The 2018 World Series Was Good for the Red Sox—And Bad for Baseball
“Major League Baseball has long been losing its grip on the title of America’s pastime,” Hayley Glatter wrote after the Red Sox won the 114th World Series. The game, she argued, is too long, lacks star power, and has been cannibalized by its crushing quest for metrics.
As a die-hard baseball fan, I think this is a great article. Baseball is genuinely at war with itself to keep the elements that its casual appreciators enjoy without sacrificing what its die-hard fans enjoy—at some point, it may just need to pick a side. I think it should probably pick the casual side: There are more casual fans, and diehards like me are just committed enough to grin and bear it.
But anyone who’s trying to get into the Red Sox specifically and struggles to because of the team’s “lack of a transcendent star” is defining “transcendent star” as someone who is as talented and famous as LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and maybe Tom Brady, if I’m feeling generous. If Mookie Betts isn’t meeting your criteria, I feel they are unreasonable criteria. He’s probably the second-best player in baseball, he’s charming, and he’s young, with his best possibly still ahead. Mike Trout would meet the criteria as well if he weren’t such a dud of a personality. Francisco Lindor is another strong candidate, though the smaller market won’t help him. Aaron Judge is a striking dude who smashes dingers.
Pace of play, confusing rules, hyper-granular managing and analytics, sure. But lack of star power is not something it looks like the MLB has to worry about.
I must respectfully and vociferously disagree with your assessment of the baseball played in this 2018 World Series—it has been nothing short of captivating.
Yes, I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, but even more than that, baseball has been a lifelong love (as it is for my 13-year-old and so many girls and boys and men and women I know). I found the series entirely transporting. And I’m convinced I am no outlier. The pitching and hitting were so brilliant, so evolved—and the margin for error so small, and consequences so large—that each pitch of every at bat was its own enthralling odyssey.
I’m a far cry from a baseball expert, but even I can see how the game is evolving in particularly evocative ways these days. I can’t avert my eyes from each pitch and swing. There are reasons it took more than seven hours for a team to emerge victorious in Game Three. Just as there are reasons home runs so often now dictate wins and losses. Even I can appreciate just how high the level of play has been—from pitch location and movement to swing speed and trajectory. It has been incredibly exciting.
To steal a line from the iconic Field of Dreams, I respectfully suggest: Perhaps if you’d experienced even just a little bit of what I see in the game of baseball these days, maybe you’d love it too.
I agree with the author’s assertion that the game needs to be sped up. Here is how to do it:
1. Decide on a reasonable amount of seconds between pitches.
2. If, by that time, the batter is not ready to hit, call a strike.
3. If, by that time, the pitcher has not thrown the pitch or to a base to hold a runner, call a ball.
4. Each team may stop the pitch clock with a limited number of time-outs.
Baseball’s problem solved. You’re welcome!
I consider myself a die-hard Red Sox fan and watched as many games as I could in the 1970s and ’80s. Today, not so much. For me, the biggest turnoff is player turnover. Only one member of the 2018 team played on the 2013 World Series team. I have a hard time relating to the constant coming and going of players.
This age of lies, greed, haste, superficiality, inequality, and partisanship may be properly represented by the NFL, but give me baseball every time. As the temperature goes down and we start driving home from work in the dark of winter, I already miss baseball. I look forward eagerly to next year. Leave my sport alone.
Edward J. Szewczyk
I don’t know what to do except bemoan the fact that baseball just doesn’t seem well suited to today’s internet-shortened attention spans.
I sat through all 18 innings of Game Three and loved it! But then, I’m a grouchy old fart.
I will say that baseball’s current obsession with analytics reminds me of how bland, poll-tested politics has robbed that sphere of its vitality. And the unfettered greed of everybody in the sport is disheartening. I’d go to a lot more games if a beer didn’t cost so much.
One technical change that could improve the game: Move the fences back. MLB evidently thinks that fans demand lots and lots of home runs, but when every batter comes to the plate swinging for the fences, a lot of the game’s complexity and beauty is lost.
I’m 61 and a lifelong baseball fan. Each October, I watch the World Series and am almost always satisfied. The Series doesn’t need the hype that always seems to surround the Super Bowl or NBA finals; the night games, the October chill, the faces of the players and managers in the dugouts are all compelling to me.
I admit that there are more pitching changes than I’d like, but one reason that teams such as the Red Sox, Yankees, and others play long games—which is a testament to their success—is that their hitters are patient and make pitchers work deep counts. The game lasts longer because of that, but I don’t see this as a flaw of the game itself.
I agree that the four wild cards have been an asset to the game, but I’m afraid that I don’t see eye to eye with you on limiting extra innings, on lamenting the lack of star power (another satisfying element of many past World Series has been watching a Steve Pearce or a Mark Lemke get locked-in and lift their team when the stars aren’t quite getting it done), or that we need a “livelier” version of the game. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I just don’t see how this Series was bad for the game.
