Without acknowledging even the slightest bit of irony, Bud Selig has formed a committee comprised mostly of baseball’s eldest statesmen to help discuss ways to improve the game, claiming there are no sacred cows, that no concern will go unaddressed. In other words, Selig has brought in his most sacred cows to try to figure out why baseball has been replaced as the national pastime.
When you look at the names on the 14 person committee, it sounds more like some old boy network looking to have a reunion than a group of guys who can actually get anything done. Together the group, which features managers and executives like Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Terry Ryan and John Schuerholz and even political columnist George Will, has more than 450 years of baseball experience and almost double that in life experience. But what Selig failed to do was engage the younger generation of baseball people who will be essential to helping the sport evolve. Cleveland Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro, 42, is by far the youngest person on the committee and Frank Robinson is the only African-American.
By not enlisting even one of the game’s current stars or executives to represent that younger cohort, Selig’s project seems destined to perpetuate the theory that the people running baseball have fallen out of touch with the average fan. Even the timing of the formation of the committee comes off as more reactive than proactive. It sounds as though the calls to fix the sport have become louder and more frequent and Selig finally caved.
My concern is that this ageing group will sit around and quibble over issues that are either easily correctable or completely out of their hands while whiffing at the bigger picture. It shouldn’t take 14 people to agree that baseball needs earlier start times for games, should never ever be played in November and needs to expand the use of instant replay. These things are obvious. We also don’t need the committee spending the majority of its time discussing the pros and cons of the designated hitter, something the union would never consider abolishing, simply because LaRussa believes fans now fail to appreciate the art of the double switch.
Baseball’s problems run much deeper than that. How will some kid come to appreciate the art of the double switch when they don’t understand many of the basic parts of the game? Every guy on Selig’s committee grew up at a time when baseball was all you did as a child. Most were teenagers when the first Super Bowl was played. Basketball hadn’t taken off yet. And soccer was still for sissies.
Things have changed.
Unfortunately, baseball has not.
The committee can’t operate on the idea that every kid grows up wanting to be at the plate or on the mound in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. But it can encourage Selig and the rest of baseball to pay attention to the sport at the youth level in this country. Every franchise spends so much time and money trying to build feeder systems in other nations that they often forget about what’s happening here.
Let me tell you. The game is dying. The league I coached in here in Providence last summer had five teams with ten players on each roster. That’s it. 50 kids. Same with the older division. And it gets worse. There were only three tee ball teams. Yet every day the basketball courts located roughly 100 yards from the baseball fields were filled until the lights went out.
I can tell you first hand that this has nothing to do with a lack of resources or money, as many people like to argue. Kids choose basketball because they see LeBron James and Kobe Bryant doing commercials and they want to wear their sneakers. Basketball is cool. Baseball doesn’t need 14 elderly men telling it what to do. It needs a marketing plan. You know who the last truly marketable player in baseball was? Ken Griffey Jr. That was a decade ago.
Obviously that’s easier said than done. Baseball players won’t ever push sneakers or apparel the way NBA players do, but they can be more accessible. That’s what the committee must suggest. You want to make baseball more popular? Make it mandatory for players to attend every little league opening day within a given area. Every league schedules around their Mayor’s availability. Surely they would schedule around Derek Jeter’s. Imagine how many kids would sign up for baseball if they knew they would have a chance to meet David Ortiz or any pro ball player for that matter.
That’s the type of thinking it’s going to take to help baseball. Because in most parts on this country, the game doesn’t just need to be fixed.
It needs to be resuscitated.