For the first time in its history, MLB will host games on European soil. Growing the game internationally has been a goal of Rob Manfred’s and this series helps further said goal, which is an admirable and logical one. But for this European experiment to be successful, Baseball–the league, teams, media, and fans all rolled into one–must bring its best to England.
MLB has already partially achieved this by sending the Yankees and Red Sox. Not only are these two franchises historic, iconic, and all that, but they’re also great teams with many star players.
The Red Sox have the reigning AL MVP, arguably the game’s best pitcher, and many other young, exciting, or interesting players. Meanwhile, the Yankees have a behemoth lineup, figuratively and literally, as well as an electric bullpen, and a great ambassador for the game in CC Sabathia.
Hopefully, the teams are at full strength and play up to expectations. Doing so will show off baseball at not only its highest level of play, but competition in general, given the rivalry between the teams. I have little doubt that the teams will fulfill their end of the bargain; it’s elsewhere that gives me pause.
Specifically, I’m apprehensive about the baseball media. More granularly, I’m worried about the announcers and team broadcasting the game to the English and broader European audiences. Myriad national announcers–and some local ones, I’m sure–spend a lot of time talking about what’s “wrong” with the game: too many homers; too many strikeouts; too long, etc. I worry greatly that some of this will seep into the broadcast and paint a negative picture of the game to a new audience. That would–quite obviously–work to defeat the purpose of these games.
Baseball itself is an old institution and the conversation around it is often driven by nostalgia. This isn’t automatically bad, but it leads towards a negative tendency: the assumption that there was a “Golden Age” in baseball and we sure as hell aren’t in it anymore. The great irony here is that this age of baseball is much more “golden” than any era before.
The players are bigger, faster, and stronger than they’ve ver been. Tehy hit harder, throw faster, and field better than ever, and may continue to improve as the years go on.
With international series, regional sports networks, MLBTV, national contracts, and games on Amazon and Facebook, there’s never been more access to the game. There are warts: blackout restrictions, a stunning lack of Black American players, racial/ethnic/gender heterogeneity in front offices and ownership–but there is still plenty to celebrate about baseball on the field.
Every effort must be made by players, media, and fans alike, by Baseball the Institution, to keep the focus where it belongs: on the eye-popping power, the unfathomably filthy stuff, and the outrageous athleticism of the players.