By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard
Major League Baseball (MLB) is the oldest professional sports league in North America. It opens up another season on Sunday evening with two of their more legendary teams (St Louis Cardinals vs Chicago Cubs) and a lot of questions to answer as far as where it fits in the modern era.
The fact is that baseball has it’s fair share of issues. From performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to the speed of the game (they usually average around three hours) to a lack of diversity on and off the field. Despite all of this the average player salary is now over $4 million a year led by LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw who will pull in a record $31 million this season.
While PEDs have been a part of every major sport, baseball seems to be at the forefront as far as use goes. It seems that not a season goes by where a big named player is suspended or accused of using PEDs. The speed of the game is something that is being addressed by the league. Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great article about the changes MLB is trying in order to speed up the game and appeal to younger fans.
Diversity in the game, whether on the field or in the front office, has been a topic just below the surface for a while now. White players make up some 27% of the players on the field while African American players make up only around 8%. When it comes to the front office, there has yet to be a female general manager in the history of the game. While there are some ground breakers like Kim Ng, there has yet to be a female in the role of General Manager or President of Baseball operations.
Now it is not all bad news for baseball. 2014 was the seventh best year as far as attendance is concerned. There is a new commissioner in Rob Manfred, a new face of the sport in Buster Posey, and last year saw the return of a “small market” team to the World Series (Kansas City Royals).
The biggest change in baseball over the last decade has been the widespread adoption of analytics thanks to Michael Lewis’ book ‘Moneyball’. Released in 2003 and debuting on the big screen in 2011, the book made people aware of sabermetrics and how a small market team like the Oakland A’s could compete year after year with the likes of the New York Yankees and their bottomless bucket of money. Big data has become a major part of the sport and something that both the teams and the fans can dive into.
While the game has it’s flaws it is still ‘America’s Pastime’. A game that has been passed from one generation to the next. Each team starts anew with the hope of reaching the postseason and raising that World Series trophy above their heads. So in preparation we recommend the following this weekend; re-read ‘Moneyball’, watch ‘Bull Durham’ and get yourself ready for moments like the one below.
Let’s play ball!