Life is too short for baseball

Halfway through the season, let’s examine why baseball even exists at all

by Julian Rogers


I hear it’s “baseball season” right now, but I cannot be bothered to verify it. I have other, more important things to do, like, well … anything.

Baseball? Let’s be honest, it’s 10 men standing in a field — spitting — until one of them can hit a ball. Almost all of the action on the field is only going on in the players’ minds.

Baseball is so dull, stadiums have to trick people into thinking they’re having a good time with “zany” events, promotions and giveaways, while they sit in the sun watching very little happen.

Play ball
Or not
Whatever

And the games — oh my god, the games. In the major leagues, there are, I’m told, 162 regular season games. Every year. What the hell for? Even the most die-hard fans of this sport have to admit that they are not mentally and emotionally capable of taking in every inning of every game of the team they follow. People have lives to live, Major League Baseball. Is this some kind of grand psychological experiment?

I could probably verify that there are really 162 games a year but I don’t have the kind of time it would take to look at the April through (I think) March-of-the-following-year calendars of all 30 MLB teams. Plus, I have to drive later and I don’t want to be groggy.

Since MLB is also famous for charging admission for a number of franchises every year that have no hope of ever winning a pennant (I’m looking at you, Tampa Bay, and stop snickering, Colorado) it would make sense that the league either take pity or make the shrewd marketing move of shortening the seasons of the no-hopers. This would be wise so paid players are not “playing” for more empty seats than patrons and also so that the patrons (aimless retirees, single-parents desperate for an activity with their estranged child) are not fooled into wasting more precious minutes of their ever-shortening lives.

It doesn’t matter

You can’t watch all the games. You just can’t. It’s inhuman. Can you name another business wherein the inability to tolerate your product is a given? (Don’t get any ideas, Taco Bell.) Football, on the other hand, despite being a sport that runs from September through January / February (unless you’re a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars — in which case the season is over by October) has millions of fans of hopeless and hopeful teams that watch every minute of an entire season.

In Major League Baseball, there are so many games, the outcome of the contests don’t matter. That’s a bit of a problem, if you’re in any way interested in being relevant. To anything. Think I’m overstating it? I present exhibit A:

You can lose three games in a row in baseball …
and still be having a good week.

Try that in football. If you lose three games in a row in football, your fans will declare the season over. Your postseason chances, whether at the professional or collegiate level, are likely shot. Fans will clamor for a new quarterback, a new coaching staff, a new general manager and will rant about how ownership is shaming the franchise.

In baseball … meh. Three games? We lost three games? Oh well. We’ll almost certainly do it again next week. Why? Because the games do not matter. There are games almost every day. Baseball games are not an event. Try this at your job: Have three bad days in a row at work. Screw up three times in succession. And you, it should be noted, have to work more days in a calendar year than ball players do. In baseball, you’re doing swell. In the real world, oh, it’ll be an event alright.

Dominate this

Let’s take a moment to talk about the really good teams in baseball, and how they pale in comparison to teams that excel in other sports. Actually, let’s just compare them to football. I’d pick on basketball, but I don’t like to punch down. And I’m pretty sure hockey isn’t real. Soccer is only interesting when it’s one nation against another or is being played by children. Actually, I’m lying about that last part. And the first part. Motor racing is noisy metallic things rapidly going in circles, so I assume its entire audience is house cats.

In the National Football League, there are multiple teams every year that finish with a winning percentage equal to or superior to .750. In a 16-game regular season, that’s a 12–4 record. Dominant, in other words. Last season alone, there were five NFL teams that had a .750 or better winning percentage: (New England, Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas and Denver). In the previous year, there were also five dominant teams. It happens all the time.

Know how many times a team in Major League Baseball has finished a season with a .750 winning percentage? Zero. I don’t mean last year, I mean ever. In the entire history of Major League Baseball no team has ever achieved a .750 winning percentage.

So we’ve uncovered another flaw in the MLB marketing plan: Mediocrity at best. Even the dominant teams aren’t dominant. The team that finished with MLB’s historically best winning percentage, the 2001 Seattle Mariners with a 116–46 (.716) record, are the best MLB has to offer. Do you remember those world-beaters? Of course not. The 2001 Mariners were booted out of the playoffs by the deep-pocketed New York Yankees in the ALCS.

Turns out that the Mariners weren’t built for the postseason. I know this because I was told at the time by a knowledgeable “fan” of the Mariners when I was at a fantasy football draft party that season. They were going nowhere and he knew it. Didn’t suspect it, knew it. His Mariners were on pace for what was then a news-making winning pace, where sports broadcasters excitedly (relatively speaking) spoke of the potentially historic win record we were all about to witness. Yawn. Would they, could they … get to 120 wins (.740)? No, it turns out. And they were the best regular season MLB team in the league. Ever.

