Today I plan to sweep up some odds and ends that are cluttering up my clipboard. Last week, #1 son wondered if Barry Bonds could “unretire” and thereby reset the clock for his Hall of Fame eligibility. I said then that I did not know if anyone had ever made such a “comeback/unretirement” after 15 years out of the game. You should not be shocked to learn that I received an email from the reader in Houston on the subject. As a fountain of sports history, this was a fastball down the middle for him:
“Minoso retired in 1964 and played in 1976 and 1980 with the Chisox to play in more decades and got voted into the HOF this season by the Veterans Committee.
“Satchel retired in 1953 and played in 1965 for the KC A’s. He got inducted into the HOF in 1971.
“However, these weren’t considered comebacks.”
So, there are at least two examples of someone retiring and then unretiring and then entering the Hall of Fame. Thank you to the reader in Houston for that assistance. How any of that might apply to Barry Bonds and the current membership of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America remains opaque to me.
On the subject of MLB, it seems that the new CBA will permit some rule changes for the game in 2022. According to reports, these three rulebook alterations have already been agreed to by both MLB and the MLBPA:
- The so-called “Ohtani Rule” applies when the starting pitcher is also the DH for the team in the game. In those circumstances, the player may remain in the game as the team’s DH even if he has been removed from that game as the starting pitcher. There will be 2430 regular season games scheduled in MLB this year; other than Angels’ games where Ohtani is the starter and also the DH, I suspect this rule will come into play less than twice.
- The so-called “ghost runner” on second base in extra-inning games will happen again in 2022 – – but only for 2022. I hate that rule even more than I dislike the DH rule so I will take solace in the fact that it is only on the books for this year, and I still can hope that it dies an agonizing death once this year’s World Series is over.
- The seven-inning doubleheader games are relics of the past. For 2022, all doubleheaders will consist of two nine-inning games. Let us all hope that this rule carries forward for the rest of time.
What I was hoping to see in terms of rule changes were ones that dealt with interminable replay delays within the games. Sadly, nothing along those lines seems to have crossed the minds of the owners or the players; but, on the assumption that both sides would like to expand the fanbase and increase TV ratings, putting limits on the number of replays in a game and on the time it takes to render a decision based on replay would be a significant improvement.
About a month ago, I read a report in the NY Times that golf was suffering a loss of players – and by extension a loss of fan interest. The note I made from that article is that golf is losing almost 1 million players per year and that downward trend was in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. What the pandemic appears to have done is to accelerate the trend a bit. The analysis here is that as older players abandon the game for whatever reasons, they are not being replaced by young players at the same rate. That is a fancy way of saying more golfers are dying off than are being born and that is a similar interpretation of the fanbase for MLB.
Conventional thinking has it that baseball and golf are not sufficiently “action-packed” for a younger generation that has grown up with video games and augmented/virtual reality activities. I would add to that thinking that both golf and baseball require fans or participants to commit themselves to three or four hours of a day to watch or play either game. That aspect of both golf and baseball is only tangentially related to the “lack of action” issue; that aspect of both golf and baseball speak to the ability of a fan or participant to have a disciplined attention span. Not intending to be judgmental here, but my observation is that the “average attention span” for people under 30 years old today is significantly shorter than it was for the same population segment 40 or 50 years ago.
I believe that there is another commonality between golf and baseball which plays into the dynamic of failure to replace “dying off fans” with “next generation fans”. This has to do with media coverage of the two sports and media exploitation by the two sports.
- MLB does not market its stars. MLB markets its history and its statistics and its longevity.
- Baseball media coverage – outside of gamers – is lyrical almost poetic.
- Outside the times when there is a strike or lockout or tense negotiations for a new CBA, the baseball press does not focus much attention on the foibles and missteps by either owners or the players’ union.
- Golf only marketed one of its stars – to the exclusion of all the other ones – for the last 20 years and that one star, Tiger Woods, has been almost irrelevant for the last 5 years.
- The golf media has chosen to report on almost nothing that does not immediately lead them to a Tiger Woods report instead of acknowledging that there are other great players on the pro tour who are doing some amazing things on the golf courses.
- Even in the face of challenges to the way the PGA Tour is run, the golf media does everything it can to ignore the issues – – unless of course Tiger Woods might have something to say on the issue(s).
That is not a great media strategy on the part of the folks who run MLB or the PGA – – but that seems to be the media environment for both sports. I suspect that media environment does not help either sport grow its fanbase.
Finally, since much of today has had to do with baseball, let me close with a comment attributed to former Mets’ and Phillies’ relief pitcher Tug McGraw when he was asked if he preferred grass or AstroTurf:
“I don’t know. I never smoked AstroTurf.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………