This is the tweet (well, the series of tweets) that got me writing this week’s Rockpile:
Major League Baseball asked for the ability to eliminate hundreds of minor league playing jobs in its latest labor proposal, sources told ESPN. The league would not be allowed to implement the plan until after 2022.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 15, 2022
Details, free and unlocked, at ESPN: https://t.co/ZkKNE7LhsG
If you don’t want to click on the link, I got you: MLB wants to reduce the number of domestic MiLB players teams can have from 180 to 150 or below. This is yet another in a long line of attempts by MLB owners aimed at reducing the size and cost of the Minor Leagues. As we all know, Major League Baseball eliminated 40 MiLB teams just over a year ago, taking professional baseball away from 40 different communities, all in the name of cutting costs for increased short term profit. Of course, MLB says it’s actively attempting to create more fans of the game as they go through with eliminating the Minors step by step, so which is it? Why is the erasure of MiLB so awful for the game? And why does baseball seem to struggle to create new fans?
Less Baseball, Less Fans
This is the simple one. The less exposure something gets, the more difficult it is for it to generate interest, and it can become a niche thing pretty quickly. By taking away MiLB teams, MiLB players, and eventually MiLB leagues, all MLB is doing is removing baseball from cities and that integrate it into their community. How can you “grow the game” when you’re actively removing it from people’s lives?
One of the biggest reasons behind baseball’s issues with attaining new fans is that the sport itself is so different from almost every other style of entertainment that exists today. Baseball’s slow pace and lack of visual stimulation clashes hard against things like short videos, mobile games and all the short attention span based forms of media we all come across. That’s one of the main reasons why baseball should always strive to create fans from childhood; kids who are raised around the pace of baseball are going to get used to it and will accept it far better than a teenager or 20-year-old who’s barely ever watched it.
Take it from my personal experience: the first time I tried to get into baseball, I was about 13-14 years old, and I just could not do it because the game felt too slow for me. It was only years later, needing a sport to follow during the NFL offseason, that I tried again, but it took a bit to get used to it despite the fact that my attention span was always longer than the average person’s. You can’t expect people who are strangers to the game to immediately feel attached to it when it feels so different from all other sports or media they watch. There’s real beauty in baseball’s slow, relaxed pace, but that beauty has to be experienced for a while before it really registers, and no better time for that than childhood.
The End Goal
The thing about this is the finish line isn’t even in sight, in my opinion. I have long thought that MLB owners envy what the NFL has in college football (essentially, free development systems) and wants to get rid of the Minor Leagues altogether, aside from maybe one level and each team’s development complex systems. How far does this go? No clue, and while college baseball being more relevant (and having more open spots for scholarships) would be great, it’s probably going to come at the cost of the Minor Leagues, a system that’s already in a precarious position.
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ZiPS has good confidence in Suzuki, projecting him to be a 2-3 WAR every day player for a few years with a slash line in the .280/.350/.475 range, which is pretty good from a corner outfielder. It’s not likely that the Rockies will sign him, but hey... a man can dream, right?
Congratulations to Mr. National on a fantastic career. Zimmerman retires as the Nats/Expos’s all-time leader in basically every offensive counting stat, and with a World Series ring to complement his individual achievements. Expect to see his number 11 retired shortly.
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