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On falling out of love with baseball

Returning to a relationship in stasis.

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New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Hello again.

The first time I watched the Yankees play was in the spring of 2000, a Sunday road game in Toronto. The club avoided a sweep, and to six-year-old me, I wondered why my parents would cheer for that team in blue, when the visiting Yankees were so obviously better — sample size of one.

Since then, baseball and the Yankees have sucked up an inordinate, perhaps unhealthy, amount of my time. Save for two years finishing my undergraduate degree, I’ve spent every summer on one team, two teams, or another. Baseball is the ambient sound of my apartment — if there’s a game on, it’s on in the background while I work, cook, entertain. I’ve written here since Gary Sánchez was the best catcher in baseball, and with respect, this is not a gig to get rich off of.

Baseball has been my mistress and my passion, it’s stimulated intellectual exercise and professional development, engineered personal relationships and taught more than one ex a certain degree of patience — except for this year.

This year I’ve fallen out of love with the game. As the saying goes, it happened slowly, then all at once. A sneaking suspicion that this was not going to be a very good baseball team, evolving into the slog that this season has turned into has been a part of that, but only a part. It hasn’t been very fun to watch this squad in 2023, and it’s been less fun to cover them. The Yankees are in the Dead Zone of covering a team — the really bad teams give you lots of stuff to talk about, whether that’s player development, analyzing strategic errors, or the kind of coverage and criticism that Athletics Nation has had about the near-criminal ownership of that franchise.

The really good teams also give you lots to cover, like the first half of last season where I became one of the first people with any kind of platform to posit that Aaron Judge might hit 62 home runs. We had a plethora of All-Stars to cover, and even as the team turned come August, a real division race gave us food for posts. Good teams and bad teams are fonts of content; the “blergh” teams are not. The Yankees in 2023 have been, well, blergh. One thanks Gerrit Cole for often being the sole provider of entertainment when I flip YES on.

More than the on-field mediocrity, the arrogance of the front office turns you off the club as well. I’ll fully admit that Brian Cashman knows more about baseball than I do, but the knowledge gap between front offices and plugged-in, well-informed fans and writers is smaller than it’s ever been. People are plucked from the blogs and message boards every single day to work for teams, and I’m not alone in thinking that multiple people on this staff right now could work for a club. Yes, there will still be people who argue the Yankees should trade away their draft picks for Shohei Ohtani, but fans generally are getting smarter, not dumber.

Despite this, or perhaps because of, the aura of the Yankees has become one where the well-entrenched brain trust simply knows far, far more than you. Hal Steinbrenner can’t comprehend why fans are booing a club that often varies from lifeless to incompetent, and though I’ve never been one to boo, it doesn’t take much reflection to figure out why others might be. The defining characteristic of the last 10 years of Brian Cashman has been building good processes and waiting for the results, but if the sum total of these processes has been a brief playoff run before being dusted by deeper and more complete teams, are we sure we have a good process to begin with?

Even the firing of Dillon Lawson, while I was on hiatus, falls into this lack of respect for the fanbase. I don’t particularly care about the employment status of one hitting coach or another, but when you assemble the third-oldest lineup in the AL — a lineup already coming off a disappointing offensive season — it’s not unusual that there would be a further step back. To give Lawson his walking papers and hire another ex-broadcaster feels more like a Band-Aid than a biopsy, and with the rumored re-focus on resetting the CBT threshold, the structural issue of an aging, oft-injured lineup doesn’t seem like a significant priority.

It’s not just the Yankees, though. After all the optimism and excitement about the new rules, feelings I shared and reveled, MLB has increasingly felt like an entity serving a smaller and smaller slice of the population. By segmenting off games between a half-dozen different platforms, and surrendering to the media blackout of the only team that actually plays in my country, it’s an open question whether I’ll actually have access to the game I want to watch. Fortunately, for the time being Prime games are still accessible through — where I live, anyway — but would anyone be surprised if one game a week in 2024 is behind yet another service?

That the league is administered by a man so cartoonishly contemptuous of his audience that you think it may be a bit is a contributing factor to this, of course. Rob Manfred will be reelected by the owners, of course, because he does exactly what they want him to do and provides a heat shield strong enough for atmospheric re-entry. This is the role of commissioner, Adam Silver does it well, but at least he seems to be a fan of the sport. Roger Goodell hasn’t had a single thought unrelated to the NFL since 1997. Manfred seems like someone who is aware of baseball, and perhaps would really like to watch a game sometime, but it’s not as high on his priority list as some other experiences.

When he does opine on the state of the game, rarely does Manfred inspire much confidence in its trajectory. Readers don’t need me to recap all the various ways he’s stuck both feet in his mouth, but every time he does, it makes it just a little bit harder to love the sport.

Knowing that those words have been said, or at least their meaning agreed with, by the 30 men Manfred works for adds to the weight. These are the words of Sternberg and Nutting and Fisher and Rogers Communications, whose sole goals are to charge each and every one of us as much as possible, while paying some of the best pure talent the game’s ever seen as little as possible. And yes, yes, that’s how this all works but it doesn’t make me any happier.

Manfred’s leadership has curtailed the idea of the “ideal” fan into one that is increasingly monochromatic and demographically homogenous. Instructing — excuse me, “urging” — teams to forego Pride uniforms under the guise of “protecting” players forces us to examine a critical question in all communities: Who do we feel needs protecting, and why? Manfred begs us to ask why players need protection, why it’s so discouraged for allies to show their allyship, and why only Pride merits such protection? What about protecting players from visible symbols of American imperialism and extractive capitalism, which a non-zero contingent of the player pool grew up directly affected by? Would a player who grew up in poverty because of American economic sanctions or who lost a sibling to police brutality be protected from all of the various symbols permeating the game?

And once as an organization you signal who you’re willing to protect, those people know they can act with significantly more venom.

Online jackassery is nothing new, of course, but the venom and the persistence has only gotten worse, which doesn’t really incentivize folks to continue producing content as a side gig.

Baseball has chosen to protect a subgroup, and it seems that I am not part of that select subgroup. Some of this can be overcome by small, private moments of rebuke, watching the Home Run Derby in a gay bar with a group of queer and trans friends. Some of this, though, can’t be rebelled against, can only be stomached for so long until you finally have to walk away, or at least care less.

And that’s where I am. I just care less about baseball than I have in a long time. The sport hasn’t shown me the love, hasn’t been the ambient sound of my summer, hasn’t been a comfort the way it perennially is. I don’t know what to do about this — I took a month off as part of an overall personal reset, and I’ve come back to see the club, if not the sport, in worse shape then when I left it!

I love some of this community, but I don’t think I love the sport, or I don’t love it right now. I’m looking forward to being active in the Slack again, exchanging ideas and jokes, but at the same time I’m not sure what I need or want from baseball. Every relationship moves through phases but I’m worried the increased insularity of the ideal fan, the feared downcycle the Yankees appear to be on, and the general “F*** you I’ve got mine” attitude exhibited by those entrusted with the game’s growth makes me wonder what phase I’m in.

I don’t love you anymore, baseball. I’m not saying that can’t change, but until you do, it might not.