Jan 31

Time To Evaluate All All-Star Games

Good morning. On this bright and sunny – but cold – Sunday morning. Plenty of snow despite the sun. On this last day of January, with the Super Bowl a week away, what better time to talk about the All-Star Games, in all sports?

With the NHL and NFL All-Star Games today it got me to thinking – as I usually do – about the nature of the All-Star Games. They have become obsolete with no compelling reason to watch any of them. All of the sports, with the exception of football, feature some kind of skills competition the day prior to the game.

The hockey skills are the most interesting, mostly because I don’t see that much hockey. The NBA’s three-point demonstration is far more challenging than the slam dunk competition. Jumping over a car or running the length of the court does nothing for me. The slam dunk show does symbolize what the sport has become, which is a “look at me,” exhibition.

The NBA game itself is a playground game of one-on-one duels broken up by an occasional demonstrations of trick passing, which is to remind us these exceptional athletes can pass when the mood strikes them. Of course, the NBA game wouldn’t be complete without some bitching and moaning from LeBron James, who despite the limited rosters complains because there aren’t three Cavaliers on the team. He especially notes the absence of Kyrie Irving, who had played in all but 18 games when the teams were announced.

Then again, this is James, who earlier this week boasted of his “high basketball IQ.” For somebody supposedly so smart, how come he can’t figure out such basic things as roster size, not to mention something so basic as to get along with his coach?

There is no designated skills competition in the NFL game, primarily because there isn’t a headhunting exhibition. The NFL game is the one that should first be abandoned. A player gets fined for skipping the NHL game even with a legitimate injury, which shows the importance the league places on the game. Conversely, seven New England Patriots will skip today’s game in a hissy fit for losing to Denver. Not a peep from the NFL office or the supposedly sophisticated Boston media which goes mostly spineless when it come to the Patriots.

This brings us to the baseball All-Star Game, whose highlight, unfortunately, is the Home Run Derby. Not only do some players bring a malaise to the game, but the idea of making an exhibition game determine something as important as home field advantage in the World Series is beyond stupid.

I hate to be someone who says, “the way things used to be,” but in this case that’s the way it is. From the stuffing of the ballot box (there’s some degree of checks and balances when they limit the voting to only 35 votes, but you can log on under a different screen name and vote again) to the Derby to the home field, the baseball game has lost its meaning.

And, that’s too bad because the All-Star games used to mean something. Part of the reason is the mystery of the other league is gone. Growing up in Cleveland, I rarely got to see the Dodgers or Giants. I used to drive to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, or watch the Mets when my family visited New York. But, that curiosity is gone with the gimmick of interleague play and cable television. These days you can see all the San Diego Padres games you want, whether you live in Cleveland, Alaska or the Congo. The mystery is gone.

This year the Padres will host the game. Last year it was Cincinnati. Next year it will be the Marlins. That’s three National League parks in a row. The game is no longer rotated by leagues, but as a reward for building a new stadium. That’s why the Mets got their game, and Minnesota. Actually, it will be more accurate to say in most cases it is a reward for coaxing the taxpayers to pay for the new buildings (this was not the case with the Mets).

Yet, MLB, like the other sports, puts make-up on their games to hide the ugliness that their All-Star Games have become. But, as the saying does, “if you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig.”

But, if I want pig, I’ll eat BBQ ribs. There’s no need to watch any of the All-Star games because there’s nothing compelling about any of them. Too bad, because they used to have value and I used to love watching.

Spring training is 18 days away, so I thought I’d get a head start on my bitching and moaning.

Apr 29

David Price-Tom Hallion Solution: Put A Mike On The Umpires

Call it a hunch, but I believe David Price on this one with his beef with umpire Tom Hallion, which again leads us to the issue of the “umpire problem,’’ in Major League Baseball.

As he walked off the mound to end the seventh inning yesterday, Price and Hallion exchanged words, and the pitcher said the umpire told him “to throw the ball over the f—– plate.’’

HALLION: Has to walk away.

HALLION: Has to walk away.

Hallion denied it and called Price a liar.

