Here with a hard-hitting polemic is our new Thunderer, Chris Brown…
Residents of Florida this year must be hoping that Spring Training gets extended, because it seems at the moment that March is the only time they’ll get to see decent players regularly in the state. With both the Marlins and the Rays seemingly set for a “tank” year or two (or seven), I’d forgive Floridians for making this the most hyped-up Grapefruit League ever.
For those who have been hiding under a rock, which was itself buried underground in some remote desert, Giancarlo Stanton, baseball bludgeoner extraordinaire, was traded to the Yankees for not a great amount. This, along with Marcell Ozuna (to the Cardinals) and Dee Gordon (to the Mariners), is a huge signal that the Marlins don’t plan on doing much for a while except for challenging the Mets for biggest Mickey Mouse team in the NL East.
Whilst the Rays haven’t exactly done anything this extreme, they have traded Evan Longoria to the Giants, which is a crime because that face of the franchise has the coolest walk-up music (Tantric’s ‘Down and Out’) in the Majors. If I were Evan, I’d be walking up to bat on a Harley Davidson.
This all adds up to some pretty terrible baseball on offer in the Sunshine State this year. And here lies my major problem; the knowledge that the baseball is going to be terrible.
Professional sport is only professional because of the people who turn up to watch it. They pay their (usually) hard-earned money for a few hours of escapism, a beer, and to watch people who are harder, better, faster and stronger than them do impressive things, and then fantasise doing the same on their way home.
Why on earth then would you spend this money on teams that everybody who knows everything about baseball (and those like me who know nothing) are predicting to be awful.
I’m a massive football (soccer) fan, and the beauty of this is that my team will occasionally have a good season out of nowhere, or a bad one when they’re tipped for promotion. Every season, each team is doing their absolute best to improve, find the magic formula, and sign the hidden gem Czech centre-forward who has done nothing at several previous clubs.
Imagine if one season Arsene Wenger (bad example) came out and said that Arsenal were going to have a “tank” year (terrible example). He’d be absolutely lambasted by the fans (I’m so sorry), and the whole backroom staff would be sacked when they finished nowhere near winning the league and sold their best players to rival clubs (#WengerOut).
I completely appreciate that there are certain teams with certain budgets that find winning on the whole easier than others, but for the sake of the fans, it’s time to scrap the “tank” year. Especially in Miami and Tampa.
Scrape together a team to fit around your top players, try and find that hidden Czech gem to unlock some success, and actually surprise a few experts by competing each season and creating a sense of excitement and anticipation amongst the fans for the year ahead.
For those who say this isn’t possible in baseball, I bid you to have a look at the Brewers last year. They know that they’re not a “big market” team, so they shopped smart. They signed a MLB-reject-turned-Korean-superstar called Eric Thames for peanuts, and then he went on to have one of the best starts to a season in baseball history. Batting .345 in April with a club-record 11 home runs, it seemed very much like Thames had broken baseball.
Unfortunately he faded away to mediocrity by the end of the season, but I’ll bet he didn’t half get some Brewers fans dreaming of what might just happen if he kept mashing. In the end a team predicted to finish nowhere, actually finished 1 game shy of the wildcard game. If I were a Brewers fan I’d be disappointed they didn’t make it, but I’d be very keen on turning up each game and cheering them on, all the way through September.
I’d also like to draw attention to the Royals, who still had much of a World Series winning team together last year, albeit going into the last year’s of their contract. Their management faced continued cries of “sell-high”, “rebuild”, “cash in”, but they stood firm and gave the city one last shot at glory. Admittedly they didn’t come too close in the end, finishing 5 games back from the wild card, but for well over half a season there was definitely a chance of them doing something.
It’s for this reason why I like what the Giants are doing this offseason. By virtue of a Boston-legend Pablo Sandoval home run on the last game of last season, they were the 2nd-worst team in baseball last year. Critics are crying out for them to restock their ailing farm system, rebuild and come back in a few years.
I like that they’ve upgraded their 3B with Longoria, and who knows, if Sandoval can get into the “best shape of his life” this pre-season then they have a chance. The Dodgers look like they’re going to run away with the NL West again next year, and Arizona and Colorado both look like teams on the up, but how exciting would it be to have 4 teams that have a good chance of winning. Giving up before the season has starts is no way to run a baseball team.
There are clearly two Jumbo-sized elephants in the room here, in the shape of the last two World Series champions.The Cubs and the Astros went through seasons of looking like little league teams, all for it to come together for dominant seasons in 2016 and 2017.
It’s hard to disagree that the fans in Houston and half of Chicago would be over the moon that they finally won something, and no doubt the taste of victory was made even sweeter by how bad they performed in the past. I dare say that the Cubs and the Astros are more popular now than they have been for a long time, but supporting a sports team is much more than celebrating when they win.
Being a fan of a team is all about the belief you have that your team can be the best. There’s a reason that all football fans sing “….. ….. is the finest team the world has ever seen”, when they’re away to a team like Brentford in the League Cup. It’s because years of dreaming and having those dreams crushed perennially by alternate good and bad seasons builds up a fanatical love for the team, and a genuine belief that their team is the best.
Tanking doesn’t allow a fan to suffer false hope, to get their beliefs up before a season and get irrationally excited about their prospects for the season ahead. Fans of the Marlins are resigned to the fact that their 2018 season is going to be terrible, so why would they turn up? It’s too late now, but doesn’t keeping their marquee players (including the league MVP) and making some savvy additions to give the team a chance of going somewhere sound better than turning up to lose every game?
It seems the way of the baseball world is moving towards periods of boom and bust. Because of the success of the Astros and the Cubs, there are going to be a lot of teams planning on trading away the family silver for a few seasons of tanking, in exchange for a few seasons of success. What was wrong with mid-table mediocrity with an occasional freak good season?! Not everybody can tank successfully at the same time, so it seems there’s going to be a lot of below-average teams finishing in average positions in the years to come.