Oak Park, Ill.
The article left out a major reason for declining attendance and viewership of major sporting events in general: the cost of tickets and media to view them.
Lincoln City, Ore.
Playoff baseball is a “dreadful chore,” according to Hayley Glatter. No, the recent World Series was lots of fun: The 18-inning game that could have turned the tide for the Dodgers but didn’t; the clever pitching strategies by the Red Sox manager Alex Cora; the joyful home-run trots; the unexpected heroes. Fans, regardless of their loyalties, were privileged to witness one of history’s best baseball teams slug, throw, and think its way to victory. Great stuff for those who love the sport.
Patience and a respect for the past. This is what baseball has to offer the contemporary world, a valuable counterweight to the instant gratification and worship of the new that diminish modern life.
Yes, small tweaks can be made to improve the pace of play. But perhaps we should acknowledge that baseball is no longer and will not return to being America’s game (or Canada’s, for that matter); that it will have fewer fans as time goes on; and, that there will be less money made and fewer millionaire players. So what? Does everything have to be measured in terms of popularity and money? The cancer in our economic system is the fundamental assumption of growth. It will consume the planet and kill us all. Maybe growth isn’t the answer for baseball, either. Keep the game the same, settle for fewer fans, and manage the steady state instead of championing the malignancy of constant growth. Some say that baseball is a great metaphor for life. Perhaps, in settling, it can be a sobering metaphor for our collective future as well.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Been following the Red Sox since the 1950s, and if it wasn’t for a DVR, I wouldn’t have seen the playoffs. How do you attract young fans when the pace of the game is mind-numbing, and the late starts east of the Mississippi make it impossible for them to stay up? This also includes old guys like me and most of the workforce. May not be as much fun as watching live, but next-day watching is less stressful.
8:15 p.m. EST is far too late for baseball to start.
If you don’t like baseball, don’t watch baseball. That seems far more logical to me than trying to change baseball to appeal to people who don’t like to pay attention to anything anymore. Short attention spans and reality-television addiction are negatives, and certainly not things that should be enabled on a national level at the expense of a game that is nearly 150 years old.
Personally, I don’t watch much tennis, soccer, or darts. But I certainly don’t want any changes to be made to those games on my behalf. Just play on without me.
I agree that something needs to be done about the pace of the game—maybe borrow another page from tennis, which recently instituted a “serve clock,” and institute a “pitch clock.” Another problem plaguing baseball is how the networks show the product. The majority of what is shown on TV is rotating close-ups of four things: the pitcher, the batter, someone spitting in a dugout, and random fans. How about swapping out one of those last two for a shot of the whole field?
John H. Campbell
Readers responded on Facebook:
Jennifer Pelot Rysewyk wrote: Or, maybe it was because these were two big market teams with bloated salaries. Analytics aren’t killing this game. Neither is the duration of nine innings. It’s knowing if you don’t follow a large market team that can afford to rent the best players, you won’t have a chance. Until legitimate salary caps are in place, it’s just going to get worse.
Gayle Mills writes: Loved watching the games but I really wish that some of the games were during the daytime. This is for my grandson who would have loved to watch a game. Come on MLB !!!
Hayley Glatter replies:
Make no mistake: The 2018 Red Sox were an incredibly talented and entertaining team. The two games I caught at Fenway Park this season were captivating and dramatic, and there’s nothing quite like spending an evening in the glow of Boston’s Citgo sign. Despite its skill level, however, I argued in this piece that the team is without a transcendent star. A lot of readers, Kyle Dawson included, disagreed with this assessment and pointed specifically to Mookie Betts as a counterexample. Betts is an undoubtedly dynamic player and, at just 26 years old, likely has many productive seasons ahead of him. But being a great ballplayer doesn’t necessarily mean he’s catching the attention of casual fans outside of New England.
Though it’s an imperfect measure of fame and influence, Betts has just 582,000 Instagram followers and 180,000 Twitter followers. The 76ers center Joel Embiid, meanwhile, has 3 million Instagram followers and 1.55 million Twitter followers; and the Giants running back Saquon Barkley has 1.3 million Instagram followers and 240,000 Twitter followers. Neither Embiid nor Barkley is the most famous player in his sport. But both are younger than Betts and have stronger name recognition than he does. Baseball players today are not any less talented than those who played in the past, but the sport is in a transition period as athletes like Betts and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge establish themselves. For now, the game is without a magnetic standard-bearer who can successfully energize casual fans and motivate them to turn on a game that their team isn’t playing in. Perhaps in a few seasons, Betts will be as prominent a household name in Boise as he is now in Boston. But it won’t happen overnight.