Later, as all athletes do these days, Price took to Twitter: “1. I am not a liar 2. I would not make that stuff up 3. My own dad doesn’t speak to me that way 4. Again I am not a liar. #accountability.’’

The quality of umpiring has long been an issue, and along with it the umpire’s sensitivity to criticism. The rub is they are too confrontational and have rabbit years, meaning they don’t let things slide and seek out an argument. It is as if they are looking for a fight.

The umpire is supposed to be the one who is objective and calm, so why was it necessary for Hallion to yell at Price from a distance? Walk up to him calmly and say your piece. Or, better yet, ignore it and realize that with players there’s going to be emotional displays of frustration, with not all of it directed at the umpires.

Major League Baseball is enjoying unmatched financial revenues so it can afford to make improvements in his area that should reduce the tensions between the players and umpires, and more importantly, get it right. There’s ways to make this a less adversarial relationship, at least on the surface.

Let’s start with instant replay. I concede they’ll never have replay on balls-and-strikes, but there’s no reason not to use it for more than just home run calls. Unlike football, the baseball action is primarily focused on fixed locations like the foul lines, outfield wall and bases.

It is absurd not to take advantage of the high-definition technology. Have a representative from MLB in the pressbox, or have the video examined in a central location like the NHL does for its replays or the networks have for their “instant replay’’ expert on the NFL telecasts.

Finally, all umpires should be have microphones they can’t control so exchanges like the one Price and Hallion had can be properly evaluated and eliminate the “he said, he said,’’ issue.

A miked-up Hallion would tell us instantly who is telling the truth, and perhaps more importantly, prove a deterrent to umpires compelled to interject themselves into the emotions of the game.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

ON DECK: Harvey goes for Mets in Miami.

 

Mar 31

What Did MLB Do With Opening Day?

There have been many changes and lost traditions in baseball over the years. One particularly missed is the spectacle that used to be Opening Day.

The season always started on a Tuesday in Cincinnati and Washington; the home of the sport’s oldest franchise and in the nation’s capital for the national past time.

SELIG: Needs to do right thing for game.

SELIG: Needs to do right thing for game.

This year, lost in the midst of the NCAA Tournament, the start of the baseball season begins with Sunday’s highly anticipated Houston Astros-Texas Rangers clash.

You can’t yawn anymore if you hadn’t slept in three nights. The hook of Houston moving to the American League is a lot of things, but compelling is not among them.

Thankfully, baseball didn’t go overseas for Opening Day, as when the Mets played the Cubs in Japan days before every other team, and several years ago the Yankees played Tampa Bay in Tokyo, then returned to Florida for more exhibition games. There might have been worse ideas, but few come immediately to mind.

For a financial fix – the only reason Major League Baseball does stuff like this – the sport traded something unique and cherished for generations in exchange for a check.

This season, Opening Day in Cincinnati is polluted by interleague play with the Angels coming in. Not only is interleague distasteful for Opening Day, but if you’re going to do it, why the Angels?

A good team, yes, but if the weather is awful and the game postponed, the Angels will be scrambling for a make-up date to fly cross-country.

Inane scheduling just as the Padres at the Mets tomorrow. Can’t they see the folly in this?

Baseball’s Opening Day was always special and anticipated. Now, it’s like the NBA and NHL, where some years you pick up a paper and two games have been played before you realize the season started.

The NFL stole the concept of Opening Day when it kicks off its season the Thursday before the first weekend with the Super Bowl champion at home. By the way, good job by the Orioles for telling the Ravens and NFL to take a hike by not rescheduling their game.

It wouldn’t be hard to have Opening Day the day after the NCAA Championship in most years. But, if not, go back to Cincinnati and Washington the first Tuesday in April.

Or, have everybody play that day, and taking a page from the NCAA Tourney, have wall-to-wall games from afternoon to late at night, with conceivably four games, the first starting at 1 p.m., and the last at 10.

Make the whole day, from coast to coast, special.

I want Opening Day back, and in New York, both the Mets and Yankees should have the town to themselves. Not only are they playing on the same day in the city, but the same time.

Nobody thought this was bad idea?

Sure, the times and economics change, but does Major League Baseball have to abandon everything that was once cherished?

