Major League Baseball has a boring problem and this may be their final, and easiest, chance to fix that in a lasting way.
If you’re a baseball purist, and you’re still reading, you’re probably frothing at the mouth while doing so. Untuck your jerseys and calm down; ‘boring’ from a child’s perspective. Specifically one growing up in this ‘instant-WOW or it’s not worth it’ world. Even more specifically, ones growing up in lower middle-class to impoverished neighborhoods.
There are two extremes to approaching this problem:
The Roger Goodell model is to strip away any semblance of the sport that existed even just 10 years ago. It’s a live-action fantasy football contest with Madden-like video game scoring — but also predictability. It’s exciting at first but lacks the depth to sustain interest. Nobody cares how a TD was scored anymore, they’re just glad it added 6pts to their fantasy team. Everyone’s an expert. That’s not a good thing.
The Bud Selig approach. Which is to fold your arms and snarl at anyone speaking that newfangled fancy-dancy talk. Also known as ‘What the hell is a selfie?’
Neither have positive long-term results.
Major League Baseball is in perfect position to capitalize for a couple of reasons. The biggest being that, while the steroid era eroded the credibility of an entire generation, the sport is highly unlikely to kill you. The NFL is tiptoeing around a land mine of lawsuits and scientific studies. Football is dangerous, and while the temporary glory may seem worth it, far too many examples of what it all really means in the end have made it an unnerving choice. Meanwhile old baseball players often show up, are revered, and — though pudgier — are in overall good health and coherence.
The other key ingredient toward reenergizing younger generations about baseball has already been stumbled upon: a young generation of exciting players. While the NFL and its Commissioner have stripped away the notoriety of players who aren’t quarterbacks, baseball can’t do that. Due to the nature of baseball being a series of one-on-one battles, it’s impossible. And right now, no matter your background or current upbringing, there’s a young premier athlete playing an exciting brand of baseball who looks like you thanks to Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig.
Mike Trout speaks English, looks Midwestern-y, and is a “good kid.” Whatever that means to you.
But it’ll be Major League Baseball’s decision to vilify or embrace Yasiel Puig that’ll most define its future. While MLB has developed substantial initiatives like R.B.I., the best link to youth is simpler and far more direct. They just have to unfurl their lips.
Show kids excitement. More importantly, show that these exciting young players who look like them are embraced. Youth, more than any other demographic, respond to emotion and resemblance. Baseball looks boring to them because the old men who “protect” it are afraid of being forgotten. In football and basketball athletes wannabe rappers and rappers wannabe athletes. In Major League Baseball athletes wannabe umpires – which sounds about as fun as receiving the day’s newspaper wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper for Christmas.
The enthusiasm Puig shows for the game shouldn’t be frowned upon by baseball’s middle-aged humdrum balding white guys. Pitchers fist pump and skip off the mound after key strikeouts and Yasiel Puig flips his bat, well, whenever he damn well pleases. And that’s exactly what baseball needs. Puig flipping his bat at a higher percentage than his actual batting average is what makes the game exciting and desirable. It’s emotion. It’s joy. It’s HELLA FUN. (note: I only used ‘hella’ for the mental image of Bud Selig browsing UrbanDictionary on his Palm Pilot)
Capitalizing on this shouldn’t be difficult, the formula is simple. There’s suddenly an influx of young relatable talent across the board. Ever notice how television ads aimed at children look like they were co-directed by Ridley Scott and Gallagher? Let Puig be Puig.
Baseball is a beautiful sport. It has treasured history and it deserves respect. But it’s still just a game and games are meant to be enjoyed as a reprieve from reality. Every time an Atlanta Braves player barks at someone rounding the bases too slowly for their liking I second-guess whether my cover letter is properly spaced.
What do you think kids think?