I went off on a tangent in mikelink45’s extremely well written and thought provoking post “When Baseball was King”. But started thinking about why baseball isn’t king. In my mind a significant shift happened in the late 70s and early 80s. The sport that I think was a major contributor was the NFL and not just that the NFL broadcasted it’s games to wide regional audiences scheduled to minimize overlap and put premium matchups in prime time, there was one man…
If you’ve been watching NFL games lately, you probably know who I’m talking about: John Madden. The man was a superstar of TV broadcasting. The formula was simple, teach the game in understandable jargon, show everyone how much you LOVE the game.
1988’s John Madden Football video game has the quintessential story about it. The narrative is that Madden wouldn’t lend his name to the game unless it taught kids the strategy and critical thinking.
By the 90s many NFL commentators copied Madden, pulling out the telestrator and yelling “boom” but Madden’s legacy lives today through new teachers of the game like Tony Romo.
Henry Ford was quoted once "I will build a motor car for the great multitude...constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise...so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."
What Madden, the NFL, and Henry Ford got right is achieving accessible consumer products and experiences. By making them affordable, available and understandable the products/services blossomed into dominant actors in their segments.
But alas, this is not a football blog. This, is a baseball blog. In the early days of cable, the MLB didn’t coordinate on an mlb schedule or TV contract that facilitated the growth of the league or airing prime matchups to nation wide audiences. They let the individual teams reach their own TV contracts, competing not only on the diamond, but limiting viewership on the air waves.
Has there ever been an MLB teacher of the game, a John Madden-esque commentator who taught deeper insights, strategies? A superstar? Not just describing what happened, but why. There’s many Bert Blylevens’s and John Smoltz’s while on air, talk about why they don’t like the game, and bad-mouth the math nerds, while saying stuff that is antithetical to the strategy of why the shift or pitch call was actually happening in the game.
I fall into the camp of fan that the analytics enhances my enjoyment of the game. That is not the case for every fan. The analytical math nerds have taken over many of the successful teams, but of course we don’t want math lessons live on TV. How can baseball more thoroughly democratize the data? Teach the strategies that make the game so slow and confusing for casual fans? Accentuate the minutia that Madden did with the telestrator 40 years ago?
Who can be the baseball equivalent of Henry Ford and John Madden?