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It sure would be nice if Major League Baseball had faith in its actual product

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Baseball is great, but you wouldn’t know it from how the league talks about it

MLB: NLDS-Colorado Rockies at Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas (18) celebrates with Keon Broxton (23) after hitting a walk off RBI single against the Colorado Rockies in the 10th inning in game one of the 2018 NLDS playoff baseball series at Miller Park.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of the great stories of this 2018 Major League Baseball season. Over last offseason, they traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain, the cornerstones of an aggressive year where the Brewers actively sought to compete. In July, they traded for Mike Moustakas, shoring up their offense by adding a quality left-handed bat. It worked out. Yelich is the National League MVP frontrunner, Cain is likely to accrue some MVP votes himself, and Moustakas authoritatively cracked the walkoff single that powered the Brewers to victory in the first game of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

There was one teeny tiny problem with such a great game. Nobody saw it. Game one of the NLDS between two teams seeking their first ever World Series title started at...5pm Eastern Time. On a Thursday. For those Rockies fans, that game began at 3pm Mountain Time, and it began at 4pm for those in Central. Game Two started, inexplicably, at 4:15pm Eastern on a Friday.

And it’s not just that series, or even this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves on Monday afternoon in a game that started in Pacific Time at 1:15pm. The Kansas City Royals advanced to the World Series for the first time in 30 years with a win over the Baltimore Orioles in a 2014 ALCS game that started at 3pm Central.

You know what TV shows are on at 3pm on a random-ass Wednesday afternoon in October? Soap operas. Sports shows with third-tier personalities. Science fiction movies that no one cares about or knows exist. Reruns of How It’s Made, but the boring ones about, like, cardboard boxes and bottled water. Not playoff baseball, for Christ’s sake.

This is a fixable problem. There are ways to make it easier for fans to watch playoff baseball that don’t even have to do with the timing of the game—namely, baseball’s inane blackout rules. And as for game times, well, the league pulls in over $10 billion in revenue a year now. You can insist your games get primetime. If Major League Baseball doesn’t think that October baseball, which is certifiably 100% batshit crazy pretty much all the time, isn’t worthy of primetime, then they don’t have faith in their actual product.

This is unfortunate, but true. Major League Baseball both loves and hates the game, as it loves and hates itself. Players, coaches, pundits, and journalists around the game complain about it constantly. Here are a few problems that MLB has and talks about all the time:

  • The game is too slow, apparently, even though the average MLB game is about the same length as the average NFL game, and the NFL sure isn’t complaining about game length.
  • People love awesome pitching, but there are too many strikeouts in the game today. Pity we don’t see mustache’d oafs lob pitches at 86 MPH to skinny dudes whose best way of getting on base is bunting.
  • Everyone digs the long ball, except there are, in fact, too many home runs going on because too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even when former MLB sluggers aren’t pleading the fifth to Congress.
  • In fact, the real problem about baseball is that the players are too good and athletic. That athleticism is what is making baseball worse.

MLB just doesn’t have faith in its product. This goes beyond prominent former players like Pete Rose and John Smoltz publicly whining about how terrible the game is now. Take, for instance, how MLB whines about how it can’t market Mike Trout because Trout doesn’t want to be marketed.

“Player marketing, we hear a lot about player marketing, right?” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told a group of baseball writers on Tuesday. “Player marketing requires one thing for sure: the player. You can’t market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing.”

“Mike’s a really great player and a really nice person,” he said. “But he’s made certain decisions about what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do and how he wants to spend his free time and how he doesn’t want to spend his free time. That’s up to him. If he wants to engage and be more active in that area, I think we could make his brand really, really big.

The hell you mean you can’t market Mike Trout? Dude hits .300, crushes 30 home runs, swipes 20 bags, and plays good center field defense every single year. And that’s before you factor in his literally unbelievable on base percentage and arsenal of other offensive tools so vast that it would make James Bond blush, or his Wins Above Replacement totals that even put some Hall of Famers to shame.

Did anybody watch Peyton Manning for his personality? Did anybody find his ho-hum everyman Papa Johns pizza schtick remotely interesting? No. People watched Manning because he would OMAHA his way to a painful live dissection of any opposing team that stood in his way. Similarly, does Drew Brees even have a personality? He seems like a nice guy, but if we’re being honest his birthmark is the most interesting thing about him. And Tom Brady is handsome with a fiery competitiveness, but let’s be honest with ourselves: no one watches Brady for a display of personality. They watch him because he is good and wins many sportsball games.

Trout is one of the best players to ever play baseball. He is 27 years old. You don’t need to concoct some personality cult of Trout. You don’t need his buy-in. His play is plenty good enough reason to watch him, and all MLB needs to do is point at Trout and say “he’s better than your dad’s favorite player” and then maybe cool it with the blackout restrictions that prevent tens of millions of people from watching his team online.

Baseball is awesome. It is unique in the pantheon of sports for a myriad of reasons, and as a result it’s not for everybody. That’s fine. No sport is for everybody. But the absolute core part of MLB’s problem is that it doesn’t have faith in its actual product.

Maybe if they did have faith in the product, they wouldn’t hide pivotal playoff games on random weekday afternoons. If they did have faith in their product, they wouldn’t complain about a historically fantastic player being difficult to market. If they did have faith in their product, they would remove their idiotic blackout restrictions so that people could watch their teams whenever they wanted. If they did have faith in their product, maybe industry professionals would stop complaining about the game so much.

Elevate the reach of baseball. Allow everyone to experience it. Emphasize what’s great about it. This is not difficult. But somehow, it is.