For the last couple years, baseball has gone down the tubes. For me, at least. Aside from the breakup of the 2016 Cubs, there have been lots of minor changes to the game that are turning the game into something I don't recognize and do not enjoy.
There's a phrase I use sometimes, “the death of a thousand paper cuts.” One or two cuts don't do much damage, but many causes bleed out. Unfortunately, that's what has been happening for my baseball fandom. There's always been a few things that have annoyed me about baseball, but that number has been growing at an exponential rate. Frankly, I just don’t enjoy it very much anymore. The overall quality of the game has degraded, morphing into a predictable video game version of what used to be an athletic chess match. For many years, baseball was a game of adjustments, as much as mental as physical. The game has evolved into an over-reliance on analytics, and I just do not care for it. Additionally, the culture surrounding the game is highly inconsistent and hypocritical.
For me, it started with just a handful of things. None of which were fatal flaws, because hey, nothing in life is perfect, right?
The guys who saved baseball (Sosa and McGwire) get blacklisted because of ties to steroids. The guy who allowed it (Bud Selig) gets into the Hall of Fame. In 1998, we knew McGwire was on "supplements.," but nobody cared.
Poor TV access:
Once the Cubs got off WGN, it was tough to watch games because they were always on cable. I love the radio, but lack of access was an issue.
Hall of Fame inconsistency:
Why is it so hard to come up with a system that rewards the best players? Very few players are ever unanimously voted in, even the legends. Many players have to wait through years of voting, as if their credentials change. There are debates on hall of fame vs. hall of very good, and the standards shift. And whether you agree with it or not, it is a black eye that baseball's all-time leaders in two prime statistics are not in.
While there were quirks to the game I didn't care for, I was generally okay with it as a whole. But a lot has shifted in the last ten years, little tweaks and twinges that add up to big problems as a whole. Much of this stems from Rob Manfred. I wasn't a fan of Selig before, but Manfred is significantly worse. My specific criticisms of him are:
Handling of Astros scandal: No player suspensions, whatsoever? Really? If Manfred has to grant players immunity to complete an investigation, then something is significantly wrong. Then again, if it takes multiple years to become aware of and handle the situation, he’s not right for the job. The whole scandal broke because of the Athletics’ Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, further showing that Manfred was not the tip of the spear, but rather the mop up. That is unacceptable.
Subsequently, Calling the World Series trophy a piece of metal. If the Commissioner of Baseball has such an indifferent attitude towards championships, why should I care? If a church pastor called the Bible “just a book,” he wouldn't be with that church for long. Why do we tolerate such clownish comments from the Commissioner?
Handling of COVID: While nobody could have predicted the worldwide impact of COVID early in 2020, I have major issues with how his regime got haggled up in finances instead of putting a product in the field. The season was delayed because of health concerns; I get that. But it was subsequently delayed over player pay issues. That’s unacceptable. He also used this opportunity to shutter the minor leagues, implement universal DH and extra innings runners on 2nd, all of which I hated. Much like a politician, he used the pandemic to get his pork projects implemented.
2022 Lockout: He should have learned from 1994 and 2020 game interruptions to nip this issue in the bud. He failed to learn lessons from the past and allowed a game stoppage. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes at work, but repeated mistakes of this severity are unacceptable to me. I hate professional sports work stoppages, because it is millionaires vs billionaires, both of whom are out of touch with the fans.
Moving on, I've just found that as the years have gone by, the quality of baseball has gotten worse as a whole. There have been lots of little factors contributing to that, hence, my death by a thousand paper cuts statement.
When the Cubs went to Marquee, I was thrilled. At first, they were cable only, but have since opened up from that. But now, one game a week is going on Apple TV, YouTube TV, or something else. Are the playoffs on TBS, Fox, FS1, ESPN or something else? I find it very frustrating when there is one step forward, one step backward.
The NFL has it right, in making as many games as they possibly can fully be accessible to the public. Baseball's blackout rules are dumb and inconsistent. Why are fans in Iowa blacked out of multiple MLB teams? I get that there are agreements signed, but at some point, baseball has to take control of its own accessibility. If other sports can, why can't baseball?
3 outcome games:
Baseball is boring when players either walk, strikeout or homer. I like the homers, but it doesn't make up for the general lack of balls in play or baserunners. Plays don't even try to break the shift anymore because some analytic says it's not worth it. Whether that's mathematically true or not, I don't care, because the game is more boring to watch.
This whole bit is going to have a section of its own. Every year, baseball tinkers with its rules. I absolutely detest seeing multiple rules changes, every single year. You need to let changes breathe, allowing the results to be seen before tinkering more. This is exactly why I stopped watching football. Per Baseball Almanac, there have been 15 rule changes since 2017. There were 13 rule changes from 1971-2016. This rate of rule changes is completely out of control.
That said, some of these changes aren’t bad. Larger sized first bases are a good safety catch. Draft lottery to discourage tanking was also a good idea. Improvement, by definition, is a change. I’m not opposed to changes, provided they are thought out and carefully implemented. Most of the time in baseball, this just is not the case.
The rules I despise:
Phantom runner in extras. This is a little league rule. If people want to leave the game or turn it off because it’s going on and on, that’s their decision. But this change will not gain baseball any fans whatsoever, so why make the change?
3 batter rule for relief pitchers: This artificially changes the game, and now made pointless because of the pitch clock.
DH in the NL: I don't like it. I preferred the thinking game of managers having to choose pitchers or hitters in later innings. Likewise, some of my favorite memories are Jake Arrieta stealing a base in the Wild Card game, Zambrano hitting, and Wood going deep in the NLCS. If we have a DH for one poorly hitting spot, why not have one for catchers, since they are defensive specialists? I just don’t care for an artificial rule.
