Broadcast Blackouts Hurt The Game

ALSO: TIME TO RESTORE INTEGRITY TO ALL-STAR VOTING

IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.

Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Kiss it goodbye, Mickey Callaway: the former manager of the Mets and pitching coach of the Indians and Angels has been banned through 2022 by Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred for alleged sexual harrassment . . .

Atlanta outfielder Marcell Ozuna should be fined heavily for foolishly sliding head-first into third base in the third inning Tuesday and dislocating two fingers . . .

More than 180 balls have clanged off the Tropicana Dome roof in St. Petersburg — and quite a few never came down . . .

This season alone, Anthony Rizzo struck out Freddie Freeman and fellow position player Jake Cronenworth struck out Mookie Betts . . .

In the first of two pitching outings for the Nationals, infielder Hernan Perez fanned two men in a row but was “rewarded” soon after with his release . . .

Don’t invite Tony La Russa and Tim Anderson to the same party . . .

Thanks to the ridiculous “Manfred Man” rule, Corey Seager hit a two-run homer on the first pitch of an inning . . .

Detroit has a monopoly on the two best names in baseball: Akil Baddoo and Kyle Funkhouser (are you listening, Larry David?).

Leading Off

Finding Home: Abolish the Blackouts

By Eric Monacelli

My buddy said MLB’s app is the greatest because it feels like he’s back at home. That’s the power of technology and, let’s admit, finding home is arguably the most important part of baseball.

He was speaking about listening to the Mets radio broadcast this April as Jacob deGrom pumped 15 strikeouts and mashed two hits of his own over nine innings of shutout pitching.

If I mentioned that game or even Jacob deGrom to most of my friends living outside of New York, I’d get some acknowledgment but mostly questions about what team deGrom plays for and who he is.

The broadcast team talking about the players? Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez?

Maybe a “My Dad liked those guys” or “I think they were on Seinfield” but not much recognition at all. If I mentioned Howie Rose, Wayne Randazzo, or Ed Coleman...fuggedaboutit.

However, to New Yorkers, Cohen, Darling, Rose, Randazzo, Coleman, and Hernandez are on their way to be canonized. They are transcendent voices. They make us transplants feel like we’re back home.

Home is a relative term for most people. It’s more a memory or feeling captured in a moment than a location.

Even the word “broadcaster” doesn’t seem to fit our world anymore. How broad is broad? What’s the real coverage area? Every audio stream, radio airwave, digital signalcan be found somehow. Fans are global not regional.

The world’s changed many times over, even more so now due to COVID. MLB content – and nearly every bit of information about past,present, and future games – can be accessed on almost every screen a person owns.

Knowing this, still MLB seems averse to the evolution of how fans build new memories, wanting its fan base to stick to the old ways, their nostalgia and their traditions, with the stubbornness of a 95-year-old grandpa.

I moved to California more than a decade ago. I’ve been a fan of the New York Mets all my life but often would go through stretches of disliking the team, the owners, or the players to the point at which I simply would follow my favorite player and like whatever team he played for.

Why? Because I made the time to follow closely and I expressed my fanaticism with intention. Also, most importantly, growing up without network blackouts, reading newspaper articles, Sports Illustrated stories, and, later on, online stories not hidden behind a paywall about icons like Michael Jordan and Ken Griffey, Jr. afforded me to take this attitude about sports.

I heard, read, and saw so much about Jordan growing up that the Chicago Bulls became my de facto favorite team. The Mariners? Nope. Griffey is who I named my dog after but my team was still the New York Metropolitans.

Why is that? The content I saw on TV, listened to on the radio, and read about in the area where I grew up was mostly about the Mets or the Yankees.

Sure, I elected to rebel against my Dad, a Yankees fan, a little and also loved hearing about the exploits of Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry so, naturally, LGM. However, the Mets stuck as my team because of strong memories I had listening, watching, reading, and talking about them.

This is all a messy way of saying the more access you have to information and the more you hear about a team’s or a player’s exploits, the more likely you’re going to be a fan. So, now home being a relative term for most of us, why blackout local games on MLB TV? Why restrict how and when highlights are shared?

Mike Trout has become a baseball deity to me but, due to blackout restrictions, I rarely can watch him play. I’ve been to as many home Angels games as I can afford since 2011. It never seems as though I’ve been able to find time or money to attend enough.

So the idea of Trout playing remains more powerful than actually seeing him play every day. In fact, I follow most of his games via a Twitter bot – Mike Trout Stats. Even living a reasonable driving distance from his home stadium, in the same region where his games are deemed to broadcast, he’s become that incorporeal.

I’m disconnected from the home he’s building down in Anaheim and stuck in my past memories around baseball. I had open admission to those broadcasts.

The Mets are my team but why not the Angels or Dodgers? MLB doggedly guards access and cultivates nostalgia, blocking what “home” means to us.

Let’s admit and open up. We’re in the era of the bundle. Give me a bundle option to buy the rights to watch any Angels, Mets, and, because I want to be able to talk baseball with my newish locals, Dodgers games all year long, recurring annually.

I want to keep up with my nostalgic feelings and Mets memories but I want to build new fandoms.

Building something new feels progressive, exciting. It’s often stated that people think baseball is boring — a sport mired in past sentiment and forcing us to engage via technology instead of actually seeing players or teams play.

I want to visit my old house but let me explore new homes, maybe developing an affinity for multiple homes. Toss in all postseason content and I’d gladly double what I pay annually for MLB-TV. Let me share clips freely on my social media channels so I can interact with other fans. Home, my fandom, should be what I make it and with whom I want to build it.

So how can MLB make the sport feel not only like being back home but like whatever home is to us now? How do you infuse years of nostalgia and memories around a city or team with excitement over the next great player or team? The next could-be dynasty?

