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OC Register: Hoornstra: How do you feel about the 2020 brand of baseball?


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Something about this season has been bugging me more than I expected it would.

Yeah, it’s the obvious thing.

Without being able to attend games at ballparks, we can’t talk about baseball where we most often talk about baseball. It isn’t just the empty ballparks. I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched any game, in any sport, at a bar or restaurant with other people. I can tell you what’s happening in baseball. I can cite television ratings that paint an approximate picture of how many people are watching baseball. But unless I go online, I’m not sure how a broad swath of people feel about baseball as it exists right now.

The relative anonymity of the internet – Twitter in particular – tends to elicit strangely polarized viewpoints. That’s why I try not to use the internet as a proxy for real-life attitudes. But this is 2020, where we’re forced to use the internet as a proxy for most social functions. So I ran a Twitter poll.

My question was simple: Compared to a “normal season,” is your interest in the Major League Baseball team/teams/players you usually watch 1, about the same; 2, greater; 3, lesser. Take the results with a grain of salt, but 48.6% of the 1,150 voters chose “about the same.” Another 36.6% chose lesser. The rest, 14.8%, went with greater.

If that comes close to representing the broader baseball-fan populace, Major League Baseball should declare it a victory. There were a lot of ways this attempt at a season could have gone wrong, and a few ways it could go right. There’s still time for another COVID-19 outbreak to topple the whole house of cards, but “about half” is a healthy percentage of people feeling too entertained to notice the weight of a potential disaster.

More than the percentages, I was interested in the comments. Here’s what I learned:

1. The fact that baseball is weird doesn’t necessarily make it more or less engaging

Here are a few variations on this idea:

“Watching/listening every night just like always,” writes one commenter. “Oddities everywhere, though. Surprised I enjoy the runner-on-second in extras change. I thought it was goofy in the minors. I hate NL DH. Three batter min. hasn’t had much impact on me. Will be hard to recognize WS champ as legit.”

“Interest is about the same, but without attending games it does not feel complete,” writes another. “Not going to the games makes me feel less engaged, and the DH rule does not help.”

“It’s different because my whole summer usually revolves around various trips down to LA to go to games,” writes a Dodger diehard. “But the AMOUNT of interest is the same.”

I wonder how the new rules would be received by live fans. Baseball translates pretty well to TV in general, but any runners-on-base situation is an exception. You can keep an eye on the pitcher, the batter, and the runner all in one glance at the ballpark. The same can’t be said if you’re watching at home. My hunch is that the runner on second base in extra innings would be even more popular in a “normal year,” while the universal DH and three-batter minimum would fall relatively flat.

2. For some, baseball offers a needed distraction from ‘real life’

“Watching baseball, the U.S. Open and the Tour de France is almost keeping me sane…not quite, but almost,” writes one commenter.

Maybe the trick is turning off the television, ignoring the cardboard cutouts, and listening to the radio.

“I thought I would hate this season,” writes a Dodger fan. “But the joy of listening to Rick (Monday) and Charley (Steiner) every night is something I find myself really looking forward to. They’re great together, and make me forget about life for a few hours. I didn’t expect this.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter because, well, because 2020.

“Even since I became someone who watches every game and knows all the prospects, some years due to life circumstances I’ve felt an extra ‘I need this’ level of attachment,” writes another. “This, unsurprisingly, is one such year.”

3. For others, baseball isn’t distracting enough

“VERY, very less,” writes one commenter. “Primarily because: 1) more pressing matters. Also because: 2) the results of this season barely matter, and 3) the Astros still holding that ‘title’ killed the integrity of the game.”

“I’m less interested this year,” writes one analytically inclined fan. “It just seems like baseball means less to me now. Probably because of the unrest, and also the WS title seems to mean less.”

“Really thought I needed it with the lockdowns,” writes another. “With the losing, the politicization, and I’m sure the empty stadiums feed into it, it’s not the escape from reality that I crave. Seems more like the opposite.”

4. The modified regular season/playoff format is polarizing

“I find the 60 game season exciting as each game means … more,” writes one Padre fan. “I’m enjoying this more than I expected and I’m looking forward to the expanded playoff format.”

“Way too many playoff teams have destroyed value winning the division had,” said one commenter. “The Yankees for instance are having struggles right now that with a normal playoff field would be highly interesting because they’d be in danger of missing it. But now they almost don’t even matter.”

“The shortened season and fact that teams are only playing within their divisions and interleague counterparts has made me less interested in MLB overall,” writes a Dodger fan.

“Little interest in watching a made up season,” writes an Angels fan. “However, that doesn’t take my anger away from how the Angels have played this season. It is inexcusable.”

5. Sometimes all that matters is what team you follow

Who needs attendance? We know a bad team will cause fans to tune out quicker.

“Due to the combination of the team constantly underperforming, OHTANI not being able to pitch, and their dreadful start, it’s been hard to convince myself to watch day in and out,” writes an Angel fan. “I’ve almost totally checked out at this point.”

“I chose lesser, but that’s due to the Angels being terrible,” writes another. “I was just as into it when they first came back as I usually am.”

