I’ve mentioned The Beachwood Reporter here before—it’s a veteran journalist’s take on current events and how well (or poorly) they are being covered by the news media. The Beachwood also produces podcasts and guest columns; one of those columns has become a favorite. Every Monday, Roger Wallenstein—who used to hang out with Bill Veeck (he did some TV work with Veeck, also)—publishes his take on what’s been going on with the White Sox over the past week.
Even if you aren’t a Sox fan, Roger’s opinions on the overall state of the game he loves are worth the read. This past week, for example, he talked about the obsession with new—and seemingly always more—statistics. In particular, he wondered what the value is of the numbers we see after every home run about exit velocity and launch angle and the like these days. It’s all captured by cameras and radar and other tech. Here’s an excerpt:
Consider this year’s All-Star game played in Miami a few weeks ago, won by the American League 2-1. The game reflected the character of Major League Baseball today in the sense that two of the game’s three runs came via home runs, the second a game-winner off the bat of Robinson Cano in the top of the 10th. Keeping with a current theme, hard-throwing pitchers struck out 23 batters.
MLB.com described Cano’s blast: “Connecting on a 1-1 curveball, Cano’s drive was projected by Statcast at 395 feet with an exit velocity of 105.6.” Not where it landed or whether it was a line drive or towering fly ball. Everything is codified, leaving nothing to the imagination.
Roger and I sometimes exchange emails, and after I wrote him in regard to his latest column, Roger posited that all the stats and technology are baseball’s deliberate effort to attract young people.
And I believe he’s right, much to my chagrin. Not because I don’t want young people to play and like baseball.
No—it’s because I’ve been part of organizations where the internal mantra becomes “we must attract a younger audience.” And that approach always produces a ham-fisted, self-conscious effort that no self-respecting young person would have anything to do with.
I get it—it’s not just a case of tapping that market segment: there is a fear of becoming irrelevant if young people don’t grow up with the game. But that’s what little league is for, it’s what the White Sox ACE program for inner city kids is for, and it’s what promotions like the White Sox Family Sundays is for. (Whomever you root for, I hope you’ll get to a Family Sunday—it’s every Sunday home game. Tickets are cheap. Parking is cheap. Hot dogs are cheap. And it feels like a time machine—it’s wholly reminiscent of going to games when I was in grade school with my family.)
Apart from that, whether it’s fans of classical music, jazz, or baseball, there’s always an existential fear that unless we get young people involved, we’re goners. But I don’t think it works that way. Exposure is important, yes. But some things—what I think are the finest things—simply require a little maturity to fully appreciate and enjoy. I think we tend to age into those things.
As a grade schooler I loved baseball. As an insane hormonal teenager, football caught my fancy and I stuck with that for a good while. But when I moved to take a job in D.C. after college, suddenly the absence of the White Sox and Cubs made my heart grow fonder of the game. I realized what an embarrassment of riches we enjoy in Chicago: Two MLB teams. We can see the entirety of the American and National Leagues.
I’ve loved the game ever since, through labor strife and other disappointments, and it never ceases to surprise me and teach me something.
We just endured another Lollapalooza weekend. Hundreds of thousands of young people doing something I probably might’ve done back then. More power to them.
But soon, I fully expect we’ll see a lot of them at the ballpark, the symphony, and Jazz Showcase.