baseball

Producing Fun: How they are Saving the Syracuse Chiefs

 Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I’m a Syracuse Chiefs fan. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that, and probably would like me tweet a bit less about it. I’ve tweeted lots of photos and comments about games this year, made fun of the Chiefs on my timeline, and last year I waged a quixotic battle trying to get the ‘Chiefs’ to change their name to the Salt Potatoes (which I still think would be a better name – see the Montgomery Biscuits). Part of the reason I do this is because even a lot of baseball fans think minor league ball is a weak substitute for the big league game, and not much fun. But they are wrong, and I want to share the fun that can be had at NBT Bank Stadium. A lot of the fun is a result of the social experiences surrounding the game, so you don’t even need to be a baseball lover to enjoy an evening at the ballpark.

 

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Baseball and sociology: A little chatter

I’ve been a baseball fan longer than I’ve been a sociologist. I’ve got memories of playing as a kid (I threw a 3 inning no-hitter and then got taken out of the game!; I made a great catch once in t-ball; once I hit a bases clearing triple, etc.). My Glory Days came before I was 15, and they were only so glorious. My other childhood memories about baseball are about being a fan and learning about the game. I recall my dad teaching me to watch the catcher’s mitt to get a sense for how the pitcher was doing. I remember trips to Milwaukee County stadium to watch the Brewers in the American League. Occasionally we’d use box seat tickets my dad got from someone he knew through his work. Once in those seats I got a ball that an ump tossed into the stands between innings. Those are good memories, thus far unadulterated by analytical thought.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

Over the years colleagues who know about my enjoyment of baseball have suggested I turn my sociological eye to the game. There is certainly a lot one could wax sociological about, but I’ve resisted because I thought why turn something I enjoy so much into work? However, recently I have blogged a bit about sports and tweeted some sociological takes on changes in the MLB. In particular I’ve been sending some Weber inspired tweets about instant replay as rationalization. I’m not someone who values the ‘human element’ for sentimental reasons, but rather it’s that I just don’t understand how replay will significantly improve the game. I think the cost of chasing certainty will be some of the spontaneous emotionality of the game which is sometimes the result of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of a bad call.

Seeing some of these tweets, fellow sociologist and friend Todd Schoepflin asked if I’d answer some questions for an interview he’s put up on his blog. I was happy to, and it was fun. Here’s a link to Todd’s post.

 

Saving baseball’s Opening Day. Or, MLB should hire a sociologist! (me)

Major League Baseball’s 2014 Opening Day is Monday, March 31st. Well, actually, it’s Sunday, March 30th. Oh, wait, it’s actually Saturday, March 22nd.

Do you see the problem here? MLB likes to hold on to the notion that it is America’s Pastime, but the actual time of its Opening Day is difficult to follow which makes it, I’d guess, less likely that even fans will watch. And (pardon my nationalism) it’s not even in America this year. Most teams start on the 31st, but there’s an “Opening Night” game on the 30th, and the first regular season game is on March 22nd, in Australia. Where better to “kick off” ‘America’s Pastime’ than Australia, right? All this means that this ‘big game’ starts at 4am on a Saturday morning here on the east coast. I love baseball’s Opening Day, but I’m not waking up at 4am. Game 2 of that series is at 10pm Saturday, so I might be able stay awake for a few innings of that one.

Joy and I love baseball’s Opening Day so much, in fact, that for 10 years or so we’ve made the day a celebration. I arrange my schedule so that I’m free that afternoon, and Joy takes the day off of work. We subscribe to the Extra Innings package so we can see that first pitch, wherever it is (ought to be Cincinnati every year), and then we watch the Brewers’ game in full. We eat hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos, and we make homemade soft pretzels. I buy, and even drink, MGD in homage to my Milwaukee nine. It is a ritual that marks the arrival of spring and honors one of our shared passions as much as it is about watching the games.

All of this is why I was interested to learn yesterday about this petition to make Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. It is, of course, nothing but an advertising campaign for Budweiser, and its pitch-man is the face of the baseball franchise I most despise, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. While I like the idea of America taking the day off to watch baseball, I don’t like the idea of another corporate sponsored holiday. And, very, very few people would realistically get a day off anyway. This is empty symbolism and advertising, and nothing more.

And there isn’t anybody paying attention who doesn’t know it. I’m not breaking anybody’s heart with this post. In fact, it’s just one more example of how MLB is terrible at ‘making a splash.’ The beauty of baseball is its regularity; its rhythms and routine. It is present in fans’ lives the way weather is to a weather buff. We’ve seen almost all of this before, we’ll see most of it again, and now and then you see something incredible you’ve never seen before and will never see again! It is a comfortable blend of the past and the future, with intense flashes of the present. MLB seems not to understand that instead of doing something contrived and painfully artificial that doesn’t fit into the confines of the sport’s foundational myths of timelessness and tradition, they ought to do something that settles it easily into its fans, and many non-fans, routines.

