Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In baseball news....



     Indifference to professional sport is a hobby horse I've ridden for a long time now. It began because I was a fat kid, terrible at athletics, living outside Cleveland, whose Indians had built a comfortable nest in the cellar of the American League. Not to forget the Browns and Cavaliers, who were worse. Following sports seemed like digging a hole and staring into it. A waste of life.
     Working for a newspaper, with a whole department — the most important part, to many readers — dedicated to chronicling and celebrating sports, I felt safe occasionally raising an objection, or at least a counter-narrative, to the hullabaloo. I was proud to be the guy who almost asked Michael Jordan who he was. Proud that, the night the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, I attended a lecture at the Field Museum on tattooing in Polynesia. I wasn't alone; why not spread the word: you're allowed to ignore this shit.
     But sometimes I do manage to scare — or at least worry — myself, such as a few days ago, when I learned of the existence of Shohei Ohtani, the star on the Los Angeles Angels who signed a 10-year, $700 million contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
     Ohtani is both a powerhouse batter and a fireballing pitcher — a sui generis combination in baseball, something that even I find interesting, which was the distressing part: the idea that, by generally ignoring sports, I was missing something worthwhile. Maybe sports isn't "The same thing happening over and over," as I like to say, and Ohtani is evidence of that. Maybe I've been negligent. Heck, I didn't even know the Los Angeles Angels were a team — when did they stop being the California Angels? (in 1996; quite a while ago, really. Though in my defense, they then became the "Anaheim Angeles," and who could be expected to note that? They started calling the team the "Los. Angeles Angels" in 2005).
     Well, there's no harm in making up for lost time — heck, even I dragged myself to the United Center a few times to see Michael Jordan play (and LeBron James, to please my wife). I could see catching a game at Wrigley Field to lay eyes upon Ohtani. 
     Why? There might be something to say about it. I could argue that American baseball has been becoming more Japanese for a while now. I went to a baseball game in Tokyo, back in the 1980s: the Nippon Ham Fighters versus the Sebu Lions at the Tokyo Dome, aka "The Big Egg." That part I remember. While of course none of the actual play sticks in mind, I do recall being impressed by the food — Bento boxes and sushi rolls, which can be found at many American ballparks, finally having moved beyond peanuts and Cracker Jack. The crowds were also segregated into cheering blocks, like at college football games, and at times entire zones of the stadium would leap to their feet and start chanting (Nippon Ham! Tatakai! Katsu! "Nippon Ham! Fight! Win!") Maybe if we started doing that here, it might cut into the dolour of the games.
     Anyway, my interest is piqued, if only to see what a stunningly bad investment that $700 million turns out to be. Even not following sports, I have the conviction that as soon as star athletes get a gigantic payday they generally shut down and are never as good again. Ohtani is 29. His elbow is already hurt from last year. I better go see him in 2024, because who knows if he'll even be playing afterward. Heck, Sandy Koufax retired at 30. So maybe there is something to this sports stuff after all, occasionally. Or not.

31 comments:

  1. I am a big fan of baseball. Having played well into my fifties . My son plays at UIC. He pitches. I love that sports in general and baseball in particular require nothing of you.
    Yes big time professional sport can be an expensive ticket , though not always . You can go to a White Sox game for $5 bucks. Games at UICs Curtis Grandson stadium are free as are the vast majority of high school and youth sports.

    I know its not saying much but its a big step up from watching television and playing video games.

    My son injured his elbow pitching same as Ohtani though the comparison pretty much ends there. He was playing again in about a year.

    Want to enjoy an afternoon in sunshine and fresh air? Come on over and catch a game this spring. It takes about 90 minutes. I'll buy you a couple kosher dogs at Maxwell st.
    The stadium is where the market once stood.

    These young men get good grades and are respectful. I'm a fan

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ohtani is going to defer $68 million of every year's contract until after he's finished playing, getting only $2 million a year from the Dodgers while he plays. Must be some sort of tax dodge, but he's still getting $40 million a year from endorsements!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ohtani’s deferrals now gives the Dodgers $68MM to spend on more high-priced players to accompany him. I wonder who’s got the key man insurance policy on Ohtani for the possibility he could have a career ending injury next season.

      Delete
  3. Nice work, if you can find it. Fortune like that has eluded me, so far. Fame was easy, but it never paid the rent. I’m not sweating over the rent, but dang…income inequality like this is the making of revolutions. Incidentally, I always felt that I was unjustly compensated, but so do 99% of the population. More power to anyone who can legally snag that kind of loot. The rest of us are just jealous. 😂

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. would you rather see the rich owners get the money?

