On Monday, former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was sentenced to 46 months in prison for hacking into the Houston Astros confidential database. To remind you of the specifics of this event, which you probably are unaware of given how little coverage this story has received, Correa illegally gained access to Houston’s entire internal database, which included their analytics department’s evaluation of all players in the Astros organization as well as their assessment of potential draft targets.
So let’s get this straight: one of baseball’s top franchises was found guilty to have hacked another team’s database in order to steal information. And while this investigation was taking place, I’ve heard practically no one criticize the Cardinals reputation as an organization or claim that their recent success is tainted in any way. On the contrary, the biggest scandal in sports has been Deflategate, a trivial little incident during a 45-7 football game in which absolutely no competitive advantage was seized, even if the precise PSI level of most of the footballs had been below the league mandated minimum. In contrast to Correa’s punishment, the fine for breaking this rule, in theory, is only $25,000 (so much for rules).
Yet, as we know, the Deflategate controversy went on for nearly a year and a half, and everyone and their mother seemed to have an opinion on it. I mean, even David Muir has reported about it countless times during World News Tonight.
But, without question, this Cardinals scandal was much worse than Deflategate. Tom Brady may be suspended for four games, but the main culprit in this misconduct is going to jail. In spite of this, neither the Cardinals have taken that much heat as an organization nor has there been much discussion of the scandal in general on most of the major sports talk shows (The Dan Patrick Show, Mike & Mike, The Herd, First Take, etc).
This says a lot about baseball’s current state. In short, Major League Baseball has essentially lost the national public’s attention.
Picture this: you see a headline or a Tweet that says this: BREAKING NEWS- New England Patriots being investigated by FBI for hacking into the New York Jets internal database and stealing information. The fallout from this would be unheard of. Robert Kraft would instantly lose all of his credibility as owner. Bill Belichick would probably never coach another NFL game. Tom Brady would never again be in the conversation among the all-time greats. All of the accomplishments they have achieved this decade- the four Super Bowls victories, the ten conference title berths, the undefeated regular season in 2007- would be forever tainted.
This would happen to many other teams as well. For instance, imagine if the Golden State Warriors had been accused of hacking into the Los Angeles Clippers database and had all their scouting report information to use to their advantage. Sure, teams like the Patriots and Warriors attract more attention than the average team, but this would apply to nearly all NFL and NBA teams, from the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Dallas Mavericks. Simply put, those leagues are in the spotlight far more than the MLB is today.
Baseball’s battle to regain its national relevancy is something Ben Szanton touched upon the other day when talking about the MLB’s marketing problem. It’s main fans are 50-year-olds, and, frankly, the younger generations are far more interested in where the top NBA free agents will sign as opposed to who’s playing on Sunday Night Baseball.
Moreover, baseball doesn’t really own any particular time of the year anymore. It surely isn’t the most relevant sport once football gets going in August: Nationally televised preseason games routinely have better ratings than MLB regular season contests, and the same goes for the regional markets as well. Plus, once the NBA playoffs get interesting, baseball once again takes a back seat. I suppose that obviously leaves a window from July to early August, but you tell me: From your impression on various television and radio shows, do you get the sense that many people are really that interested in baseball right now? Or are they more interested in continuing to talk about Kevin Durant or this upcoming football season?
It’s too bad because I enjoy following baseball, particularly from a statistical standpoint. But it’s not that much of a shame. Simply put, the stakes are very low in your typical regular season baseball game, especially when compared to the NFL and college football. You could certainly say the same thing about the NBA regular season, but at least once the playoffs begin there are a plethora of storylines to keep everyone engaged. Just this past year, you had LeBron chasing his first ring in Cleveland, Golden State trying to cap off a 73-win season, Kevin Durant trying to bring a championship to Oklahoma City, etc. What storylines did baseball have last postseason? Kansas City trying to win it’s first championship in thirty years? Yeah, that didn’t really intrigue most of America.
How does baseball overcome this? I suppose Ben had the best answer to that when he said that the MLB needs to do a better job at marketing its product around its most intriguing young players. While most Americans probably couldn’t name you more than a couple players on the Kansas City Royals (if that), they should be able to tell you who Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are. If the MLB can introduce more of their best young players (Machado, Bryant, & Fernandez come to mind) to casual sports fans, the league will be in much better shape. Plus, a Chicago Cubs World Series appearance probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Yet, ultimately, all I know is this: The Cardinals hacking scandal (or non-scandal) has exposed how apathetic most of America is towards baseball. Passionate fans can say this isn’t true or that a majority of people are just mindless, but the reality is that the MLB is closer to becoming a niche sport like the NHL than it is to remaining a major sport like the NFL and NBA. I’m not necessarily the man with the answers, but hopefully Rob Manfred is.