God Made Homeplate and First Base 90' Apart for a Reason
MLB is back, Stock market for athletes, Integrity of gambling, Brittney Griner, Secret memo, Subtack app
Good morning! A lot of sports in today’s blog. I’ll be sure to feature a more diverse mix of topics next week. Here’s a little motivation for the week ahead before we get started:
“Get your fucking ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
Say no more, Kim.
→ Play ball. MLB is officially back. Opening Day is set for April 7 and we will get the full 162 games. This is great news. Also encouraging are new rules to discourage tanking and to prevent teams from manipulating player service time (i.e., a way for the owners to pay top young players less). I already expressed my opposition to the universal DH, but there are a few more rule changes that will be implemented over the course of the next couple of seasons I want to touch on.
“The game is too slow and boring”. This is not an unpopular opinion on baseball. It’s a (partially) valid one too: the average game last season lasted over 3 hours and 10 minutes. I would argue that interpreting baseball as boring probably says more about the spectator than the game, but that’s not the point. The point is that the game is too long, even for those of us who find the game not-boring.
Starting next season (2023), MLB will implement a pitch clock aimed at addressing at least the first part of the “slow and boring” argument. Pitchers will be limited to 14 seconds between pitches when bases are empty, 19 seconds when runners are on. On the surface, I love this rule. I think it’s a simple way to make a big step towards improving the quality of the game. In my mind I’m picturing MLB-level players playing an NCAA-pace game and it’s…refreshing. That is a product that could shove baseball back into relevance.
The problem with this might be enforcement. If a pitcher violates the pitch clock the umpire could call at an automatic ball, but how strict will umpires be with this? In an earlier effort to improve the pace of play (2015) the league made a “no stepping out of the batter’s box” rule, but if I recall correctly that rule didn’t apply to players with clout. This is to say that it felt more like a suggestion than a rule. Though I suppose umpires have gotten more strict in enforcing that rule over the years, so it’s not unreasonable to think the same might happen with the pitch clock.
The 2023 season will also feature larger bases, which I wrote about almost exactly 1 year ago. At the time, the league was testing 18” bases (as opposed to 15”) in the AAA (minor leagues). The hope is that larger bases will prevent freak injuries like:
Listen, I’m pro anti-injury rules, but God made homeplate and first base exactly 90 feet apart for a reason: it’s the perfect distance. It’s just short enough to reward hustle and just long enough to provide us with the beauty of the “bang-bang” play. Or is it short enough for the bang-bang play and long enough to reward hustle? Either way, it’s perfect. I would advise MLB to simply push the new, larger bases back up the line a few inches enough to preserve the pristine 90’. The next rule change already favors hitters, there’s no reason to give them an edge in the infield hits category too.
Defensive shifts will be banned next season. I’m mostly indifferent to this. I don’t like the shift, but I also don’t think the league should be manipulating the rules to eliminate it. That responsibility should lie with the hitter. They are professionals after all who were undoubtedly taught the virtues of using the whole field. Plus, I mean….
Expect to see higher offensive output this year (universal DH) and even higher output in 2023 (shifts banned).
→ The stock market, but for athletes. As I’ve noted in this space before: Alex Rodriguez is not a businessman, he’s a business, man.
When he’s not signing baseballs for fans or managing his inbox (#officelife), Rodriguez is running A-Rod Corp, an investment firm that focuses on real estate and venture capital. It’s exciting stuff. For example, the last time I wrote about the company he had just launched “The Blur Stick”, a concealer (makeup) for men. You know, guy stuff…
His latest venture is a little more my speed. It lies at the intersection of two of my favorite things: sports and the stock market. After a funding round that raised $75M, Rodriguez and partner Marc Lore expect Mojo to debut before the end of the year with football as its first sport (market?) available. Investors will be able buy and sell shares of athletes “whose values rise and fall based on their performances on the field”.
What I’m wondering is how the valuations will work here. They can’t strictly be based on on-field performance as that would eliminate the “market” aspect of it, so then how much influence on price do market participants have? I can already see a meme-stock-like situation where investors rally behind some benchwarmer who goes viral on Tik Tok or some shit and becomes the most valuable athlete on the market.
In any case, when I read, “plans to debut by the end of the year” and “arrangements with state gaming commissions, regulators, and the sports leagues are still in progress” in the same article, I basically tune out the first part because nothing about gaming commissions and regulators is quick and easy, which means I doubt we’ll be seeing Mojo going live anytime soon.
