I was a die-hard baseball fan from around 1986 to 2013. I watched my favorite teams on TV and listened to them on the radio. Before the internet, for those darn West Coast games, I listened to the radio or the next game’s pre-game show to get the result. I collected baseball cards, magazines, went to the actual games, talked about it with my friends at school and summer camp, enjoyed it with all members of my family and even neighbors, played baseball video games, and read the newspaper and history books.
New York was always a baseball town. It gets passed down from generation to generation. My grandparents would tell me stories about the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, and sometimes the New York Giants and New York Mets. I had zero interest in football, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, boxing, or the Olympics. Baseball had it all- drama, personalities, heroes, villains, felt important, and was weirdly entertaining when it came to keeping track of statistics. I loved the Mets and Yankees-yes, equally- until the 2000 Subway Series, when I was forced to choose one, and I chose the Yankees.
So why did I stop watching baseball? Why did I effectively boycott baseball by not paying one dime for MLB.TV, tickets, or memorabilia? Why did I go cold turkey after the 2013 season? Why do I not at least follow box scores casually or watch the World Series? Why did I turn my back on baseball and never look back? Like everything in life, there are many reasons:
My Team Wasn’t Doing Well
Because I self-identified with the Yankees, winning the World Series was the only acceptable option. Anything else was a failure. At the very least a post-season appearance would keep me going. But in 2013 it all fell-apart, as the Yankees did not make it and had lost big names, so the future seemed bleak. It led me to question if I should invest time into the next season. Which brings us to the next reason.
It Takes Too Much Time
I’m an all-or-nothing type of person: “striving” to be a casual sports fan was never my thing. Either I put the time in with the conception that I would be more knowledgeable and emotionally invested in a sport, or I just won’t pay attention to it. I never understood the fans who just watch the All-Star Game, Superbowl, or a big UFC match, i.e. buying into the Sportscenter, Yahoo Sports, or social hype and pressure to watch a game to be “part” of something.
Baseball was taking 3 hours a day, plus reading and writing about, listening to the radio, and scheduling my life around it- for six months or more. The games were also boring, especially road games where the fans should sounded like a generator hum. Baseball was getting slower every year- more commercials, longer counts, more walks, more runs scored, more pitching changes- the 7th-9th innings especially. ESPN or FOX Yankees-Red Sox games would take what felt like 4+ hours. The few 1980s games still on Youtube were more exciting. In other words, the rate of investment was too small. Each season only had a handful to a dozen of really exciting games or events, while the rest of it was mandatory assignments. And reducing those games to a highlight reel took all the context out.
I was a Bill James fan since the early 1990s. He made Pete Gammons look like a nobody when it came to analyzing baseball. But what Bill James was lacking was humanity. He may have revolutionized the sport with his number crunching but he gutted it from its legendary mythology, all in the name of “truth”. His disciples went on to take control of the message board forums and worked their way into front offices.
He reduced icons such as Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan as being overrated. He took the focus away from their actual records and status and put the spotlight on normalized statistics and ballpark effects. Thus, Nolan Ryan, previously a symbol of longevity and toughness- the man who threw 7 no-hitters, including his last at age 44- was transformed into a selfish, stubborn pitcher who walked too many batters and no-hitters were luck anyway. Sandy Koufax, regarded as the most dominant pitcher of his time, and an inspiration Jewish communities, was reduced to a man who solely benefited from pitching at home and had a middle-of-the-road Win Share value because he was forced to retire early. Whitey Ford? He benefited from Yankees offense and wins don’t really matter for a pitcher.
Bill James’s followers were even more obnoxious and practiced groupthink (and denied it).They gutted all the warm and fuzzy things about baseball- from The Streak to the 56 game hitting streak to perfect games to even calling World Series winning a crapshoot to killing the concept of clutch players to closers being inferior. You were dumb if you believed in the old ways. That’s why they wanted Joe Morgan fired. They hated when Tim McCarver said Jason Giambi may walk but he clogs the bases up because he can’t run, and sabermetrics shows that walking scores runs and wins games.
Sabermetrics can be rationalized and proven…but it makes a boring game to me without the stories. Derek Jeter being targeted for poor defense and told by his New Age General Manager Brian Cashman that he needed to go to centerfield (did he get that from Baseballthinkfactory.org?) killed it for me. As if baseball wasn’t about Big Business, it now became Big Data. Why would I want to watch an IT business masquerading as entertainment?
Sabermetrics became the default setting for baseball fans and they took the sides of ownership and GMs over players making money. Players are seen as commodities to be discarded as soon as they are no longer as productive as they used to be, or reached a certain age. Large contracts are a no-no. These fans were wanna-be GMs and some became GMs.
My mother was fanatical and kept calling me during the games, while my wife had become a casual fan who did not watch with me anymore…’nuff said.
I entered a money league in 2012 and for the first time viewed the game differently. I was more concerned about the fantasy league points than the actual outcome of the game. Even worse, I noticed that fantasy baseball fans were fans of players, not teams. All of a sudden it was cool to be a fan of Clayton Kershaw and those guys on the Nationals. Weird.
Joe Buck turned me off since his debut. I stopped listening to Tim McCarver, even though he was my first announcer as a kid. Michael Kay liked to stir the pot for publicity. I felt like I lived in a Bizarro World when the online community wanted Joe Morgan’s head for daring to speak out against their Sabermetric Commandments. ESPN rooted for whoever was playing against the Yankees. The mainstream media in general root for the underdogs and deemed the Yankees Goliath even though some seasons they were more like David.
Seeing the end of Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte was the writing on the wall for me. Derek Jeter had one year left and I didn’t want to see it. Brian Cashman let Robinson Cano walk (Seattle???) and that was the final straw for me.
Life After Baseball
It hurt when I quit, but then I realized how much time I had. I also saw the cycle as an outsider- much of the sport is media fueled. Baseball talk is very much focused on speculating about the future as opposed to enjoying the present. Occasionally a friend will tell me the Yankees made the playoffs, and then I will check their record and see they have no chance to win, and I don’t care or get excited, but my friend- who is a casual fan- will get caught up in the hype.
I noticed that the seasons I have watched in their entirely are nowhere to be found on MLB.TV. An entire season was reduced to one highlight, or in many cases, no highlights. In baseball, yesterday’s result is old news. Last year’s season is worthless. Full games from seasons from five years ago are scrubbed from the internet.
So, yes, I had more time, a better perspective, and less stress. I realized I was in a bubble, like The Matrix. It was an enjoyable, harmless habit I carried with me from childhood to teenager to 20s into mid-30s. But it became too much. I do not miss it. I feel free from the schedule, emotional investment, and yearly cycle. I also save a few bucks. I no longer have to second guess the manager or GM. I don’t have to read the comments online anymore or listen to angry radio callers. I cut the cord.
Not a Call to Action
I’m not saying you should give up your favorite sport. I’m not saying you can’t be a casual fan. I’m not saying my decisions should have an influence on yours. I don’t want you to think that I am condescending to you if you are fans. However, if you are starting to question your dedication and loyalty to baseball, I want you to know that there is life after baseball. As for the hardcore stat-heads disciples, I have nothing to say to you.