For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 12, 2024 11:15 pm PDT

Here is what the Lords of Baseball and the Players Association are missing. Here is the elephant in the room neither side can see.

In this Age of Outrage, they are recipients of Instant Outrage.

You see, in 1994, the last baseball work stoppage – a 232-day strike by the players ­– the world was still living in what I call newspaper times.

The daily newspaper brought us information and at the time I was working for the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper, ESPN and the nightly news delivered our information. The only outlet for the fan to express his anger at the game was through letters to the editor, the rare TV interview and bitching at the local bar in San Diego, complaining at the beach between sets of waves or at Pannikin Coffee.

No one really understood how upset baseball fans were at baseball until the games started again and attendance dropped.

We are living in much different times now. Everyone has a microphone via social media and as I always say, there is nothing social about social media.

Everyone is making their anger known at baseball for the lockout. The outrage is ratcheted up. More people are pissed off at baseball than ever before and that will linger. There are more media options because of the internet as well. Nearly everyone in the world has a podcast and that amplifies the situation, too.

“So, baseball will continue on this path. That is not light at the end of a tunnel, that is a train coming down the tracks.”

People are mad as hell and they just are not going to quietly take it anymore and baseball, because it is run by an elite class, has no clue what is about to hit them. Manfred & Co. live in a bubble. So even when the two sides come to an agreement, fans have already hit the boiling point because of the outrage already expressed on so many platforms.

And here is the kicker. Baseball, both players and owners, are doing nothing to fix the real problems in the game. They are only fixing the money.

Instead of teaching players to hit the ball to all fields to make the games more interesting and to intensify the action (who doesn’t like a triple in the gap) they have incentivized the home run and the strike outs. Instead of creating more action they are limiting the action. Instead of taking care of shifts naturally – make a damn adjustment, hitters, to beat the shift – they want ready to legislate. On the rare occasion when hitters do make contact, they continually hit into the shift.

That is the baseball definition of insanity. And then to have the hitters whine about the shift is maddening.

There is talk of limiting shifts or banning them, just another example of 2022 when the ruling class thinks problems can be legislated out of existence instead of just using common sense to fix the problem. And believe me, baseball is not the only sport guilty of that. After the Juwan Howard handshake line incident, there was talk of removing handshake lines.

We ask so little of our athletes and coaches accountability-wise this would be yet another example.

Man up, shake hands with the team that just beat you. And if you are upset that the other coach called a timeout to advance the ball with one second left after maintaining a full court press, get over it. Coach your team, not his team.

Baseball has essentially eliminated the manager/umpire arguments with technology even though fans loved that aspect of the game. Baseball has eliminated contact at home plate and at second base, even though fans loved that part of the game, too, because of two incidents. The Robo umps will make the game even less interesting but at least we will be spared all those stories that have been written on the Art of Pitch Framing,

I’d rather talk about paint drying. And by the way, framing was pretty much always in the game.

Wil Myers #4, Luis Urias #9 and Greg Garcia #5 of the San Diego Padres shift to the right side of the infield during the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark on March 18, 2019 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Batters will continue to take too much time at the plate getting their mind right and visualizing the next pitch before they step back into the box instead of moving the game along by keeping the hitter planted in the box.

There are little things, too. For fans, the saving of ticket stubs is pretty much gone because of the easy use of electronic tickets. Again, these are just small and big points that have eroded the game. Time marches on, I get it. But does time have to march over and crush so many aspects of baseball? And we haven’t even started about the loss of true coaching and true scouting in the game and true managing, what I call the real three true outcomes of the game.

They’re all gone. It’s all percentages and analytics now and aversion to taking a chance.

These are just some of the problems facing the game and none of them are being addressed by the two sides because essentially the fight between owners and players is all about money. All this has taken a great toll on the fans. And these are fans, whether you want to hear it or not, who have been beaten up in life by ridiculous inflation based in part because America has had its energy independence stripped away.

Here is my stat of the day and it’s a doozy.

In 2021 there were 59,062 shifts, up from about only 17,000 shifts five years ago. Interestingly enough, in 2021 there were 42,145 strikeouts in the majors and another 15,794 walks. That is a total of 57,939 plate appearances where nothing really happened.

So to recap, 59,062 shifts and nearly the same number of action-less at-bats. That’s fun for the fans. Are you kidding me?

The Nerds are killing the game softly.

“I don’t think either side really understands what the fans are feeling and saying and realize, ‘We are not in a good place right now, we have to get something done here,’’’ one longtime baseball man told BallNine of what is really happening in the game. “We have to move.’’

It’s a much different world than 1994 in every way and there is no Cal Ripken Jr. out there to save baseball like he did in 1995 breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.

Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. (8) in front of teammates waving after tying Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played at 2130 during game vs California Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Baltimore, MD 9/5/1995 CREDIT: Jerry Wachter (Photo by Jerry Wachter /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

“The world is on fire, gas is going to be $5 a gallon, the cost of food is rising rapidly, that’s the problems fans are facing,’’ the baseball man added. “You think the fans are concerned about the minimum wage the players want at $775,000 with an escalation to almost a million dollars? What world are you living in?’’