P.S. Found it. I knew there was a company that tried something like this before. PlayerSX has a similar offering but it doesn’t appear to be very active. This would be a bearish sign, but then again, PlayerSX didn’t have the full force of A-Rod Corp. behind it.
→ Protecting the integrity of…gambling? Calvin Ridley plays wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. This year he won’t be playing wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. He won’t be playing because he was suspended for the season after the NFL found out he gambled money on the outcome of league games. You can’t bet on the outcome of games in the league you play in. Everybody knows this, just ask Pete Rose1.
League critics say that the punishment (he’s suspended for “at least” the 2022 season) doesn’t fit the crime, and I get their point. It seems hypocritical of the league—which has embraced gambling in recent years—to take an entire year (or more) away from Ridley (and the Falcons) for betting on games that are littered with sports betting advertisements. Yes, there were a couple of Falcons games included among the wagers, but to my understanding he never bet against his team (this would be cause for a lifetime ban IMO).
Like I said, I understand. The problem though is precisely the fact that the NFL has embraced gambling the way it has. Every major sports league is looking for ways to increase revenues and for every single one of them the most obvious source for that is gambling (even family-friendly Disney is leveraging its ESPN brand to subtly break into the industry).
Because of this the league simply cannot allow anything that might jeopardize the integrity of gambling. On the contrary, they need to take steps to preserve it as it represents a critical piece of its current and future business. Ridley’s actions gave it its first chance to set the precedent. Was it too harsh? Maybe, but I get that too.
→ Transitioning from sports to geopolitics via the WNBA. I have plenty of thoughts on Russia, but I don’t feel like tip-toeing around that minefield on this lovely Sunday. Instead, I would like to call attention to the fact that WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained by Russian police for 3 weeks now after she was arrested last month at Moscow’s airport when officials found some cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of “smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance—an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison”.
The charge is obviously bullshit, but with the geopolitical situation going on the timing really could not have been worse. It’s still unknown where Griner is being detained and the US Embassy’s request for access to her has been steadily denied for 3 weeks. A member of the US House Armed Services Committee has commented that getting her out under the current conditions will be “very difficult”.
What was Griner doing in Russia? The same thing you would be doing if you were a WNBA star: getting paid. Like any other human with a pulse, Griner is a fan of money. When your US salary is $227k and a Russian basketball team wants to pay you more than 4x that amount to play the same game for a few months, you go.
→ Truth in journalism. This week The Postliberal Order shared a “secret memo” that was allegedly sent out to mainstream journalists in America which coached them on what language to use to condition their audience. I thought this was a joke the first time I read it, but The Postliberal Order isn’t a publication that peddles in laughs which means they’re serious about this memo being circulated. Here are a few examples (emphasis mine):
(1) In place of “liberalism” always say “democracy.” You must accustom your audience to making this mental substitution so rapidly and automatically that they will eventually find it incomprehensible to say that a polity can be democratic without being liberal. Eventually, you will be able to have them swallow, without any complaint, sentences like “every time Fidesz wins a clear electoral victory, Hungary becomes less democratic.”
(5) The United States does not “invade” other nations; it engages in “military interventions.”
(6) Fact-checks are correct regardless of the facts. Non-experts fail to appreciate that a fact check may correctly show that something was false even if the fact check itself shows that it was true. Conversely, a fact check may correctly show that something was true even if it was demonstrably false. The good journalist rises above mere facts to higher truth.
Like I said, this is alleged. In any case, it’s just another reason to steer clear of mainstream media.
→ Subtack has an app. Subtack launched its official app this week and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, my knee-jerk reaction is that this will be overwhelmingly positive for the platform insofar as it will increase popularity and drive traffic. This means more paying subscribers which attract better writers which produce better content. On the other, the email platform provides for a more intimate reader/audience relationship that I fear will be severed by the informality of the app. An app that will be competing for your attention with all the other apps on your phone.
The friction of having to input your email address every time you wanted to subscribe to a new Substack was, in my opinion, one of the things that set the platform apart. It also provided fertile grounds for those special connections to be formed (your inbox). Sure, Contemporary Idiot might be discovered by more people and gain a few more subscribers now, but once it’s become a blog in an app next to hundreds of other (lesser quality, obviously) blogs rather than a blog in your inbox, will you be less likely to read it? I don’t know—I guess we’ll find out.
Here’s the link to download the app if you’d like:
Put Pete Rose—who never committed the unforgivable sin of betting against his own team—in the Hall of Fame.