What's in Store for Baseball?
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Gambatane (ph). Hey, did you guys know that's Japanese for "let's do this thing"? I'm serious. It is.
ALISON STEWART, host:
I believe you!
MARTIN: Why are we talking Japanese? That's a loose translation, by the way. In less than 24 hours, baseball's regular season will begin when the Red Sox take on the As in Tokyo, Japan. 2004, that was the last time America's pastime kicked off its season so far away from home, and this time around, the playing field and the players look a little different. That year, the New York Yankees, managed by Joe Torre, met up with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Tokyo.
Nowadays Torre is out, and the Devil Rays are, well, just the Rays, no devil. 2004 was also the year Barry Bonds hit his 700th homerun. He's now unemployed. Same goes for Roger Clemens, after an off-season spent arguing that he didn't use performance enhancers. So, what to expect from 2008? Friend of the BPP, sports blogger Will Leitch of Deadspin.com is with us in studio to preview the upcoming season. Hey, Will.
Mr. WILL LEITCH (Sports Blogger, Deadspin.com): Hey. Good morning.
MARTIN: Thanks for being here. OK, so this is the third time Major League Baseball has kicked off its season in Japan. Why did they do that?
Mr. LEITCH: Well, certainly they - you can never fail Major League Baseball to find a new market. And so they want to emphasize and - it's funny, because they actually also played a game in China actually last week. It was an exhibition game, and this is the first one that actually counts. And it's funny because you know we - it's clearly - no one really likes it very much.
The fans - it takes away from kind of the notion of opening day and the end of spring training, and baseball actually starts. And the players really hate it because there's a natural rhythm kind of built into their lives of going to Florida or Arizona and getting warmed up and getting ready to go and then heading off and starting your season in the cold of whatever city you happen to be in. And now, they take this 18 and a half hour flight, kind of do this big exhibition thing for a long period of time.
Then play this game, then come back and play a couple more exhibition games in the states before officially starting their season next week. It's pretty exhausting, and I guess it's somewhat telling that, it says a little about how the structure of baseball has changed since 2004. The marquis team in 2004 was the Yankees. That's who they wanted to show off in Japan. Now it's the Red Sox, if that tells you how much the world has flipped.
STEWART: Sign of the times.
Mr. LEITCH: Since 2004.
STEWART: OK, so the Red Sox, they're in Japan. They're the defending World Series champion. What do you expect from them this year?
Mr. LEITCH: Oh, I think they'll still be the best team. I think that you'd expect them to probably get off to a slow start, because this really does mess up the rhythms. I can see people in Boston, both fans and media tend to - if every loss means it's over, and we've ruined everything and everything is falling apart until they come back and win and ultimately makes them a little like Yankees fans.
But I think the Red Sox - I think it's funny how the Red Sox have become a machine of baseball to the point now, what has to be the ultimate insult, the Yankees are actually kind of modeling their system after the Red Sox. Not spending money on these huge free agents the way the Yankees used to, investing your money in younger players, being smart, using a lot of statistical analysis. That's something the Red Sox have been doing for a few years now, and the Yankees are like, hey, wow, they're doing a pretty good job with that. Let's do what they're doing. But they will never, ever admit that.
STEWART: Of course not. Just out of curiosity, are there any Sox fans in Tokyo? Do they go to these games? Do Americans go to this game?
Mr. LEITCH: Well certainly they'll be a lot of fans of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will be starting for the Red Sox. They'll be a lot of his fans there, like there were a lot of fans of Hideki Matsui in 2004. He's a particularly popular guy there, so yeah, it's funny, I think you'll see Red Sox fans tend to travel well anywhere. I think if you played a game in Boise there would be all Red Sox fans. There's a great - on Deadspin today, we have a running preview of every single team.
And Eric Gilin, who's the editor-in-chief of Esquire.com, is writing for his Red Sox thing that he went to spring training this year, and there's this great photo he has. They were playing the Minnesota Twins at their spring training place. And there's a photo that says "Welcome to Twins Country" and every single person in the photo is a Red Sox fan.
STEWART: Is a Red Sox fan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEITCH: That's kind of the way it's going now a little bit. You'll find out, I think you can tell, this happens with success. Bandwagon fans hop on that kind of idea. I'm curious how many of those bandwagon fans will be getting up at six o'clock in the morning tomorrow to watch the game.
STEWART: Yeah, right.
Mr. LEITCH: And they don't sell alcohol until eight o'clock in New York City, so you got two hours...
Mr. LEITCH: Baseball and no beer, which, I think, is the opposite of what baseball's supposed to be about.
STEWART: What about the Rockies? Colorado Rockies? This is a team that made a good showing last year.
Mr. LEITCH: Yeah, they certainly - I think they'll still be very good. There's something charmed about their run in the post-season until they ran into the Red Sox, but they have the advantage of playing in the National League. It's difficult this year because the American League has all the titans - they have the Red Sox. They have the Yankees. They have the Angels. They have these very rich, well-constructed, very well-put-together teams.