“If the Angels are having the season the Padres are having then I might have switched from lesser to greater,” writes another.

Cue the sad trombone.

6. There’s more

I love that there are a thousand different entry points to baseball. There are probably a thousand exit points, too.

My interest “would be greater if they used a real baseball instead of a superball,” says an Angel fan.

“Allowing players to promote” Black Lives Matter turned off another fan. This thought was expressed to me via private message and email as well.

The fourth wall of a sporting event is delicate. Not everyone wants to shatter the illusion that sports exist separate from “real life.” Whether it’s a pregame military flyover, Pride Night, or players kneeling during the anthem, “sticking to sports” means different things and elicits different reactions from different people. All of them elicit emails. (Trust me.)

Against the backdrop of such a crazy season, I’ll resist the temptation to isolate the impact of baseball’s latest wall-shattering moment. It might inspire more engagement than disengagement in the long run, but it’s too soon to say. Who knows what the Venn diagram displaying fans of juiced baseballs, universal designated hitters, three-game playoff series, and social justice looks like?

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to me, it feels like a longer pre-season than anything. id' probably feel differently if the halos were a winning team.

all in all, i'm glad to have it back. i like the new rule changes. don't know yet how i feel about the new playoff format. i'll tell you in a month.

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49 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

I love the new extra inning rule and the 7-inning double-header.

I miss fans in the stands and think the 8-team per league playoff format is silly.

Not a fan of the former, but an a fan on having just 5 teams per league in the post-season.   Until 2020, MLB was the only league where a team earned their way into it.

I would be happy with suspended games after the 12th inning.

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The only thing about this season that I don't like is the amount of games and not being able to go to games. I absolutely love a universal DH and it's long overdue, having two sets of rules for the same game makes zero sense. I love the double header 7 inning games I find that fast and fun. I love adding more playoff teams, I dislike that baseball has less playoff teams than any other major sport. Doesn't make sense. The shortened season to 60 games is too few but it is a spring which I like, I think the sweet spot would be 100 games and of the 8 playoff teams per division each series needs to be at least 7 game series. Overall I love this little season it's a distraction from the 2020 that's going on in the world. 

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3 hours ago, Angelsjunky said:

I love the new extra inning rule and the 7-inning double-header.

I miss fans in the stands and think the 8-team per league playoff format is silly.

I could be convinced that the extra inning rule is a more 'exciting' way of playing extra innings, but I just can't get behind it because of the idea that it is not real baseball and such a crapshoot. I'd rather they force the defense to play with 8 players or something, lol. If they feel like games are going too long they'll need to just end games in a tie, or go to some sort of points system because combined with the huge playoff format we are going to see a nearly randomly selected champion this year.

I think the 7 inning double header is a potential winner though, assuming it's used to create some other benefit not currently possible with such a long regular season.

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I hate the extra inning rule.  I have issues where a pitcher who gives up a ground out and fly ball can lose the game.  Perhaps the runner starting in first so that the team at least needs to get a hit to score.  I would also be fine with ties after the 12th or something.  
 

Don’t like the 7 inning game. 
 

don’t like the playoff format.  Baseball is much more random than basketball for example.  If they moved forward on this for a regular season it would suck that a 100 win team has to play an 80 win team in best of three.  Minimizes the point of performing well in the regular season. If they wanted to expand this, then shorten the season to 120 games then have all 5-7 game series. 
 

guess I like traditional baseball. 

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45 minutes ago, thebloob said:

I hate the extra inning rule.  I have issues where a pitcher who gives up a ground out and fly ball can lose the game.  Perhaps the runner starting in first so that the team at least needs to get a hit to score.  I would also be fine with ties after the 12th or something.  
 

Don’t like the 7 inning game. 
 

don’t like the playoff format.  Baseball is much more random than basketball for example.  If they moved forward on this for a regular season it would suck that a 100 win team has to play an 80 win team in best of three.  Minimizes the point of performing well in the regular season. If they wanted to expand this, then shorten the season to 120 games then have all 5-7 game series. 
 

guess I like traditional baseball. 

I agree and could you imagine a team with a player like Ricky Henderson with that rule. Never lose in extra.

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6 hours ago, thebloob said:

I hate the extra inning rule.  I have issues where a pitcher who gives up a ground out and fly ball can lose the game.  Perhaps the runner starting in first so that the team at least needs to get a hit to score.  I would also be fine with ties after the 12th or something.  
 

Don’t like the 7 inning game. 
 

don’t like the playoff format.  Baseball is much more random than basketball for example.  If they moved forward on this for a regular season it would suck that a 100 win team has to play an 80 win team in best of three.  Minimizes the point of performing well in the regular season. If they wanted to expand this, then shorten the season to 120 games then have all 5-7 game series. 
 

guess I like traditional baseball. 

Then tell the players to go back to traditional way of playing the game. 

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12 minutes ago, Stradling said:

Then tell the players to go back to traditional way of playing the game. 

I’d love to.  I’m not a fan of 3 outcomes baseball.  I prefer the “good old days” of professional hitters, base runners, steals, hit and runs......

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