      Delete
  4. Ohtani is the scammer of the century. Giving an older and injured player who may never be anything but a poorly performing DH around $700 million is another example of how having money doesn't mean you have any sense. The marketing bucks they're expecting may disappear unless he beats the odds and becomes a star hitter and pitcher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ohtani is indisputably the best baseball player in the world. Dont think he is worth that kind of money. but what I think doesn't matter

      Delete
    2. If he can only DH, he’s surely not the best player in the world. And that’s what he’s going to be doing in 2024 (and beyond?). I wonder if MJ would have been the best basketball player ever if, after shooting, he sat down on the bench when the other team had the ball.

      Delete
    3. David Graf: "Poorly performing DH"? Um, what? You do realize you are talking about someone who hit .301 with 44 homers last season, right?

      Anonymous: But he *doesn't* only DH. That's the point. He also pitches (as the staff ace). Are you seriously suggesting that he should play a defensive position regularly on top of all that?

      Delete
    4. We're talking about someone recovering from an elbow injury. I doubt that we're going to see those numbers anytime soon from Ohtani even if you don't take his age into consideration. He won't be pitching at all next year and there's no guarantee that he'll be able to pitch in 2025.

      Delete
    5. It is a risk that the Dodgers are willing to take. Long term deals are always bad especially when you give a guy a long deal when they are as old as Othani is.

      Delete
    6. Big thoughts there. Biggest scammer? (a person who commits fraud or participates in a dishonest scheme.) What has he done to commit fraud? He's been producing since he arrived in MLB. He's earned the option to take offers and decided for himself where and who he will play for. Don't hate on a player with skills. I wouldn't even hate the Dodgers for paying that amount. They are taking a calculated risk.

      Delete
  5. Yeah, the only thing I knew about Ohtani is that he's on some medicine commercial with a catchy jingle.
    I ceased drinking the sports Kool aid a long time ago. if you like to play or watch, bully for you! I just think it's a load of shite when you get to the pro level, with overpaid "stars" who, as Neil rightly points out, tend to flame out as soon as they get that
    big pay day. If there was any justice in this world, mega-contracts like Ohtani's would bankrupt a team, and we could enjoy the spectacle of owners in tattered, stained overcoats begging for coins with a tin cup.
    Alas, there's always a sucker willing to fork over $500 for a box seat and $50 for a couple of beers and dogs, keeping these Richie Riches afloat as they make foolish decision after decision.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Baseball isn't Major League Baseball. It is one of the most perfectly designed, sublime activities humans have ever devised. The geometry of it defies the rigid rectangle than defines almost all other sports. Much of the action occurs outside the boundaries of the field! I will stop and watch a little league game, a high school game, any game that presents itself. The major leaguers are the best athletes, but the game itself is the attraction. And what other game, or activity for that matter, slows the mind down and relaxes while it engages? Pitching a baseball is the most remarkable activity in all of sports. A change in the grip, a little pressure on the index finger, a slight shift in the release point, the arm angle, the arm speed, a shift in any of countless ergonomic variable and the best hitter on the team screws himself into the ground trying to adjust to the pitch. Some sports nurture bragging, cockiness, ego involvement - baseball nurtures thoughtfulness and humility.

    The Ohtahni's of the world are treasures - but it is the game that is the star.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Baseball: adults playing a child's game

      Football: children playing a game meant for adults

      Delete
    2. It was really not a childs game although children play it.

      Delete
  7. I lost interest in baseball a long time ago, although, there is something so summery about it. Football ... I lost interest in that when guys the size of Refrigerator Perry were common sights, no longer novelties, and the goal of the game seemed to be to inflict as much damage as possible on the other team's players. I still like basketball and hockey but we don't have cable TV so entire seasons come and go before it occurs to me to find a game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pain was always involved in football. And there is a lot of damage done in hockey as well.

      Delete
  8. I doubt huge payments to players or for stadium naming rights would stand up to any rigorous cost-benefit analysis. My theory is that non-athletic MBA-types lose their $#!t over hanging with celebrity athletes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My take on deferred compensation is that it's one of the rare instances where you can eat your cake and have it too. They buy the services of a unique athlete and they can also invest the money in other items that presumably would make a profit. Plus, 68 million dollars today is worth more than 68 million dollars 10 years from now -- I think the MBA-types know very well what they're doing.

      john

      Delete
  9. My son started playing with the UIUC marching band this past fall, so I find myself suddenly paying (a little) attention to college football. In fairness, I've gone to several marching band performances and found myself a bit peevish that they keep interrupting the action with football.

