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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 19, 2022 9:51 pm PDT
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ESPN represents the power of sport.

Sure, on occasion the network has lost its way since its inception in 1979, the same year, by the way, AMBS married Mrs. AMBS. But there is no denying the power of ESPN and its role as kingmaker.

With that in mind take a trip over to the ESPN website and its main page.

Now check the banner across the top where you find the different categories of sports listed.

Leading the way is NFL, the Big Dog, of course. Next comes NBA, NHL and finally Soccer. Then come three dots.

No MLB is to be found on the banner and ESPN is partners with baseball. They are not the partners they once were, but they are still partners.

Where’s baseball?

Click the three dots and another page pops up and so many categories of different sports. Reading left to right there is GOLF, NCAAF, BOXING, CFL, CHALK, COLLEGE SPORTS. Then comes CRICKET, F1, LTTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES.

You finally stumble across MLB, right before MMA and NASCAR. Perhaps this is because it is not baseball season and maybe during baseball season MLB gets better billing. But it is hard to imagine even offseason baseball being shown the back door. This used to be Hot Stove League time.

Click the MLB link and you immediately see a story about the retirement of Jon Lester entitled: ‘Maybe the best playoff pitcher ever?’ So the MLB copy is fresh, it just so happens to be buried in the bowels of ESPN.

All this was brought to my attention this week by the highly respected former play-by-play broadcaster of the Boston Red Sox Jerry Trupiano. Jerry did much more than broadcast Red Sox games during his long career, including the Curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox. He hosted a long-running talk show in Houston and called games at one time for the Astros, Expos, Houston Rockets and the Oilers among others.

It was once said of baseball by French-American historian Jacques Barzun, who published more than 40 books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.’’

Jerry Trupiano

Jerry Trupiano

That was the impact the game had on the country for so many decades.

For a long time, I have been lamenting that baseball is in extreme danger of becoming a niche sport in America under the leadership of current commissioner Rob Manfred. ESPN is not the be all and end all, but it does offer a pulse on sports and for baseball to be taken away from the banner – away from the NFL – the clear leader – and the NBA and put with the likes of the CFL and Cricket is eye-opening.

Baseball keeps losing ground and credibility with the fans because of the way the game is administered and played right now. Baseball needs to wake up.

Baseball is not doing itself any favors with the current lockout. It’s out of sight, out of mind as far as fans are concerned. Baseball used to comfort the fan, it used to bring a sense of peace and togetherness in the way it was played, just think back to the late, great comedian George Carlin and his breakdown about the differences between baseball and football.

In so many ways, Manfred has not only forgotten the game’s roots; he treats those roots with disdain.

Carlin and I once flew in first class side by side across the country in the late 80s. It was fun, lots of wine and lots of laughs. One of the flight attendants – back then you were still allowed to call them stewardesses – did not have much of a sense of humor, though, and by the middle of the flight, Carlin was calling her Sister Mary Stewardess.

That is a story for another day.

In his act, baseball, Carlin brilliantly surmised: “is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th century technological struggle.

“Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park, the baseball park. Football is played on a gridiron in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

“Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall when everything is dying.

“In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap.

“Football is concerned with downs. What down is it? Baseball is concerned with ups. Are you up? I’m not up. He’s up.

“… Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, blocking, piling on, late hitting, unnecessary roughness and personal fouls. Baseball has the sacrifice.

“… Baseball has the 7th-inning stretch. Football has the 2-minute warning.

“Baseball has no time limit. We don’t know when it’s going to end. We might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed and it will end even if we have to go to sudden death.

“… And finally the objectives of the two games are totally different. In football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun with short bullet passes and long bombs he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy defensive line.

“In baseball, the object is to go home. And to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home.’’

Every time I hear that routine I not only laugh out loud, I am struck by how Carlin got to the soul of the two sports in such a genius way with words.

Football certainly has won the war for the most popular sport in America and baseball, at this point, is just trying to hold on but it is doing it in such a strange fashion under Rob Manfred.

The lockout continues. A “bargaining’’ session is set for Thursday, the first time the two sides have spoken in more than a month. Expect more saber rattling. The gambling money at stake continues to be immense and that in itself is a big part of the problem.

Baseball has sold its soul to gambling.

Yet, Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, cannot sniff the Hall of Fame. Rose has been banned from appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot because he bet on his Reds. Considering that baseball is now in bed with gambling of all sorts and the plan is to make basically every ballpark a casino, I’m calling for Rose to be put on the next Hall of Fame ballot and let the voters decide.

