Sports pit people against other people, and one person wins while the other loses. They compete against each other, and the competition of the game makes it fun. It creates excitement, suspense, disappointment, and euphoria all while doing something ultimately pointless. Some people, however, make the game about beating the other person, and they do everything to beat them. But at its foundation, sport is about one person going against another in an attempt to show dominance. It’s a base emotion inherited from our evolution to survive. We need to be better than the others to have better mates, better stature, and to survive, which is oddly the goal of most players (though the survive part isn’t quite as dire). When people go too far, it’s called machismo, egotism, and hot-headedness, but the line between “competitive” and those other adjectives is subjective, arbitrary, and fickle. Regardless, competition is what makes baseball so much fun, and without it, it ceases to be much of a game.
This is where baseball (any sport, really) starts to get tricky. It’s where we start demanding something from the game. In the above sections we only play the game, asking little from it but learning everything, but here, baseball transforms from a game into an event. Establishing baseball as an event instantly divides those present into separate groups—those expecting to be entertained and those expected to entertain. Money isn’t necessarily present, yet, but the situation becomes complicated.
What does it mean to be entertained? Do you want to see a good, clean game, and what does that mean? Do you want to see some acrobatics, some “hot-dogging”, or some personality? Do you want to see home runs or bunts? Or do you just want to see your team win, no matter how that happens? We all have an idea of what we want, but all of our thoughts are rarely a consensus. When this does become an industry, you can understand how this gets really complicated, but for now, let’s stick to baseball in general. If you come to a game expecting to be entertained, you have now added a new element—expectations—and with expectations come both elation and disappointment. Judgment has now arrived, and judgment is subjective. Subjective opinions cause conflict. If it was “just a game”, we would be able to let the game run its course and be happy with it (which is, admittedly, very difficult to accomplish), but adding the element of entertainment ends that possibility. Now, we start to care.
It’s About the Money
Baseball is a business, for better or worse. Because it’s a business (and a profitable one), it spread, and we get to see the game as it currently is. Most of the time, we lament the business side of it. The griping between players and owners, commercials lengthening the game, advertisements splashed across everywhere, and $10 hot dogs and beer gets in the way of the game sometimes, and in a way it tarnishes the “purity” of the game. But that’s the price of having Major League Baseball and getting to see the best (most of them, anyway) baseball players in the world over the summer. It’s a give-and-take relationship, and without that relationship the only baseball you would see is Little League (and there’s money involved there, isn’t it?).
Because it is such a profitable business, it’s no surprise that there are people in it for just the money. Sure, there are owners such as the Steinbrenners that will pay out of their own pocket to field a winning team (though they’ve made a lot off of their investment as well), but for every one of that type of owner, there are more like Liberty Media who own a team to bolster their portfolio. And I don’t know that it’s a bad thing. We promote the idea of being individually wealthy, but then we arbitrarily decide when it is and isn’t appropriate, which is a little ridiculous. And as I mentioned before, there are benefits to the game being about the money. It’s brought the game around the country and the globe, and we get to watch any MLB game we would want to see. Seeing those games brings us joy (and sorrow if you’re a Pirates fan). This sounds a bit Machiavellian, but there’s a reason Machiavelli gained such attention from his theory. It’s not romantic, and it isn’t poetry. But it’s real life, and money is important.
It’s a Means of Control
So we’ve escalated a little, haven’t we? Ever wonder why soccer spread all across the world? Some will tell you it’s because it’s so fun, but I doubt it’s more fun than most other games or sports. No, the British brought the game with them when they began colonizing the world in their “Empire in which the sun never sets”. Games are effective tools. Games seem innocent. How can anyone “control” someone with soccer or baseball? It’s actually fairly simple. You enter (or invade, whichever term you choose) the area, and as a goodwill gesture, you show them how to play a game. They learn to play and come to enjoy because … well, it’s a game. Now, you pit their best against your best, and their frustration, anger, and/or annoyance with your existence in their land is released on the field. Because the best players are usually males in their physical prime who would also be excellent candidates, the people have lost some of their “fight”, and if you lose to them, then they don’t feel so oppressed. This, of course, won’t work if the people you are invading are pissed off enough to militarily oppose you, but what if they’re somewhat indifferent or grateful for your existence? The US “saved” the Caribbean from the Spanish in the late 1800s, and the marines who were left to “maintain order” promoted the game. At a similar time on the other part of the globe, the US was “helping” modernize (really Westernize) Japan, and helping ensure that this Westernized and industrialized economy continued a close relationship with the US, the marines again helped promote baseball in Japan. Baseball was certainly not the most important factor in either of these two areas, but it was an aspect.