That for a team like Toronto that in the National League would be considered a favorite, in the American League is in the same division as the Red Sox and the Yankees. No matter what they do, they're up against these two powers who are fighting against each other. So any team in the National League, even as much as my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, who are not going to be one of their better seasons.
STEWART: Don't say that.
Mr. LEITCH: I'm sorry. I thank you.
STEWART: I was forced to watch that this weekend.
Mr. LEITCH: I know, they played the Mets, it was great. But even the Cardinals, if they were in the American League, they'd have zero chance.
STEWART: Even the Cardinals.
Mr. LEITCH: But the National League, all you have to do is win 85, 87 games, and you can sneak into the playoffs and as the Rockies proved last year and my Cardinals proved the year before, when they won the World Series, as I like to mention, the 2006 World Series.
STEWART: Yes, I went to game four at Busch Stadium.
Mr. LEITCH: I went to game five - it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. And did I mention the Cardinals won the World Series two years ago? I don't know if I got that across.
STEWART: No, there's a couple more minutes.
Mr. LEITCH: But anything can happen in the playoffs, so it's really about punching that ticket a little bit.
STEWART: Let's talk about drugs. Baseball has had some ugly times. Performance-enhancing accusations around top players? How do we move forward? How do we move beyond this in the new season? Or do we?
Mr. LEITCH: You know, it's funny. I think there's a little bit of a disconnect between the way people in the media and the sports enterprise see the steroid thing and the way that fans see it. And by that, I think the casual fan would be like, drugs, what's going on? All these steroids in baseball is terrible. And I think that the average, the really hardcore fan, they don't like steroids either, but at a certain level, this is so exhausting in a lots of ways a fan has to make his peace with it or her peace with it in a way that the media is not going to be able to.
And I think it does help a little bit that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not employed right now. And I think Clemens is probably done. But Bonds really wants to come back, and he's certainly not finding any takers, which is fine because he's actually still, performance enhancers or not, he's still very good. He would be very valuable for any team, but they're just deciding he's not worth it. I think it's funny, you see that a lot from fans, too, even as much as they want their team to win. Bonds is just - it's not so much the steroid thing. It's just that he's so much trouble.
Mr. LEITCH: Like, the minute you sign a guy like Bonds, even if he's going to help your lineup, you're entire team becomes about the fact that you have Barry Bonds on it. And I think they Mets could actually probably use Barry Bonds in the lineup. They kind of have a little opening there. But imagine, I'm sure the Daily Post and the News might have a little fun with the fact that Bonds was signed with the Mets. I don't think it would be worth it.
STEWART: He's radioactive.
Mr. LEITCH: To say the least. And I think it's funny because it's also so complicated now. We used to have the idea that all these guys are hitting home runs and that's what it means - McGwire and Sosa, it's ruining the game. But now it's so much more complicated than that. There's actually more pitchers that have been busted for steroids than hitters. So it's kind of a more complicated thing that people can deal with in a lot ways.
So you certainly have to be like, listen, I hope my guy isn't doing steroids. I reserve the right to boo someone else on the other team for using steroids, but honestly, we really have to move on a little ways and just hope that it's diversion. It's entertainment. It's not in a lot of ways the moral dilemma, this big crisis, that I think everyone kind of wants it to be.
STEWART: So speaking of moving on, this is the last season for two famous parks.
Mr. LEITCH: Yes.
STEWART: Here in New York. As both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium are going to shut down. You, of course, remember your team's ballpark, St. Louis Busch Stadium, closed down. What, explain, Will, what do these parks mean to fans?
Mr. LEITCH: Well, certainly one of the stadiums is beloved and one of them is not so much beloved. But it's funny in a lot of ways, because I think you'll see a lot more outpouring of affection, I think, for Yankee Stadium this year. Which is funny, because I think, you know, one of the chapters in my book is about how going to Yankee Stadium is actually on of the most fan-friendly experiences you can find.
And we all get caught up in the beauty and history of Yankee Stadium, but it's actually very expensive and kind of a pain. And hope you don't bring your bag with you because you can't come in. So I think you'll see, particularly with the All-Star Game being at Yankee Stadium this year, it's going to be a lot of outpouring, a lot of emotion about that.
And it's kind of typical in a lot of ways how the Mets - I mean the Mets getting a new stadium for the Mets is like something they've been needing. I mean, it's still a Robert Moses mistake that Shea Stadium is out there. That should have been the big story- finally the Mets get a new stadium, once again, outshined by the Yankees. They're going to get a new stadium.
If you've seen the plans for the new Yankee Stadium it looks like this shrine to the Yankees and to history. And I'm sure the new Mets Stadium will look beautiful, but once again it's - nobody's going to miss Shea, but everyone's going to be talking about Yankee Stadium all year. It's kind of typical. It's fitting they would end at the same time.
STEWART: Will Leitch, editor of the ridiculously popular Deadspin.com, thanks for walking us through the upcoming season.
Mr. LEITCH: Of course. Thank you for having me.
STEWART: Thank you.