Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The State of Baseball and The Big Red Machine

I've not been afraid to voice my frustrations with the current state of Major League Baseball. Call me simple and/or old-fashsioned, but the game has changed in a number of ways, and I'm not sure how it has kept my interest at all.

For starters, there are too many games. I'm sorry, but 162 games (excluding the playoffs) is just too many! The season has become painstakingly long, especially when you combine spring training and the playoffs with 162 regular season games. Yes, I know this was changed almost 50 years ago, but doesn't this take away the relevance of each individual game? Not to mention, with current ticket prices, how can most cities expect to sell out games? This is no longer cheap entertainment.

Games have also become much slower, largely due to the fact that pitchers have become more and more deliberate, especially in later innings. Don't get me wrong, I understand that there is plenty of mental strategy involved in baseball, but 20 years ago, the average game was 30+ minutes shorter.

This slowed pace can also be blamed on GMs attempting to protect their investments (starting pitchers). Just look at the dramatic drop in complete games in the last 20-25 years. Everytime a pitcher is taken out of a game, a new reliever has to come in and warm up. This process takes at least 5 minutes, for each pitching change.

For all of its faults, baseball still holds a place in my heart and many others. Because it's not as fast paced as football, basketball, or hockey, you can go to the ballpark, kick back with a beer, relax, and enjoy the game.

Of the four major sports in this country, baseball is the least socialistic, which is both a good and bad thing (as long as their are enough team owners out there that are willing to spend money). My friend Jon has always told me that if an MLB team (or any professional sports team) wants to have success, their owner has to be willing to invest in the team, no matter how much it costs. Owning a team is not just a business, but it is also a hobby, and you have to be willing to spend money in order to succeed in that business/hobby. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, he is exactly right. Just look at the New York Yankees.

All of this has led me to talk about the rejuvenation of the Cincinnati Reds. My dad was a fan of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, and I became a big fan during their stunning sweep of the Oakland A's in the 1990 World Series. Since then, they've only made the playoffs once, after winning their division in 1995 (after sweeping the Dodgers in the NLDS, they were swept by the Braves in the NLCS). In the strike-shortened season of 1994, the Reds won the division, but there was no postseason. The Reds haven't finished a season with a winning record since 2000. Amazingly, they currently have a half-game lead over the Cardinals for 1st place in the NL Central division, which is the latest in a season the Reds have led the division since 1999.

Scott Rolen, hitting his 300th career home run, in Cincinnati's 7-3 win over the Phillies.

Cincinnati leads the NL in team batting average, runs scored, hits, RBIs, and slugging percentage (they are 2nd in on-base percentage, 3rd in home runs, and 4th in stolen bases). They have a young outfield (Gomes, Stubbs, Bruce), with a veteran leadership throughout the majority of their infield (Rolen, Cabrera, Phillips, Votto*, Hernandez). Edinson Volquez is scheduled to return to the rotation immediately following the All-Star break, which will really make this rotation even more competitive (Harang, Arroyo, Cueto, Leake).

The real shame in all of this is the fact that the city of Cincinnati has yet to realize that the Reds are a contender at this point (Tampa still has this problem, even after their great 2008 season). As of last night, the Reds are only averaging 22,600 fans per home game (Great American Ballpark seats ~42,000), which is the 3rd worst home attendance in the NL, ahead of the Marlins and Pirates.

I visited the old Riverfront Stadium for Reds games once or twice as a kid, but I finally attended a Reds game at Great American Ballpark a few weeks ago. My plea for the city of Cincinnati - please support your hometown team!


  1. Hey man! I saw where you are planning on taking a hiatus from Facebook. I don't know if I could ever bring myself to do that simply because it's been my easiest way of keeping in touch with most of my friends, but I can see possibly cutting back on the amount of times that I access my account there per day, per week.

    I have to disagree with you on the part of the baseball season being too long. The reason I do is because baseball is arguably the least taxing sport physically and it can be played in more kinds of weather (yes, even some cooler weather) than the other outdoor sports except for maybe football. I think Spring Training is a necessary evil to the baseball season simply because it warms players up gradually rather than radically re-acclimating their bodies to game-shape form. While Spring Training is helpful, it can also be dangerous, too, in that it provides an extra opportunity for the players to sustain injury.

    I wouldn't worry about the Reds too awfully much at this point, Tom. They are in first place, albeit by 1/2 a game. The attendance will come around at some point, but maybe not until later. If the Reds remain in the playoff hunt through June and July, I would definitely look at August as the month where fans will be putting their asses in the seats of Great American Ballpark. While the New York Yankees have always had a huge following, it's been achieved because of long-term success over a period of nine decades. The Reds have not really tried to win over the past fifteen years with any consistency, and with that comes the typical lagging in fan interest. Unless you are the Chicago Cubs and you love your team even as perennial losers, most likely, you won't want to fork over $20-$30 for a mid-to-upper deck seat at a ballpark to watch a team struggle so mightily. Right now, Reds fans in Cincinnati do not trust what they are seeing; they think that it's going to be a repeat of 2006, when they were in first place going into June and then Ken Griffey, Jr., injured himself again, causing the Reds offense to fall apart. The franchise will have to win fans' trust back first before anything big with attendance will change.

    Oh, and Tom, are you interested in taking a trip to Cincinnati on the weekend of July 17-18, especially on the 18th, which is a Sunday? I told Nik about it, and he sounded interested in possibly getting a group together and going.

    Take care, and I'll talk to you later!


  2. I do agree with you, spring training is necessary, just like spring/summer camp for football. However, spring training is necessary in large part because of the length of the season. In order to physically survive and thrive in 162+ games, any athlete would require a lengthy training/conditioning stint.

    I think what we're seeing with teams like the Reds and Rays is very common - many sports fans are extremely fairweather. Both the Reds and Rays have dealt with so much futility that many of their fans haven't crawled out of the woodwork yet. There will always be diehard fans, win or lose, but it's much easier to root for a team that is consistently competitve. The Yankees have been a perennial power, dating back to the 1920s. When you have continued success for 9 decades, putting fans in your stadium is easy. New York also has the added benefit of being the largest city in the United States, therefore they automatically draw from the largest local fanbase.

    Jon, you and I tend to offer differing views on this, partially due to our rooting interests. While the Reds have a successful history (including the years of the Big Red Machine), they have become a smaller market/payroll team. The Yankees have been a perennial heavyweight since ~1920, and they've never been afraid to spend money. Jon, although you were much younger, when the Yankees struggled from 1982 through 1993, were you as diehard of a Yankees fan as you are now?

    Tennessee basketball is a prime local example of fairweather fandom. My dad and I used to buy season tickets when Don DeVoe/Wade Houston/Kevin O'Neill were the head coaches. However, you couldn't even pay locals to go to those basketball games, and now they routinely sell out. Go figure.