The Make Baseball Cool Again Commission
Ken Griffey Jr. and a gang of six influential major leaguers on the past, present and still-bright future of America’s pastimeBY SCOTT MILLER & BRANDON SNEEDJuly 6, 2017
The Kid is pushing 50. The only baseball player whose silhouette ever made sense on a sneaker is, believe it or not, already the father of a professional athlete—and Ken Griffey Jr.’s son...is playing football.
It’s been seven seasons since Griffey hung up the backward hat, and more than a year since Nationals slugger Bryce Harper wore a different kind of hat with a new kind of mission on it: MAKE BASEBALL FUN AGAIN.
Which, yeah: But is it cool?
Over the first half of the MLB season, B/R Mag canvassed the game, seeking ideas to rejuvenate America’s pastime for our Instagram afternoons and the Snapchatted summer of 2017. The result: some bold proposals of our own, plus a proper introduction to Hunter Greene, who has already—with apologies to The Kid—been called a combination of LeBron and the Babe, at just 17 years old.
But for a new generation of baseball fans still searching for a successor to Griffey (if they haven’t already given up in favor of LeBron or Steph or one of the NBA’s many GOATs in our midst), we talked directly to some of the coolest, most outspoken role models in Major League Baseball today and asked them a dozen simple questions.
They hit us back with questions of their own: A DJ at every ballpark? A ban on stats? Custom cleats? Two strikes and you’re out? Sounds cool to us.
Which, yeah: But does Mike Trout have swag? Maybe not, but a lot of today’s baseball heroes do, including all seven of these guys—one legit legend and six would-be legends in the making. That’s not including Harper’s potential second career as a host on the Food Network. —The Editors (Interviews by Scott Miller and Brandon Sneed)
‘SOME DAYS ARE GOOD, SOME DAYS ARE BAD’
Question No. 1: A segment of people say baseball isn’t cool anymore. Do you think there is anything to that?
DEXTER FOWLER, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder: I think it’s just perspective. But at the end of the day, if the fans don’t think it’s cool, then I guess it’s not cool. But there are ways to make it cooler.
KEN GRIFFEY JR., Hall of Fame outfielder: Baseball’s always cool. I just don’t think kids are learning the game of baseball.
DAVID PRICE, Boston Red Sox pitcher: A lot of baseball players think it’s cool, and the audience that we have think it’s cool. It might not hit every audience, but I don’t think there’s a single sport that’s going to hit every audience.
MAX SCHERZER, Washington Nationals pitcher: If you play football, you’re just going to scramble up your brain. We’ve seen the long-term consequences of that.
ADAM JONES, Baltimore Orioles outfielder: Baseball’s 162 games in 183 days. Some days are good, some days are bad, some days are ugly. In football, the whole world can concentrate on that Sunday. Basketball, they play 82 games, but they get days off. We play a lot more games.
MOOKIE BETTS, Boston Red Sox outfielder: Some people may think that probably because it’s not as fast-paced, there’s not as much action going on as in some other sports. But I think it’s just as cool as all the rest of them. It’s just something different.
BRYCE HARPER, Washington Nationals outfielder: I don’t know if I hear that at the big league level. I think MLB does a pretty good job, and the players do a great job of really trying to do what we can to spread the game.
Question No. 2: What makes baseball cool to you?
GRIFFEY: It is fun. My dad has always said, “It’s a game. It’s a game played by grown men. But it’s still a game.” The only thing that changes from Little League to high school to college to minor league ball to big league ball are the people in the stands. The game still stays the same.
BETTS: As a player, it’s that you have to focus for three hours, but it’s short bursts of focus. In other games your mind is constantly going, and it gets you drained a little more.
FOWLER: The flair of the guys. Obviously, it’s not an easy game to play. And when guys go out and make it look fun, that’s cool.
SCHERZER: With the NFL all we do is talk football. Whereas baseball we play it every day, the whole league plays every single day. It’s the only league that does it that way.
PRICE: Our diversity. The different type of people you get to play with, the people you compete against. Every clubhouse is so diverse. It’s got to be one of the most diverse sports out there.
JONES: I’m not looking for a cool factor. Cool? I just think the strategy—the mentality of this game—can’t be matched.
Question No. 3: What does it mean to you when you hear “Make Baseball Cool Again”?
GRIFFEY: I’ve had college and pro football players say, “Baseball’s boring. I don’t like going to a game.” But I get them close enough. I get them on the front row. And now they’re looking at the manager. They’re looking at the coaches. They’re looking at all these things that happen. And they go, “This is just like every other sport.” I go, “Absolutely.” I mean, there are so many things that go on from pitch to pitch that people don’t look at, because they don’t get a chance to see it.
