G’day Alttabbers. My name is Jake James and I’m a new contributor here at ALTTAB Radio.
While Gus and Dano bring you the very best news and commentary on all things football, basketball and Slamball each week, I’ll spend some time focusing on the two sports everyone knows and loves or loves to ignore: baseball and hockey. To start, let’s talk about baseball as a whole and discuss why I love it and the reasons why many do not.
Making a Case for Baseball.
If you don’t grow up watching baseball, the game can be a tough sell.
For me it was always simple. I grew up with a family that loved the San Francisco Giants and that love trickled down to me. As a kid I found nothing greater than hopping on a MUNI bus down the block from my grandmother’s house to go watch what was then a terrible team play at grungy, beaten-down Candlestick Park.
Fast forward 20 years and suddenly Giants fans have it all, from our majestic waterfront stadium to two championships in the course of just half a presidential term. It’s easy for current Giants fans to love baseball (our current lackluster season notwithstanding) but through the good and the bad (and there was plenty of bad) my fandom remained the same. It was ingrained. It was organic. It was just always there.
But what if you didn’t grow up with baseball like I did or gave up on it years ago? That’s where things become tough. What makes baseball worth your attention if you’re still brooding over its recent steroid history or live in a city like Toronto or Kansas CIty where a disappointing season is almost as given as something ridiculous happening at the VMAs? (ed. Yeah, like Zedd featuring Foxes ISN’T AN ARTIST WATCH??!? I am old now.) Why would you want to follow baseball then?
The MLB isn’t nearly as good as selling you an answer to this question than leagues like the NFL and NBA. Plenty of teams in those leagues stink consistently too and it’s not like either is void of cheaters, greed or assorted criminal activity. But where the NFL and NBA have managed to successfully market individual players even above the teams they play for, not to mention utilizing gaming and gambling to their advantage, MLB is mired in things like instant replay controversy and those old complaints that the game moves too slowly and is too dull.
To be fair, marketing baseball is tough because one of its best attribute almost comes off like the opposite of a selling point: the length of the season. 162 games may be a lot to handle conceptually but it provides room for tales of redemption, hope, excellence – all those things we love about sports – not just season to season or week to week but day to day.
For instance, if Tony Romo throws four interceptions in a game you’ll hear commentators beat him into the ground for six straight days. If Sergio Romo blows a save one night he’ll most likely have a chance one or two days later to strike out the side and make everyone forget all about it.
Another example: If the Chargers play very poorly during their first five games you can pretty much put a fork in them for the rest of the year. (ed. HOW DARE YOU.) Meanwhile, the Dodgers tanked so badly the first two months of this season that their manager Don Mattingly could have been fired any day in May with nary a whisper of complaint from fans and sports media alike. Now LA is the best, most complete team in baseball and looks poised to enter the playoffs as World Series favorites.
What else does MLB do well?
How about the feel-good storylines baseball produces every year. Take a look at the rise of young players like Puig, Harper and Trout who continue to dominate so early in their careers. How about Andrew McCutchen’s quest to get his team to the playoffs when the Pirates haven’t even had even a winning season in 22 years. How about the strength of the AL East (home of the currently 4th place New York Yankees) or those loveable overachievers in Oakland who play with that Moneyball chip on their shoulders each and every game.
And the steroid thing?
The Biogenesis scandal shows they’re still out there, that can’t be denied. But MLB’s new focus on testing and the shaming that modern steroid-users like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are enduring prove that the atmosphere of secrecy and silence that plagued baseball 10-15 years ago is over. They may never root out all the cheaters but they have created a league that went from living in the shadows to being at the forefront of transparency.
No one can convince you to enjoy baseball insomuch as they can convince you to like a particular band or film. There are subjective elements to everything we like or dislike, including sports. You certainly won’t find me waking up at five in the morning to watch Manchester United or any other soccer game. If you’ve been resisting baseball because you don’t think it can compete with your love of other sports, however, you may just need to give it a fair shake. It may no longer be the national pastime in terms of fanbase and devotion but many of you might find some of the magic in it that fans like myself get to celebrate every summer and if we’re lucky, into fall.