Meet the reason this newsletter came late!
Parenthood is hard, but I love this kid more than anything. Even Derek Jeter, probably. My wife is a champ.
Hopefully this is the first of many iterations of a baseball preview at your favorite sports ‘n’ justice rag. Morgan and I are sports fans (I don’t think we’ve released a newsletter without a Steph or Serena reference), but we first bonded over baseball. I used to salivate over getting the yearly Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview, pouring over the stats, stories and expected standings, so we decided to take a stab at it ourselves.
But not without a little help from our friends. Baseball is America’s Pasttime™, but the people that cover it and run it don’t look too much like America. So, like any good SJW, I went on Twitter:
We were intrigued by the amount of non-white guy responses (and the white guys that passed it along — thanks, White Guys!) and got together a focus group of women and ethnic minorities to help us comment on big storylines in intriguing ways. A few thoughts before we begin:
Our preview isn’t scientific. We didn’t randomly select a critical mass of baseball fans. We’re obviously biased.
If you want to keep up with some of our intelligent and friendly fans/friends, check out our Twitter list.
Okay, here it goes!
Baseball is for us.
Ryan Chen, an insurance agent who cheers for the Giants, wonders if the kids are alright (with baseball). "Baseball can be the most expensive sport at any level. But even so, baseball needs to find a way for youngsters to play ball. Either provide the equipment to leagues or alternative games such as Wiffle ball."
"No one here looks like me" was another common sentiment. Aaron, a contract specialist that, according to his Twitter bio, saw it fit to emphasize that he's a "black guy that likes baseball" (I feel that, bro) openly wonders if MLB cares enough to adapt and reach people like him: “Most of my African-American friends trot out the same complaints about baseball that have been around for years. It's ‘too slow,’ ‘boring,’ ‘too long’... combined with the fact that Major League Baseball seems to actively stamp out larger-than-life personalities and spontaneous expressions of joy from its rank-and-file. I can see how its appeal is becoming increasingly niche." Leesa, a writer and editor, has one baseball-loving friend of color. (That friend is, well, her dad.) Kareem, a recording artist, recalls the mere cost being a deciding factor: “Football only needed a football, a quiet street, and however many people wanted to play. Basketball? A rim or a crate nailed to a light pole... and whoever wanted to play. That's it.”
Because I know them feels all too well, I was sure to ask if their interest in the game had declined. Many have retained or regained the passion. (To my surprise, most responders either affirmed their unwavering support or left the question blank!) Among those frustrated with where the game is heading, Brent, a teacher, accused his Yankees of pricing him out. “The Yankees have lost me as a paying fan...when they raised prices in the affordable sections...Most of all, though, the Yankees have lost me as a paying fan for supporting a soulless stadium, making life more difficult for season-ticket holders and middle-class fans by trying to strong-arm third-party ticket resellers, and not doing enough to make sure the parks created nearby due to its construction are [pollution]-free.” Brent’s pointed suggestion to Lonn Trost, Hal Steinbrenner, and the Yankees brass: pay attention to the regular guy.
Brent said this “Make the stadium feel more like a ballpark and less like a cavernous dome filled with grayness and a lack of spirit. Guess what? This means to actually cater to the same ‘riff-raff’ fans you (Trout) want to kick out of certain sections.” His concerns were reminiscent of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on the team’s inane and elitist ticketing strategy. It’s a shame that a cantankerous Brit has more of a pulse on the desires of the fans than the ownership, but alas: #IHaveNeverSatInAPremiumLocation. With ticket prices rising league-wide, Brent’s concerns are undoubtedly felt by many.
Black folks and The 98% aren’t the only other people that want to Make Baseball Fun again in 2016. The recent barrage of domestic violence accusations against some of the games stars had many of our female participants wondering if baseball loves them back. The fairly mainstream idea of stricter punishment was wedded to an emphasis on using the platform to give back to those most hurt by domestic violence.
