Sitting One Out

What’s the opposite of “going for it?” There’s “tanking,” but that has implications of “we tried, but failed, so we’re going all in on failure” combined with “we’re outright trying to suck.” I’m looking for the phrase that describes “we’re not even going to try to be good, but if it happens anyway, we’ll take it.”

Whatever you call it, this year’s poster child is the Seattle Mariners. Which is a new experience for Mariners fans. For decades, the team was somewhere between “bad” and “adequate.” For a brief period between 1995 and 2003, they swung wildly between “ouch” and “pretty damn good*.” Since then, they’ve hovered around “adequate” with occasional jumps and dips. Which isn’t to say some of those dips haven’t been spectacular. Mariners fans try to forget 2008 and 2010, when the team went 61-101, clearly in the “horrible” range.

* 2001, of course, was an outlier at “amazing.”

The mantra since 2003 has been “we’re one good X away,” where X has variously been a big bat, a Number Two pitcher, and a general manager.

The 2018 season was the Ms’ best since 2003 and their sixth best since they were founded. (My usual reaction to hearing stats like that is “when was their worst season?” For those of you who enjoy train wrecks, the answer is 1978, their second season, when they went 56-104.)

Despite the glittering–by Mariners’ standards–record, they missed the playoffs for the seventeenth time in a row. Apparently, the front office has finally gotten the message that the team isn’t “just one” anything away from anywhere you’d want to be.

It’s only December, and they’ve already traded away every player with name-brand recognition outside of the Pacific Northwest*. Granted, the correlation between recognition and talent is loose, but it’s a convenient indicator. Correction: they didn’t trade Nelson Cruz, they let him go to free agency.

* Okay, yes, they still have Kyle Seager. But if you ask anyone outside the Ms’ viewing area about “Seager,” they’ll think you’re talking about his younger brother, down in LA. And the Mariners are listening to offers for Kyle.

Some of their activity has been collecting young talent, not yet ready for the majors. Some of it has been dumping salary. None of it is explicit tanking, but the front office has said that they don’t expect to compete in 2019. Whether 2020 or 2021 is the realistic target to go for it again is arguable, and can’t realistically be settled until we see how many more trades the Ms make between now and July 31.

We also can’t tell yet whether 2019 is going to be a 1999-like “meh” or a 1980-ish “OMG, hide your eyes!” So much of the talent the Mariners have picked up so far is clearly not ready for the majors, that I suspect their Opening Day starting lineup is going to look a heck of a lot like the Tacoma Rainiers’ lineup this past October.

Some of you may wonder if I’m going to be watching. And the answer is a qualified yes.

I’m increasingly disenchanted by MLB’s streaming offering, and I may yet cancel my subscription. There’s the whole fiasco around giving games to Facebook, which is outrageous–this past year, games on Facebook couldn’t even be broadcast on local television. Way to kick existing fans–to say nothing of the younger fans and potential fans you want to court–in the face.

There’s MLB’s lack of interest in offering MLB.TV subscribers any support. Last year they took down their online message board, eliminating a major venue for fans to help each other. And their individual support is horrid. I sent them a note about a bug in the Android app and got an email back explaining how to delete the app. The bug never did get fixed.

Post-season games are blacked out of MLB.TV unless you have a cable or satellite subscription. Cut the cord? Forget about MLB.TV for the playoffs. No streaming provider has been approved by MLB, not even the ones owned by an approved provider. If your streamer doesn’t have the channel the game is on (MLB Network, anybody?), you’re SOL.

MLB.TV subscriptions renew on March 1. Last year, the announcement about Facebook exclusive broadcasts didn’t come out until March 9, four days after the deadline to cancel a subscription and get a refund. I fully expect the same thing to happen this year, so if you prefer not to pay for games you’ll be prevented from watching, cancel your auto-renew now.

So I may not bother with MLB.TV this year. I’ll miss watching the Mets and Orioles, but at least I have options for the Ms–or at least the games MLB grudgingly allows to be aired.

Back On Track

Baseball is back!

Well, for suitably generous definitions of “back”.

Spring Training has started. Pitchers and catchers for all teams have reported to camp, and the position players are coming–the reporting date is today for nine teams and tomorrow for eleven more. Since some players show up early, it’s safe to say that by the time the sun sets on Friday, more than two-thirds of players will be with their teams in Florida or Arizona.

Actual preseason games, meaningless as they are, don’t start until the twenty-second (the Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in a game that will, no doubt, give us a good idea of whether the consensus of 76-78 wins for the Diamondbacks this year is accurate.)

MLB is sending out reminders that MLB.TV subscription renewals will happen at the end of the month. However, despite the email’s announcement that subscribers will be able to watch more than 300 Spring Training games, the information about which games will be streamed hasn’t been posted yet. Annoyingly, audio-only streaming, which has traditionally included almost every game, is also still a black hole at this point. There’s no information about which games will be available–and, in fact, I can’t even find anything to support the notion that there will be any radio broadcasts.

