Anarchists' Brunch: The First Glimpse

For the first time in 2017 yesterday, there was Cubs baseball on your television if you wanted it. But didn’t it feel a bit weird?

Oh, it was still a pick-me-up to see the blue pinstripes again. But there was a dissonance this time. Normally, we turn into spring training games basically to watch the sun. To see the warmth. We’ve spent months under snow or completely buried inside by wicked cold. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be warm, and in some cases happiness itself. You wonder if summer ever arrived, will ever come again, or whether you dreamed it all.

But this week? We were all outside on Wednesday. We had a week of 60+ temps. I didn’t have to search the databanks to remember what a cold beer tastes like on a warm day. I was having one!

Secondly, spring training signals the end of whatever had you feeling bitter or feeling short from the previous season. Whether it was just another lost season or an even more heartbreaking just-fell-short, spring training games showed up and you knew it was time to start all over again.

Well, I don’t have anything to feel bitter about from last season and neither do you. So while I’m as excited as anyone for the 2017 season, there’s no way to not keep looking back as well. WE carry that with us for the rest of time (with a second WS title to be added in October, obviously). I don’t need spring training games to come and wash away any stains.

And maybe it’s the time, too. It was barely three months without any Cubs on a field. We’re used to close to five for all of our lives. Didn’t have time to catch our breath, it feels in a way.

At this point we also know spring training itself is just too long. We know these guys don’t need six weeks to get ready for the season when they’re in shape year-round. Not that they’ll shorten it anytime soon, not with teams raking in cash from all those trying to escape the cold for a few days here and there. If the NFL can’t figure out how to shorten their preseason, no league will.

So it’s about pacing ourselves. I only watched a half-inning or so yesterday, knowing that there will six straight months with some form of baseball on my screen every night. There will be times to watch spring training games in full, or at least most of, to see what’s new and what’s changed and who’s doing what. But I can’t dive in fully when we’re not even in March yet.

Besides, April 2nd will be here before you know it (and I’ll probably be watching Wrestlemania anyway with the Cubs on the 2nd screen. Come at me)

I wrote about it at my own wing earlier in the week, and Rob Manfred certainly isn’t done tweaking things about the game to try and make it “faster.” That’s already been heavily discussed, and really the conclusion is that baseball is never going to get there. It’s just not the nature of the sport.

I feel it should embrace that, and try and position itself as a break from all the things on our screens and flashing at us. Because that’s why we watch and love it. We don’t watch baseball to touch the same nerves as hockey or football or even soccer (yes, it’s true. Ask us fans about it sometime). And I wouldn’t want to. I’m all filled up in that department.

Maybe that’s just the way these things go. There was a time when horse racing was one of the most popular sports in the country. It’s fanbase became old, and the sport was too disorganized and too smug to try and replace it. Societies change, and you don’t need me to tell you that. Baseball won’t lose its popularity before I die (next month considering my social habits), so I’m not going to mourn too much if that’s how it goes.

While I don’t agree totally that baseball should completely stop looking back and holding on to what it was, it has much now that it can do a better job of selling. If it’s intensity it feels it lacks, how is it more intense a moment than some bulky dude hurling essentially a rock at 98 miles an hour and some guy not diving for cover but locking in on it and trying to send it away farther and faster with a weapon?

Baseball has a lot. It should stop looking at what everyone else has.

Note: No Brunch next week due to some travel plans I have. I’ll be back for the full season on the 12th. Follow me @CubsIvyDrip on Twitter. 

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  • Well said Sam, Baseball doesn't have to change. I myself will miss the 4 pitch walk.

  • I'm with you when it comes to pacing myself. Although I'm fully expecting seven months, not six!

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I'm living on borrowed time.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Me too. I was so sported out after last year that I literally watched no sports until the Australian Open. My wife and kids are suggesting it might be a good thing if I don't watch/listen to ever Cubs game this season. Not going to happen!

  • Games are much longer than they used to be. That is the problem.

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    In reply to wastrel:

    That's true. And I believe that the reason is that, overall, the quality of play has gone up. It used to be that the bullpen was home to a "closer" an then a bunch of failed starters. The idea of drafting a "bullpen" pitcher sounded as ridiculous as drafting a punter with a lottery pick in the NFL. "Why waste a draft pick on someone you hope not to use?" But now we have a whole list of "bullpen roles." "7th inning guy," "8th inning guy," (now we are moving to "6th inning guy"). Then there is the "LOOGuY," "Mop-Up," "Swing-Man," etc. Each of these guys, if they come in in the middle of an inning, require an additional commercial break.

    Batters are also better, I believe, at fouling off pitches. And "waiting for their pitch." Front Offices like Theo/Jed, Beane, etc have changed the way that the game is played. I remember growing up and when the bullpen entered the game it was seen as a, "Well, here we go fans. We may have combined for 2 runs in the first 6 innings, but the final score may well be 8-7." It was just plain played differently.

