Baseball Needs Big Changes To Boost Attendance

ALSO: YANKEE STADIUM FANS NEED BETTER SECURITY PROTECTION

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

The Dodgers may be paying Trevor Bauer $40 million this season but they cancelled his bobblehead night, scheduled for next month, and pulled all of his merchandise from their shops after the enigmatic pitcher was placed on administrative leave for alleged sexual assault . . .

The Angels are paying most of the $30 million salary Albert Pujols is owed this season, with the Dodgers on the hook only for a prorated league minimum . . .

Cody Bellinger, bedeviled by a hairline fracture in his left leg, is still far below the Mendoza Line and far from his MVP form of 2019 . . .

Cy Young, then in his second season with the Boston Americans, coached college pitchers at Harvard in 1902 . . .

Jim Barr missed pitching in the 1979 AL playoffs after he broke his hand on a toilet seat. After seeing a sign that said “The Angels are No. 2,” Barr tried to swipe it away – not realizing the message was scrawled on an actual toilet seat.

Leading Off

It’s Time for MLB to Start Thinking Small 

By Brian Koss

Every year I read a handful of new articles about Major League Baseball’s attendance problems. And frankly, they’re getting boring, because no one seems to offer many solutions.  COVID brought about another setback, as fans in 2020 learned to live without attending games. 

The 2021 season may not be the best barometer on attendance, but it can be assumed in the years to come that more articles about struggling attendance will be written.  Franchises need to start thinking outside the box.  

Destination Games

In fairness, MLB has produced some good ideas in the past few years.  This season, for the first time ever, MLB at Field of Dreams (Dyersville, IA) will take place on August 12 (White Sox vs Yankees).  Games at the Little League World Series (Williamsport, PA) and College World Series (Omaha, NE) were excellent ways to connect the game to the next generation. .  

In 2018, I wrote an article called It’s Time for the Major Leagues to Go Back to the Minors.  In that article, I laid out the case that MLB teams should play a game or weekend series at their Triple-A affiliate’s ballpark.  Such a concept would bring MLB games to 30 additional American cities.  That is one small step that could have a big impact. 

America’s Pastime? 

It used to be said that baseball is America’s Pastime, but can the same thing be said today?  Probably not.  Baseball remains one of the most popular sports in America, but shares it’s space with many others.  In reality, America’s new pastime is probably Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar streaming services that offer endless hours of entertainment.  

Football has surpassed baseball in terms of a spectator sport, but lags behind baseball in terms of youth participation. In America, baseball remains a top tier choice for youth organized sports; only second to soccer.  Baseball executives should be focused on appealing to that target audience of kids. The future fan base can be found at the Little League field. Those who play the game as kids are the most likely to remain fans as adults.  

The Connection

The key to all of this is to create a memorable experience for every fan.  In particular, this means getting kids to the ballpark and leaving them wanting to return.  Tickets and concession prices are a part of the equation and the entertainment value is another.  Kids who are able to get to the ballpark and find the experience engaging are going to ask their parents to come back again.  

Several weeks ago, my son and I attended a Savannah Bananas game.  The Bananas are a collegiate summer league club who’ve earned a big league reputation.  Owner, Jesse Cole, offers a “fans first” approach to the game.  That includes a pep band, middle- aged male cheerleaders (Man-anas), a senior women’s dance team (Banana Nanas), dancing players (and coaches) and all kinds of entertainment surrounding the ballgame.  It also includes practical fan-friendly benefits like tickets with all the ballpark fare (hot dogs, soda, etc) included.  The Bananas have sold out every game for multiple seasons.  Yes, 4,000 adoring fans fill up Historic Grayson Stadium and they don’t leave until the game is long over. 

MLB teams may not replicate all aspects of the Bananas approach, but can learn a lot about how to engage with fans, especially young ones. 

Size and Scale 

One of the adjustments that MLB teams may need to make is the size of ballparks themselves.  Many franchises have become accustomed, over the years, to a 40,000-50,000 seat stadium.  That large of a ballpark may only actually be filled during some summer weekend games and the postseason.  

Consider in the NBA or NHL, where arenas typically hold under 21,000 fans. In the NBA, teams play 41 home games.  In MLB, teams play 81 home games.  In this case, a team as popular as the Los Angeles Lakers only has to focus on selling out 41 games with 19,060 seats.  Whereas, a team even as popular as the New York Yankees has to sell 81 games with 54,251 seats.  The Yankees had the third highest attendance in MLB, in pre-COVID 2019.   They averaged 41,827 fans per game.  

In 2021, the Atlanta Braves lead the league in attendance (thus far) with an average of 21,619 per game.  The Texas Rangers are second at 27,615.  Both of those franchises benefit from having the two newest ballparks in MLB.  Teams will generally see a bump in attendance in the years following the opening of a new ballpark.  

A major part of the allure of attending a live ballgame is that the stadium is full and the fans are zoned into the action and having a good time.  This is what draws in young fans and keeps them coming back.  

Think Small 

Major League Baseball, like other American professional sports leagues, seems to be very focused on global growth.  While the makeup of the teams are more international, the teams still represent the cities that host them.  There’s nothing wrong with the expansion of the game abroad, but the vast majority of fans who come to the ballpark are, in fact, locals.  

