Balancing Baseball’s Past, Present and Future

Far too often, in contemporary culture, we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the here and now, what is directly under our noses. People walk the streets, sit in packed stadiums, at movie theaters, and in parks with phones, tablets and laptops glowing brightly and illuminating their slack-jawed visages. Words are not spoken, only shared via rapidly tapping thumbs and fingertips upon virtual keyboards and sent to others lost in the same malaise. It is the world we have created, yet the inability to treasure and savor the present is a terrible malady which affects baseball fans to an alarming degree.

We are living in a new golden age for professional baseball, an age of unquestionable athletic miracles and individual performances on a spectrum between marvelous and historic, yet it seems that far too many fans are busy looking to the past or future rather than enjoying the now.

We no longer have to discuss Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., or Willie Mays because we have Mike Trout.

We don’t have to mention Carl Yastrzemski anymore because Miguel Cabrera just won the Triple Crown in the 2012 season in one of the greatest offensive performances in recent history.

Troy Tulowitzki, when healthy, is a new age shortstop for new age fans.

Aside from postseason woes, Clayton Kershaw is the new Sandy Koufax.

This season, to a pitiful and non-existent amount of mainstream fanfare, Yusmeiro Petit set the record for most consecutive batters retired, besting Mark Buehrle’s mark of 45 with 46.

We just witnessed postseason pitching mastery from Madison Bumgarner… but it was capped off in the least watched seven game World Series in history.

The pieces are all in place, the players are all developed or developing, and the ability to watch each team and each team’s games is within the grasp of any citizen with a television, however baseball is suffering in the present while many of its fans, both of the casual and hardcore varieties, rubberneck backward to the past or forward to the unknowable beyond of the future.

For starters, it must be emphasized that baseball is a sport built upon over a century of history, names, statistics and achievements from the days of Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, through the mid-century heroics of Musial and DiMaggio, and to the present day playing fields populated by the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout and Evan Longoria. However, that great history and the stellar traditions upon which the game is built should not detract from the present, but rather should enhance it. There will not likely be another Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, or Derek Jeter, but must we spend so much time dwelling on their careers and comparing every young up-and-coming player to them? Must every catcher be measured by the ludicrous achievements of Johnny Bench, every second baseman held up to the lofty standards of Hornsby or Kent? The history is a major part of baseball, but the penchant for fans to use it as a lens to view the current players and game is a detrimental and depressing way for one to watch the game.

The same could be said about those who flog the dead horse of Hall of Fame “snubs.” Each year, in the dead of winter, past the holiday jubilation when the off-season hot stove has begun to cool and the time for pitchers and catchers to report seems so far away, we go through the ritualistic naming of who ought to be and ought not to be in the Hall of Fame. Are their legitimate disputes and snubs, or undeserving inductees? Of course there are, especially in this post-PED climate that the game has embraced. However, such talk and vitriolic disagreement only further turns the attention to the past and its actors, at a time when baseball’s present must be focused upon. In January baseball is the furthest thing from a fans mind as they are lost amidst the NHL, NBA, and NCAA basketball seasons, as well as the NFL and NCAA football playoffs, and the focus to baseball’s past does nothing to make it enticing to fans for the upcoming season.

Although the past is not a bad thing at all, it must be concentrated upon in moderation and at least it deals with concrete details that are pertinent to baseball. The future, and its sycophantic adherents in baseball media of all forms, is another thing all together. The amount of ink, words and prognostication afforded to the future in baseball is nothing more than modern-day prophesy pedaled by oracles with spreadsheets and dollar signs in their eyes. Publicists, agents, scouts with reputations on the line, and baseball “insiders” have basically done the most harm to baseball’s present by effectively telling fans that seasons are meaningless. Phrases such as “in 3 to 4 years they expect to be contenders,” or lines about top prospects “being a year or two away” from their messianic arrivals tells fans one thing: don’t worry about caring this year, or probably next year. By selling grand visions of future success and all world developmental talents MLB organizations have captured the present from fans and told them that their attention, money and fandom will be unneeded and unappreciated for a few seasons. Why bother attending or watching the games on TV? By selling the sacrifice of the present for the triumph of the future, organizations have dissuaded and discouraged fans from witnessing some of sports’ greatest athletes perform on the playing field. It is backward and harmful to the long-term health of the game, as any Houston Astros fan could probably tell you.

Major League Baseball is in fine shape, but it’s messaging to fans is schizophrenic, counterproductive and should be a concern. Embracing the past to augment the present, as well as selling the “hope springs eternal” ethos of future optimism for franchises is both laudable and essential, however when baseball is selling the bread and not the meat of the sandwich one has to question why they aren’t better promoting the greatest athletic product on earth.

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