Sunday, January 14, 2007

Coffee Talk

This seems like a topic that just won't go away, so what should I do, write about it of course. Between Mark McGwire's blatant HOF snub (only 23% of the vote) and the new Barry Bonds amphetamines controversy, I thought it might be good time to examine the current state of baseball.

It is clear to me that power numbers in baseball have increased over the last 20 years. I created this graph, showing the number of players who hit 30 or more home runs each year, with information I found here, and it clearly shows a sharp increase around 1996. However, you have to mention league expansion in 1993 and 1998 when talking about this increase. Here is a great paper by Professor Arthur De Vany, University of California, related to Steroids and Home Runs. In an article, published over the summer on psyorg.com, Charles Yesalis, a Professor of exercise and sports science at Penn State, said that steroids do affect performance of the athlete. Steroids will increase both strength and endurance in athletes of all ages. This is most significant to athletes nearing or over the age of 40 because, according to Yesalis that is when your testosterone levels start to decrease. Many baseball players have admitted taking steroids and have named several other players, and here is a list of players that have already been suspended, so I do not really need to prove that fact today.

My question today focuses more on the importance of and the effect of this proven steroid use in baseball. I understand that these players are breaking records and making unbelievable sums of money, but does that effect change the purpose of the baseball. Historically, there has always been a dark side to baseball (The Black Sox, Rollie Fingers, Pete Rose, etc.), but does that ultimately affect the purpose of the game. What is the purpose of baseball? I have always believed that it is to entertain the fans of the game, and that is also where the majority of income in baseball is generated. If steroids where driving the fan base away then that would be a problem for baseball. However, over the last twenty years, just the opposite has happened. The attendance in baseball has reached an all-time high despite the proven steroid abuse.

Questions:
What is the purpose of the game of baseball?
What is the true effect of steroids on the game of baseball?

Talk amongst yourselves...

2 comments:

Dan said...

The purpose of the game is simple and you already mentioned it...to entertain. Baseball has never really been invented, but seems like an ever evolving game with some pieces dating back to the 11th century in a game called "stoolball." More info is on Wikipedia about the origins of the game.

The "official" inventor was Abner Doubleday in 1839, but that can not be proven and even Doubleday's long time friend could not corroborate his inventing the diamond, rules and positions.

Today, baseball is "America's past time" and a $5.2 billion industry. With those kinds of revenues, it has turned into a business and not a game. Yes, there are a lot of players out there that play just for the game, and yes there are a lot of players that play for the money. That will always stay true, but when I notice that home runs go up, scoring goes up and pitchers are now getting paid a lot of money to be mediocre, you can plainly see that there are two things teams want, to make money, then to win to make more money. When the Cubs went to the NLCS in 2003, the next year they used the added revenue to make more "luxury" seating behind home plate and increased the ticket price to generate more money for the following years. In 2006, they expanded the bleachers to add even more. The team was terrible last year, so they used some of that income to pay for high priced free agents in Soriano, Lilly, Marquis, and Lou Pinella and also signed Aramis Ramirez to an extention. Why? To win a World Series, and make even more money.

The other question falls perfectly into the first, to make more money. If Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa did take steriods (which it's possible they didn't, but not probable) then what did they do so special? Well, all 3 generated millions of new fans that watched and got into them chasing history. Hence, more money, more interest in the game. This season is going to be a season devoted to Barry Bonds and his chase for the all-time HR record, just like the last couple of years was devoted to him breaking Willie Mays and Babe Ruth's HR record. That was the money maker.

Think about last season for a second, the pennant chase was on and there were a lot of interest in the game because there were so many teams playing for a playoff spot. But what happened whent he playoffs came, nobody wanted to watch. They went as low as getting Tommy Lasorda and others to do commercials involving losing teams to watch the playoffs because we love the game of baseball, not because our favorite team was in it. The TV rating for the World Series was 10.1, the lowest ever. In fact, the rating hasn't been over 20 since 1992 before the expansion and before the "Steriods era."

So what's the effect of steriods? It's a marketing scheme to generate interest. What's the real effect? Probably more people distrusting the game and not watching.

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