PRICE: I think players should get to express themselves more with the way that they play. If you’re from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, wherever you’re from, I think it would be really cool if we could express ourselves with our shoes, with our cleats. I’ve said that for probably about three years straight now. Kids are paying $200, $300 for a pair of shoes now, whatever it is, and for us to be able to have cleats that express us, that express where we’re from, that tell a story, I think that’s what we should be able to do.
JONES: To me it just means getting rid of all these stats. Everything they’re throwing at us nowadays: You hit a home run, this was the exit velocity—who gives a crap? The ball was a home run. You can hit a ball 110 mph off the bat and you’re out. I can’t discredit the actual data, but, to most of us in this game, it’s complete eyewash. But somebody from Harvard or Yale or Tufts or one of those schools is going to get a job in baseball that is not even their field, but they love the game. But when you step between these lines, education means absolutely nothing. That’s the part you can’t measure. But they’re trying.
SCHERZER: What needs to be cool? I like the game where it’s at. Pitchers are better than ever, hitters are hitting home runs at a higher rate than ever. You’re getting to see some baseball played at its very, very best. You have young stars. You have everything you want as a fan.
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‘I CAN WATCH MIKE TROUT PLAY ALL DAY’
Question No. 4: Who are some of the coolest guys in baseball right now?
GRIFFEY: Adam Jones. Mike Trout—I know that he’s pretty laid-back, but I think he’s a great ambassador of the game of baseball. He does show excitement, whether it be on the basepath, or hitting a home run, or robbing somebody. He has it in him. He is one of those guys that baseball needs to embrace, along with Bryce Harper. I mean, there are so many things that Major League Baseball could capitalize on.
FOWLER: I would have to start with myself, obviously. No, there’s a lot of cool dudes. You look at the Manny Machados, the Mike Trouts, the Giancarlo Stantons, obviously Aaron Judge. Those are the guys of our game because they’re good, just to start off. But also they go out with some swag. Manny has swag. Myself, I play with swag, with having fun. You always see a smile on our faces.
PRICE: Mike Trout. He’s cool. Obviously everybody knows how great of a player he is and all that, but it’s just the way he carries himself. You wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he plays the game that he’s the best player in baseball. He’s a generational player, and he acts like he’s the 25th person on the roster. That’s the way he treats everybody. To me that’s extremely special.
JONES: Hmmm. Cool guys to me, obviously the best player in baseball—Trout—followed by Harper. What they do between the lines is nothing short of amazing. Obviously I get to see Manny Machado on a daily basis; he’s special. Playing in the WBC, I got a chance to see players I don’t get to see often. Christian Yelich is one of my favorite players—as a 25-year-old he batted third for Team USA with a lot of big-name guys and held it down like no other. [Paul] Goldschmidt, the man works tirelessly at the same thing. That’s why he’s unbelievable. Brandon Crawford is one of my favorite players. I love the flow with the hair—he’s got real big league hair. Nolan Arenado, intense. Daniel Murphy—that whole Team USA opened my eyes.
BETTS: I like watching middle infielders. Like Francisco Lindor—you just see his style and how he goes about the game. Jose Altuve has fun and enjoys it. I’m maybe a little biased because I like middle infielders, their swag and whatnot.
SCHERZER: I can watch Mike Trout play all day. I can watch Miggy [Cabrera] hit baseballs all day. I get front-row seats with Zim, Murphy and Harp every single day [Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper]. Trea Turner is pretty exciting. I mean, the arms across the league, guys keep elevating their games higher and higher. Obviously when you watch Clayton Kershaw pitch, it’s unbelievable.
HARPER: I think a lot of the younger generation does a great job. The guy who retired last year, David Ortiz, he had a flair for the dramatic, of course. One of the coolest guys out there with gear and things like that is Manny Machado. He’s got some nice stuff. Kris Bryant has some good stuff. Players who go out and try to get their styles to where they want it to be.
Question No. 5: For the haters, people who say baseball is not cool, what do you think makes them say that?
JONES: They can’t play it; that’s probably why. Most people like to talk bad about things they can’t do.
GRIFFEY: I don’t get, “It’s not cool.” I get, “Why’s it take so long?” And I go, “Well, if you look at it, it’s right around the time of a football game.” They go, “What?” I go, “Just go ahead and time a football game and a baseball game.” [Football] is like 12 minutes of actual action.
SCHERZER: I don’t know. I appreciate the NFL, I appreciate the NBA, the skill sets those guys have. Hockey. They’re unbelievable on skates, with the puck. It’s so much fun to watch. I just know the things we can do on a baseball diamond, day in, day out. You watch the league and you’re seeing phenomenal baseball players in front of you.
