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Debunking the four biggest myths about baseball

Apr 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

baseball grass

Those of you who have followed our Baseball is Dying, You Guys series will know this stuff already, but if you haven’t, Allen Barra has an article up at The Atlantic rebutting those who seem to want to make a second career out declaring baseball dead.

The four myths he debunks: (1) That baseball isn’t as competitively balanced as football; (2) that baseball games are too long; (3) that baseball’s talent pool has become diluted; and (4) that baseball is declining in popularity.

Does baseball have competitive balance concerns? Sure. Could the pace of games be better? Absolutely. Do the best athletes flock to baseball the way they used to 50 years ago? Not really. Is baseball still The National Pastime? Of course not.

But as Barra points out — and as we have pointed out constantly around here for years now — baseball’s flaws are not anything close to the fatal level its detractors like to claim. And, when you actually measure baseball on its own terms and use apples-to-apples comparisons, many of those alleged flaws are revealed to be fallacies.

  1. [citation needed] fka COPO - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Shouldn’t #1 be, Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball, no matter how many times Selig tries(d) to say he did?

    Good column though.

    • natstowngreg - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:25 PM

      The fact that Abner Doubleday invented baseball is one of the top 5 misunderstood facts of all time. Right behind the fact that the Earth is flat, and the fact that the Sun orbits the Earth.

      • cktai - Apr 25, 2014 at 3:05 PM

        Ironically the biggest myth would be that people used to believe the earth was flat.

      • anxovies - Apr 25, 2014 at 5:45 PM

        Everybody knows that the Russians invented baseball. http://www.amazon.com/Russians-Invented-Baseball-Essays-Enlightenment/dp/0385297580

  2. El Bravo - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    Baseball rulz

    • renaado - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      Absolutely! No doubt about it. Truly love this sport, I don’t know if many people follow Baseball here in our country but there is no stopin me introducin this wonderful sport to anyone I know here, my college buddies are the 1st step for this. And it’s very clear that they are very curious to know much more about this amazing sport.

      • El Bravo - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        Where are you? Baseball should be played everywhere!

      • renaado - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        Philippines, a basketball country… Which is very “overrated”.

      • aresachaela - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:22 AM

        From what I know Ren, you already introduced many people here in our college campus about the game of Baseball. As a person you knew for almost like forever, I’m truly thankful for you for introducing me about the sport of Baseball. I’ll try my best also to show this to other people I know on how magnificent this sport is. Truly thank you, I’ll never be a proud Yankee fan right now if you haven’t introduced me this ;-) .

      • moogro - Apr 25, 2014 at 1:19 PM

        If you are going to invest a bunch of time in being a spectator, baseball has a lot to recommend it. A lot of other sports, not so much.

      • renaado - Apr 25, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        Yeah… I’m envious of you guys there though. I really want to go to a Baseball stadium personally especially Turner field. If there is ever one wish that has been granted to me, my only wish is to see the Braves play there.

      • anxovies - Apr 25, 2014 at 5:48 PM

        Moogro: Very true. Nobody would watch their football team play 162 games every year, but a lot of baseball fans do.

  3. thedoubleentandres - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    The whole baseball is dying thing always reminds me of that opening scene from BASEketball where pro sports have all been decimated due to teams moving cities and turning their stadiums into giant billboards for maxi tampons etc. so they start trying inter-sports play where you have giant linebackers tackling base-runners.

    • rollinghighwayblues - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      May I?

      • thedoubleentandres - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:51 AM

        You certainly may lol

        Love the young Coop saying “Ya know Rehmer…Some day I’m gunna be a big sportstar” then flash forward 20 years to a drunk Coop peein in a plant pot “Ya know Rehmer…some day I’m gunna own a big Sports Bar.”

  4. DelawarePhilliesFan - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    1985 was the first time EVER that each MLB team had 1,000,000 in attendance. Now teams that can’t draw 2 mil are considered flops. Not to mention all the trillions rolling in from Cable, etc.

    To paraphrase Teyvya from Fiddler on the Roof “If Baseball is dying, may I be inflected with that disease – and never recover!”

  5. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Bunting is smart.
    Hitting skill is measured in RBI
    Pitching skill is captured by Wins
    Every opposite field hit is “a nice piece of hitting”
    Grit > Talent
    Clubhouse harmony leads to Winning, and not the other way around
    Statistics don’t mean anything
    Statistics mean everything
    Those Red Sox beards are handsome
    It is fun to watch pitchers “hit”

  6. sjhaack - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    I’m about 95% certain he’s incorrect about commercial breaks. Baseball does actually have rules governing between-inning breaks, and I believe it’s between 2m15s and 2m30, I just can’t find it anywhere when I look. The breaks are definitely NOT 6 minutes long.

