Hochman: Writing Baseball and Testing Baseball – A Look at the Lockout of Diehard Fans | Benjamin Hochman

It’s happening in real time on my text chain – and maybe yours too? Just in the first week after Major League Baseball canceled some games for 2022, casual fans have doubts about the sport. During the lockout, they’re testing their loyalty, they’re asking tough questions, they’re wondering why they really care about a sport that only cares about them when it’s convenient.

In my group text conversations, buddies usually discuss Mizzou tires or college memories or who Josh is dating right now. But on Saturday, the text chain talked about baseball — and it was thoughtful and passionate.

It captured the state of the game for the modern sports fan. Here are the lyrics followed by my afterthoughts that I wrote for this column:

Brian (8:21 am): Aside from something like the McGwire vs. Sosa HR fight, what will save baseball after the lockout? It seems like there are too many casual fans who will be apathetic when MLB comes back. All games may need to be played 7 innings. The NFL is leaving the MLB in the dust after the last football season was so entertaining.

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Thoughts from Hochmann: While baseball owners and players have been in complete agreement on finances, the game itself is at a crossroads. I’m just thinking about the current children. Do they track teams and collect cards with the insatiable greed like us? Will they go to games (since games are longer and more expensive than ever)? And do they even play the game (since it’s more expensive than ever, with all the specialization and private coaching and pay-to-play leagues)?

Andrew (8:23 a.m.): Baseball is just boring. The ball is never in play. Swipe Go HR. That’s all that happens. I don’t know if there’s much you can do to change this from a rules perspective. I guess if you ban the shift that might help, but other than that I don’t really know.

Thoughts from Hochmann: There are still moments that aren’t boring, just less so. Baseball needs to overhaul the way it nurtures its players – guys like Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Juan Soto should be as famous as their NBA or NFL counterparts.

Josh (9:02 am): Baseball (screws) itself. It’s sad. Especially when there is a war going on, it looks very bad and they will lose a lot of casual fans, I agree. Yes, it’s boring, but there’s a vibe to sitting in the bleachers, drinking beers, or hopping around the ballpark’s bars.

Thoughts from Hochmann: No question. This is the best that baseball has to offer – the unique experience of going to the ball game. Also, I wonder if Josh is still with that one woman?

Andrew (9:11 a.m.): Baseball is great, but sitting at home and watching a game is boring. I love baseball, but I rarely sit on my couch and watch. There are just so many other options. And the other day I was thinking about something. Does baseball suffer from fantasy (popularity) in other sports? Baseball was the original and I wonder how many people paid attention 10 years ago but can now play (and immerse themselves in) any other sport?

Thoughts from Hochmann: This makes me think about the power of gambling in our country. So many people follow sports because they bet on sports. Perhaps baseball will gain popularity once it makes gambling a part of the in-game fan experience — and gambling with MLB teams becomes legal in all states.

Brian (11:31 am): I cut the cable a while ago. Attend half a dozen card and blues games a year and it’s mostly fun in person. I pay for YouTube TV during the playoffs. I think the owners and players screw up dragging this out when there are a lot of fans like me and I consider myself an average fan.

Thoughts from Hochmann: And that’s exactly the problem. Baseball won’t lose the Hochmans – I’m forever hopelessly devoted to the game – but it could lose the Brians. And the Brians’ kids. And their children. And generations of wannabe fans (and money wasters).

Josh (11:50 am): It’s an idiotic business.

Thoughts from Hochmann: Check off the customer… and then, when the time comes, ask the customer to come back and spend a bunch of money? i hear you man

Andrew (11:56 a.m.): I will not pretend to care about the financial issues in sport. Players are robbed of money in every sport. I just find that watching baseball isn’t as fun as other sports.

Thoughts from Hochmann: Sure, some fans pay close attention to the business needs of each side of the table. What is agreed upon will ultimately affect the development of baseball’s finances. But many fans, like Andrew, don’t care who does what – they just want baseball to be played.

Brian (12:16 p.m.): History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. This can be worse than the mid-90s. Baseball was more popular back then.

Thoughts from Hochmann: Exactly. The modern American has so many more ways to pass his time — and spend his money. There are so many shows to stream and change channels. And you can experience the latest films in your living room. And nowadays you can watch every game of every major sport. And soccer is a lot more popular today than it was in the 1990s (and St. Louis is getting an MLS team). Oh, and there’s the pandemic, which has changed the way some people approach public events — and spend their scarce dollar.

I hope I’m wrong, but every game baseball loses on schedule means fans will lose forever.

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