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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: February 25, 2024 9:17 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Be careful what you wish for, Major League Baseball.

Rob Manfred & Co. have strung together a lot of shiny objects as spring training is about to start. With the Super Bowl slated for next Sunday, the ultimate day of dominance for the NFL where teams and The Game still matter, there is not a lot of Super stuff happening in baseball.

For the most part with the Super Bowl, people are talking about the Eagles and the Chiefs. I just read that 16 million people are expected to skip work on the Monday after the game. That is having a presence.

In MLB meanwhile, there are distractions galore as the game is in flux.

Baseball is played nothing like it once was and now with the schedule totally re-done, the American League and the National League have been reduced to no identity leagues, also knowing at the end of the year the playoff teams are pretty much all set. The importance of the regular season has been watered down.

Showtime isn’t the same as it once was, and I get it, time marches on; but when is too much change just too much? Baseball is getting to that point. Enough is enough already. The next thing you know is that it’s going to be like today’s NBA, nothing like the artistry in action NBA of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and later Michael Jordan – and I was there to watch those thrilling games. Check me out with Dennis Rodman after the last game of The Last Dance.

The baseball game on the field was a beautiful game, too, and was enough to entertain us, enough to thrill us, and we cared about our teams and we knew all the rules inside and out, and all the lineups; and change in every way was not the rule of the day.

The players adjusted to the situation. As a result, you never knew what you were going to see on the ball field and you anticipated you were always about to see something special. That was the thrill of attending the game.

There was more mystery to the game, more romance.

The great ones adjust. You hear that all the time. The talent bar being raised. Challenge was the name of the game.

Now the game is adjusting to its deficiencies and that’s not a good thing and that is what we are looking at this week in The Story as players ready themselves for Spring Training 2023.

Seems like every day MLB is reshaping itself into the league that doesn’t matter or doesn’t care – because here in the first week of February you can already pretty much pick the 12 teams that will make the postseason before teams have even arrived for spring training.

Here are the battles the fans have to face to remain a fan.

These hitters are already thinking too much as it is, that’s why they take strike three right down Broadway. Thinking is done well before the play; in the heat of the action you need to react.

It all really began to disintegrate when MLB screwed up the minor leagues … check, that’s been done by eliminating 42 minor league teams and 42 minor league fan bases and changing the names of the leagues; and the repercussions will be felt for years as players not ready for prime time are forced up into prime time.

Next, attack the major leagues with ridiculous rule changes … check, that’s been done with the bigger bases, two disengagements on the mound per hitter, and no infield shift, further encouraging sluggers to just keep slugging away and just keep striking out.

Baseball? You don’t need to play baseball and put the ball in play. Just keep playing Home Run Derby and pitching that “speedball.’’

Then there is a pitch timer, too, when you could have simply taught your pitchers to work faster. You could have demanded some of your hitters hit the ball the other way, too, to lessen the impact of the shift – but that would be asking too much. MLB also has no clue on what the repercussions will be for the hitters with this timing change. Will it help them? Will it hurt them? I know baseball is looking for more offense; but some in the game have told me this is going to really mess up the hitter’s timing and mindset. And just wait until the automated ball and strike zone arrives.

Kevon Kernan and Dennis Rodman

Kevin Kernan and Dennis Rodman - The Last Dance.

These hitters are already thinking too much as it is, that’s why they take strike three right down Broadway. Thinking is done well before the play; in the heat of the action you need to react.

All this too after MLB got rid of the pitcher hitting in the NL in favor of the DH, making one less difference between the leagues; but there are more strikeouts than ever with the double DH and much less situational baseball.

Another situation where baseball made baseball take a back seat supposedly to help baseball. None of it makes sense.

Advertising is coming big time too on the uniforms to further confuse the fan. Give me the good clean look – not a baseball game disguised as NASCAR. The Cincinnati Reds have already signed on to wear a Kroger patch on their sleeve.

There is trouble ahead with the regional sports networks and the possibility of a Bally Sports bankruptcy, so who knows how that will shake out as MLB tries to siphon off every last dollar it can from the fans.

In the end it may become yet harder to watch your favorite team, when in this day and age it should be easier.