It’s long past time for MLB to show more and share more. The tech infrastructure is there. The social media audience is rabid and active. The rules around sharing in-game highlights in real-time and regional blackout are downright draconian.

Yet the sport will continue to thrive in spite of its own worst efforts. But to truly grow the audience, to share the sport more widely and increase its popularity, we need to allow fans – both lifelong and new ones – a way to find their home. After all, isn’t that what the game is all about?

Eric Monacelli is a lifelong IWBAA member, baseball fanatic, and an infrequent writer for Mets Hot Corner as well as one of his own blogs: Spit, Snot, and Sunflower Seeds. Eric works as the Senior Director, Product Development for Marvel in the video game industry and considers baseball to be the ultimate game. He's a N.Y. transplant living on the West Coast with his wife and dog Griffey. Follow him @ermonacelli on Twitter.

Cleaning Up

Fans Are Too Foolish To Pick All-Star Starters

By Dan Schlossberg

During a normal Memorial Day weekend in recent years, voting for All-Star lineups would be in full swing. Not so this year, however (or last year, when the Midsummer Classic was a casualty to the coronavirus pandemic).

Since the start of the All-Star Game in 1933, filling out league rosters has changed so often that it’s hard to keep track.

In 1934, an informal newspaper fan poll “suggested” players to managers who were not bound to take their advice. They didn’t.

Since both were player/managers, National League boss Bill Terry named himself the starting first baseman and American League pilot Joe Cronin crowned himself the starting shortstop.

Realizing the fan vote was a farce – as it is today – Major League Baseball placed team selection totally in the hands of the managers, who were pennant-winners of the previous fall.

That had its quirks too, as Hank Greenberg was snubbed in a year he had 110 runs batted in before the All-Star break and AL manager Joe McCarthy was so confident in his Yankee players that he kept six Yankee All-Stars on the bench while beating the NL without help from his own guys.

Then some wise guy decided to foist the choice onto the fans again. From 1947-57, fans had total control for the first time, with voting tallied by The Associated Press.

That ended in 1957, when Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot box, electing Gus Bell and Wally Post over Willie Mays and Hank Aaron (who won his only MVP that year). Chagrined commissioner Ford Frick took executive action, ruling Mays and Aaron starters and ending the fan vote.

Common sense finally prevailed in 1958 when the first and only objective All-Star voting system was introduced. Players, managers, and coaches voted only for their own league’s representatives but were barred from choosing teammates – a device that sent fairly-chosen squads to the Midsummer Classic.

But blustering Bowie Kuhn, with dollar signs in his eyes, decided in 1970 that mob rule could actually work. Finding sponsors willing to pay millions in promotional fees, computerized ballots were introduced for distribution at ballparks. That system was distorted from the start, since teams that topped the attendance charts got a higher percentage of the ballots and clubs that had homestands just before the final voting deadline urged fans to vote for hometown favorites.

Complicating the felony, ballots were prepared so early that nominees were often traded, injured, or even converted to other positions before voting started.

The very first year, the so-called experts who prepared the listing of National League outfielders omitted Atlanta’s Rico Carty, a .342 hitter for a playoff team the previous season. When Carty opened the 1970 season with his bat still smoking, the fans saved the day by making him a write-in choice. Four years later, after Steve Garvey became the only other write-in, he went on to win MVP honors in both All-Star Game and the regular season.

Not surprisingly, fan voting degenerated into a popularity contest. Not only did teams urged fans to vote for hometown heroes but voters tended to pick well-known names rather than true All-Stars – players who truly deserved to go to the game.

Reggie Jackson brought a .199 batting average to the All-Star Game one year. But that was even better than the .169 mark of Davey Lopes, whose name recognition superseded his performance.

Luis Aparicio and Mike Schmidt were picked after they retired. And Bill Freehan said he didn’t deserve to go.

Never once, however, did a player boycott the game in protest of the pathetic fan vote. And, in 1974, a whopping 74.2 per cent of fans responding to a poll in The Sporting News agreed with the idea that players – not fans – should choose the All-Stars.

Finally, in 2019, MLB came up with a concept that made a little more sense.

Fans still vote via the internet, a method used exclusively since 2015, to pick eight starters in the NL and nine (because of the DH) in the AL. Players then choose 16 men, including five starting pitchers, three relievers, and one back-up per position. All-Star managers complete their 33-man rosters, adding nine players each (including a designated hitter for the National League).

The top three finishers at each position in the fan vote will appear in an on-line ballot on “All-Star Election Day,” allowing fans to pick the starters. The process also includes a “Final Man,” giving fans the chance to pick a 34th player per league from a list of five names provided by the Office of the Commissioner. That list of finalists is announced only after revelation of the 33-man squads.

Wasn’t it better – and certainly simpler – when players, managers, and coaches picked the starters and All-Star managers picked the reserves?

We thought so.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg, weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, covers baseball for Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and forbes.com. His 38 books include ghostwritten autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Milo Hamilton, and Al Clark. Dan’s e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Of the handful of teams that printed media guides this year, the two best were produced by the Red Sox and White Sox . . .

One of the reasons the Braves played loose and easy down the stretch in 1982 was the off-the-field performance of pitcher Pascual Perez, who earned the nickname “Perimeter” Perez by getting lost on Atlanta beltways and running out of gas even before he took the mound on August 19. He arrived 10 minutes late and missed his start . . .

The otherwise-forgettable Bret Barberie got the first hit in Marlins history (against Orel Herhiser) but also made headlines by eating forgetting to wash his hand after eating spicy chili sauce and burning his retinas . . .

David Cone once missed a start after his mother-in-law’s dog bit him.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

Leave a comment