I’ll admit something I probably shouldn’t. I haven’t watched a baseball game start to finish all season. That won’t change until I actually go to a Mets game in a couple of weeks, and then it’s because I don’t really have a choice. Although I could just stand in the Shake Shack line for a few innings.
It’s not that I don’t have patience for slower sporting events. I’ve watched several full stages of the Tour de France, and I can sit through a five-set tennis match. Even though I may prefer the up and down of basketball, I can sit through a track meet like the rest of them. But for some reason, the ebb and flow of baseball is simply boring to me. Call me in the 8th inning, then we’ll talk.
So given my general disposition, I’m not one to get overly animated about any controversy with the Major League all-star game, which in my lifetime has been more clumsy than classic. But that’s what the dog days of summer are – a time with nothing better to talk about than which overpaid reliever gets to sit on the bench for a glorified exhibition game. And this is why people get so excited when football finally starts.
The argument of today is whether rookie sensation Yasiel Puig should make the team. The rookie outfielder for the Dodgers has been something of a comet. He’s hitting over .400, has a rocket for an arm, and can run like a deer. A really big, muscular deer with great hand eye coordination. Oh, and he’s 22, which means he’s got more career ahead of him than Justin Bieber. Add this all to his compelling story escaping Cuba, and he’s a walking movie script.
But as of now, Puig will be watching, or not watching the game like the rest of us. He wasn’t voted in, and he didn’t get picked in reserve. But in the bizarro world of major league baseball, there’s still one last chance for fans to pick a final player on each team, kind of last reprieve of sorts. It’s just another way major league baseball tries to look like the TV show Survivor. And Puig is on that list and likely to make it, over four other guys no one really cares about.
This has launched the war between baseball traditionalists and pretty much everybody else. The old school folks say he hasn’t earned it yet. Reliever Jonathon Papelbon said it would be an insult to all the veteran players in the league. Most sports writers seem to want him there, saying the all-star game isn’t a lifetime achievement award, but a display of the game’s most compelling talents. And Puig certainly is that. In the end, he’ll likely spend most of the night in the dugout, like everyone else, and have a marginal impact on the event, other than giving people something to talk about for the better part of a month.
So the question isn’t really about any game that doesn’t really matter. And it isn’t really about the quality of play, since, let’s face it, there’s someone on the Marlins and the Astros in there. It’s about the nature of sport itself. On the one hand, sport is this noble pursuit of virtue and fairness, like a scene from the Last Samurai. On the other hand, professional sport is this multi-billion dollar business that gives sponsors unlimited access, where games start at 9 p.m. and teams change managers when the public wants it so. And where a seat behind home plate can easily cross four figures, and that’s without hot dogs and hats. That sounds to me like entertainment. And like Hollywood figured out a while ago, what the public wants, the public gets. That’s why Disney makes hundreds of millions on films, and artists show their work in festivals. Like it or not, you can’t have it both ways.
So baseball, with its billion dollar parks and Madison Avenue payrolls, needs to realize it can’t have it both ways either. Only one thing pays the bills, and that’s eyeballs. And those eyeballs right now want to see Yasiel Puig in the All Star Game. Baseball purists can save tradition for Thanksgiving and old timer’s day. And that might just save the sport for the 20-somethings that gravitate towards basketball and football and all those games that seem to get it.
Who knows, with Puig in the game, maybe even I’ll watch. But I’ll admit, it’ll probably be for just an inning or two.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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