Earlier this week, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost caused a bit of a stir when he made some very poorly considered remarks about what he perceived to be bad attendance at Royals’ home games, despite the team being in first place and playing some pretty exciting baseball of late. Yost’s comments have been picked apart and criticized pretty thoroughly, but they did lead to Joe Posnanski weighing in on his blog and reminiscing about some similar comments he made in a column back in 1995, wherein he was critical of Cincinnati Reds fans for failing to sell out during that year’s playoffs. Posnanski reflects on how wrong he was for a number of reasons, not least being the fact that those particular playoffs took place just a year after MLB broke faith with its fans by cancelling the 1994 postseason due to a labor dispute. But Posnanski also touches on something that always sticks in my craw whenever anyone, whether journalist or player, is critical of a particular fanbase for failing to support their home town team. Namely, why is professional sports the only industry where the consumer is blamed for poor sales? If a neighborhood restaurant’s sales lag, do customers get blamed for not spending enough? Generally not. If the restaurant owners are smart, they will consider why people who used to come stopped coming, and consider new and different menu options, a remodeled interior, or lowered prices. They will try to figure out what they can do to entice customers, rather than complain about their customers’ disloyalty. What with the economy continuing to be what it is, and with the huge array of entertainment options available to most of us, baseball and its representatives should be very careful about criticizing those who continue to give them their money.
Along similar lines, Ben McGrath of the New Yorker addresses what he sees as the decline of baseball in modern American culture. McGrath dismisses attendance statistics as a function of the aging Baby Boomer generation and points to the declining ratings of events such as the All-Star Game and the World Series as evidence that baseball has become a regional sport. He wonders how many people would recognize someone like Mike Trout – the heir apparent to Derek Jeter for the title of Face of Baseball – if he wandered into their neighborhood bar and ordered a beer. And he’s probably right as far as he goes. But what he doesn’t address is why it’s like that. I’ve long felt that there is no reason at all that players like Trout or Andrew McCutchen shouldn’t be as famous as Peyton Manning or LeBron James. To me, the problem is marketing. MLB doesn’t seem interested in marketing itself to anyone that isn’t already a baseball fan. I don’t believe there is anything inherent in the game that has caused it to slip from its perch as America’s Pastime. It can be that way again. Baseball’s failure has been its unwillingness or inability to keep itself relevant on a national level. Here’s hoping a more visible and effective marketing strategy is on incoming commissioner Rob Manfred’s to-do list.
As August draws to a close, Tom Verducci has an analysis of September comebacks and how rare they truly are. Verducci found that since the advent of the first wild card 19 years ago, "84 percent of teams holding playoff positions on Sept. 1 finish the season in playoff position." We remember the other 16 percent, of course, but part of the reason those comeback stories are so memorable is how rare they are. Verducci has a few other nuggets in this piece as well, including the importance of an experienced manager in September comebacks. All of this is bad news for anyone still holding out hope for another Red October in 2014.
SB Nation’s Bill Hanstock put together a quiz of some of the more obscure and oddball rules on the books in MLB. Some of the wording is a bit clunky, but it’s a fun test of your knowledge of rules that are either not enforced or so specific they rarely come up.
Even in this disappointing season, the Reds are still 11-5 on the year against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs failing is one of those things you come to count on, like spring following winter or the salmon flocking to Capistrano. But as many have noticed, their farm system is loaded with top hitting prospects, and as Marc Normandin points out, they have the trade chips and roster flexibility to bolster their current relatively weak pitching situation. Normandin lays out a couple of scenarios whereby they can add top tier pitching, either via trade or via free agency. For fans of other NL Central teams, it’s a chilling vision of things to come. Enjoy!
Redleg Nation brings us the story of one of its writers, John Ring, and his attempt to get a baseball signed by all the Reds players who were on the field during the last inning ever played at Crosley Field on June 24, 1970. It’s a fantastic story and well worth the read. Ring demonstrates admirable resourcefulness and determination in achieving his goal. And when he reveals where the ball is now, he demonstrates even more admirable generosity. Really great stuff here.
Finally, MLB’s official historian John Thorn has been publishing excerpts from the memoirs of Jimmy Wood, manager of the Chicago White Stockings (not affiliated with the current White Sox or any other current team) in 1870 – 1871. The whole thing is worth a read, but particularly interesting is the excerpt that deals with the meeting between Wood’s White Stockings and the Cincinnati Red Stockings, played in Cincinnati in September of 1870. It was the first ever loss by the Cincinnati team on their home field, which was considered impossible at the time. Wood tells a tale of crooked umpires, open gambling and crazed, rowdy fans. It’s a great firsthand account of baseball’s wild pre-history, and while Wood might not be the most reliable narrator, there’s enough colorful detail and old-timey slang that it’s a must read for everybody.