Nicole, a high school and preschool teacher, told us she hopes MLB “[gives] out stiff suspensions and [refuses to] waiver regardless of whether or not the player was convicted.” She added that “the player's salary should also be donated to a charity or organization that helps women and children who have been affected by domestic violence.” Candace, an attorney, shares Nicole’s concern for “a transparent discipline process,” “swift response and investigation,” and “suspensions, fines, and community outreach required of offenders.” (I’m glad we had a lawyer help us out.)
From the owners that organize the sport to the media that covers it,our sample wants MLB to reestablish what really matters. Reviving an ethnically and economically diverse fan base, to us, means more than policing behavior (such as PED usage) that doesn't hold much moral weight past the diamond, nor are we in position to judge.“It’s idiotic that the players who made the late '80s and '90s so exciting—with full support of management as they used steroids—are conspicuously absent from the HoF,” says Janice, an editor. She also goes on to attribute “respect the game” type moral policing as a function of “anti-Latino racism.”
Kareem reminds us that “no one complained in ‘98 when Sammy and McGuire were going back to back jacks like freaking cartoon characters.”
There was no greater, more unfair competitive advantage than the ones white ball players received before Jackie Robinson and integration. Kareem believes that the sports media should “get off its high horse and let [suspected steroid users] in” because “If the white players who dominated while [Negro Leagues star] Satchel Page [was kept out of the MLB]” then players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez deserve their shine in the Hall."
Bat Flips, Curses, and the Summer of Bryce.
Our fans made the expected picks. From AL East to West, a strong consensus developed around the resurgent Blue Jays, defending champion Royals, and emerging Astros. There was more of a divide around in the NL East as the Mets and Nationals split the vote. The Giants were slim favorites in the West while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks received votes. Oh, and pretty much everyone thinks the Cubs, young, talented, and reloaded with right fielder Jason Heyward should plan on an NL Central title.
As for the wildcards, our friends primarily see the Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, and Red Sox.
Not only are the Cubs expected to be elite, our group by-and-large expect them to take it all. Adding Heyward, second baseman Ben Zobrist and bulldog rotation anchor John Lackey on top of their talented core featuring 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and reigning Cy Young Jake Arrieta, solidifies their chances at, for real this time, competing for a title.
Born and bred from Chicago captures the spirit of our group, echoing the sentiments of every Cubs fan under the age of 108: "man I don't know, but I have to believe right!
Our group decidedly believes in Bryce Harper. Not just his “Make Baseball Fun Again” (Leesa selected this as her “most intriguing storyline” of 2016) campaign, but in his status as the best player in the National League: he received the most votes out of all the individual players mentioned.
The next Latino manager will be:
Walter, editor: Gonna be a while, but David Ortiz will eventually head in that direction.
Rebecca, systems admin: Mariano Rivera. A girl can dream.
Pick one big league team or player. Ask one question:
Kareem: Albert Pujols. Man homie, in high school you were the man homie. What happened to you?Aaron: Billy Beane, Oakland A's President. Can there ever be a satisfactory balance between analytical decision making (specifically as it relates to roster decisions) and fan sentiment?
Janice: Cleveland Indians: Can you stop making incremental moves to deemphasize "[Chief] Wahoo" and just dump it?
Leesa: ALL OF THE PLAYERS: why do you love necklaces so much?
Who’s your favorite player to watch? What makes him so fun?
Adina, grad student: Paul Goldschmidt. Really selfless on and off the field but hustles his butt off. Just underrated enough.
Ryan: Matt Duffy of the Giants. He reminds me of [Tim] Lincecum or any athlete deemed not physical enough to play the game at the professional level. But he has a fantastic approach at the plate, sharp focus, and diligence in preparation ...He's the final piece of a infield that is brilliant on offense as well as defense, and homegrown.
Nicole: Zack Greinke, because coming forward with his mental health struggles means so much to me as teenager struggling with similar issues as I try to establish myself. He's so different than other ballplayers and it gives me so much hope that I can still succeed despite mental illness.
What should be next on Billy Bean's (MLB's Ambassador for Inclusion) agenda to increase queer participation?
