lepcio. He played for Boston in the 1950s and recalled how uncommon it was for the entire infield to come to the mound for meetings. “The whole infield didn’t come in to meet. I don’t get why they do that today.” So why so many more meetings nowadays?

Some say it’s a psychological move. Meet as an infield and you make the opposing batter nervous. Walk off the mound right before a wind up breaks the other team’s momentum. Bringing in reliever and reliever keeps the opposing team guessing. But is all this necessary? Is it making the games more insightful or just plain boring?

Real fans want to see pitching duels. Fans want to see hit and runs. They want to see steals. They don’t want to get wrapped up in a play only for their own excitement to get killed off because the Yankees Joe Girardi wants to bring in another reliever. Purists can say that new rules aren’t meant to be all they want. But if the game is going to remain a spectator sport it’s going to have to come up with new and innovative ways to stay interesting.

Angels Fan Returned 600th Home Run Ball to Pujos

Albert Pujols, the veteran infielder and DH for the Los Angeles Angels, hit his 600th career home run on June 3rd. An Angels fan named Scotty Steffel caught the ball and held it tight as his father pulled zealous fans off his son. Pujols’ 600th home run marked only the ninth time a played in the MLB has reached that plateau. Pujols also made history as the only player whose 600th home run was a grand slam. So it’s only natural that the fan who caught it would want something major in return for the ball. In some cases, fans demand tens of thousands of dollars for a significant piece of baseball memorabilia. But in a display of class and integrity, the Angels fan returned the ball to who he called its rightful owner.

“It’s not my ball, it’s his,” Steffel told CBS Los Angeles. “He deserves it. He’s one of theAngels Fan returned best baseball players right now. Of all time.” While many were quick to praise Steffel for giving up the ball without asking for anything in return, others were not so kind. “Of course you sell it,” someone wrote on the Facebook wall of the Institute for Baseball Studies. “One life so look out for yourself and your family. Opportunity comes so take it. So if that makes me greedy I’m fine with that.” Others were more blunt. “Oh yea, giving the Baseball back in 2017 for free………DUMBEST F*@&!#G THING I EVER DID IN MY LIFE!”

Angels Fan Returned the Baseball Out of Respect, Not Cash

Steffel allegedly could have gotten $100,00 for the baseball. But it’s not really like he walked away empty handed. He got his fifteen minutes of fame. He got to meet Pujols after the game. The newest member of the 600 home run club hugged Steffel and shook his hand. Steffel also got the chance to sit in the broadcast booth for a while. And not to mention the tremendous amount of press coverage he’ll get for weeks to come.

In a time when players’ inflated egos are causing unwarranted brawls, it’s refreshing to see someone like Steffel be so selfless. Hopefully his actions will serve as a model for others.

Will New Under Armour MLB Jersey Contract Spike Sales?

In December, a deal was finalized with the MLB making Under Armour jerseys the official on-field game wear. Additionally, Fanatics will oversee product licensing rights to manage and manufacture the merchandise. The new MLB Jersey contract is the first change in several years.

MLB Jersey Contract

The deal will begin in the 2020 MLB season and will give Under Armour exclusive rights for a 10-year period. Through the agreement, they will provide all 30 MLB teams with all their on-field uniforms. This includes jerseys that will feature the company’s branding, as well as base layers, game-day outerwear gear, and other apparel.

Although financial details were not disclosed, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called the deal a “watershed moment for the brand” during an interview with Fortune Magazine.

Implications of the MLB Jersey Contract

And that’s exactly what Major League Baseball wants. Kids buying UA jerseys.

Despite their falling stock, there’s no doubt that Under Armour is most popular among children and millennials. As a millennial, I love Under Armour’s product, and while it may seem like just another manufacturer, the impact this could have on jersey sales is huge.

Even though Majestic and Russell are good brands, the logo recognition of Under Armour will do wonders for MLB jerseys.

Under Armour’s move an obvious measure to compete with not only the other brands but also to get its stake into the Big Four merchandise platform. Their clients already include the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper.

Because of the brand loyalty that exists for UA, this deal will spike MLB jersey sales and be a positive for the game. As a UA consumer, I am pumped about the new MLB Jersey Contract.

Petty Baseball Rivalries Hurt the Game

Rivalries in baseball have existed as long as the game itself. You don’t need to look too far back to find examples of rivalries between players, teams, and even owners. My favorite involves legendary NY Giants manager John McGraw. Before becoming a manager, petty baseball rivalries McGraw was a hard-running hitter for the Baltimore Orioles. During a game in May 1894, McGraw slid into the Boston Beaneaters’ third baseman. McGraw’s slide touched off a fight between the two. The brawl intensified so much that by the next morning the ballpark, and 114 houses in the surrounding neighborhood had burned to the ground. Long story short, fans became so excited they didn’t pay attention to their dropped lit cigars. These rivalries are what make baseball so great. But today’s petty baseball rivalries are hurting the game because they’re based on personal insults instead of fierce competition.

Where Are the Genuine Rivalries?

Baseball rivalries aren’t what they used to be. The Brooklyn Dodgers had one with the New York Yankees, who beat them all but once in the World Series. Brooklyn had one with another National League team, the New York Giants. Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” set a standard for game-winning home runs. Johnny Podres’ brilliant performance in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series won Brooklyn its only title. The rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees needs no introduction. These fierce battles made the game fun to watch. But now they’ve turned into anger over flipped bats, unintentional slides, and other ridiculous incidents that exemplify pettiness instead of honest competition.

The rivalry between Carlton Fisk and Thurmond Munson is the stuff of legends. It all started during a 1973 game that would decide who’d move into first place. In the 9th, Munson broke for home on a suicide squeeze and crashed into Fisk. Munson tried to keep Fisk down so Felipe Alou could advance. Fisk overpowered Munson before both teams cleared the benches. When you look at the details of this brawl you don’t see anger over a flipped bat or a slide. You see two teams so destined to win at any cost that they revert to creative methods to overpower one another. It was their skill and strategy that made the rivalry so legendary. They reflect a tremendous amount of skill that goes towards its execution. Like The Roman Empire, greatness wasn’t built in a day. Petty baseball rivalries, however, are created in a short time.

Today’s Petty Baseball Rivalries Are Born Out of Bruised Egos

Last month the Orioles’ Manny Machado slide into second and spiked Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedrioa. Footage of the play clearly shows that it wasn’t intentional, but that didn’t stop the Red Sox from retaliating. The Red Sox Matt Barnes threw at Macho’s head a few days later that led to his ejection. This petty baseball rivalry intensified two weeks later when Baltimore came to Boston. In a series marked by racial taunts, fights over nothing continued that distracted both teams from playing as well as they could have. The players on each team weren’t trying to win the game to secure first place. They were understandably coming to one another’s defense like teammates should, but it was still petty and childish. It wasn’t about winning to them, it was about being macho.

Impulsivity doesn’t involve planning. There’s no real strategy to it. Anyone can throw at a batter’s head and say it’s all about rivalry. But those who think the current rivalry between Boston and Baltimore is a real one should read up on their baseball history.