    To me I don't know that the games were/are "too long" (I realize you didn't say they were too long). The WS last year had, I believe, all the games go at least 3.5 hours. Yet it was heralded by baseball fans and NON-BASEBALL fans as one of the most exciting in recent memory. It drew people in. People that hadn't watched baseball in a serious way in years found themselves glued to the screen. The reason was that it was GOOD BASEBALL. The games took forever partly because of the leagues desire to sell as much advertising as possible but also because it featured in-game moves that slow the game down. Both mid-inning pitching changes and two teams "built to win in the post-season." Not the scrappy, "small ball," tactics but willing to wait for their pitch and do some damage when they got it. I haven't checked but I am guessing that there are now more pitches thrown than in the past in an average game. There don't seem to be as many guys whose offensive philosophy is, "just take a hack at the first pitch that looks tasty, make contact, run like hell and hope for the best." They are still around but it used to be every line-up had 2-3 of them playing every day. Now teams like the Cubs aren't interested in that. They want a guy who will "work the pitcher," and can "wait for a pitch to drive." This also results in more strike-outs (and more pitches to do it) as well as more BB.

  • Ahh. Yes. Clearly a problem. The last 13 seasons are the 13 best attendance seasons in baseball history, with last year the 11th best.https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2016/10/04/mlb-hits-73-137-million-in-attendance-11th-highest-all-time-down-slightly-from-2015/#1137855072ff

    I really continue not to understand the 'baseball games are too long' controversy. If you don't like baseball, it's because you don't like the complexity of it all, or the odd, arcane and hard to decifer rules, or slower pace of play vis a vie other sports, period. No one doesn't watch baseball or hasn't become or remained a fan of the game because games are 15 min. longer than they used to be. You can only do so much to change the game as a gimmic to attract new fans before you alienate many of the millions of fans who like baseball just the way it is.

  • Games are twice as long as they were in 1920. So perhaps peoole looking to increase pace of play are actualky the traditionalists. You okay with 6 hour games coming up?

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    In reply to wastrel:

    The way that baseball was played in 1920 was completely different. Virtually every batter was trying to "just make contact and hope for the best." If the team got a runner on base a "bunt" was assumed, regardless of place in the batting order. BB were not seen as valuable to the offense at all and were not even credited to the batter at the time. The attitude was, "OK, this has gone on long enough. Just go to 1B and we'll see if the NEXT guy can get this whole pinwheel started."

    To go back to that style of play would require an almost 100% turnover in the players in the league. These guys have been trained for years to play this way. And it goes all the way through college and HS.

  • 1920 is also the same era that Babe Ruth was hitting more homers than other teams. Baseball wants to keep excitement as well and not move to the deadball era where a two run rally was often the difference in a game.

    Why Sam is right IMO, is that baseball is trying to serve two masters. They want faster play, but more action. In baseball more action leads to slower play, more pitching changes, etc. I think baseball should promote that it is beautiful just the way it is.

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    I believe the theory is that less strikeouts means shorter ABs and therefore shorter games.

    Although some of those batted balls will be hits, most will be outs.

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    That's exactly right. The proposed changes to the rule we've seen either fall into the category of saving minimal amounts of time (the new walk rule will save 14 seconds per game) or increasing offense which will actually make games longer. There are some common sense things that I wouldn't mind seeing like limiting mound visits but radical change would prove, IMHO, to be more harmful than beneficial.

    The elephant in the room to me is that MLB does an awful job of promoting itself. In the NFL teams routinely purchase billboards promoting their star players. In a recent trip to Florida I saw 4 Jameis Winston billboards on only two highways in in the Tampa-St. Pete area. In contrast there has never been a billboard featuring Mike Trout. Guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been on billboards but promoting products, not the sport itself. Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout are the best players in the sport but how many casual fans even know what they look like? Also, in terms of attracting kids, why is there only one MLB video game and why is it only on the Playstation platform and even with that limitation why aren't there video game expos at arenas around the country like there are for NFL and NBA video games? NFL and NBA players are routinely on talk shows like the Late Show, The Tonight show and others as well as on morning shows like Today and GMA. Why aren't there baseball players on these shows? Why does MLB spend a much smaller percentage on promoting Fantasy Baseball than the NFL does on Fantasy Football?

    To me all this hand wringing about pace of play and length of games as it pertains to short attention spans in young people would carry a lot more weight with me if they were practicing the same types of marketing and promotional campaign that other sports were, but they simply are not. Baseball is a great game but the reality is that it is a niche game that will only appeal to a certain segment of fans. Show me that you're reaching all of those fans and I'll get on board with rule changes, until then I think it's all a bunch of noise signifying nothing but change for change's sake.

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    In reply to TC154:

    Very well said, TC. I think another "problem" MLB has is that their schedule is a great deal different than other sports. They play nearly every day. This makes it hard for players to do things like "talk-show appearances" during the season (unless they happen to be in town). Also, there isn't the time to build up the "hype" that other sports have. Particularly football. It is not uncommon to see multiple 5-10 minute "stories" about the game on Sunday between two really good teams on various sports news outlets. They can hype the game and hype the game.

    I very much agree with you, though, that baseball can do a lot more to "market" the league. I can easily imagine an ad campaign showing stars of the local team with the phrase, "Baseball is coming" being a relatively cheap way to market the game and the local team.

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