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Foul Balls: The First of the Unintended Consequences

Admittedly, the Toteboard won’t miss the excessive cat-and-mouse games of pitchers stepping off and batters stepping out, of pitchers rubbing up the ball and batters rubbing up their balls, but this unilateral change to the tempo and the overall tone of the game will almost certainly have some unintended consequences . . . (Herman's Toteboard, 3/30/23)

With little fanfare, and no apparent sign of shame or irony, the forces that run Major League Baseball admitted publicly that they have been lying to their fans. But of course, few people seem to notice. Or care.

To summarize briefly, MLB owners have been claiming, without any real evidence, that fans want games to go by faster, and so they have instituted various changes, chief among them being the notorious pitch clock. And yes indeed, games are indeed shorter. A lot shorter, in fact. And this is, a good thing?

The Toteboard begged to differ: “In actuality, this is ultimately nothing more than a commercial ploy to deliver less of the product while charging customers the same amount.”

It’s actually very typical of how big corporate entities make self-interested decisions and then coordinate deceptive advertising and publicity to make it appear otherwise. In this case, teams have figured out a way to increase their advertising quotient and simultaneously reduce their costs: paying fewer labor-hours for staff and security, diminishing the turnaround time between events, freeing up income-generating parking lots more quickly, even easing the wear-and-tear on stadium infrastructures. But not only do they not pass this cost-savings on to their customers, they have the cojones to try to convince the fans that this is all really in their best interests. Right. “Less legroom on the airplane gives you the cozier, more intimate travel experience you’ve been craving.” “Lower gas-mileage means you can stop more often to grab those wonderful beef jerkies and ornamental hotdogs.” "Tired of having to put that container of ice cream back in the freezer? Our new bite-size portions are not only convenient, they also help you manage your weight.”

If all of this sounded like some wild-eyed conspiracy theory, well, the latest quiet change to MLB policy really does show exactly where their interests lie. Up until about a week ago, stadium concessions discontinued selling beer (and other alcohol) after the seventh inning, working from the reasonable assumption that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have a bunch of still-tipsy fans – most of whom are either pumped up or dejected – zooming away from stadiums and into city or highway traffic. And while this policy has been more or less successful over the past several decades, the rule changes have produced Unintended Consequence #1: Shorter games mean shorter periods of time for fans to sober up after the seventh inning.

So how are major league baseball teams responding to this situation? Are they moving the alcohol curfew to the middle of the seventh inning, or perhaps even the end of the sixth inning? The commissioner’s office and team owners have repeatedly expressed such compassionate interest in the enjoyment and well-being of the fans, that it stands to reason they have implemented (or at least given serious consideration to) this very reasonable policy adjustment, yes?

Well, um, no. Because the rule changes have also produced Unintended Consequence #2: Shorter games also mean shorter periods of time for fans to buy beer. Which means fewer beer sales. Which means less money.

And so now we get to see what the owners are really thinking, as several teams have begun to extend their beer sales until after the eighth inning, and several others are considering doing so. What’s a few hundred more drunks, if you can get a few thousand more bucks? MLB has effectively acknowledged its own duplicity.

And you know, the Toteboard isn’t the only one to have noticed this. Last week on the amusingly named “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast, pitcher Matt Strahm of the Philadelphia Phillies offered his own observations about the emperor’s new clothes:

The reason we stopped it in the seventh before is to give our fans time to sober up and drive home safe, correct? So, now with a faster pace game and me just being a man of common sense (emphasis added), if the game is going to finish quicker, would we not move the beer sales back to the sixth inning to give our fans time to sober up and drive home? Instead, we're going to the eighth and now you're putting our fans and our family at risk driving home with people who just drank beers twenty-two minutes ago.

Strahm also expressed concerns (as did the Toteboard) that the pitch-clock will lead to injuries, which could become Unintended Consequence #3, unless a few other newbies happen to jump the line.

So here we are, MLB powers-that-be putting on display their own hypocrisy and, apart from the Toteboard and Matt Strahm, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of public outrage. Perhaps that’s just because baseball fans really love their booze – I mean, how else can you watch such a boring game, right? But it probably has more to do with the increasing normalization of dishonesty in the public sphere, and the American public becoming increasingly desensitized to that dishonesty . . . which is the subject of next week’s Toteboard.


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