    Now, you get more commercials if the channel goes to commercial during mid-inning breaks. But between innings is a timed guideline.

    • natstowngreg - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Last week, I sat behind home plate at Nats Park (something I usually do once a season). To my left, near the visitors’ dugout, was a guy with a headset and colored cards, displayed during commercials. Red, for commercials being on; then yellow, then green, to tell the plate umpire that he could resume the game.

    • anxovies - Apr 25, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      An NFL game has about 130, commercials, a baseball game has about half of that number.

  7. renaado - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Baseball dyin my ass! This guys writing the “Baseball is Dying” narrative have no idea how the sport of Baseball is blossomin world wide.

  8. chiadam - Apr 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Inferiority complex much?

    • Jonestein - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      Yes, by those perpetuating the silly “Baseball is Dying” narrative.

  9. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    http://thumbpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/funny-baseball-boring-smart-people1.jpg

  10. jimmyt - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I don’t think baseball is dying but I do know this: Been a baseball fan all of my life but the only games I watch or listen to are when my team is playing including post season. I watch every NFL game I can pre, post and regular season no matter who the teams are.

    • baberuthslegs - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:19 AM

      So maybe you’re not a true baseball “fan”. You have a casual interest in it? You do sound like a football fan though.

      • jimmyt - Apr 25, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        How dare you sir! I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan and we all know what that means, just ask Craig, it drives him nuts.

    • raysfan1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      This is actually one of the points about baseball vs football in illustrating why a lot of comparisons are apples to oranges. Baseball fandom as a whole is much more regional than football. Baseball games are a daily thing during the season and most broadcasts are regional. Football is a weekly event with national followings.

      • baberuthslegs - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        I’m kind of saying that to me being a baseball fan means you like the game for itself… regardless of the teams playing. I buy some KFC and go sit on the grass while watching high school kids play. I enjoy the game of baseball.

      • Alex K - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:11 PM

        babe- I watched JV high school baseball last week when I happened upon it while walking with my kid. Even that was enjoyable.

      • raysfan1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        I’m assuming jimmyt was only referring to professional sports. There are a lot of fans of MLB that really are only interested in their team. As chadjones notes below, in baseball it’s very easy to make a significant time investment just doing that.

    • chadjones27 - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      makes sense. 162 games of your home team in baseball. In football, if you watch all the games possible (regardless of team), that’s only about 85 games over the season. (thursday, 1:00pm, 4:30pm, sunday night, monday night time 17 weeks)
      Regular season only, obviously.

      It’s a huge time commitment to watch as many baseball games as possible.

      • yahmule - Apr 25, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        And the Thursday games suck ass.

    • anxovies - Apr 25, 2014 at 5:56 PM

      You are not a baseball fan, you are a football fan. And the sad thing is that as a Cardinals fan you could follow one of the great teams in sports history but you choose the inferior sport. I lived in St. Louis for 5 years and went to every game I could and treasure every one of them.

  11. bluenoser23 - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

  12. southernballhawk1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    Im so sick and tired of people saying “Baseball is to long” if it is to long watch another sport and stop complaining!! No one is forcing you to watch it or follow it!

    • renaado - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Absolutely, I can’t stand people thinkin like that. Every game, every pitch, every swing truly puts me to the edge of my seat. We might not know what would happen at any moment when watching the sport of Baseball. Truly this sport will be embedded in my heart forever.

      • southernballhawk1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 1:39 PM

        Exactly how I feel!

  13. southernballhawk1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Im un following this blog. Iv had enough of the whole “baseball is to long crap”.

  14. paperlions - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    The competitive balance argument used is hogwash. Competitive balance is not a parity, otherwise, it would be called parity. It isn’t about the distribution of championships among the teams in a league either. It is about how level the competitive field is (i.e. competitive balance). In other words, does every team have a similar ability to compete with differences in success attributed primarily to differences in the abilities of franchises to make smart decisions with respect to the acquisition and development of talent.

    In football, the teams that are good year after year are good because they make the best football decisions, are best at identifying good coaches and talented players and devising schemes to beat other teams…and they are the teams that recognize the proper values of particular types of contributions to winning games. Teams that are bad year after year are generally horrible at these things because of poor leadership. In football, teams are not generally good or bad because of how much money they make. The playing field is level….some teams are just much better at building football teams than others.

    In contrast, in baseball, some teams have huge advantages over other teams from a financial perspective that can drive their ability to remain competitive every year. If two teams are equally good at building baseball teams, the team that can keep their star players or buy the stars developed by other teams have a huge advantage over teams that have to continually rebuild or try to take advantage of brief windows during which they have a large collection of cheap talent…only to watch it all leave and to start over again.

