Dean Clough

December 29, 2021

Portico Darwin: This Is The End of Baseball

If you think I've written dark and foreboding newsletters in the past, this will top them all.  That's because today, I am declaring baseball dead.  Sure, there may be some sort of agreement hammered out to settle the current lock-out by the team owners, and there may be games for a few more years.  But the days of baseball mattering are over.

Think about it:  here's a sport already on the decline, that decided right NOW is the ideal time for a work stoppage and to go completely dark.  Instead of the fun and forward-looking Hot Stove League, we now have a void.  What's odd this time is that no one, or at least not the media nor the general public, even cares.  Do you remember the US Congress threatened to get involved during the last big work stoppage if the owners and players couldn't get it together?  Fast forward 28 years and I don't see that happening.

The lock-out itself?  The owners' contract with the player's union has expired, and there are any number of sensitive issues to be negotiated.  As the owners tell it, they've locked the players out of team facilities to impart a sense of urgency.  Whatever.

Because baseball has existential problems beyond billionaires negotiating a labor contract with millionaires.  Rather, it is how to make the game of baseball - a game wholly of another time - relevant today.  The problem with baseball is its very nature:  it is its slow pace, deliberative play, and centuries-old tradition that properly define the sport.  

But no one gives a shit about that stuff any more.  Most want action.  Speed.  Scoring.  As a society, our attention spans are no longer than the time it takes to consume a witty Tweet or a clever meme.  And since I don't see that changing, baseball will be unable to stop its inexorable decline into irrelevance.   

I predict a labor agreement will be reached, perhaps in time to save the season.  But the contract will continue baseball's pitiful attempts at modernity -  clocks, adding a designated hitter to the National League, more playoff games regardless of the gimmickry involved, runners on second in extra innings, etc.  I bet even more stadiums will bring in the fences to encourage more more more of the holy grail of today's eviscerated game:  the home run.  The results will be the same - plunging TV ratings, plunging attendance, and a final exit from the American zeitgeist.  

What would I do?  I have some opinions (shocker):
  • Accept that the game will never again - regardless of rule changes - attain its previous popularity.  That means going radical (see below) can't hurt - or really help, either.
  • Double-down on youth outreach here and in other baseball-interested nations.
  • Establish minimum team payrolls.
  • Eliminate all replays, challenges, etc.  Instead, there's a 5th umpire in the broadcast booth at every game that can <independently> halt play, review and potentially overturn <any> call.  But if the 5th umpire doesn't intervene before the next pitch, that's that.  
  • Revert the game to its classic format.  154 game season, no DH.  No clocks, no extra inning gimmicks - with one exception:  umpires will rigorously enforce a time limit on a batter getting into the box, and call a strike on those that dawdle with gloves, jocks, helmets and practice swings.
  • Likewise, umpires must enforce with equal rigor the true strike zone.  No robots, but the human's ability to accurately call balls and strikes should be the basis of their compensation.
  • Use the Bob Costas-endorsed playoff format and really, most of his ideas.  In fact, before he gets too old, make him commissioner.
  • Take your medicine and cut the time between innings to 2 minutes, and raise the price of commercials accordingly.
  • Be the fan-friendly sport.  Have 2 or 3 loss leaders at the snack bar - a cheap soda, a cheap beer, and a cheap hot dog.  Re-introduce true doubleheaders on every Sunday, and on Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day.

Would any of it matter?  No, probably not.  Could any of my suggestions ever happen?  No, probably not.  But wouldn't it be refreshing to see a league (that's going down anyhow) stay relevant by embracing its roots, vs. disavowing them with flimflam?

It's been an art-filled Christmas week.  As you may have read here, my first cousin is an artist of some renown.  So in a serious break with Portico Darwin standards and practices, I will no longer be using a witty faux name for him.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Charles Clough.   

I am doing this now because Charlie shared the following photo with me yesterday.  This is one of his works, entitled "Clufffalo:  Art Omi", being installed at The New York State Museum.  Pretty cool, don't you think?


Charlie's art makes me predisposed to an interest in the field.  That led me to listen to this informative 3 part series on The Freakonomics podcast about the vagaries of the art market, called "The Hidden Side of The Art Market".  Spoiler alert:  the art market is fucking weird, at least to this outsider.

“A Fascinating, Sexy, Intellectually Compelling, Unregulated Global Market.” - Freakonomics

Even more came in from the Chicago sophisticate, Steven Simon, on the subject of art, non-fungible tokens (NFT's), and Brian Eno's (negative) take on them:

"I can't really say I disagree with him on this if you are an established artist.  One POV is that it's the same as any other artistic marketplace where you are creating original works and people are buying them.  The other (Eno's) is that it's just a way for artists to make money.

Have you seen The Price of Everything?" 

A huge difference with NFT's is that they allow the artist to participate in the secondary market.  In other words, the artist can still get a piece of the action when their work is resold.  Just like a musician or TV show producer.  That is most definitely not the case in the traditional market.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.

No, Hunter Deuce, it's not going to be "Centerfield" by John Fogerty.  First, I really don't like that song, and second, I really don't like that song. 

But there are a dearth of baseball-themed songs or albums.  So let's go with art and artsy.  Here is the aforementioned Winchester School of Art at St. Joseph's College class of 1969 grad Brian Eno, and his seminal and Diamond Certified "Ambient 1:  Music for Airports".  If you've ever wondered what ambient music sounds like, this is it.


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