Mar 28

Traditions keep slip sliding away

One by one the traditions of the sport fade and disappear. Some, like all day games, travel by train and fielders leaving their gloves in the field after each inning naturally became outdated and obsolete, and no longer create a sense of longing.

Others, such as interleague play, day baseball during the World Series, alignment  and the designated hitter can still strike a chord and to some remain hot-button issues.

I was reminded today of another of baseball’s passing traditions, and that is Opening Day. The first game of the season was always played in Cincinnati, then Washington. That’s the way it was for decades. I’ll always remember the President of the United States throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the season.

For one day each spring, the sporting world belonged to baseball and Opening Day. The NCAA Tournament had passed and the NFL draft was weeks away. The NBA and NHL were playing out there seasons, but for one day in early April it was nothing but baseball.

The sport was center stage with no competition.

However, Major League Baseball, in its marketing greed has given that away. Now, the real opening day belongs to the NFL, with a Thursday night national game and the rest of the schedule on Sunday.

Not so baseball anymore. It gave up its spot on center stage when it opted to open in late March with games in Japan. I don’t care if a team wants to go over there during spring training, or even play a series during the season, but Opening Day?

After your fans have been waiting all winter for the renewal of the new season, the first games are played half-way across the world. Even more ridiculous, is that regular season games are played the same time spring training games are still in session.

Why doesn’t Major League Baseball reclaim center stage by making Opening Day on the Tuesday after the NCAA title game, or perhaps the Sunday after the Final Four. And, play the games in the United States.

Baseball still claims itself our national pasttime, but it makes for a weak argument when it plays Opening Day on the other side of the ocean.

 

Oct 24

Real baseball fans are watching … just not enough of them.

The ratings for this World Series, which has been compelling, are down but should pick up by Game 6, which is a certainty. I’m betting on a Game 7, the game’s ultimate gem.

But, that’s not enough for Maj0r League Baseball because the East Coast giants aren’t involved. With MLB’s penchant for panic and knee jerk reaction, I am beginning to wonder what the response will be.

Tinkering has already done damage to the credibility of the regular season. With interleague play and the unbalanced schedule, not every team runs the same race to October, which had been a constant for nearly a century. I guess 100 years of a good thing is not enough.

Major League Baseball is seriously considering expanding the playoffs to create interest in more cities and to add extra gates. Another round in the postseason turns baseball into the NFL, the NBA and NHL, which rewards mediocrity.

What had been unique to baseball – and valuable to the sport’s identity – was the difficulty in getting to the postseason. Every team facing the same obstacles gave value and integrity to the regular season. That has  been diluted.

It’s now a crapshoot where just about anybody can get in, and this year we have two teams that play the sport correctly, but don’t attract a national audience. What MLB wants is for the playoffs to be expanded, but in the end have the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers somehow involved.

It doesn’t work that way.

Ratings are down for a variety of reasons, beginning with conflicts from the NFL and college football, and so many other viewer options on cable and satellite. At one time, even when the Series started being played at night, baseball was the popular choice.

It’s not that way anymore.

For years, MLB operated in a fashion to discourage growth from a young fan base by scheduling the playoffs later in primetime and its regular season pricing for tickets. It is more inconvenient for a young fan base – and also for the older fans who long supported the sport – to follow baseball. Those in their 70s and 80s who watched games in Ebbets Field and in dozens of parks that no longer exist, can’t afford tickets and don’t stay up as late. They have been shut out, just like the youth who are choosing other convenient options.

MLB needs to re-evaluate its marketing strategy to get back the fans who long supported the sport and attract its future fan base. Its not enough to get cities to build new stadiums and ride that enthusiasm, because eventually the thrill fades.

As those of us who are watching can see, it is still a remarkable, attractive sport that when played well is a joy to watch. We should savor what we are seeing and not regret those teams that aren’t here.

MLB could start by starting the games an hour earlier as to not shut out the East Coast in the late innings. Start the telecast at 7:00 p.m., with first pitch a half hour later. I’d rather have a small West Coast following in the first two innings than lose the East at the end of the game where memories are made.

In doing so, MLB would sacrifice money in its TV deals now, but it will pay off in the future, and that’s what’s best for the game.