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The 2000s in a nutshell

Dec 29, 2009, 10:00 AM EDT

I think I’ve read two dozen decade-in-baseball retrospectives in the past week, but they all seem to come back to this nugget, articulated today in the Star-Ledger’s version:

The 2000s were dominated by steroids and everything we learned about
them: how widespread they were, who juiced, who was responsible and how
it impacted the game. Year after year, what happened on the field was
overshadowed by the latest steroid-related development . . .

. . . Yet while we became more cynical about the game, we were no less
captivated by it. The 2000s were marked by record attendance and
all-time high revenues. It was the first decade since the 1960s in
which there was no work stoppage.

And you can’t just dismiss that as a business thing or a function of new ballparks. The revenue and attendance was driven, undoubtedly, by fan interest and demand. People are buying tickets to those ballparks and watching those regional cable network broadcasts.

The fact that the game has seen such an uptick in interest and revenue despite the PED stuff just strengthens my belief that steroids, while a problem that absolutely had to be addressed, are/were nowhere near as large a problem for the game as they are typically made out to be and that perspective about it all is starting to ooze back into people’s thinking.

We’ll start to see tangible evidence of this going forward. Maybe with things like Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame vote totals, which I think will see a modest increase this year that will continue over time, as he wears a batting coach’s uniform every day and writers realize that he’s not a Martian. Maybe with a bit less shock and outrage as another name or three from the famous steroid list is released this spring, as it inevitably will.

Maybe the turn of a decade is an arbitrary point in time, but it does feel like we’ve reached a turning point of some kind, doesn’t it?

  1. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Dec 29, 2009 at 11:08 AM

    Actually, it does. For the second straight offseason, we’ve seen relative restraint on FA spending. Sure, we can joke that the Yankees won’t sign Bay or Holliday (they’ll sign Bay *and* Holliday), but the fact of the matter is that *most* teams are okay with going younger and cheaper instead of the teams perennially accused of parsimony. For the less sophisticated: Bobby Abreu wasn’t an aberration; he’s the new normal. Somebody forgot to tell Johnny Damon.

  2. lar @ wezen-ball - Dec 29, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    I totally agree with you, Craig, especially about Mac and his HOF votes. I am a little curious, though. How do you think people are going to react when they see Mac in a uniform for the first time and notice just how much smaller he is now than he was in ’98 or ’00? I imagine there’ll be a few columns written about that…

  3. RobRob - Dec 29, 2009 at 2:03 PM

    A key element of those regional cable broadcasts is that they’re largely on the basic tier. That means the teams that have them get revenue regardless of whether people are watching their channel. If you have cable in New England, you’re paying the Red Sox (and Bruins) some portion of your monthly bill, and some channel down the line gets bumped to a specialized tier. The same is true in NYC and elsewhere, and we should equate those revenues to people actually watching the games.

  4. Chris Simonds - Dec 29, 2009 at 3:16 PM

    Craig,
    I acknowledge the points you bring up, but don’t agree with your thinking.
    Increased revenue and attendance owe more to marketing strategies than to what happens on the field. The fan interest and demand you cite are things that are easily created and expanded by modern mass media. Baseball sells nostalgia as much as it sells what it actually is. Your own writing deals as much with memories of the past as with what’s happening in the present, and this is true, actually, of all the best baseball writers.
    The spectacle of Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and on and on, is not a horrible spectacle because they took steroids, but because, inside those big bodies and those out-sized and actively promoted reputations, are little weasels. That is what makes me wonder about what professional baseball really is. Weasels thrive in corporate culture. I am not expecting baseball players to be saints or heroes. They never have been. None of us is. But I can’t help wondering whether all the best players really get to play at the level they should be playing. MLB is a corporate management extravaganza. It creates player mystiques. It makes them up. It manufactures them.
    I was recently re-reading “Ball Four”. I think of the picture the book paints of the comic stupidity of jock culture and the clueless businessmen who want to be a part of it, coupled with the Orwellian corporate-speak of MLB today and the spinelessness of nearly everyone involved concerning the steroids problem, and I end up wondering how much of an actual competition we are seeing, and how much is really just a Hollywood script.
    Ty Cobb was an original Hall of Fame inductee and about as horrible a human being as one could imagine, judging by all I have read. But he was right up front about what he thought and what he was after. At least he wasn’t a weasel. I think the disquiet about steroids in sport, and in baseball in particular, is simply an inarticulate expression of our knowledge that big business wants to manage everything: our reactions, our expectations, our judgments. Steroids helped them to do this, at least for a key decade or so. That’s why it’s a signifigant issue.

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