Electric Youth Energizing the Old Game
Problem: Baseball is slow and lifeless, too methodical for 2013, too inert for millennials living via social media, too boring in general. Its future depends on installing a 20-second pitch clock and finding a transformative way of making it the least bit watchable on TV.
Solution: Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper.
Problem: The commissioner is nearing 80, refuses to sign up for e-mail and appoints “blue-ribbon” committees that sit idly for years. His stuck-in-1985 rut — enabled by owners who love how Bud Selig has made them lots of money and absorbed media hits that they also deserve — is a prime reason baseball isn’t your father’s sport anymore as much as your grandfather’s.
Solution: Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Max Scherzer.
Problem: Competitive integrity for your family-of-four, $500 game investment remains a consumer issue, with yet another season tarnished by yet another PED scandal.
Solution: Chris (Crush) Davis, Wil Myers.
Funny how baseball always manages to survive in spite of itself. What’s helping it this summer, amid the Biogenesis muck and arrival of Football Season in America, is the steady influx of young stars who have injected copious amounts of (legal) Red Bull into the sport’s sleepy mechanism. Add other dynamic names on the tips of tongues — Clayton Kershaw, Yoenis Cespedes, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Joey Votto, Yu Darvish, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, Evan Longoria and, of course, the double Triple-Crown-chasing Miguel Cabrera — and you wish they could be TV-packaged individually without the rest of the ballgame. They are naturals who remind us every day that baseball not only can touch all demographics in changing times, but titillate us by showcasing phenomenal talents.
Watch Puig in constant motion, turning a 95-mph fastball into a Dodger Stadium pavilion souvenir, purging a baserunner with a blowtorch arm, hijacking the sports-as-Hollywood conversation in a town not easily entertained. “I don’t believe it!” exhorts Vin Scully, over and over, an 85-year-old who sounds 70 years younger when gripped by Puigmania.
Behold the Trout extravaganza by the freeway in Anaheim, where he hurls around his mummy-tight body, capable at any moment of a five-tool feat — six, seven? — while exuding a boyish aplomb. How many MVP awards might he win? “I think he’s the best player in baseball right now,” Cabrera, the best hitter in baseball, told USA Today.
See the towering power of Harper, eclipsed only by his towering hair. Once considered a brat because of his brash attitude, it’s now a source of inspirational badassism, so long as he doesn’t kill himself running through an outfield wall or swinging violently. “I really don’t care what people say,” he has said repeatedly in Washington. He plays that way, too.
Witness the majesty of Machado, he of uncommon grace and savvy at 21, crushing doubles at historic clips and producing defensive miracles at third base not seen in Baltimore since Brooks Robinson. Ask your granddad about Brooks Robinson.
Observe Harvey as the definition of cool kid, unaffected by New York, living year-round in the East Village, attacking the endorsement and media worlds as routinely as one of his 10-strikeout games. With Derek Jeter fading, the big city has found a new baseball idol who starts the All-Star Game and dates the supermodel.
Then there’s Davis, the one who scares us, the slugger whose two-season power outbreak sparks the inevitable question: Does he or doesn’t he? “I think it sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it,” Davis told the Baltimore Sun. “That’s what happened when Major League Baseball started addressing the issue. We knew we were going to have to deal with it.”
So? PEDs? “I have never taken them. I have no reason to. I’ve always been a power hitter. With me, I think the biggest thing was the consistency of the contact,” Davis told the paper. “When I was making contact, I was always hitting for power. I’m a guy that likes to work out a lot. I’m a guy that used to eat whatever I wanted to, but I started getting into my mid-20s, I’ve been seeing that change. So I’ve been taking better care of my body. I have a pretty strict diet. But I’ve never taken (PEDs). I haven’t felt the need to.”
When a fan on Twitter asked Davis, point blank, if he uses steroids, the answer came back like a crushed bullet over the center-field fence.
Common sense and history suggest that a few of these trailblazers will disappoint us. For now, I would ask that you sit back and enjoy them all. The old game has been strapped to an oxygen tank when new life is needed most.
Breathe in the fun.