I found it enlightening that a lifelong “fan” of the Mariners knew his team was wasting its time. I chalked it up to typical Pacific Northwest fan mopeyness, but he was absolutely right. It did not matter how many games the Mariners could win that season, or any season. The games just do not matter. There are too many to count toward a real indication of how good a team is. If you play enough of them, pretty much everyone is going to drift toward a .500 record. Unless there’s a huge discrepancy in salaries paid to players.

In MLB, you have rich teams and poor teams. The rich teams don’t always win, but the poor teams never win. Question: Is there a more damning strike against a sport than a team that puts on a historic run was still just wasting everybody’s time — because they could not win in the playoffs against the teams with the deepest pockets?

Baseball wisdom

I’ve heard it said that in baseball there are about 60 games you can count on winning and about 60 games you can count on losing every season. What matters is what you do with the other 60 games. Now, fuzzy mathematics aside, why aren’t you alarmed at the prospect of losing 60-plus games every season? As a baseball “fan,” how can you put yourself through that season after season?

In baseball, your best team is going to lose a lot. What’s the point of even paying attention if you have to get accustomed to losing repeatedly, even in a good year? Missed a game? No matter. There’s another one tomorrow and the next day. You will probably lose. But it won’t matter. Because there’s another game tomorrow. And the next day.

Unless it’s September. Then the games (might) matter to the 10 teams that are still realistically vying for a playoff spot. You know, the only 10 teams who should have been playing the season in the first place.

Lose 60-plus games in any other sport during pretty much any timespan and you are talking colossal failure. In baseball, if you lose 60 games in a season, you’re doing great. The 2015 season’s most dominant team, it appears, are the St. Louis Cardinals, who are leading the major leagues with a “blistering” .636 winning percentage. If they maintain this untouchable feat of success throughout the season, they’ll lose 60 games. In one season. All the other teams will lose more.

How are the marauding Cardinals doing it? By going 5–5 in the past 10 games. Oh yes, they’re killing it. In Major League Baseball, that’s a hot streak. In the NFL, that’s everyone’s-on-the-hot-seat.

As of this writing, most teams have played anywhere from 86 to 89 games so far this season. We’re at the half-way point, essentially. Yeah, I looked it up. Color me momentarily curious.

In the NFL, 89 games represents five-and-a-half full seasons. This means we would have all kinds of results, such as:

  • 5 NFL champions.
  • 1 good idea of who will be the likely next champion, which will probably be wrong.
  • 33 new head coaches, statistically speaking.
  • 1–2 convicted murderers.
  • 27.5 domestic violence arrests.
  • 11 hands ruined by fireworks.

And more. In other words, things will happen. Interesting things.

What do we have in baseball 89 games in? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking you. Please tell me what we know so far.

Why?

If you attend a sporting event, presumably because you have a rooting interest in one of the participating teams or individuals, shouldn’t there be some significance attached to the outcome? In sports, they say a tie is like kissing your sister. Baseball can only aspire to such libidinous undertakings.

Baseball players are bored too. Former Major League relief pitcher Jeff Nelson (I’d list all the teams he played for — I mean, for whose team he sat in their bullpen scratching body parts — but this article is already too long) once admitted during a radio interview that most of the time, MLB bullpen relief pitchers are bored out of their minds. They have no idea what’s going on in the game. To relieve their monotonous existences slouching in the Siberia known as the bullpen, they talk about anything but the game for which they are “actively” involved in. It’s a safe bet the guys in the dugout feel pretty much the same way, mind-numbing game after life-sucking game. They just have to work harder at trying to look engaged due to their proximity to the supposed action and their manager.

But hey, at least you’re outdoors. Unless you’re in Tampa. But then for most of us, life is too short to be in Tampa, too.

Gotta be something better

There is a case to be made that baseball should exist. I’ll grant you that. It’s this: Baseball exists to make NFL preseason football look appealing. Right now, as we await the return of the NFL season, baseball is a constant, daily reminder that something better is on the horizon.

If we had no baseball, who could possibly look forward to NFL preseason football? It’s time to investigate the NFL’s ties to MLB — are they propping baseball up for their own profit?

Right now, NFL fans are hungering for preseason games. They’ll even go to them. Willingly. Well, not the fourth preseason game. Nobody will go to those. But as wickedly wasteful as NFL preseason games are, they will still out-perform MLB baseball in televised viewers.

I see baseball highlights on ESPN (by accident) and I’m reminded that there are humans, dressed in sporting uniforms, congregated for some sort of contest. It prompts me to count down the days until a sport that actually gets something done will return to active duty.

Whereas the NFL is the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, Major League Baseball is the jam band of sports. Your Grateful Phish Mule or whatever. You can watch it if you want. But while I’m still breathing, I need something better that gets to the point much sooner.


Julian Rogers is the editor and publisher of The Hit Job, Marketing Communications Leadership and is the owner of Juju Eye Communications.