Last week I promised to tell you why I love baseball. Consider this a Very Special Episode of The Journal, then, because it’s going to end with a To Be Continued message. See, before I can get into my personal reasons for loving baseball, I want to get into why I love baseball right now.
So I present to you 12 reasons why baseball in 2016 is as great as it’s ever been.
1. Vin Scully is still on the air.
It may seem strange to begin here. After all, the best broadcaster in baseball history has been on the air during every single one of the past 67 seasons. But he has announced that this will be his final season, making this your last chance to hear one of baseball’s all-time great storytellers narrate a game, and give you stories like this one about Madison Bumgarner, a rattlesnake, and a baby rabbit. Even at 88 years old, he remains in fine form.
2. You can listen to Vin Scully even if you’re not in LA.
Another reason there’s never been a better time to be a fan: you can watch or listen to just about every baseball game that’s played, thanks to MLB.tv, First Pitch (the equivalent app for the minor leagues), and the various college sports networks. The other day I watched my hometown Creighton Blue Jays take on my homestate Nebraska Cornhuskers from my adopted home of Brooklyn. It was glorious, and it probably wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. If only Scully did play-by-play for the Big Ten Network...
3. (Almost) everyone’s invited to the player pool...
There are, in baseball as in life, people who want to turn back the clocks. They want to go back to the days of Ruth, or Cobb, or Ted Williams, or of whoever they think embodied The Right Way to Play. To a time when men were men and baseball was baseball, and nobody flipped their bat after a home run or pumped their first (let alone shot an arrow) after a strikeout. Let me tell you something: these people are full of shit. People who want to Make Baseball Great Again are a lot like the people who want to Make America Great Again, in that they don’t realize (or worse, don’t care) that baseball/America wasn’t so great for anyone who wasn’t a white guy born on native soil.
Those days are long over in baseball, at least on the field. (Well, with one obvious exception, which I’ll get to in a moment.) The talent level is as high as it’s ever been because the game is as open as it’s ever been*. (And if US-Cuba relations continue to thaw, that talent level will only rise higher.) Baseball, again like the country itself, will grow greater only to the extent that it invites everyone to play.
*The game still has a long (long) way to go in terms of diversifying executives, management, and ownership. It’s disappointing to see so many white guys with zero managing experience get hired in the past few years, especially at a time when 27 of the 30 managers are white. Change has been too slow to come, and commissioner Rob Manfred owes it to baseball to find ways to bring it about as soon as possible.
4. … except assholes.
Back in the day, Ty Cobb could literally go into the stands and beat the shit out of someone for calling him a “half-nigger”—someone who, by the way, had only two fingers total—and have his teammates not just back him up, but go on strike to protest his suspension. (He was ultimately suspended just 10 days.) Today, Aroldis Chapman is alleged to have choked his girlfriend and then fired a gun eight times, and is suspended without pay for 30 games. (He was never arrested, and was not charged with a crime.) Jose Reyes gets arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife and is suspended indefinitely. (The charges were ultimately dropped, and the terms of Reyes’ suspension will be announced any day now.) This is America, so there still needs to be some form of due process, but ultimately it’s good for baseball (and, yes, good for the business of baseball) for these kinds of actions to have substantial consequences.
5. Mo’ne Davis could shatter baseball’s glass ceiling.
During the 2014 playoff run*, one of the regular ads was Chevy’s Throw Like a Girl, directed by Spike Lee, and starring Mo’ne Davis—who had just led her team to the Little League World Series by throwing 70mph at age 13. I couldn’t, and honestly still can’t, make it through the ad without choking up a little. There’s a hint of defiance in her voice when she reels off a fastball and says “That’s throwing like a girl” that just gets to me. And when she follows that by saying “Sincerely, your daughter”? It turns me into a puddle.
My own daughter was still a baby then, and I can’t help but think that someday she’ll know who Mo’ne Davis is, and be inspired by her story. Davis is crazy talented, to be sure, but that’s not what’s inspiring. What’s inspiring is the amount of work, guts, and imagination it took to crash the boys’ party that is baseball. We need more like her, and not just in baseball.
