Perspectives: The Warm (and cooling) Stove League
By Paul Semendinger, December 21, 2020
Sometimes I think that the “powers that be” that run Major League Baseball just don’t understand what they truly have – what it is they preside over. I don’t think they have much (if any) concept of what it is to be a fan, to just love the game and to feel passionate towards a team and its players. To love the sport…
Year-after-year we hear how baseball needs to be fixed. We are told that the games are too long. We hear about rule change after rule change, none of which, I believe, make the game any better.
“Let’s play 7-inning games!”
“Let’s put a runner at second base in extra innings!”
“Let’s come up with a minimum amount of batters a pitcher must face and then we’ll design some exceptions!”
For years I have offered the simplest solution to shorten the games – cut down the commercial breaks between innings. Nothing on the field has to change if they do that. The game itself, the game we love, doesn’t have to be impacted at all. (As I have also explained, with fewer commercials, the sport would be able to charge more for each. In effect, this simple change, which would take at least 30-45 minutes off the time of each game, could be accomplished simply, quickly, and effectively. With fewer commercials, they could charge more for each and make the same amount of money. If I were an auto maker, I’d rather have an entire between innings commercial break to myself rather than sharing it with another car maker – or even two!). Why MLB doesn’t do this confounds me, until I consider the fact that the people who run the game are not fans – they do not invest emotionally in the game itself. They are business people. Their sport is business. They don’t love the game itself like fans do.
I actually think that baseball decision-makers don’t truly understand the game, its appeal, and its fans. I believe that the decision-makers believe that by changing the rules and tinkering with the game year-after-year they add excitement and novelty to the game. (Newsflash – it does not. It actually takes away, piece-by-piece, the joy of the game.)
Baseball, at its root, is a simple game. It’s not complicated. A guy pitches, another guy tried to hit the ball, and then we see what happens if he does. You get three outs, play nine innings, and if there is no winner, you play another inning (and maybe even more after that) until someone wins. Shortening games because it’s a double header or putting runners on bases they didn’t earn doesn’t add to the game, it detracts. All of this makes the game less fun, less easy to understand, and makes the whole thing feel more like a gimmick.
Again, I think that there are a lot of the decision makers in baseball that think gimmicks are good for the game. They think this because they are not fans. They do not understand fans. And, they do not love the sport. They love the revenues the sport produces, but they do not love the sport itself.
Because baseball’s decision-makers are so removed from the game, and so focused on generating revenue, they have also lost sight of what the Hot Stove League was. This is especially true of the Yankees the last many years. Instead of fans hearing about potential free agent signings and trades and roster moves – all of which add excitement and interest and fun… much of what we hear about is that the team is losing money.
“The budget is tight.”
“We can’t spend big.”
“That player is out of our price range.”
“The salary cap is an issue.”
“The young stars will be arbitration eligible soon and we’ll have to pay them in three years.”
“The CBA is expiring soon, we must be smart with our expenditures.”
Guess what? Fans don’t want to hear about any of that. We don’t care. Fans all across the country are in similar situations financially. They are trying to make their own ends meet. Fans don’t care that millionaire players and billionaire owners have less to play with. We don’t need to hear them complaining about that all of the time. Fans want baseball to be an escape.
The Hot Stove League, which used to be so exciting all winter long, has become the “Complain About The Lack of Revenue League.” (And this hasn’t just been this year, this has been going on for a long time.)
What baseball is missing in all of this is the simple fact that if the teams actually signed players, and were making trades, if things were happening in the sport, they would be creating interest in the game and in the teams.
The Yankees should realize that if they went big this winter and signed a top pitcher, or traded for one, or made a trade for an outstanding top-talent shortstop who current plays in Cleveland, that they would be getting people talking about the team in a positive way. They would be creating interest and excitement and enthusiasm. This is what fans want. All fans. Across the sport.
Want to build the sport? Want to grow the sport? Then you need to promote the sport and do things to generate interest, excitement, and enthusiasm. When that occurs, teams thrive, interest grows, and revenues are created. The Hot Stove League has become boring because Baseball itself has made it boring. Teams can’t just sit back, do nothing, and then complain that fans are losing interest.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the people that run the sport that when the game is exciting – on the field, or off the field – that interest grows.
When baseball gets exciting, the fans get excited. If the Yankees, for example, were to trade for Francisco Lindor tomorrow, there would be tens of thousands of men, women, and children opening up brand new Francisco Lindor Yankees jerseys on Christmas morning. If the Yankees sign Trevor Bauer, the same would ring true. This would happen for almost any big name player they acquire. It happens – always. It happens because fans want to be entertained. They want to see the team making deals, signing players, and putting forth the effort that says, “We are going for it! We plan to be champions next year!”
What doesn’t drive interest, jersey sales, or ticket sales, is listening to the team bemoan how much money they lost – especially when they are complaining to a fanbase where many (if not most) have lost (in comparison) much, much, much more.
If baseball wants to grow the sport, they must grow the sport.
The Hot Stove League used to be filled with excitement. It needs that excitement again.
Right now baseball’s winter has been mostly filled with complaining.
And baseball wonders why it loses more and more fans each year.
Baseball, a sport, a leisure activity, a distraction… need to be a place for optimism, for joy, for good times. We all see enough of the despair, the doom, and the gloom in our daily lives. Fans need something that brings hope. Baseball can be that hope.
It’s really not that hard to figure out.
The Hot Stove League is cooling, and has been cooling for years, and as it cools, so does the interest in the sport.
This could be a time, with so many people forced to their homes, for baseball to generate huge interest by doing things to excite the fans. By doing real things, through trades, and signings, and all of that. That’s where the fun lies. And that is where is has been for decades and decades. The hot stove became an anticipated part of the baseball calendar because the teams created excitement by doing things, not by complaining, and not by the changing the sport year-after-year by creating gimmicks that most fans have no interest in seeing.
Make it real baseball. Bring back the fun.
Warm up the fan’s interest by firing up the hot stove!