Ban shifts: Baseball has traditionally been a game of adaptation. Much like the DH, this rewards players for not adapting.
Pitch clock: My criticisms mainly stem from a 20 second clock. If it had started at 30-45, I’d have much less issue with it. This rule does make the game easier to watch on TV but makes it horrible in person. It also artificially changes the game by not letting it breathe appropriately. Pitchers are rushed into throwing a pitch, instead of getting a full chance to process what’s happening. I want to see a pitcher get a chance to throw his best, not just chuck the ball because the clock said so.
Expanded playoffs: The 2022 changes make the playoffs too shallow and too inconsistent. I liked the 4-team format and was indifferent to the 5-team format. Now it's a mess, and frankly, I just don't care. The format rewards which team is hottest, instead of giving things a chance to play out.
Video Replay: It just takes too long. We need pitch clocks to speed up a game, but sometimes replays take 5 minutes. Put a clock on that, and if New York can’t find a good angle within a minute or two, then move on.
Not to repeat myself, but many of these rule changes artificially change the game for the sake of showmanship. Baseball used to be a game that was equal parts athletic ability and mental skills. I miss those days.
Off the field, there is more inconsistency:
Twitter is a cesspool of people being at the absolute worst. While it can be a good place for discourse and breaking news, too often it is beat writers trying to make a name for themselves by over speculating or breaking news way too soon. Unfortunately, most baseball news breaks on Twitter.
The Cubs fan base obsessively clamor for free agents every single offseason. Never mind the Mets’ historical 2022 offseason got them to 75-87, or 7 games worse than the Cubs. That was after they went 101-61 the year before. We’ve seen enough free agents crash and burn to know that spending does not equal wins.
Should the Cubs miss Anthony Rizzo and his .768 OPS since going to NY? Or KB and his .740 OPS in Colorado? Or Javy Baez and his .633 OPS in Detroit? Even Kyle Schwarber, whom many thought was a giant mistake to let go has only been worth an .822 OPS in Philadelphia, when he was worth .816 in Chicago. But talk to these Twitter pundits, and they’ll tell you about the grave mistakes of Jed Hoyer.
WAR is an atrocious way to judge player performance, and it's a shame that fans have snobbishly accepted this statistic as the end all be all of MLB performance.
There are multiple ways to view this statistic, across multiple websites. Each of these sites calculates it in a slightly different way, which problematically causes variance. WAR overzealously places an emphasis on defense, which didn't take into account factors like weather, game situation, defensive shifts, etc. It also attempts to assign defensive value to fielders before there were Statcast metrics, which is highly assumptive and problematic.
Despite these structural flaws, it has been adopted as the primary metric of player performance. If you disagree in the slightest, Twitter snobs cast you out as a know nothing. How dare you question that Dante Bichette’s 34 homer/.895 OPS season was being worth anything more than -2.3 WAR. We definitely know that Ross Barnes was worth 6 WAR in 1876 because he had a 1.052 OPS in 66 games because of his glove as well as his bat. Ohtani pitched in 23 games in 2023 and racked up 4 WAR as a pitcher despite a FIP of 4, which is impressive considering he also rang up 4 WAR in a 3.52 FIP 2021.
Hall of Fame:
The Hall of Fame is consistent in its inconsistency. I touched on this earlier, but the HOF process gets worse every year. Steroid allegation players are cast out, commissioners who embraced it are in. Spitballers are in. Gamblers are out, despite a barrage of sports betting advertising all over everything MLB these days. Baseball writer voters consistently turn in poor ballots. There's no input from fans. It's always been a slight joke, and now it has grown into a huge one.
Overall, I feel like baseball is moving in the wrong direction. It is less accessible now than ever before, when considering the advances in technology we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Among young sports fans, it gets less TV time than esports. The 2023 world series earned the lowest rated TV viewership record in the sport’s history. Attendance has flatlined.
Probably the biggest shift for me is away from team sports in general. Perhaps I'm burnt out with too many Chicago teams assembling what is supposed to be a good team, only for injuries or poor performance to turn it into a sub .500 season. The Bears have been mediocre my entire life. The Bulls have won five playoff rounds since 1998. Ownership problems have plagued Chicago sports teams, and frankly, I have just lost interest.
When the Cubs won it all in 2016, it was a fantastic season. I couldn’t help but notice how much luck had to go the Cubs way during the playoffs that year. A couple of breaks the other way, and the Cubs don't get out of the divisional series against the Giants. Not saying the Cubs were lucky and only lucky, but that I've noticed every year's winner has needed a lot of good fortune. Regardless, since 2016 the Cubs fanbase has grown entitled, choosing to forget that we’ve been fortunate to see the best Cubs baseball in a hundred years. Every offseason the Cubs don't add all the big players, the sky is falling. It is just off putting to me now.
As many of you know, I've gotten into kayaking and running, which are sports that are pure human determination at its finest. They can't be tampered with like other professional sports. I care less about teams, and more about individual performances. Plus, I am now running my third marathon for charity, and that's a much better use of time than baseball. In a world where there are 703 million people without access to clean water, there is a 50% death rate among kids under the age of 5 in affected regions. Two years ago, I had a breakdown that drastically shifted my priorities, and I'd much rather fundraise and run instead of wasting time with a game that has evolved into nonsense.
For now, I'll continue to check out minor league baseball teams. The hunger of players trying to make the show is far more compelling than obsessing over how many WAR Jason Heyward puts up in a Dodgers uniform. I'll watch a few Cubs games on TV. But I have found that anything more than that is just a waste of time. Baseball has been over-tinkered, and the final product is subpar. In a life where we only get so much free time, I’m going to spend that time in a much wiser way.