I’ve said before, often in a bar making exaggerated claims about how baseball is killing itself, that there is an easy way to make MLB Opening Day a bigger hit. To get this done the league doesn’t need the Cardinals’ class, it doesn’t need the White House’s executive power, and it doesn’t even need flipping Ozzie Smith. Just start the regular season with every team playing games on Sunday. In the afternoon. Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon day baseball? No, there isn’t. This would be 15 games* on Opening Day, and everybody’s team would be playing. Right now there are at least 4 national TV networks that cover games, including all of ESPN’s channels and the league’s own MLB TV. Starting at noon on the east coast and staggering start times until 4 or so on the west coast, you could have a 6 to 8 hour national blitz of baseball on a spring Sunday afternoon. MLB already does this most Sundays in the season, the only difference being that right now they only nationally televise 1 or 2 games of the 15 there are to choose from (the Red Sox and/or Yankees seemingly always being involved in the chosen games).

This solution is doable, and what’s best is that it fits within a narrative baseball cherishes. Forgive me the sugary language, but give us day games in the sun, with our families and friends, remembering the past and hoping for the future. And, fine, make some money by leveraging that beautiful myth on the one day you can probably get even non-fans to care by teaming up with America’s most widely loved pastimes – television and blockbuster beer ads.

You can have this idea for free, MLB, but how about hiring an ‘in-house’ sociologist?

*Only one of these 15 games would be the abomination that is inter-league play.

Baseball Salaries and Inequality

Are professional athletes paid too much? It’s pretty common to claim that’s the case, and here is a fairly standard example of the claim from Edward McClelland in today’s Slate. However, maybe the athletes aren’t overpaid, but are rather paid fairly relative to the wealth their labor helps produce for others. Here’s a good example of this argument from baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, which was a direct response to the ‘overpaid’ Slate essay. This is a fun debate to explore in discussions of social inequality. When I teach social inequality, I use this debate to focus in on how we, as a society, determine the value of work. Do we let the free market sort it out and trust that those getting paid the most are most deserving according to its logic? The classic functionalist explanation of economic inequality is that those who get paid the most must be doing the most important things. So, high pay indicates high social value. This explanation has been rightly debunked because it’s easy to point out many inefficiencies and counter examples that demonstrate that our meritocracy doesn’t really work very well. Calcaterra rightly points out these critiques when he writes:

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Here’s how this happened

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a few weeks now after I read another blogger convincingly suggest that it’s a great way to work through one’s thoughts.  I’m a sociologist and I’m hoping to move in some new directions with my research (I’m the first one who has thought to do that, right?), but shifting fields is a big, confusing task.  The amount of work I anticipate has been making it hard for me to really get started in this new direction, but it also (pathetically?) was probably keeping me from even starting a blog.  I’m afraid I’ll end up just doing what I’ve always done (discipline-wise), and that my blog will fade away after 3 to 5 unread posts.  Still, I started it just now.  Well, why?

I’m a baseball fan, and this year I’m taking a new approach to baseball.  As a Brewer fan, typically there comes a point in a season when I give up on them and stop watching the game altogether.  That’s too bad because I like baseball simply as a game.  So, this year I’ve decided to take a purer approach and just appreciate ‘the game.’  As part of that goal I started reading a blog called ‘And That Happened‘ in which Craig Calcaterra (who is fantastic) briefly summarizes all of the prior day’s games.  It’s great, and not only that, it typically has a number of funny and even insightful reader comments.  Internet comments are rarely funny or insightful.  Often they are ignorant, hateful, or just too random to make much sense.  In fact, this is one of the things I’d like to start thinking and writing about when I move in my ‘new direction.’  What kind of ‘conversation’ happens on the internet?  Can there be ‘deliberation?’  Can there be anything like the emotional and personal connection that can develop off-line, even among relative strangers?  I don’t know right now, but I’d like to.  Others have written great essays about these questions that I need to read.

But, still I haven’t answered the question: why did I start blogging today?  Well, it’s because I read And That Happened and had the urge to make a comment.  A snarky, one-line, stupid joke of a comment about the DH being socialist.  To comment I had to register, and that happened to be with Word Press, and so I went through the steps for two reasons.  The proximate cause was my desire to make a snarky, stupid web comment.  The ultimate cause, I hope, was that I’d like my sociology to be a craft, and maybe a blog will help.

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Addendum: I see that my stupid comment has 1 thumbs up, and 3 thumbs down.  I think that’s a positive thing, really.