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A game for thinkers needs a commissioner who thinks
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EXTRA INNINGS
Thoughts about baseball from other sources

 

New baseball book calls for some debate

Published: 2004-04-27
By Berry Tramel
The Oklahoman

Connecticut lawyer Peter Handrinos loves baseball. Many do.

Handrinos profile

But Handrinos enters rare air. He also defends baseball.

Handrinos is riled by baseball bashers and counters with that most American of exercises. He wrote a book.

"Today's Glory Days: Why Baseball Has Never Been Better" is due out soon, and Handrinos argues that the sport is the victim of mistruths.

Here are Handrinos' contentions about the grand old game, complete with my rebuttals. But don't worry. I won't write a book.

1. "More Than Ever, the National Pastime." Handrinos says professional baseball draws more than 110 million fans to its parks annually and that television ratings are "relatively strong ... if this is a fading pastime, just what would runaway success look like?"

Rebuttal: No argument on the attendance. Baseball turnstiles move at a remarkable rate. TV, not so much. Aside from Fox, the networks have banished baseball; local viewership depends on the market.

2. "Popular Lies and Delusions Regarding Competitive Balance." Handrinos declares that baseball punishes not small markets, but mismanaged franchises. He says the present system's exceptional balance has been an effective remedy for the skewed playing fields of the past.

Rebuttal: Handrinos bats .500 here. Parity is probably more abundant than ever before. The expanded playoffs make it tougher for the elite franchises to dominate the World Series.

But it's darn near impossible for the Yankees not to make the playoffs.

3. "The Quiet Labor Peace." Handrinos claims the effects of baseball's many work stoppages are overblown and that they might have been worth it anyway, that "the players' repeated victories have been the foundation for the National Pastime's robust economic outlook."

Rebuttal: No way. The strikes and lockouts cost baseball a batch of fans, and the game's only palm branch was a slew of new stadiums that eventually will lose their luster.

And robust economic outlook? One franchise, Montreal, is kept alive by life support; another, Minnesota, was condemned by commissioner Bud Selig.

4. "The Front Office Revolution." Handrinos says the statistical analysts now running some teams, fueled by the research of Bill James and embodied by Oakland general manager Billy Beane, are changing scouting, curbing wasteful spending and increasing competition.

Rebuttal: I agree. The new way of looking at ballplayers has invigorated an old sport.

5. "Even Bud Selig Can't Hurt Baseball." Handrinos argues that baseball commissioners have traditionally been mediocre and the owners have always been the real power brokers.

Rebuttal: Is he nuts? Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who cleaned up the game, and Happy Chandler, who cleared the way for integration, were commissioners who stood up for the sport. Just look at Paul Tagliabue (NFL) and David Stern (NBA) to see how far baseball lags in leadership.

6. "Baseball Palaces." Handrinos points out that despite charges of extortion by owners who seek public funding for ballparks, the building boom since 1990 has one lasting legacy: the fabulous stadiums themselves.

Rebuttal: No question Handrinos is right. The new parks are the very best thing about baseball in the 21st century.

7. "The Little Big Leagues." Handrinos says the minor leagues have "never been so geographically close to every American ... they're actually even more popular than some Major League franchises of years past."

Rebuttal: No and yes. This is not even close to the heyday of the minor leagues, which once weren't subservient to the majors. But Handrinos is right; some minor-league teams draw more than some major-league teams drew decades ago.

8. "What Major League Means." Handrinos asserts that baseball's high pay, long career length and low risk of injury attracts the best athletes. "Very often, stars in the other major sports are failed baseball players," he writes.

Rebuttal: I don't buy it. Black athletes are staying away from baseball en masse. They've migrated to basketball and football. Latins have made up some of the talent gap, but not enough. If Willie Mays was 21 years old today, he'd be a rookie point guard with the Golden State Warriors.

9. "The Best Ball Players of All Time." Handrinos writes that "today's superstars blow away the boys of yesteryear." Through "unsurpassed nutrition, medical resources and strength training, our ballplayers are undeniably bigger, stronger and better trained than legendary Hall of Famers of the past."

Rebuttal: Seems like a dubious time to defend bulked-up baseball players. Steroids mar, not enhance, the game. And does anyone really think baseball fundamentals haven't slipped?

10. "Sports Writers on Steroids." Handrinos claims the journalism profession has used fast- and-loose methods to turn the steroid issue into hyperbole. "Not only are drugs strictly controlled in the minor leagues, but they are not even useful to baseball's particular athletic demands."

Rebuttal: Actually, no one really doubts the abuse of steroids in baseball. The better question is, who cares? The better answer is, a bunch of us do.

11. "America's Game." Handrinos proudly embraces baseball's breaking of the color line in 1947 and says "African-Americans are more welcomed and influential than ever in baseball ... the game is reaching out to African- Americans as never before."

Rebuttal: No chance. Few inner-city kids know where second base is, much less who Jackie Robinson is. Latin America's Game is more like it.

12. "The World's Series." Handrinos offers up baseball as the International Pastime. The Oriental migration, plus the Latin influx, makes baseball's globalization potential vast.

Rebuttal: He's on to something here. The loss of black kids, coupled with expansion, has created a talent demand being filled by new pipelines.

13. "The Playoffs: Going All The Way." Handrinos likes the expanded playoffs. "Going all the way in a championship gauntlet run has never been more demanding or dramatic," Handrinos writes.

Rebuttal: He's right; the playoffs are darned exciting. The old days were romantic, but this is probably better.

14. "Gentlemen and Role Models." Handrinos admits that previous generations had better reputations for fan relations. He wonders if that's the product of "overactive imagination of dewy fans, and how much it might be blamed on larger issues of changed media coverage and changed social relationships ... nowadays, it's not difficult to find, or appreciate, gentlemen and role models within the modern game."

Rebuttal: Sounds like he doesn't even believe this one. We're a long way from when the Milwaukee Braves lived on your block and got their hair cut at your barber shop.

15. "Popular Lies and Delusions Regarding Ball Player Salaries." Handrinos defends baseball salaries as "common sense," "basic economics" and "a good living" and says "more and more fans are learning to turn away from the media's distortions with a more generous appreciation for the game's elite performers and their rewards."

Rebuttal: Handrinos isn't totally crazy. Fans don't have a "generous appreciation" for ballplayers' paychecks; they're learning to ignore them.

16. "Interleague Games." Handrinos admits there are scheduling quirks and tradeoffs, but the positives of new rivalries are greater.

Rebuttal: None here. Who wants baseball without a Cubs-White Sox series?

17. "The All Star Game." Handrinos argues that the All Star Game is more viable than ever as a balloting phenomenon -- it's America's largest voting program outside of the Senate races.

Rebuttal: Just because you're the best all- star event -- which baseball's is -- doesn't make you good. The All Star Game has lost its specialness because of interleague play and free agency. And Bud Selig's tie game didn't help.

18. "The Youth Movement." Handrinos says baseball isn't losing interest among young kids and that the little leagues are quietly thriving as never before.

Rebuttal: Baseball isn't losing interest among kids -- it's already lost it, to video games and the Internet and everything else that keeps kids off sandlots. And the little leagues can't do anything about that.

Berry Tramel: 475-3314, btramel@oklahoman.com. His radio show, The Writers Block, can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. on WKY-AM 930.