Welcome to the 20th edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
Baseball has a problem when it comes to fan attendance, but before we take a look at the league’s attempts to solve this problem, we should examine why it’s happening in the first place. Attendance has been declining for four straight years, and it’s becoming increasingly harder to appeal to a newer generation.
#MLB is headed for a fourth consecutive year of declining attendance. Now, teams are aiming to shrink their stadiums to match. Is your club seeking an "experiential" ballpark for the Instagram era? https://t.co/0mGZanz46Y
— Gabe Lacques (@GabeLacques) August 8, 2019
First, it’s important to note that MLB is not alone in this struggle. The drop-off in attendance across all the major sports has been slowly declining for years now, going back as far as 2013. There are many reasons for this decline. In some cases, bad weather plays a role. After all, have you seen the hysteria that runs rampant in Los Angeles whenever it drizzles?
In other cases, there is the prohibitive cost of going to live games, fighting through traffic, paying exorbitant parking fees, and a volatile economy. More and more fans find watching games at home to be more pleasurable, affordable, and convenient. People enjoy the comfort of their own homes, complete with a stocked fridge of food that isn’t overpriced sawdust, grease, and Grade D beef passing as a hamburger made by the finest of unwashed hands. Lest you think I’m just indulging in blatant hyperbole, which is partly true, note that studies have shown that in nearly 28% of North American arenas and stadiums, more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one “critical” or “major” health violation.
Anyway, when professional sports franchises find themselves offering money-back guarantees like the Phoenix Suns did years ago or $2 and $5 flash sales to bring fans out to the yard to see a ballgame, you know the game alone is no longer a strong enough incentive to bring people out to the stadium. The food offerings at places like Petco Park and Oracle Park have seen standards raised, and firework nights have become a regular occurrence at some ballparks. None of this changes the fact that discretionary income isn’t as abundant for most as it used to be.
Ballparks were once architectural shrines, but in an age where most teams might as well be Dora the Explorer on a quest to find public funding and successful taxpayer referendums, more and more teams are looking for smaller home parks that serve as mixed-use developments partially controlled by the team or renovations to enhance and downscale current stadiums.
Most of all, fan engagement has become paramount. I’ve written multiple times in this space about MLB’s need to improve the in-game experience for fans, citing the KBO as a source of inspiration. Strides have been made, from incorporating waterfronts and cityscapes into the fabric of ballparks, improving the quality of food and concessions offered and creating more family-friendly and social pockets for fans to hang out when taking a break from the action.
In a social age, the new mantra is making baseball a social game. Reliable Wi-Fi and a social network-friendly environment represent arguably the biggest changes sweeping MLB today in a concerted effort to increase attendance.
Note the difference between that and the wave? One feels like that magical moment at a concert when the crowd takes over mid-song and the moment ascends to euphoric heights, while the other is a rather listless attempt at a stupid human trick that does more to distract fans from the action on the field than connect them to it.
Consider this: the KBO has developed a rapid following amongst not just younger fans … but younger female fans.
KBO teams know they’re competing with smartphones and social media for fans’ attention, so they’ve made it cool to use your phone at the ballpark, letting you order beer and food with an app and having it delivered to your seat while you watch beer chugging contests in between innings, cheers complete with customized-dance moves and songs for each player at-bat as opposed to short clips of usually lame “walk-up” music, and cheerleaders. The fact one KBO franchise has a fan club comprised of nearly 50% female fans is impressive, and it serves as a model for how far behind the times MLB truly is when it comes to connecting with a new generation.
The KBO markets its players like pop stars. MLB should take note.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
Just because I see the value in updating the fan experience does not mean there is no place for nostalgia when it comes to watching a baseball game.
Chicago White Sox to play a game against the New York Yankees next August at the site in Iowa where the movie "Field of Dreams" was filmed. A temporary 8,000-seat stadium will be built on the site to accommodate the first MLB game ever played in Iowa. https://t.co/23LFioGseY
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2019
Everything about this idea is outstanding. The league will begin construction on a temporary 8,000-seat ballpark on the Dysersville site that neighbors the iconic movie set. It will be the first MLB game ever played in Iowa. The park’s design will reflect old Comiskey Park, and the wall in right will feature windows that reveal the cornfields behind the fence. Fox will broadcast the game. One has to imagine the ticket prices will be steep, assuming any decent seats will still be available after corporate sponsorships get their palms greased. I’m sure we will get a Kevin Costner cameo. Perhaps even Ray Liotta tossing out the first pitch.