That’s the problem, both the owners and players live in a world the regular fan cannot relate to in any way.

When all the CBA dots are connected you think fans are going to gleefully just come back to the ballpark wearing a “Kick me’’ sign on their backsides? They have bigger things to worry about than baseball’s gold-plated arguments between owners and players and other things to do.

And all you have to do is spend a few minutes on not so social media to figure that out. Compared to what is going on now to 1994, this is kid’s stuff and the saddest thing of all is that so many people connected with the game have tried to save the game from itself and the overabundance of Ivy League leaders – but no one is listening.

The latest to speak out is one of my favorites, a guy I loved to talk baseball with, especially hitting, Will Clark.

Don’t lefties have the sweetest swings?

Will The Thrill never pulled any punches so don’t expect him to start pulling them now at the age of 57. “Put it this way,’’ Clark said on the Murph & Mac Show this week. “The new hitting approach, launch angle, catching the ball up, getting the ball in the air and all that, that’s absolutely bullshit, to tell you the truth.’’

Clark comes from that baseball generation that lived in reality and “I’ll say what I want to say.’’

Gary Sheffield owns the same type of candor as does Kevin Mitchell. These hitters were the best at their craft and they just fired away, matter of factly, and I love it.

They are not about to tell you they got in a fight with a teammate because they were arguing if one saw a rat and the other saw a raccoon. They told it like it is and Clark is still doing that. He also added, “Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb would be rolling over in their grave right now if they knew what the hell was going on with hitters now.’’

Former player Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants jokes with Madison Bumgarner #40 before the game against the Cleveland Indians at AT&T Park on April 26, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians 5-3. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Will anyone in baseball listen? Of course not because that guy running your favorite team right now once played or sat the bench on a college team and later took a hitting seminar at a factory outlet. They know more than Will Clark.

They know more than coaches with a lifetime in the game who learned from previous coaches who had a lifetime in the game.\

Another plain-speaking man from that era was Tim Flannery. I broke the news that Flannery, a Padres fan favorite was going to retire and why, and that came about after a few rounds of beers with Flan on a road trip.

This week on Facebook, Flannery posted a picture of himself not just breaking up a double play, but destroying the double play with this comment: “The game has changed so much that this used to be normal, now if you slide hard you have to send roses and they suspend you. I wonder what rules the Commissioner wants to change now? I really hope all involved can figure some things out quickly and sign a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“Maybe just put a runner on 3rd base to start each inning? Ha.’’

As long as the runner is sponsored by some advertising money baseball will do it.

Will anyone listen to Flannery? Of course not, this is just old ballplayers yelling at clouds. Same goes for Goose Gossage who crushed baseball two years ago with me here at Baseball or Bust and then had a terrific encore with Bob Nightengale this week.

Will anybody listen?

Of course not because Goose, a Hall of Famer, is a really feisty old man yelling at clouds.

(L-R) Tom Flannery, recording artist Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Tim Flannery #1 of the San Francisco Giants sing the national anthem before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at AT&T Park on August 5, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

So, baseball will continue on this path. That is not light at the end of a tunnel, that is a train coming down the tracks. I’m reading a tremendous book on Ty Cobb called: Ty Cobb A Terrible Beauty, written by Charles Leerhsen.

This book debunks (language of our times) many myths about Cobb and gets to the heart of the player. Cobb so wisely said, “Baseball is 50 precent brain, 25 percent eye and 25 percent arm and leg.’’

He used his brain by looking for every little advantage he could get over his opponent. One more quote which gets to the essence of the offensive game and it has nothing to do with launch angle. This is something all baseball players should memorize.

“I try continually to get as close to the home plate as possible, overlooking no opportunity,’’ Cobb said.

Cobb wasn’t just thinking advancements of 90 feet. Home was the goal.

(Original Caption) 6/10/1915- Detroit Tigers star player, Ty Cobb, batting in a game against Boston.

But here is the beauty of that. He accomplished that by getting every inch he could take to get closer to home.

Eddie Collins once offered this description of Cobb. “He was like compressed steam. Cobb was always exerting pressure, always searching out a weak spot here and there to display his seemingly inexhaustible and tireless energy.’’

Here we are in 2022 and the fans of baseball are compressed steam. They are letting it off every day and that will take a toll on how the game is seen in the future.

“People in charge of the game now,’’ one longtime baseball man told me, “have never really played the game, they never really coached a player, they don’t understand that aspect of the game and something is wrong with that.’’

There is something wrong with that and baseball does not understand, just as they don’t realize the pent-up anger of the fans. Something has to give. The lockout has produced a boiling point in this age of Instant Outrage.

“Sooner or later, they are going to come to an agreement and some people will say, ‘Thank God, baseball is okay,’ no it’s not,’’ one longtime evaluator explained. “It’s not okay, the game stinks and they want to cut back the game even more.’’

Yes they do. In so many ways baseball remains out of the touch with fans and what made the game so special to them.

A new CBA is not going to fix the game’s problems.

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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