Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Care About Baseball Anymore? Part II


The defenders of this oligarchy cite the few teams who make the playoffs and sometimes steal a series, but these are clearly unstable anomalies. A rare team like Florida Marlins can steal a World Series but it resembles a fluke and dissipates immediately. The other model of long term investment and talent pool like Tampa Bay made the AL east so interesting, but they have to be dismantled very several years after their ascendancy. They  lose control of their players at that point, or they must bail out on players earlier to get some return. The bottom half needs an astrological convergence of all their nurtured talent coming together at once coupled with career years by veterans to have a chance. Then the convergence disappears and all that remains is a frame to rebuild again  like the skeletal Tamp Bay  after their recent fire sale.

The World Series winner in the last seven years had San Francisco (10), Yankees (1), Philadelphia (4), Boston (2), St. Louis Chicago (3),  Boston (2). The exceptions like Texas this year (27) keep critics at bay but dissolve under the stresses of the market and their inability to keep players. If they have loaded systems, they can replenish, but not with the strategic consistency as the Oakland failure of the last decade demonstrates.

Baseball now clusters into teams that: (1) always can compete unless hamstrung by stupidity like the Mets or hubris like the Yankees. (2) Some can compete through a combination of reasonable resources and or career years like the Giants or Chicago and  (3) the hopeless ones like my Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh or Cleveland who will never compete under this regime. So Kansas City watches Zach Greinke announce he wants to leave a ship dead in the water (20) and ends up in Milwaukee (18) which has a very small window with its combination of veterans and soon to depart invested players like Prince Fielder.

A great organization, even a corporate shell sports franchise, still needs several attributes to attain excellence. It needs a relentless focus upon core mission--build a winning team--depends upon getting good people committed to the goal; creating a culture where everyone is not only competent but works endlessly to find, evaluate, train and organize personnel to accomplish it. The formula does not change--success grows from committed skill+culture+organization.

The fifty percent turnover in football playoffs each year illustrate what real competition looks like in a quasi equal playing field. Football shows how the combination of talent, smarts, and organization can make a difference. Equal playing fields places a value on every team having to evaluate talent and nurture players and draft or sign free agents judiciously.

This year's Super Bowl represents the impossible for baseball. Two regular not ultra rich franchises compete year in and year out and go through ups an downs, but stay alive because of the salary cap, revenue sharing and then win the test of smart management, supple vision and sustained commitment. A Packers could not even exit in baseball and the Steelers would be the Pirates, so people wonder why folks give up on baseball and migrate to football. Football offers hope, baseball kills it.

Baseball depends upon institutional talent development unlike football and basketball. Basketball burns through talent and relies upon AAU and sometimes college. The modern pro game is so deskilled that  in depth talent development does not matter. Football relies  upon college sport which develops players but also educates them and nurtures the  intelligence required by the sport. Baseball, however, takes much more time. College baseball does not come near the skill development level, and the international base requires heavy investment and maturation in minor league play. This is tragedy of the modern system that spawns an illusion of hope for low cluster teams, but then encourages the talent to bolt to the oligarchs once they reach their prime.

I love baseball. I appreciate the art and combination of individual excellence and spacing with integrated teamwork. I enjoy the pace and social aspect of watching, thinking and conversing. I like the time and space configuration as well as the social dislocation to an intensified but non frenetic or ultra violent competitive space.

I lived through expansions, steroids, lock outs, collusion, but in each case, I possessed the possibility of hope. Each spring brought possibility. The essence of sport competitions lies not just in the excellence it inspires, but in the fact that we do not know the outcome in advance. Baseball is destroying this hope for fans..

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