Where do you draw the line?

I don’t see why the all-time hits leader cannot have his opportunity to get in the Hall of Fame especially since the steroid stained all-time home run leader Barry Bonds has had his 10 years on the ballot. Gambling is good for the game now – but still bad for Pete Rose.

Of course I would also put Joe Jackson on the ballot because he was banned for life and his life has been over since 1951.

Looking for a little consistency here from baseball.

Under Manfred baseball has lost its way in so many ways. Going back to the George Carlin skit, to hear the line: “Baseball has no time limit. We don’t know when it’s going to end. We might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed and it will end even if we have to go to sudden death.’’

Well, Manfred did his best to upset that extra innings apple cart with the addition of the fake runner placed on second base in extra innings to have games end rapidly.

Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson, as photographed by Louis Van Oeyen on September 6, 1913-09-06. Notice Ty looking at Joe's massive hands in astonishment as Joe easily holds 3 bats.

Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson, as photographed by Louis Van Oeyen on September 6, 1913-09-06. Notice Ty looking at Joe's massive hands in astonishment as Joe easily holds 3 bats.

Manfred would love to expand the number of playoff teams as well, further diluting the importance of the regular season. The regular season was always the heart of the game but now it is about the TV playoff money.

So many things that made baseball so special to Carlin and the fans who loved his words are being lost as well. Sure “Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, blocking, piling on, late hitting, unnecessary roughness and personal fouls. Baseball has the sacrifice.’’

Not really anymore.

The sacrifice has all but disappeared in today’s game that is now only concerned on offense with home runs and launch angle.

The bottom line is the game is changing so much and fans, for all the arguments that the game must change, the fans don’t love this game the way they once loved that game. All that tells me that baseball should embrace all the little things that once made it great. Get the games back to a respectable length of time, make the manager important again, make fundamentals fundamental to the game again. Bring strategy back. Make the game affordable for families. Flood the zone with more minor league baseball teams, not fewer teams. Make the draft more rounds and try to make the draft more fan friendly than it is now with more in-depth coverage and detail.

Fans love to talk about prospects. They have always loved prospects. In essence, allow fans to love their teams at every level the way they used to love them.

During my time writing Baseball or Bust or The Story, the stories that really hit home are the stories that evoke memories of when it was a game. Remembering those good times helps make a fan a fan. The game evolves, I get it, but never forget your fan roots.

In so many ways, Manfred has not only forgotten the game’s roots; he treats those roots with disdain. Winning the labor battle does not mean you win the war. In fact, it takes a little bit more of the soul of the game away every time baseball is looked upon as just a business as opposed to being a sport.

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark are scheduled for Round 1 of ``bargaining sessions`` today. (AP Photo)

The longer this goes on and there is no baseball, this is a lose-lose proposition for baseball which is so short-sighted looking only at today’s dollars, not tomorrow’s hope for a better future.

Bring baseball back to the conversation in many different ways.

Just that one suggestion that I made earlier, finally putting Pete Rose on the Hall of Fame ballot and letting the BBWAA vote on his candidacy, do you realize how much that would bring baseball back into the conversation?

People will feel strongly one way or the other about Rose and if he is elected to the Hall of Fame make sure to put on his plaque his gambling story as well as his hits story. At this point it is all the story of baseball.

Make the games more enjoyable, less boring, more action, better defense, better base-running and suddenly more people will be talking about the games and watching the games. TV ratings continue to plummet because as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, where she grew up, “There’s no there, there.’’

That’s what is going on with baseball right now for those who grew up loving the game. There is no there, there.

There is money, there is some star power, every year there is a new champion.

There have been no back to back winners of the World Series since the Yankees winning in 1998, ’99 and 2000. A lot of things that made baseball great aren’t around anymore. A lot of that is a management problem. Allowing so many teams to tank going back to the Cubs before they finally broke their curse in 2016 is a major issue as well, but most of all it comes back to how the game is played.

The fans are telling you it is not the same game it once was that used to have a hold on fans.

Where’s baseball?

What is the game doing to get better? What is the game doing to fix its faults? Get back to some basics. It’s not about finding a gambling audience, it’s about finding a baseball audience. Being bounced off the home page of ESPN is just one small example of a much bigger problem.

Make baseball baseball again.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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