Although the temperature is still in the 40’s in some cities, the 2011 baseball season is in full swing. It’s impossible to predict what will happen over the course of a 162-game season—that’s already evident, with the loaded Red Sox lineup having trouble finding a victory, and a suddenly retired Manny Ramirez. Here are some things to look out for over the rest of the season.
The biggest star of this baseball season will probably be a new beer dispensing system. Although millions of Americans attend baseball games every year, eighty percent of fans don’t watch the game pitch-by-pitch. So, for most fans, long stretches pass without anything really happening. People are fine with this, though, because they really just want a reason to sit outside and drink beer. Americans’ ability to do so has been revolutionized this year, because many ballparks have added the BottomsUP beer dispensing system, which can fill plastic cups at a rate of one per second without any foam by filling through the bottom of the cup. Beer lines will be shorter this year, so fans will be sitting more and drinking more, and thus be happier.
A New Era?
The Giants won the World Series last fall with strong pitching and defense. And right now, the Barry Bonds trial is wrapping up in San Francisco. The contrast in styles between the current winning team in San Francisco and their former slugger is obvious. But the 2010 World Series also had the lowest television ratings in Series history, and the fact remains that the McGwire-Sosa slugfest that preceded Bonds’ statistical frenzy was baseball’s high point in national popularity, and football now continues to become more popular as it begins to look less and less like a game and more and more like actual combat. Maybe this year some fans will stop moralizing so much about performance enhancing drugs and admit that the type of performance they’d prefer to see might be a little unnatural. Or, are there really that many people who find watching Boy Scout-faced twenty-four year-old Buster Posey direct the Giants defense with the wisdom of a much older catcher equally as exciting as watching Bonds mash a 96 mile per hour fastball into McCovey Cove?
But the Giants’ World Series victory may at least signal a change for baseball’s general managers. In recent seasons, there has been talk of teams looking more at defensive output in making up their lineups and rosters, with some reluctance to actually do so. Having seen the Giants win with a defensive-minded team, more teams will be taking this outlook to heart. Because, although home runs sell tickets, winning really sells them.
In assembling a starting rotation that includes the amazing skill of Cliff Lee and the unhittable stuff of Roy Halladay, the Phillies have managed to out-Yankee the Yankees, by simply wooing the best pitchers in the game with tons of money and an almost guaranteed promise of another shot at playoff glory. But who really cares about the money when back-to-back no-hitters are a going to be a weekly possibility for this team.
In contrast, the Mets, who also play in the NL East, may have trouble paying the players they already have. The team’s owners, the Wilpons, lost money to Bernie Madoff. Other people who lost money to Madoff are suing the Wilpons for leading them into the mess. Major League Baseball has already been bailing the team out with sizable loans. The Mets’ don’t need to pick up a starting pitcher, they need to pick up an eccentric billionaire owner.
For the Indians, the most important playoff games last fall were probably played in China. At the end of last season, there was speculation that Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland’s best player--a well-rounded hitter with a rocket arm from right field, might be forced to spend this season in the Korean military completing his mandatory military service (everyone must serve two years before 30, and Choo had just turned 28). With this possibility brewing, Choo batted over .500 in South Korea’s run to the gold in the Asia Games in order to ensure himself the waiver from military service that comes with an Asia Games gold. But this won’t be the end of Cleveland’s problems trying to keep Choo around. His agent is Scott Boras, who has already scared the Indians enough about their ability to keep Choo financially happy that, unless the team magically returns to the Jim Thome-Albert Belle era, they may trade Choo to a better team mid-season, where millions of fair-weather fans will simultaneously say, “Hey, that new Korean guy is pretty good.”
Similarly, the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen has started his career being great in relative obscurity. McCutchen is poised for a breakout year that fans who aren’t steeped in fantasy baseball statistics may not hear much about. McCutchen is an amazing young player with the ability to drive in 100 runs while saving as many with his glove in center field, but unfortunately you won’t see him as much as you should, since the Pirates simply aren’t interesting to people outside of Pittsburgh.
The Royals will be bad this year. How bad are things for them? Their only bright spot plays a position that mostly involves sitting on the bench, and he has had to publicly ask fans to change his somewhat racist-sounding nickname because of tragic events. That’s right, the Royals closer, Joakim Soria, has asked fans to stop calling him ‘The Mexecutioner,’ since execution has become a popular and increasingly widespread style of murder in his native Mexico. This is just the start for a team that may lose one hundred games this season and give Soria weeks between save opportunities.