Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Future: Baseball

Following up on my earlier post inquiring about the biggest differences between sports now and sports 30 years ago and what they'll be like 30 years hence...

Let's start with baseball. As Mock pointed out, the game on the field really hasn't changed all that much. It will be interesting, however, to see where technology leads us. Will computers be calling balls and strikes 30 years from now? The technology exists. But is it really preferable to human judgment? Could it potentially create more problems than it solves?

Off the field, I think the biggest difference between baseball in 1980 and in 2010 is the improved power position of the players. We've had two long player strikes in the past 30 years and their impact has been great. Salaries are, of course, significantly higher but it goes beyond that. Free agency plays a much larger role in the game today. The top players also now make a higher percentage of their income through endorsements. Projecting to the future, I'm not sure how much further the players' position can improve. If anything, I think the league is more likely to look for ways to level the playing field and player freedom could be severely curtailed.

Major League teams now have more international players than they did 30 years ago, particularly from Asia. The seeds, of course, had already been planted. Japan, in particular, had already been baseball crazy for decades. It is the Japanese, in fact, who have become more liberal in letting their players get away rather than the Majors becoming more accepting. Perhaps the next country to look toward is Cuba. How will the inevitable political changes of that country impact its many talented baseball players and their Major League prospects?

I think the global game has a lot of potential. I'd love to see ESPN launch a world sports channel: soccer, rugby, cricket, Aussie rules, hurling, etc. The NFL is completely delusional about its sport taking off in Europe but baseball, basketball and hockey all thrive in foreign leagues. I, for one, would love the chance to see my Yokohama BayStars on American television.

Of course, more than anything else in the sports world, improved telecommunications technology has changed everything in the past 30 years. In 1980, ESPN was in its infancy. Who would have thought that local sports cable was on its way, as well? Tickets to games are certainly more expensive but on television, the game is more accessible than ever.

And, of course, there's the Internet. Social networking sites, in particular, have forever changed the relationship between celebrities and those who adore (or detest) them. Who was more accessible to fans, Reggie Jackson and his contemporaries or Alex Rodriguez and his? Five years ago, I would have said the former. Now, I'm not so sure. I hardly need the press to follow Federer and Nadal anymore since they're both facebook virtuosi. All of the top women's tennis players seem to be avid tweeters. I haven't seen this as much with baseball players (team sport - not surprising) but that will change, I'm sure. Unfortunately, I think the line between fan and stalker will become increasingly blurred in the coming years.

The biggest changes, as they have been in the past 30 years, are likely to be completely unforeseen. Of course, one could always argue that the more things change the more they stay the same. Go back and read articles regarding the cocaine concerns of the '70s and '80s, then read articles about the steroid issue now. Same controversies, different drugs.

1 comment:

  1. Something I had not considered when I wrote last week, was the post season. I just heard somewhere that Selig is open to tampering with the format again. He seemed concerned that so few teams have playoff appearances...