PRICE: A lot of people don’t know the stars in baseball. Aaron Judge could walk down the street—probably nobody would even take a second glance at him. I think baseball needs to do a better job marketing its stars. It’s something we’ve talked about for quite a while. I’m sure they’re trying to do that, but they can still do a better job. Paul Goldschmidt could walk in right now and half of our team would be like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ He’s one of the best players in baseball and he could walk down the streets of Boston and I don’t know if anybody would recognize him. I really don’t.
HARPER: I think you come to watch baseball, and if you’re a true fan, then you enjoy watching baseball. MLB tries to change this and change that, speed up the games, but baseball’s baseball. You can’t change it. It’s America’s pastime. It’s the greatest game on earth. I don’t really want to change it that much.
‘MORE MUSIC’ + MORE KICKS + TWO STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT
Question No. 6: What could make the game better or cooler?
GRIFFEY: Baseball in general has to do a better job of showing the fun side of the sport. We don’t show the guys making a mistake and somebody laughing about it. The MLB Network does a good job. But when you talk about entertainment, you’re gonna go to the NFL Network or you got Charles and Shaq and Kenny on TNT saying funny stuff. We just don’t have the personalities now to compete with those. That falls on everybody. It’s our job to promote the sport, whether you’re playing now or you played 40 years ago.
FOWLER: MLB puts all this stress on uniforms and stuff. I’m a big sneakerhead, so I feel like if we could change up the shoe game a little bit, let guys be a little more free, that would help. Because at the end of the day, fans are watching the game. And to see us, the way we play and what we wear, that’s a big part of it.
SCHERZER: We keep harping on pace of play, and there is something to it. I think, really, the simplest thing is, you’ve gotta crack down on the pitchers, and the way you do it is incentivize guys to work quick and not leave the mound. Fine them if they do. For me, I was taught that, and I think it actually helps my teammates because it allows me to work a little quicker and the guys behind me playing defense are on their toes a little more. But too, it just helps dictate the pace of the game when a pitcher gets the ball and is right back on the rubber.
PRICE: More music. That is what is really cool about the NBA. Like they had that game...when the Warriors were playing—they had an announcement on Jumbotron there’s not going to be any replays, no music, we’re just going to enjoy the pure sounds of basketball. I don’t think anybody liked that. Music does a lot for people. Just to have that rhythm. It’s not even the words that are being said. It’s just the beats, the rhythm of it. It just has a really good flow for people trying to do something athletically.
HARPER: I think when you’re looking cool is when you’re hitting homers and playing well. Those are the cool things. When you look across and you see Corey Seager hitting the ball nine miles or having a great at-bat against a lefty and hits the ball in the gap. Those are the cool things to me. Machado hitting one in the upper deck at Camden Yards. Seeing Clayton Kershaw strike out 20 or Max Scherzer doing the same thing. That’s what brings fun to the game. I think a lot of people are drawn to how guys play or what they do.
Question No. 7: What do you wish would change about baseball?
GRIFFEY: There are kids, African-American kids, who are playing baseball, who could play in the big leagues, who are in less fortunate situations, so scouts will never see them because they are not playing at these showcases. So I think that’s the conversation that needs to happen. There are tons of kids who can play this game who may not get the chance because of the area that they live in.
HARPER: I’d probably change the pitch clock back to the normal thing. I don’t enjoy coming in from right field and having just two minutes to get my stuff on and get into the box.
PRICE: It would be cool if two strikes were a strikeout, three balls could be a walk—it would speed the game up. Baseball wants to speed the game up, and yet they want more offense. It doesn’t work like that; I’m sorry.
SCHERZER: Get rid of the dropped third strike. If you’re bad enough to swing at a pitch the catcher can’t catch, then why do you get first?
FOWLER: They need to have a DJ at every ballpark. Get some good music. But they probably think it’s a distraction. You know, baseball’s so old-school.
Question No. 8: Do you even watch baseball on TV?
GRIFFEY: Yeah. TV does the game such an injustice. They only show the pitcher and catcher. They don’t show the movement of the infielders. They don’t show the movement of the outfielders. It’s either the pitcher, catcher, guy who’s on base. On the little split-screen. They don’t show everybody. They don’t show the manager relaying the signs in. And how strategic this game is. [Watching football on TV], you got guys drawing stuff out on the board. “That’s what he’s doing here because of this”—they don’t do that in baseball.
HARPER: I don’t. I play and watch the Food Network. I’m good.
PRICE: No. If I do, I watch it on mute. Absolutely. Half the time they don’t even talk about what’s going on in the game. I don’t know. Broadcasters either forgot how hard the game is or they didn’t play and they don’t know how hard it is.