    Competitive balance is a huge issue for baseball, and if they don’t address it they are going to lose some entire fan bases and have franchises that are no longer viable.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Apr 25, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      Certainly a team that is willing to spend more is likely to land some players than more frugal teams are. MLB has spent quite a bit of time and policy making to level things. And I think the overall results show that much of the system is working. There are small market clubs that compete well year after year, and big market clubs that struggle under the weight of their financial commitments.

      there is also the complication that some teams simply choose not to spend, at least for long stretches of time. Teams like the Mets, Astros and Cubs are in some of the biggest media markets in the country, which would seemingly help them generate the revenues needed to spend big. And they have spent big in the past. But they are all choosing NOT to spend big so they can stock their systems with quality young talent instead. It is philosophical choice, not financial restraints.

      Then teams like the Rays and A’s have built perennial contenders within their budget constraints.

      So it seems like, while the plans may vary, it is entirely possible for teams to select their own spending levels, and for teams at all spending levels to succeed.

      • paperlions - Apr 25, 2014 at 3:56 PM

        Possible, sure, but much harder and more challenging for some teams than others. I didn’t argue that it wasn’t possible, just that the field for competition among organizations is nothing close to balanced. Some teams can make mistakes that others can not afford to and have many benefits that other teams do not. The Dodgers are competitive because they threw around a lot of money…some of it smartly, but they just threw so much around that some of the moves had to work out. The Rays are pretty much at the end of their run. The system is pretty bare, Price will be gone soon…there is no more depth or any more cheap replacements coming for them any time soon.

    • yahmule - Apr 25, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      The implementation of rookie salary cap made it much easier on incompetent franchises. Now a succession of top five pick busts won’t completely hamstring a team’s ability to drag themselves out of their mess.

      • paperlions - Apr 25, 2014 at 5:21 PM

        Yep, the NFL enhanced competitive balance in that way….meanwhile MLB screwed over poorer teams in MLB by limiting their ability to spend in the draft and on international FAs….two of the ways that less rich teams used to be able to help balance the playing field a little.

  15. stackers1 - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    When my girlfriend moved in with me, she was like, “I like the Yankees because Jeter has a great butt”. Now after 3 years of watching games daily with me, she’s like, “Jeter better lay off the outside breaking pitch if he wants to pull it to the left side”. The game grows on you. We need to keep exposing the game to our kids & the sport will be just fine going forward.

    • chadjones27 - Apr 25, 2014 at 4:29 PM

      I only gave you a thumbs down for dating a Yankee fan

  16. kidpresentable - Apr 25, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    I don’t agree with his notion that parity is equal between MLB and the NFL. Just because a number of teams managed to overcome a stacked deck, does not render the deck any less stacked.

    Case in point, the Brewers offered Zack Greinke over $100 million to resign with the team. The Dodgers outbid them by $47 million. Had Greinke resigned with the Brewers and blew out his arm, the team is screwed. If he does it for the Dodgers, they can just brush it off.

    On the flipside, the NFL’s smallest market team, the Packers, resigned Aaron Rodgers to a contract exceeding $100 million, but if the NFL operated the same as MLB, the Cowboys would have swooped in and offered $170 million, and the Packers would have been out of luck. Because of revenue sharing AND a salary cap, the Packers were able to afford Rodgers without blowing their budget and teams were unable to outbid them for their star player. The NFL comes down to who acquires the best talent through smart drafting and free agency. If you’re a small market MLB team, you have to draft well and hope that it all comes together before your young talent goes to LA, or NY, or Boston.

  17. bolweevils2 - Apr 25, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    I don’t know that you should state unequivocally that baseball is not America’s pastime. Is it America’s favorite sport? No. But favorite pastime to me implies that you spend the most time with it, and due to having 10 times the number of games per season I for one spend far more time watching baseball than football or any other sport.

  18. anxovies - Apr 25, 2014 at 6:10 PM

    Here is the difference between baseball and football. Football is an event or spectacle. So much of football depends upon the peripherals: The big screen and the Sunday get together with buddies, wives, girlfriends, etc.; tailgating and showing up at the stadium with your friends; the Superbowl and the hype. Baseball is watched and closely followed because it is a game.

  19. phillyphannnn83 - Apr 25, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    A bump on a log can’t die.

  20. phillyphannnn83 - Apr 25, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Really, the only reason people say it’s dead is because it’s boring to all but diehard fans because it’s too long(the games AND the season) and slow-paced.

    Still, it’s nowhere near as boring as the “only the final 3 minutes matter NBA.”

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