Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Mick Gillispie and Kevin Reichard discuss the most recent news in MiLB contraction regarding the Appy League, the changing demographics of game broadcasts, and different terms for game gear, including a pill, aspirin, pigskin and loaf of bread, on this week’s Ballpark Digest Broadcaster Chat.
In this week’s chat:
- The conversion of the Appalachian League from a professional league to a summer-collegiate league was announced last week, but Kevin points out that many details need to be worked out, including the business structure of these new teams (licensees vs. franchises), MLB/USA Baseball financial support, the limited time this plan has to succeed—just a three-year commitment, for now—and whether all 10 markets would find operators, given that Danville and Kingsport are small markets. Mick points out that elite players identified by USA Ballpark will likely perform at a higher level than the average Rookie-level player.
- The lack of details regarding the Appy League doesn’t bode well for the upcoming Minor League Baseball reorganization: many in baseball are wondering if MLB is up to the challenge of reorganizing a sport that in many ways was working well on the business front. Will the realities of the climate align with MLB’s plans for MiLB realignment? There’s are reasons why short-season leagues are short-season leagues, and weather plays a role.
- Scouting and player development has changed a lot over the last decade. In the past, an MiLB team would have a manager, a pitching coach, a hitting coach and a trainer. Today, most MLB teams have an abundance of roving instructors working the farm system, as well as other observers. With new technology, teams also have an abundance of information about every player, as Jesse and Mick note. Mick bemoans the lack of hands-on scouting that goes on, as well as a lack of fundamentals in the low minors. Regarding the gigabytes of data MLB teams acquire on players—much of it unwatched—Kevin points out that this is a tech thing, not a sports thing: in the tech world, the ethos is to acquire as much data as possible, no matter if you use it or not. That data might be useful some day in ways we cannot imagine.
- While scouting has changed, it’s not necessarily a matter of it always being a prime consideration for teams. During the course of researching a book Kevin ran across the old scouting reports filed for the original Class D Northern League and was struck by the lack of details on evals of players like Craig Kusick, who replaced Harmon Killebrew at first base for the Twins. Similarly, Jesse looks back on some old scouting reports on players like Henry Aaron, which pretty much pointed out the obvious: can hit, is relaxed, needs work. Now, even though teams have an abundance of scouting information, the approach seems to be a throwback: MLB teams say they’ll develop players themselves. Hence the MiLB contraction and the emphasis on investment-worthy signings.
- Mick points out the importance of fans in the equation and how often they get lost in discussions of the sport. With MLB ratings open to interpretation, Mick wonders if teams had alienated too many fans with political stances at the beginning of the season and points out the national ratings are down (which may be an ESPN and TBS issue, not a baseball issue). Kevin points out that ratings are stable when it comes to local cable casts and streaming—and the customers there tend to be the younger, affluent demographic sought after by MLB and, more importantly, MLB’s advertisers. In short: Mick argues for a wide net to attract the most fans, Kevin sees the merit in focusing the message on the target demos.
- As a side issue: Will the protesters actually stay away after they vow to stay away from the sport due to political protests? Most studies show protesting fans will return after such a vow. The discussion veers toward Jesse’s team, the Washington Football Team, which made huge changes this offseason but seemingly has lost little of its fan base—and added some new fans, to boot.
- Jesse brings up an interesting issue: As MLB mikes up players for in-game interviews, A’s center fielder Ramón Laureano casually threw down an eff bomb on live TV while fielding a double by White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez: “Damn, he can (expletive) run.” Jesse wonders why Laureano was miked up during the intense playoffs but admits it was compelling television, Mick says the eff bomb made him uncomfortable, and Kevin says he hears worse stuff daily from his teenage daughters.
- Mick brings up some interesting offseason developments, including the future of Theo Epstein in Chicago and the fate of the Cubs roster. The discussion then moves to Jim Palmer and his amazing career when bouncing back from a decline in performance—something Kris Bryant needs to address—and whether Bryant is as dedicated to conditioning as was underwear model Palmer.
- The Baseball Thesaurus and Football Thesaurus terms of the day for equipment of the game: the cowhide, the horsehide, the old apple, the pill, the aspirin, the tablet, the seed for baseball, and pigskin and loaf of bread for football. A loaf of bread refers to a play where a runner holds the ball in one hand away from his body—a casual approach you rarely see anymore but once saw frequently from the likes of Walter Payton. The fact you don’t see it much anymore shows how the game of football has changed: where once defensive players were charged with making a tackle as soon as possible, they’re now coached to hold up a runner and let subsequent defenders take a shot at dislodging the ball.
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and the author of The Baseball Thesaurus and The Football Thesaurus from August Publications. Mick Gillispie is the Voice of the Tennessee Smokies and a spring-training Voice of the Chicago Cubs. Kevin Reichard is publisher at August Publications and Ballpark Digest.