Baseball is becoming unwatchable.
Not because the Washington Nationals traded away all their stars (we miss you Max!) to get prospects and begin to rebuild. This has become the new way of doing business, and has been done, by the way, without any mention of a rebate to season ticket holders who paid prices based on having a real major league team to watch. The Nats games now include recreations of plays one sees in Little League. It wasn’t until the new-look Nationals allowed a Brewers runner to score on a “sacrifice fly” hit all the way to the on-deck circle that I had seen such a play at the major league level. Priceless, in its own way.
Yes, baseball is becoming harder to stomach because there is too big a gulf between the good and bad teams, which MLB doesn’t seem interested in fixing. But baseball has always had that problem.
And one can make the case that contests consisting only of home runs and strikeouts are boring, but that’s not at the heart of my problem with the game.
No, the real reason I’m increasingly choosing other viewing options rather than baseball is those awful gambling ads that now dominate any sports broadcast.
Yes, Major League Baseball and virtually every other professional and major college sports league has decided to go all-in on betting. Before the games, during the games, during the at-bats, after the games. Bet $1 on anything and get $100 free. Seriously. How naïve can one be to spend your hard-earned money with that come-on? If you know they will give you $100 to bet for free, you can put your money down on the fact that you will lose more than you win if you play for any length of time.
Casinos are practically a license for their owners to print money. I only know of one person dumb enough to bankrupt a casino, which should tell you all you need to know about that individual’s so-called business acumen.
Chelsea Janes wrote about this issue for the Washington Post in MLB re-created “Field of Dreams” for a night, but it can’t escape the sports tough realities.
“Like questions about blackouts, the cornfield buffer couldn’t keep all the awkwardness out. Aaron Boone was asked for his perspective on Shoeless Joe Jackson, a central character in “Field of Dreams,” who was banned from baseball for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Boone dodged deftly, something MLB will not be able to do forever, having recently made a push to introduce betting into stadiums and the general baseball consciousness. Just this week in Chicago, a proposal to add betting space at Wrigley Field, one of the game’s most sacred landmarks, was a source of controversy.“
Why is baseball doing this? Follow the money. And the gobs of money — and the people it brings out — will affect the game in ways known and unknown. I suspect it won’t be good and will drive away long-time fans of the game who know the history. But the powers-that-be in baseball seem intent on changing the game in ways that hurt fans and potentially hurt players.
Anyone who wanted to bet on games could always find a way to do so. But there was a bright line between gambling interests and the game itself. It should have stayed that way. Go to any horse-racing track other than for a Triple Crown race or the very short summer season at Saratoga and look at the “crowd.” Those few that are in attendance aren’t watching the race in front of them. They are down in the betting parlors, taking chances on races around the world. Baseball seems intent on pushing betting into stadiums, and driving away long-time fans who, like me, attend multiple games during home stands and watch the team on television.* All for the lure of “easy” money.
A. Bartlett Giammati is rolling over in his grave. Pete Rose is wondering why he couldn’t have played in 2021.
America today is a country where baseball and other sports have sold out to the gambling interests and the thrill of securing undeserved riches. My bet is that it will not end well.
More to come…
Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay
*I attended two games in person this week at Nats stadium, so my perspective is fresh.
What truly disturbs me about sports betting is the dislocation of joy. The joy is supposed to be in watching the game. Monetizing it, as you point out, changes the focus — as if there could be no simple pleasures which are not really about cash.
Well said, Deborah. I like your phrase, “the dislocation of joy.” You are spot on. Don’t be surprised if I steal that line in the future (insert sheepish smile emoji). Hope you are well. I suspect the weather in Montreal is wonderful this time of year. DJB
Im with you, David. It soils the game to see these ads pop up on the air, not only in the games, but in the ad space IN THE PARK, right behind home plate! When I heard Ted Leonsis was turning the Green Turtle at the Cap Center (yes, I use that term) into a betting parlor, my heart dropped, and my initial thought was your words exactly, “This will not end well”.
Thanks, Bob. It really does soil the games. One of the nice things about baseball (especially), but also hockey, football, and basketball (to a lesser extent) in the U.S. is the lack of in-your-face corporate advertising to the extent that we’ve seen with gambling. I can certainly take ads for beer and pizza, as they are long-time elements of the fan experience and we all know that ballplayers can imbibe if they wish without (too much) harm. (If they go too far it will hurt their performance.) I can even take the ED, Medicare, and drug ads, because the audience is growing older. However, with gambling, we are setting up a situation where former players are hawking casinos and betting sites…which certainly skirts the line of what’s acceptable if not exactly crossing over it. I never go to the Caps Center so I’ll miss the Green Turtle Mega-bucks casino…but I feel your pain. DJB
I sent this post out to friends who follow baseball and received some interesting comments back, which I’ll post below. But in my note, I speculated a bit on the 2021 baseball playoffs, which also got some commentary. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:
“Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s speculate a bit on the playoffs. I’m amazed at the Tampa Bay Rays, but pleased for my brother-in-law who is a rabid fan. They really are fun to watch, although we seldom see them on games here in Washington. I’m thrilled at what my childhood team, the San Francisco Giants, are doing out west. I wish I could go visit my daughter Claire and we could take in a game. She’s now an Oakland fan, and they are clinging to life support in the wild card race (but are still in it). And I’m in a love-hate relationship with the Dodgers. I’ve never liked them (see earlier comment about Giants) and always wish them ill (in a baseball sense), but then I’d love to see Max and Trea Turner back in the World Series showing the Nats all they’ve lost.
