The Game of Clueless
Hasbro describes the game of Clue as “a murder-mystery game for three to eight players where players move from room to room to find out who committed the crime, in which room it was committed, and what object was used”.
As we return from the All-Star break, I thought I’d play Clue – MLB Edition.
In this version of the game, we are going to uncover who killed baseball and where and when it took place. There are many suspects, but some have already been eliminated as they have a rock-solid alibi or slipped my detectives a few bucks to look the other way. The pool of suspects remaining are as follows: Rob Manfred, Baseball Nerds, Youth Coaches and Trainers, and Owners.
We’ve eliminated the Fans and the TV Broadcast companies already because both, while potentially complicit, are somewhat innocent bystanders who have the power to be Good Samaritans and help save the game, but, in the case of Television, are under the direction of Manfred and the Owners so they’re like a wheel man.
Let’s get to it. We have found Baseball laying in the infield, beaten badly and on life support. It’s clear the crime wasn’t committed there as it’s dragged itself to the mound leaving a trail of sunflower seeds, tobacco juice and high batting averages in its wake.
The crime could have happened in one of four places. The MLB offices lend itself nicely to the perpetration of this crime. Spacious and glamourous, it would be an easy place to the lure the game to meet its untimely demise. The Inner Sanctums of the GM offices at each club would be where the Baseball Nerds would lie in wait; complete with the smell of pocket protectors and the clickety – clack of keyboards, the game would be entranced in an excel spreadsheet that would make a potential crime easy to an unsuspecting casualty.
Youth parks and paid training facilities would result in more of a long-term, terminal injury or disease so likely that’s not the spot. The Owner’s box (or Yacht) is another potential location but let’s face it, the Owners are not getting caught getting their hands dirty. The Owners and their palaces have been cleared of the crime.
What weapons are available to the three remaining suspects?
Greed. That can be used by both Manfred and Youth Trainers.
Lack of understanding of the game. Again, Manfred and now the Nerds have this at their disposal.
Hatred of Baseball. While we hear and say that Manfred hates the game, he very likely does not so forensic analysis eliminates that as a weapon.
Launch angle and Exit Velocity. Now this weapon is highly likely a favorite, but is it the weapon? Let’s look deeper.
The Youth game has morphed from the world where kids slept in their uniforms the night before games to a world of pay-to-play Travel Ball where players are rated, stats (and advanced stats) are logged and coaches will do whatever it takes, mostly within reason, to win a tournament. This starts at U9, which makes the kids 8 years old. The parents fall into the trap and then begin to pay for extra help to improve playing time, increase their child’s rating and help them move to the next great team that will give them more exposure.
Do the “experts” who provide this paid training have the credentials either as former professional or college players to offer solid advice? Sometimes. Are they teaching basic fundamentals? Rarely. Are the coaches focusing on those fundamentals in practice? One would certainly hope so, but it seems as though they are not as focused on it as they should be. This pay to play to pray your kid gets drafted or a scholarship shuts out many kids who would play just because they love the game – as the attention now all goes to the Travel Players. The kids grow disenchanted with the game and the future fan has turned their interest to something else.
The Nerds, for their part, are really not suspects in this crime. Yes, they provide the very weapon that much of the BallNine audience despises, but in their minds, they are making the game better. I’m not universally opposed to Advanced Stats but most of the time our eyes tell us what the numbers explain any way.
The stat that is causing the most damage, in my opinion, is WAR. Wins Above Replacement. Everyone knows Mike Trout is one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. It’s not even debatable. His career WAR is 79.8; just above Joe DiMaggio and just below Jeff Bagwell. Mike Trout has been to the playoffs with the Angels exactly one time in 2014. Would the Angels have been worse without him the lineup? For sure, but one playoff trip doesn’t make me feel like that much worse would have mattered. Joe D, on the other hand, went to the World Series 10 times (it would have been more if not for three years of military service) and the Yankees won 9 of them. Without him for three years, the Yankees only made the Series once – so it would appear that his absence had a greater impact than Mike Trout’s – yet WAR tells us differently.
This is a small example of how the Nerds have tried to murder the game. These stats are used in contract negotiations and arbitration, to determine trade value and to rate players versus each other. They don’t take into account the human element; how does a player fit in a city, lineup, clubhouse? Those are factors that build championship teams and the stats trample all over them.
Now we examine the final suspect, one Mr. Rob Manfred. He is the most logical suspect. The constant tinkering with the game, the rule changes, the ghost runner, the inconsistent baseball, the 9 p.m. World Series starts, the length of the games. All of his weapons reside in the MLB offices.
The disconnect he has with the fans and what they think could work to help the game wind up getting replaced by ideas like moving the mound back, eliminating the shift, the three-batter minimum, the pitch clock and discussion of further expansion.
His guilt is masked in words with no actions – or words that are so far from fan perspective that when spoken aloud they cause disbelief and anger. The most recent example of this would be his take that Minor League players make a comfortable living wage despite the scads of instances that would say otherwise. He was appointed to his job because he was supposed to be an expert in bringing the league and its players closer together so there would be constant labor peace and he failed miserably. The lack of accountability he and his henchman are held to any failures of the game to grow is pushed back to the clubs or the cities that the teams reside in. We say he hates baseball – and I don’t truly believe that – but I don’t think he fully understands the game and he clearly shows little concern for its rich history.
So there you are. You have the suspects. You have the rooms and weapons used in the crime to kill baseball. I’ll let you finish the game. You tell us what’s killing baseball and we will continue to scream from the upper deck about why we need to save it.
The second half is underway, and you get to ask yourselves if there will be joy in Mudville come October. In the meantime, I’m returning bottles and cans until I get $400 so I can take my kids to a game.