But wouldn’t it be an epic move by MLB to lift the ban on Shoeless Joe Jackson and reinstate him? It continues to dumbfound how Jackson could have been complicit in throwing the 1919 World Series when he hit .375 with the only home run. Granted, Jackson did admit in court on two separate occasions that he took $5,000 from teammate Lefty Williams. There is little doubt that Jackson took the money; however, what remains heavily disputed is why he took the money.
A very reasonable take says he took the money because he needed it, but he refused to throw the game and he likely figured no one would be able to say for sure so he’d have it both ways and make out better for it … so long as nothing ever got out. In a cruel twist, that reasoning, if true, is the primary reason proving his innocence has remained elusive.
Regardless, his debt to the game has long been paid, and since MLB deems it appropriate to profit off his name as Hollywood has so often done, the least it can do is let him back in the club. Cooperstown should follow suit. After all, when Babe Ruth copies your swing, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby publicly swear you’re one of the greatest hitters they had ever seen, and Ted Williams petitions the commissioner to clear your name, you’ve more than earned your place amongst the greats.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
So, this happened again:
— Umpire Auditor (@UmpireAuditor) August 8, 2019
Yeah, it’s an issue when the #UmpShow continues to upstage the real “Show.” I know what some of you might be thinking: four inches off the plate really isn’t that much. The average Joe would probably make the same mistake 10 times out of 10.
Except, the average Joe doesn’t see thousands of pitches a year behind the plate like these guys do. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Tom Hallion reviews his performance and sees that Jarrod Dyson had every reason to argue the call. So much of this brewing hostility could be mitigated if some of these guys just came out and said, “Hey, I reviewed the tape, and I missed a few. I need to be better, and I will be.” The outcome doesn’t have to change. There’s a human element to baseball that makes it, well, baseball. However, that doesn’t mean accountability has to go out the window.
Speaking of accountability, you mean to tell me Joe Jackson was on the take, but the Orioles’ pitchers aren’t every time they face Gleyber Torres?
Gleyber Torres hits his 3rd home run of the day (doubleheader) 🔥
🔹 13 of his 26 HR this season are against the Orioles
🔹 T-2nd most HR vs. a single team in a single season in MLB history
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 13, 2019
This has officially gone off the rails. “You can’t imagine this,” the last words of Gary Thorne. Here are all 13 of those dingers, for good measure.
All 13 Gleyber Torres homers against the Orioles this year!
Gary Thorne getting more depressed after each one is the best part 😂 pic.twitter.com/rnn4D2yl77
— Kyle ⚾️ (@KyleNYY) August 13, 2019
To put that into perspective…
Gleyber Torres: 12 HR in 63 PA vs Orioles
Andrew Benintendi: 12 HR in 487 PA vs every team
Jackie Bradley Jr: 12 HR in 434 PA vs every team
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) August 13, 2019
The most recent bombardment was a three-homer game, Torres’ fifth multi-HR game vs Orioles in 2019, the most by any player vs any team in a season in MLB history. The 12 bombs are tied with Sammy Sosa in 1998 against the Brewers for the most by a player against a single opponent in a season in the divisional era (since 1969).
Orioles to Gleyber: here is a pitched baseball
Gleyber Torres: pic.twitter.com/8zPrD3F3xk
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 13, 2019
Pretty much. Luckily, the Orioles’ Wikipedia page is protected from vandalism.
This is the kind of thing the KBO would salivate over. Yasiel Puig is all of us right here:
Yasiel Puig: pic.twitter.com/bTC3hsGUoz
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) August 9, 2019
Am I right? Just take a look at–
Don't say anything, just RT. 😂 pic.twitter.com/l1uEaSFmnq
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) August 10, 2019
— OK, maybe not that.
That’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)