FOWLER: I think sometimes you gotta put the TV on mute because you don’t want to hear some of the guys, just because some of what they’re saying is wrong. But I think telecasts need to be more upbeat and there needs to be more swag in the booth as well.
JONES: Yeah. Big Padres fan. Get all of them stats off the TV, man. A guy gets a base hit, I’m like, OK, man, talk about the base hit. Talk about his approach. They don’t talk about his approach because they don’t have the right guys to talk about it. They just know about a stat.
BETTS: No. I’m a big basketball guy. I’ll watch a basketball game. I play baseball for eight months every year, so I try to shut my mind off from baseball sometimes just so when I get back to the field I’m refreshed and ready to go.
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‘LEAVE IT UP TO THE NERDS’
Question No. 9: How many casual fans are being driven away by sabermetrics and stats?
PRICE: Baseball players don’t even understand that stuff, so there’s no way the casual fan can understand what is being talked about if we don’t get it.
GRIFFEY: No matter what you do, you still have the eye test: “Can this kid play baseball?” Because the two things you can’t measure are human heart and human error. Every day, your body changes. We’re not machines. So every day, something hurts, something twinges, something’s tight. We’re not loose every day. That’s why we play the game.
FOWLER: That stuff is wrong sometimes. And people stop watching the game and start going to the stats. You leave it up to the nerds, I guess. They do the whole fielding-range thing. Like do they realize that there’s wind, that’s there this and that? There’s a lot of variables I don’t think they take into account.
Question No. 10: What’s causing all the home runs this season—and how far they’re being hit?
PRICE: Statcast is completely wrong. The ball Aaron Judge hit on top of the batter’s eye in Yankee Stadium, Statcast has it 435 or 445 feet. That ball’s every bit of 500 feet. Could be something going on with the baseballs. The ball they tracked Chad Pinder against us in Oakland, I’ve never seen a ball go that far in Oakland, not in BP watching Miguel Cabrera or J.D. Martinez or Yoenis Cespedes. I don’t even know what it was, but it was 500 feet. If it said 499, I’m telling you it’s false.
There’s something going on with the baseball—that’s for sure. The difference between a Triple-A baseball and a big league baseball is ridiculous. Ridiculous. We were doing the test when I was making my rehab starts: sitting there with both balls—you can just feel the difference, the way some of them sound and the way some of them come off the bat.
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‘SOCIAL MEDIA IS ALMOST EVERYTHING’
Question No. 11: How much can social make baseball cool?
BETTS: You get to see players in their personal life—and it makes it a little more cool, seeing them during the game, knowing what they wore to the field that day or what his spikes really look like or what his glove actually is. It is just a different way for guys to interact with fans and let them get to know us and realize that we’re normal people.
JONES: I get people saying all kinds of things to me in all kinds of nasty ways on social media, and all I say, I’m just trying to do my job. I just try to tell people, Trust me, we’re frustrated for you, we’re frustrated that we didn’t get the job done, we’re frustrated that we struck out, the pitcher is frustrated that he made a bad pitch, the defense is frustrated it made an error—trust me, we’re frustrated, too. Probably a little more frustrated than you because it actually is helping or hindering us in terms of this is our livelihood, this is our job.
HARPER: I try to do the best I can to put things out there. You control those situations. Those are the fun parts of it. You’re able to really control what you want out there and how you want to go about it. I want to try to do the best I can to connect and try to get that younger generation, because they do enjoy the social media aspect of it. That’s huge for me, that social aspect.
FOWLER: The time we’re in, social media is almost everything. The young kids and everybody else, that’s what they are looking at. And if we’re not present on there, they don’t really know who we are.
Question No. 12: Should players engage more on social?
SCHERZER: Social media is dangerous for baseball players. Things can get taken out of context so fast. You can say something you don’t want to say. It’s dangerous.
JONES: Recently I’ve tried to disconnect myself when it comes to social media and sports talking because, at the end of the day, people are going to agree with you or disagree with you. I try to put up things that are uplifting, but people don’t want to talk about that. Put up something with baseball and people want to talk about that.
GRIFFEY: I think social media has allowed the players to be able to say things that maybe didn’t come out right the first time and say what they really meant. I think that it keeps people fair and honest.
BETTS: I always say you have to give something to get something. And for people to get to know me I may have to post pictures and whatnot, but then you’re going to get the people who say ‘You suck’ and those type of things, too. It’s just a part of it.
PRICE: If I was a kid and my favorite player has a good game, and if I tweet him after the game and he replies back or favorites my tweet, it’s essentially like you just had a conversation with him. I couldn’t imagine what that would do for me. To me it’s the way it should go. It’s not always the case, and I understand that. There are over a million-and-a-half pitching coaches and whatnot all over social media. It’s easy. This is an easy game. Yeah. You come do it.
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