But does this continue today? Well, let’s think. Why promote the game globally? The most important reason is money, and because money is increasingly becoming a measure of power, any further link between the US and foreign countries is good for our welfare. It should also be mentioned that a significant investment has begun in Africa, and while the point probably isn’t military or political control, economic control is as good as any. Let’s also remember that the vast majority of the money always comes back to the US. Money spent on players in other countries results in money made by the teams when those players pan out, and even though some MLB teams invest in the communities as well, it probably doesn’t come close to equaling the return (or else, why would they do it?) and is usually a one-time gift to allay any fears or hesitance from the community. The lopsided trade reveals the true interest of the organizations.
Organized sport even has control mechanisms domestically. Sure, sports promote teamwork, sportsmanship, etc., but it also spends incredible amounts of time wearing out adolescent and young adult males, who are usually the most rebellious and in the best condition to make that rebelliousness count. Sometimes the greatest threat comes from within.
I realize some of this sounds exceptionally pessimistic and even part conspiracy theory, but I don’t think the US government is actively aiding the MLB in promoting the game globally as part of some devious plan to control the world. I think the government allows it to happen, may even encourage it, knowing that it can’t do anything but help. My point is to simply illustrate a point of view, not promote it.
If you’re still tuned in after this incredibly long post, thank you, and we’ll be arriving at the point shortly. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that most of these perspectives aren’t exactly optimistic (which is probably a reflection of my philosophy that humans are neither inherently good or evil, but inherently self-serving), and I realize that this is hard to take. But we are not one perspective or another. I think most of us have learned that the world isn’t black or white and that are shades of gray, and the same applies here as most of us are a mixture of perspectives. I, for instance, am a large part “It’s Just a Game” (with some “Entertainment” mixed in) and just like to watch baseball, and while I also fit under the “Competition” perspective, I’ll get pissed when the Braves lose but will move on a few minutes later. I’m not in a position to make money from it (I don’t make anything from doing this, either), and I can’t control anyone with it (though I imagine that I’ll use it to wear out, and thus control, my children in later years). But other people have different mixtures. So why does this matter?
It matters because, with the addition of the perspectives outside of “It’s Just a Game”, it causes conflict. Fans, for example, want their teams to win at all costs, but owners are only willing to spend so much in order to make a profit. Some owners are more willing to lose money (I would put the Steinbrenners here) than others. Fans will then criticize the owner for not spending money, but can you really? From what I understand, the USA was established to protect freedom and promote prosperity, and the owners are simply pursuing happiness, which is money to them. Can you really fault them for that? You’re allowed to be frustrated, but you also have to realize that their perspective is different. And they are allowed to have that perspective. Yes, it causes some problems, but because of those problems, you get to enjoy Major League Baseball. Otherwise, it’s just little kids playing in a park. When we chose to establish professional sports, there was a lot of unread fine print involved, whether we like it or not.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that everything is just relative in which there can be no judgment of anyone, but you can’t just yell at someone because their philosophy is different than yours. If Jeff Loria really does make huge profits, then … well, it’s okay because that’s his goal. His perspective is that he should make as much money as he can, and while it may not gel with your perspective on what he should do, he’s allowed to do it. However, there are rules that govern even him. The MLBPA cracked down on him because he was not playing within the rules set up with the revenue sharing agreement, and he had to make changes. Now, he may not have made enough changes for your liking, but “your liking” is arbitrary. Until “your liking” becomes “universally liked” (or at least like enough to really change minds and to do something about it), he doesn’t have to change. If it really bothers you and the fanbase, you can do something. If it really matters, be creative and don’t just dissociate yourself from responsibility. You may not be the most powerful person (or mob) in the room, but you aren’t powerless. And if “your liking” isn’t strong enough to create a change, maybe it’s not that great of an idea, it’s just part of living in a democratic republic (and baseball is more totalitarian than that), or maybe you just aren’t that upset.
I’m not sure how I got onto that rant, but I think you get the idea. We all have different ideas on what baseball is and should be, and the differences create conflict. Conflict creates misunderstanding and turmoil. In order to resolve said misunderstanding and turmoil, we have to go back and try to understand where people are coming from, and only then can we truly solve a problem. This applies to owners vs. fans, sabermetricians vs. traditionalists, fans vs. players, players vs. owners, etc. Heck, it even applies to society. We often find that baseball is a reflection of the society it exists in, and this is no different. In baseball and other parts of life, understanding where other people are coming from is the key to understanding them, coexisting with them, and even benefitting from them. Just remember this when it comes time for award voting and free-agent signing.