But I’m not worried. I have faith that something will be worked out by the time two putative major league teams take the field against each other on the twenty-fourth.

I say “putative” not because of the teams involved (the first games, all at 10:05 Pacific, feature the Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, and Yankees), but because it’s usual for the first few games to feature players who will probably be starting the season in the minors. Gotta protect those name-brand players, and indeed, anyone who’s a probable lock to be on the twenty-five man roster, on Opening Day.

Of course, the World Baseball Classic may put a wrinkle in the works. With so many players leaving camp early, teams may have to decide between playing major leaguers earlier than usual or cutting games short.

But in the first couple of weeks, I really don’t care who’s playing, and I doubt I’m alone in that. For many fans, it’s the presence of the game that matters, and many of us tend to binge-watch or binge-listen through Spring Training and even into the first days of the season. All part of the process of emerging from our baseball-deficient hibernation.

I’m especially looking forward to being able to put a game on in the background this year. It may be biased observation, but I believe I write faster and more fluidly when I’m listening to baseball. I haven’t done exhaustive word count checks, but I think the totals are highest in March–the time of year when there are multiple games during my writing hours every day. I have no idea why that is; speculation about the rhythms of the game relaxing the logical parts of my brain and letting the creative parts take charge are completely unscientific.

But, regardless of why it works, I’m looking forward to exceeding my writing targets for a few weeks. Even if it’s just the placebo effect, the words on the screen will be real.

It’s too early to say “Go Mariners!” How about a resounding “Go Baseball!”?

Crack!

A federal court has made it official. We knew it was coming, but I don’t think any of us expected it to arrive this promptly. Now we know: as far as the Federal Government is concerned, your right to “life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff” doesn’t include privacy.

I’m not going to write about it at length. It’s a rainy day, the turkeys are arguing about something incomprehensible outside my window, and I already said most of what I think last Tuesday. Why should I take out my frustration on you?

Bottom line: it’s still worth the time it takes to encrypt your electronic devices, but not by as much as it was last week. And don’t expect it to do you any good if any police officer anywhere takes an interest in you for any reason.

If you want any detail, go read Ars’ take on the news.

Then you can come back here for something slightly more cheerful.


Back? OK, good.

Baseball is back!

OK, OK, so far it’s just pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, but we’ll take it. Position players will be showing up over the next week, and we can look forward to the usual slew of articles telling us which athletes are in “the best shape of their lives” and which ones let themselves go over the off-season.

More importantly, we’re less than two weeks away from the first Spring Training game–as previously noted, between the Phillies and the University of Tampa Spartans*–and that means it’s time to start warming up your MLB app for the season’s radio and TV broadcasts.

* I’ll skip the jokes about “picking on someone your own size,” mostly because I’m not sure who those jokes should be aimed at.

There’s some good news about MLB.TV, too. According to the renewal reminder I received a couple of days ago, the full-season package is $20 cheaper than last year. Even better, if you’re only interested in one team, you can get a “Single Team Package” for $25 less than the regular package.

A price drop? Customer-friendly features? Is anyone surprised that the changes are the result of a lawsuit?

To nobody’s surprise, the changes are part of a legal settlement. In essence, MLB agreed to lower the price of the “Premium” package and introduce the “Single Team Package” to avoid the risk of going to trial and potentially be forced to modify their obnoxious blackout policy.

The Single Team Package is only available for out of market fans–Giants fans in the Bay Area, for example, can’t buy the package to follow their team unless they can prove to MLB that they can’t get satellite or cable TV in their home. That’s “can’t get,” not “don’t want”.

As in years past, out-of-market teams’ games against in-market teams will be blacked out. So if our hypothetical Giants fan moves to LA, he can watch the Giants via either a Single Team or Premium package, except when the Giants are playing the Dodgers or Angels–even if the game is in SF. Interestingly, MLB.TV is offering a limited exception to the blackout rule*. For $10, our Giants fan can also watch the Giants’ broadcasts when they play the Dodgers and Angels. But he’s out of luck if he’s also an As fan. The exemption is only good for a single team. There are also a couple of significant limitations to which fans can purchase the add-on. It can’t be added to a Single Team Package, only the full Premium Package, and it can only be purchased if the fan gets the in-market teams’ games if he subscribes to Comcast cable or DIRECTV satellite service with a package that includes the local teams’ broadcasts. If our Giants fan has satellite service from DISH, or if Comcast drops the Dodgers’ games, he’s SOL.

* This is, IMNSHO, the most significant change MLB agreed to in the settlement. It’s the first, faint hint that MLB might be willing to think about considering the possibility of down-scaling the tight relationship with their BigMedia sponsors.

So, all-in-all, the good news is limited. But fans are certainly no worse off than they were last year, with faint hints of improvement ahead. In today’s climate of lowered expectations, that has to count as a victory.