My guesses are that Boston will get into the AL wild card game, perhaps with Toronto. On the NL side, since either the Dodgers or Giants have one wild card slot sewn up, there are five teams pushing for one slot. It would be nice if San Diego or Cincinnati could pull it out, since both have been down-and-out in recent years. It would be nice for their fans.
My guess for the World Series is AL Champion Tampa Bay vs. NL Champion San Francisco. My heart will be in SF, but since TB would be in it for the second year in a row and may be hungrier, my head would tell me to bet there. If I were a betting man.
My friend and former colleague John responded with:
“Good word on the betting angle.
As far as your predictions, I won’t argue with much. I would like to see the Braves make a run. I think their manager is great. Their front office made some really smart moves after their spate of injuries and they are fun to watch as well. My negative energy flows distinctly towards the Bronx. If they could finish 5 games back of the 2nd wild card I will consider it victory for . . . well just a victory.”
My good friend Ed – who lives in Boston – wrote back with a long discussion of Scherzer’s near perfect game…when he was in the park in Washington and for some reason I wasn’t able to attend. I can’t remember why, exactly, but I kick myself all the time over that omission. In any event, here’s an edited version of Ed’s reply:
Great summary, and thanks for it. I hope you’re right, cuz I too would like to see a Rays-Giants World Series. But the Yankees always make me nervous. On paper, their lineup seems like the toughest in baseball, and even more so since they added Gallo and Rizzo. When Garrett Cole comes back, and if Jordan Montgomery pitches as well as he did vs. the Orioles last night in what turned out to be a losing cause, their staff could be strong enough in short postseason series.
Best to you en famille,
PS That is, IF you have time for a rather lengthy “Hit-by-Pitch” PS:
An old Dodgers-fan friend out in Long Beach is a big admirer of Max Scherzer, and was thrilled the other night when Scherzer the Dodger took a perfect game into the 8th. Which reminded me of that Sat. afternoon June 20, 2015 Nats home game when Scherzer came within one pitch of
a perfect game. You were not able to join us, as you may recall.
The reminder moved me to research that June 20, 2015 Scherzer game at Nationals’ Park.
I had been disappointed at the time, that the ump did not make what seemed like an obvious call that the batter leaned in to get plunked intentionally against Scherzer. Which in turn reminded me of a Friday night May 31, 1968 Dodgers-Giants game, in which Don Drysdale hit Dick Dietz with the bases loaded. If the ump had called THAT correctly, Drysdale’s streak of scoreless innings and shutouts would have ended. BUT NO.
What follows is my writeup on both the June 20, 2015 game in Washington [oh I wish you’d been with us], and the May 31, 1968 game [which I heard Russ Hodges call, on KSFO radio, in our Berkeley flat].
BELOW, a Hit-by-Pitch story, which I guess we could call A Tale of Two Cities, baseball-style.
1. Los Angeles on Fri. evening May 31, 1968.
2. Washington, DC on Sat. afternoon June 20 2015.
In the NYT article on Max Scherzer’s recent 3,000-K game, notice the following sentence:
“In 2015, he threw two no-hitters [June 20 and October 3].”
On Sat. afternoon June 20, 2015, I went to Nationals Park in DC, for what turned out to be Max Scherzer’s June 20, 2015 “no hitter” — his first of the two he pitched in the 2015 season. My friend David Brown had hoped to join us, but ended up not being able to.
Actually, Scherzer wuz robbed in Washington, DC. He was one pitch away from a perfect game, but the umps did not have the guts to make the correct call. We were a little upset, and partly because it seemed as though I was the only fan in the Nats’ ballpark who knew the rules about Hit-By-Pitch. Most fans were groaning that Scherzer “blew it” by hitting the 27th batter. But we vaguely knew that the rules say a batter cannot deliberately put himself in the way of a pitched ball. However: Umpires almost never have the courage to make that call. [With one glaring exception, in Los Angeles — see below]. When Scherzer retired the 28th batter, to complete his “no hitter” instead of a perfect game, I persuaded myself to feel a little better — at least I had finally witnessed a big-league “no hitter.” Of course it could’ve been my first perfect game instead.
But: A Tale of TWO Cities.
Dodgers-Giants game at Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles, on May 31, 1968. Don Drysdale was trying to break the record for consecutive scoreless innings & consecutive shutouts. Ninth inning, Giants had the bases loaded, no outs, with Giants catcher Dick Dietz at bat. Drysdale hits him with a pitch well inside, which forces in a run, to break his impressive scoreless streak — right?
Plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt shocked the baseball world by ruling that Dietz “did not try hard enough” to get out of the way of the inside pitch — although it sure looked as though Dietz did try to avoid getting hit. This was the way Russ Hodges described the moment on KSFO radio. [Aside: Vin Scully apparently thought that Wendelstedt said Drysdale’s inside pitch hit Dietz’s bat, and that’s the way we hear Scully calling it, in the video link below!]
If Russ Hodges’s version was correct, then Wendelstedt made a call that is virtually never made in MLB. See for yourself how Dietz pulled back. Wendelstadt evidently had an extenuating circumstance in mind.
In sharp contrast, Washington, DC, June 20, 2015, home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski should have ruled what Harry Wendelstedt claimed he saw in Los Angeles back on May 31, 1968. Instead, in Washington, Muchlinski ruled HBP. Costing Max Scherzer a great chance for a perfect game.
End of story, and I’m sticking to it.
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