Morgan (yes, that Morgan): Getting straight ballplayers to share stories of their siblings.
Aaron: It'd be nice for MLB to take the lead in some sort of LBGTQ awareness and sensitivity training at the high school and college levels of baseball.
What do you hope is MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's legacy?
Candace: Getting more equality in the game on the field and in the front offices.
Rebecca: The first female MLB player.
Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Muslim Milestones, on SportsCenter. Pakistani-Canadian ESPN anchor Adnan Virk has endorsed True Islam, a group trying to distinguish its faith from extremism and galvanize other Muslims to its cause. (More here.) "Sports drew me in because it gives young people strength and courage. This is also why I've endorsed the True Islam campaign,” said Virk. “I invite you to join me. by standing together against extremism, we can build stronger, more courageous youth.” The network’s first Muslim anchor, Virk’s also is quoted in this fascinating 2013 Baseball Prospectus article on why there aren’t more Muslims in baseball. Also, I’m upset about this, our favorite Muslim baseball writer and Baseball Prospectus founder Rany Jazayerli announced his writing retirement earlier this month. Here’s F&F’s interview with him after his Royals won the World Series last year.
Pays to Be a Man. Just last summer, I watched Carli Lloyd score a hat trick SIXTEEN minutes into the World Cup final. This month, Lloyd’s writing in The New York Times about pay inequity in US soccer. Here’s Lloyd with the facts:
On friendlies: The top five players on the men’s team make an average of $406,000 each year from these games. The top five women are guaranteed only $72,000 each year.
On the World Cup: If I were a male soccer player who won a World Cup for the United States, my bonus would be $390,000. Because I am a female soccer player, the bonus I got for our World Cup victory last summer was $75,000.
Making the World Cup roster: The men get almost $69,000. As women, we get $15,000.
No Benches to Clear. No one said that increasing the number of African Americans in baseball would be easy at any level, be it Little League or the Majors. But a large part of the problem actually occurs at the youth level, because, just like gentrification, the game has priced future players out. Look no further than this terrific #longread via the News Review’s you want proof.
“There aren’t as many working-class white kids that are playing anymore, either,” Mark Armour of the Society for American Baseball Research said. “You have poor Dominicans and Venezuelans and whatnot, and you have middle-class white kids. That’s who plays baseball.”
Former MLB manager Jerry Manuel, who welcomes students of all races for free to his academy, speaks of baseball’s “socioeconomic depravity.”
“We’re not getting those people whether they’re white kids, black kids, Hispanic, whatever, we’re not getting those kids, because the price to play this youth game is astronomical,” he said.
Take a Risk, Take a Chance. First the Good News: the White Sox have realized that have a duty to Make Baseball Fun Again. So they hired the Chicago-based Chance the Rapper to help with that: "We want to talk to those who are...younger, to develop interest from the Hispanic and the African-American markets,” Brooks Boyer, a White Sox executive told ESPN. “Chance resonates with them.” (Fun fact: Chance designed White Sox commemorative hats and Bradford bought two of them.) Naturally, the move provoked the haters. And the rebukers. Long live rap and baseball, an absurdly detailed investigation.
“That's how scared I am.” Following former New Orleans’ Saints Will Smith’s death has a lot of current Who Dat players opening up. "How can we help these kids?" Mathieu told Fox Sports Radio earlier this week. "How can we get these kids to realize there are only so few Lil Waynes?” “People are going to make arguments now about gun control,” Drew Brees told NOLA.com “ And it just seems to me … This is about the way … the way human beings treat other human beings …”
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and toggled all Wednesday night between Farwell Thee Kobe and Chef Curry with the shots, before settling on the Dodgers v. Diamondbacks, you’re one of us. Sike. We were watching the first round of the NHL playoffs. But anyway, all y’all spoiled people. Would it hurt you to help us out? (Of course it wouldn’t.) And like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and share the hell out of this post. Seriously. Baseball would do well not only to hear from its 21st century fans, but also offer them a platform.