The primary focus of every franchise should be to attract young fans, who will stick with their team and attend games for decades to come.  That means creating memorable ballpark experiences.  MLB should be thinking less globally and thinking more locally.  

Brain Koss is a Senior Editor at LegendsOnDeck.com.  You can contact him at brianmkoss@gmail.com or on Twitter @kosscountry.  He resides in Horizon West, Florida.  

Cleaning Up

Yankees Need Better Crowd Control Inside and Outside Their Ballpark

By Dan Schlossberg

The New York Yankees need to spend their money on security before they seek a pitcher, outfielder, or first baseman.

During their recent series against the Boston Red Sox, at least three separate incidents of boorish behavior by fans stained the legacy of the team with more world championships than any other.

Just before the bottom of the sixth inning on Saturday night, a fan in the left-field stands threw a ball that struck Boston outfielder Alex Verdugo in the back.

After the game, the wife of former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, now a coach on the staff of manager Alex Cora, said a Yankees fan spit on their 9-year-old daughter while they walked to their car.

And, not surprisingly, there was a major brawl among fans inside the ballpark.

While the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is the hottest in baseball, that heat should not ever deviate into foul language, let alone foul behavior.

As Catherine Varitek said, “Baseball banter should be fun, not harmful and offensive. I can handle curse words but that s*it was straight-out filth and vile. What our kids just went through walking to our car in Yankee Stadium was scary.”

The Verdugo incident falls into the same category.

“You don’t throw (stuff) at people, it’s that simple,” said the outfielder, who added that jawing with the fans seated behind him is part of the fun of the game. But there’s a red line there, too.

“You wouldn’t do that to me if we were standing right next to each other without a 40-foot gap and a fence to separate us,” he said. “You wouldn’t do that to somebody in the street.

“Once you throw stuff, you’re crossing the line. I just wasn’t going to sit there and stand for it.”

Cora pulled his club off the field after the incident.

“I would have done the same thing,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “There’s zero place for that in this great game, this great rivalry.”

Boone called Cora to apologize and called the incident “awful, embarrassing, and unacceptable.”

He also said he hoped the unruly fan was sent to jail.

Both the Yankees and Major League Baseball banned the individual from ballparks for life but really have no way of enforcing it.

“There’s no place for that kind of stuff,” said Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. “It’s pretty terrible and hope it doesn’t happen again. But unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve heard about players getting hit with objects here.”

The pitcher said he was glad that Cora pulled his players off the field, a decision he said was the right move.

The tension is always high when the Yankees and Red Sox meet. The players have a long history of fighting on the field and the fans – especially those who root for the visiting team – are always ready to rumble, especially when emotions are fueled by beer.

Tensions built to a fever pitch when the pandemic of 2020 shortened the season to 60 games and barred fans from ballparks.

A bleacher battle between Yankee fans in Derek Jeter shirts and Red Sox rooters erupted during New York’s 3-1 win last Saturday. Multiple bystanders tried to stop the scuffle before stadium security finally showed up and escorted a fan out of the section — and presumably out of Yankee Stadium. Another so-called “fan,” wearing a blue Jeter shirt, continued throwing punches, prompting police to intervene.

Something untoward always seems to happen at the House that Ruth Built. On May 27, two men draped an enormous TRUMP WON banner from the second deck. Security forces confiscated the controversial flag and ejected the perpetrators, one of them in handcuffs.

At least stadium security was on the ball when a fan ran onto the field Tuesday. The 25-year-old Connecticut resident, who faces criminal charges for jumping onto the turf in the sixth inning, “celebrated” his violation with an Instagram post featuring the New York Post’s coverage of the intrusion. His post featured a pair of laughing emojis.

Nobody’s laughing now, even though Yankee Stadium security has become a joke. Fans who come to the game might be wise to bring their own helmets.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is Weekend Editor of Here’s The Pitch, national baseball writer for forbes.com, senior baseball writer for Latino Sports, and contributor to Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly, among others. He’s at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Just-drafted Vanderbilt star Jack Leiter figures to be the latest Leiter to make the majors. Brothers Al and Mark Leiter pitched a combined 30 sesons, while Mark Leiter Jr. pitches for Detroit. Another brother, Kurt, pitched for the Orioles in Double-A but advanced no further.

Injured Yankees outfielder Tim Locastro (out for the season with a torn ACL) was the first player to go a perfect 29-for-29 on the first 29 stolen base attempts of his career. The streak ended when Locastro, then with the Diamondbacks, was caught stealing in a game against the Nationals on April 17.

When Fergie Jenkins was a rookie, Philadelphia pitching coach Robin Roberts told him to trust his fastball more – a suggestion that paved his path to Cooperstown . . .

Scott Boras netted $160 million in commissions after securing $3.2 billion for his clients in 2020, when he negotiated deals for Gerrit Cole (Yankees), Anthony Rendon (Angels), and Stephen Strasburg (Nationals). Agent fees are capped and regulated by player associations with the top commissions allowed by MLB at 5 per cent . . .

Relatives of Loretta Micele are furious that the White Sox changed the name of Loretta’s Lounge to La Russa’s Lounge now that the Hall of Fame manager is back in a Chicago uniform. Loretta Micele spent more than six decades selling hot dogs and beer in Comiskey Park . . .

Whomever approved the Cleveland Guardians nickname must think the team’s players are a bunch of crybabies.


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.

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