    But I'm trying to think of it as a way to channel the energy of people who want to be battling some other group: if there are ardent sports fans drinking too much and shouting at the ref like the thing actually matters, maybe those people aren't agitating so much to get in a more serious fight with some group of people across a border, or who believe different things?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Paying some attention to sports teams is a way of diverting one's attention from the very real problems of the world. And it's one area of American life that is "bipartisan" in the sense that Democrats and MAGA Republicans can rally around the "home team."

    ReplyDelete
  11. I assume you broke into smile as you typed “dolour.” Good one.

    ReplyDelete
  12. In Japan you could bring your own drinks to the game - stop at a convenience store, buy it at a normal price, and take it in with you. They don’t sell cases at convenience stores but plenty of cans. ( 20 years ago in China, anyways)

    ReplyDelete
  13. When LA played the Sox this summer I saw Ohtani hit two home runs in one game. It was amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. In the summer I saw him play the Sox and hit 2 giant home runs. Amazing

    ReplyDelete
  15. The older I get, the less I watch sports because once past childhood, I see the difference between the pretended ideal amd the many nasty realities.
    That said, also as I have grown older, I have seen many former atheletes who are able push through the pain and afflictions of terminal disease well past accepted deadlines. I assume their constant physicality aids them beyond mere mortals.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sick puppy that I am, I now hate the Dodgers as much as I've hated the Yankees and the Red Sox, and I hope his best days are behind him and the Dodgers have to pay and pay for little or nothing...a washed-up pitcher and a designated hitter.

    I'm more than a little disgusted, but I'm not surprised. The strongest and richest teams, in the biggest markets, always seem to get more...while the teams in the smaller markets weaken and fade. And there's another factor in play--I'm not sure how much Ohtani has assimilated in these Untied Snakes, and how well he speaks English. Staying in SoCal, with its large Japanese population, probably felt more comfortable to him than going to some other city. And since the f'king Dodgers are one of the richest teams in MLB, and have always had deep pockets, it was a no-brainer for both parties.

    Truth is, I was secretly wishing for the Ricketts folks, one of the wealthiest (and Trumpiest) families in the country, to open their wallets and acquire him for the Cubs. He might have been welcomed, and made to feel at home, at the Nisei Lounge down the street, in a neighborhood that was once a Japanese enclave. And baseballs would have bombarded Waveland Avenue, as in the days of Sosa and Kingman.

    But the Cubs already are among the most expensive tickets in the game, and signing Ohtani would have only made that even worse, and priced even more Die-Hard Cub Fans (like me) out of Wrigley. The one-dollar bleacher tickets I so fondly remember from my younger days now cost a hundred times that amount. Professional sports are becoming ridiculous. Even viewing from home now costs a bundle.

    These enormous MLB contracts only affect my so-called geezer life in one fashion--they are making it more and more difficult to enjoy the sport I grew to enjoy and even to love... mainly because it's becoming so unaffordable to watch I used to go to dozens of ballgames a year. Now I attend maybe three. Some years, none. And there are fewer options available on TV, as well. Cub games on so-called free TV? Long gone.

    Baseball, which was once a daily and nightly fixture in my summertime routines, is now becoming less relevant every season. And I know I'm far from alone in the way I feel. Priced out. Marginalized. And if your team decides to pack up and move to greener pastures...disenfranchised. Thankfully, I'm not a White Sox fan.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sorry to see our genial host denigrating my childhood Tribe squads, featuring the likes of Max Alvis and Fred Whitfield, but also Rocky Colavito and Sudden Sam McDowell. Well, not that sorry. ; ) Regardless, "a comfortable nest in the cellar of the American League" is both charming and relatively accurate!

    Alas, over the years I've become less and less of a fan. Of any team, or baseball in general. We used to attend about a dozen Major League games a year and I've seen plenty of amateur baseball, as well, including a game at the wonderful Curtis Granderson Stadium referred to by FME. At some point, waiting for the game to be over surpassed the pleasure I was getting out of it. While FME and Dennis offer lovely tributes to the sport, there are plenty of other places I'd rather "enjoy an afternoon in sunshine and fresh air," though I wouldn't turn my nose up at a couple kosher dogs...

    I'm afraid I identify more with Mike's "load of shite" remark. ; ) Once the Cubs, in particular, turned Wrigley Field and the surrounding area into more of a marketing (and gambling) operation than a ballyard, it's been easy to figure out other things to do with the boatload of money required to spend a pleasant day in the Spendy Confines.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wrigley is the worst.
      Been there hundreds of times mostly in my youth
      Now only when friends from out of town want the - experience - do I go

      .I'm hooked up so I get good tickets on the cheap, well free. So it's whatever.

      I'm a Sox fan. Didn't go to a single pro game this year. MVC is compelling baseball. UIC is the only D-1 program in the city. Unless you count northwestern

      Delete

This blog posts comments at the discretion of the proprietor.