Look, the NFL is far from perfect – but there are plenty of ways to make sure you see your favorite team play.

Like all sports, betting is everywhere in MLB, while Pete Rose remains nowhere, the height of hypocrisy from our baseball lords. Every night at the ballpark or watching at home on the big screen is casino night.

If all that isn’t enough you have the new schedule where rivalries don’t mean what they once meant, and now it really doesn’t matter what division you are in because you can be playing any team on any given night.

Sure, now the people in Pittsburgh will get the chance to see Shohei Ohtani; but on the flip side the fans who had no interest in watching the Pirates or the Royals or the Diamondbacks or the Rockies or the Tigers or the Reds or the Nationals or the Marlins, just to name a few, will now see more of those bad teams than they did in the past.

It’s really this simple, Rob Manfred is holding a laser pointer and you, the fan, are the cat chasing the shiny object. That is what it has all come down to.

Lest us not forget what is really on Rob Manfred's mind. (Getty)

Here is another warning for you.

Spring training will not be like spring training this year because of the WBC. I like the WBC, it’s fun to see players really compete for their home country; but before you shell out big money to go see your favorite teams in the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League, just remember many of the best players will not be with their Major League teams as the WBC gears up (although the Yankees in particular are not heavily committed to the WBC).

In a lot of spring training games you will be paying big time for tickets and concessions to watch minor leaguers. Hey, but at least there will be sunshine and you will be out of the bone-chilling cold, so there is that. With all the new rules coming, many shortstop and second base combos will not be able to work together on the new no shift setup, as well.

As for the 12 teams destined to make the postseason, it will look much like last year when the Astros, Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners, Guardians, Rays made it from the American League and the Phillies, Braves, Mets, Padres, Cardinals and Dodgers represented the National League.

No matter who plays in the World Series, those two teams would have already played in a series in the regular season. I remember the October fascination of the American League facing the National League when the two teams had never met during the season.

Some of the 2022 playoff teams got better but none of the bad teams improved much.

So many of these other teams and other fan bases don’t have a playoff shot – but that’s okay, Shohei Ohtani may come to your town this year for a few days or maybe next year depending on the league your team is in. Enjoy that game (and there most likely will be a hike in those series ticket prices).

Keep chasing that laser.

The other thing I find fascinating (and a scout mentioned it to me the other day) is the number of coaches teams carry now, with like three or four pitching coaches, for example, at the major league level. You would think with all that coaching, not to mention the performance-enhancing coaches on staff and the mental skills coaches at every level, players would be so much better than they once were.

All the way to the bank. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On the flip side, one of those major league pitching coaches need to get together with the pitching strategist and make it clear to the 98-mile-per-hour “speed baller’’ on the mound that he needs to throw strikes and that is more important than ever. A walk can easily become a double or a triple, if the baserunner has the nerve to run and the analytics boss allows them to run and sends down the green light to the manager.

By the way, I only use the term “speed baller’’ because what in the heck was Springsteen thinking on Glory Days:

“I had a friend was a big baseball player

Back in high school

He could throw that speedball by you

Make you look like a fool boy’’

I know I risk the wrath of the SBWA, Springsteen Baseball Writers Association, mentioning this; but it has always bothered me with Bruce using such an archaic baseball term.

Hey, the song was a hit, so it doesn’t really matter. Good for Springsteen, whom I once ran into at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. About 10 minutes before a Yankees spring training game he came strolling into the lobby to pick up his tickets. The overzealous parking lot attendants would not let Springsteen park in the main lot that day so he had to park across the street and walk over, but he was cool with it.

When he entered the lobby someone got on the walkie-talkie to let stadium ops know Springsteen had arrived; but unfortunately said: “The Boss is here.’’

The other Boss was still roaming the ballpark back in those days, so a couple of underlings rushed in looking for George Steinbrenner.

They had quite the look of surprise on their faces when they saw “The Boss’’ – whom I first saw perform at the Capitol Theater back in 1978 as the charter member of the SBWA.

Those tickets were a little cheaper than the current Springsteen extravaganza. No thanks.

Anyway, in the ride up the elevator Springsteen and AMBS both got a laugh out of the situation. All was good. We were going to enjoy ourselves at a baseball game when it was still baseball.

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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