July 11, 2017
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game takes place on Tuesday night in Miami, and here in Philadelphia, there are those who would have you believe that the sport of baseball is near its end as a prime-time force.
They would have you believe that the National Pastime is so far past its time that there is no revival in sight. They would have you believe that a sport with no time limit and no real physical contact is nearing the end of its relevance.
Don’t believe it.
Do not confuse the doldrums of the Philadelphia Phillies with a death knell for the sport – even here in Philadelphia.
We can only hope that the Phillies' front office and ownership will use this All-Star break as a time to reset the organizational GPS toward a brighter future.
We can only hope that manager Pete Mackanin will use the next few days on a South Jersey beach to recharge some batteries in order to get the most out of players such as Maikel Franco, while those above the manager plot a strategy to remake the roster at the trade deadline.
It is truly depressing to think of another All-Star break in which the Phillies played such a small role. Imagine, the only Phillies player involved is reliever Pat Neshek, who most likely won’t be around much after the break.
The days of Chase Utley cursing the Mets fans in New York, or Ryan Howard as a huge attraction in an All-Star Game are long gone, and it seems forever ago that the Phils had a platoon of pitchers who could have been considered for such an event.
But that hardly means the sport is gasping for life.
There are plenty of stars on display tonight, including starting pitchers Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. However, the biggest attraction in the event will be the big kid who won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.
If you want to know why Major League Baseball is still more than just relevant, just take a look at a kid like Judge, along with local product Mike Trout, who could not play because of injury.
Those two, sort of, make you realize why the sport was so willing to look the other way during the steroid era, as the sheer power of those two is what attracts so much attention.
Now, in the era of better and stronger in every sport, we have players such as Trout and Judge who have provided the power that has been an attraction of the sport since the days of Babe Ruth.
Like every other sport in the United States, Major League Baseball will have to surrender the top rung on the sports ladder to the National Football League. There is simply no way for any sport to topple the grip of the NFL, a league that now controls the American sports landscape in a way the soccer controls Europe and most of the rest of the planet.
However, that is no reason to think in terms of irrelevant.
Do you think fans of the New York Yankees are worried that baseball is dying with Judge on the rise? Suddenly, that star power void that was supposed to happen with the absence of Derek Jeter has been filled as fans actually show up for games in judges’ robes.
No doubt that baseball has some issues in terms of attracting the top athletes in North America. The road to the NBA or even the NFL is a lot easier in terms of service time, as even the best baseball players must wind their way through the minor leagues before getting the big leagues.
Although the game might be “slow” when compared to the speed of football, basketball and hockey, there is actually a whole lot more taking place from inning to inning than in those other sports.
It would be a mistake for the baseball hierarchy to continually harp on the supposed slowness of the game just to try to make it appear to be faster. The simple fact of the matter is that it is a sport fraught with mistakes, and it takes time to try and eliminate those mistakes, whether it is pitch selection or preparing for a plate appearance.
The Phillies should be encouraged that so many people are upset by the plight of their team. The Phillies ownership and management should be thrilled that fans are still willing to howl their desire to bring up the kids for the second half of the season.
Philadelphia baseball fans might not be showing up at Citizens Bank Park, but they know the names of minor league players like Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro. They know good baseball, and they know that watching a team sink to an MLB-worst near-30 games beneath .500 at the All-Star break is not worth their undivided attention.
But that doesn’t mean the sport is dying, it just means the fans are waiting for their chance to show revive their own passions for a game Philadelphia has loved since the first 108 stitches were sewn into a ball of leather.
Baseball takes center stage tonight in Miami and it will continue to hold that stage in places like Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles and even Houston as their teams head into the second half of the season.
Do not buy into the argument that Major League Baseball is wilting away into oblivion. Instead, just realize that the baseball fans in Philadelphia have seen the real deal and they literally won’t settle for the bottom of the barrel.