6. Mike Trout is the best all-around player in a generation…
At age 24, Trout has already had a better career by rWAR* than Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Pie Traynor, not to mention well known guys like Kent Hrbek and Roger Maris.
*-Basically, bWAR is a stat that measures all elements of a player’s game, and puts it in context for when and where a player played. The idea is to show how much better a player would be than someone called up from the minors or picked up on waivers. If you’re looking for a one size fits all stat to compare players across position and era, this is about as good as it gets. (Oh, and the "r" stands for Baseball-Reference. Because life is complicated, there are competing ways of calculating WAR.)
7. … unless Bryce Harper is.
Seriously, both these guys are ticketed for the Hall of Fame. Trout turns 25 this season, and Harper turns 24 in October. Both of them can do it all—hit for power, hit for average, run the bases, excel in the field, throw guys out. They’re baseball’s answer to Magic and Bird, and should make the next decade or so a hell of a lot of fun.
8. And these guys aren’t so bad, either.
A ballplayer’s traditional prime is from roughly age 27 to 32 or so. (Though that’s changing.) Which is awesome because you can fill out the following lineup card* with players 27 and under—not including Trout or Harper—and not have a weak spot in it.
C - Salvador Perez, KC
1B - Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B - Jose Altuve, HOU
3B - Manny Machado, BAL
SS - Carlos Correa, HOU
LF - Starling Marte, PIT
CF - Mookie Betts, BOS
RF - Jason Heyward, CHC
DH - Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
SP - Jose Fernandez, MIA; Matt Harvey, NYM; Noah Syndergaard, NYM; Gerrit Cole, PIT; Sonny Gray, OAK
RP - Trevor Rosenthal, STL; Roberto Osuna; TOR
Somehow not in the starting lineup: Nolan Arenado, COL; Francisco Lindor, CLE; Miguel Sano, MIN; Steven Matz, NYM; Kris Bryant, CHC; Addison Russell, CHC; Xander Bogaerts, BOS; Kevin Pillar, TOR; Kevin Kiermaier, TB; Vincent Velasquez, PHI; Corey Seager, LAD; Kyle Schwarber, CHC; Carlos Martinez, STL
*-Would you take the 27-and-under against the best 28 and older team? I'm thinking Buster Posey (C); Paul Goldschmidt (1B); Jason Kipnis (2B); Josh Donaldson (3B); Troy Tulowitzki (SS); McCutchen-Cain-Bautista (OF); Votto (DH); Kershaw-Arrieta-Sale-Scherzer-Greinke (SP); Melancon-Kimbrel (RP). It’s a tough call.
11. Mookie Betts is the actual name of an actual player.
So is Socrates Brito. And Adonis Garcia. And don’t forget Coco Crisp.
12. My daughter is maybe old enough to kind of, sort of appreciate it.
Two of my earliest memories of watching baseball: 1) Seeing Jack Clark of the Cardinals on our TV one afternoon when my parents were rearranging the living room. That’s the whole memory: Jack Clark batting for one of those terrific mid-’80s Cardinals teams; and 2) Going to a Royals game in Kansas City when somehow George Brett AND Bo Jackson had the night off.
Some day, Rose might have a vague memory of watching a Corey Kluber start when she was an infant. (Probably not.) Or a slightly less vague memory of last September, when we took her to her first game, and she saw roughly four innings of a meaningless Nats-Mets game, including a home run by the aforementioned Bryce Harper.
Or a slightly, slightly less vague memory of this year’s Opening Day, when her parents made an exception to the no screen time rule and watched the Jays-Rays tilt with her. She didn’t have a ton of interest, but did walk up to the TV at one point and say “Ball.” To which I responded that actually, the pitch was called a strike. “Ball,” she said again. “Strike,” I replied. “Ball.” “Strike.” (We went on like that for awhile, because I’m hilarious.)
But chances are her earliest memory of baseball is still to come. And hey, you never know—maybe it’ll include watching Mone Davis’ first game as a pro, as her father turns into a puddle.
Hey, the Twins won a game! Four in a row, in fact. The offense still stinks, but the pitching has been good, and Joe Mauer has been Vintage Joe.
Still, it’s pretty hard to make the playoffs after you spot the league a nine-game head start.