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Star Trek Night at AT&T Park

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Surprisingly, my favorite TV show and my favorite sport have a lot in common these days.

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‘Star Trek’ USPS Stamp Launch Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Tomorrow night is Star Trek Night at AT&T Park, and with the purchase of a special event ticket, fans can pick up this nifty-looking Star Trek-San Francisco Giants crossover hat:

If you’re not into paying full price for tickets or not into Star Trek, there’s also a fireworks show following tomorrow’s game against the Mets and our good friends at StubHub can get you in the stadium for a low starting price of $6. In fact, tickets for all three games begin at $6 each, so if you really want to spend your Labor Day weekend at the yard, it won’t break the bank.

I agonized over this article’s header image because every photo available in our handy photo tool featured the iconography and actors from over 50 years of Star Trek history and nothing really conveyed the idea behind the show. Ostensibly, it was a commercial television program designed to make Gene Roddenberry (the show’s creator) a millionaire (it did) and NBC millions more back in 1966 (it did). The show’s endured not simply because of its iconography, though, but because of its aspirational center.

Star Trek is about our future. It doesn’t take place in a galaxy far, far away. It proposes that after we nearly annihilate ourselves (seriously, there’s a WWIII global holocaust) we pick ourselves up and unite once we discover that we’re not alone in the universe. And then it’s about a bunch of astronauts journeying into the stars and going on adventures. But at its core, human beings strive to be better, to evolve, by constantly learning — gaining knowledge not as a means to an end, but as the primary goal.

What does Star Trek have to do with baseball, particularly the modern game? More than ever, baseball is about the pursuit of baseball knowledge. The more it can be understand and quantified, the easier it is to control. The easier it is to control, the easier it is to manipulate, bend reality to an individual’s whim. Each advancement builds off the one before it, and we get further and further away from the original game; here, the knowledge has become a means to an end.

Star Trek came about in the 1960s and since then has undergone its own evolution, adjusting to the eras in which new iterations (shows, films, and novels) are produced. Much like baseball’s advancement, however, new Star Trek has become more about previous Star Treks and less about the original goal of Star Trek — adventures in space. The latest films and television shows have concentrated on remixing and modernizing familiar tropes, characters, and storylines from previous entries in the franchise, a manipulation by producers detached from the idea but aware of the brand.

Ten days ago, a bunch of scouts and Hall of Famers were quoted in an article about how much modern baseball sucks.

“It’s the most boring game I’ve ever been to, and it’s every night,” says one scout who has been in the game for 50 years. “You know exactly what’s going to happen before it starts.”

...

Says another: “The game is unbelievably bad right now.”

“There is a growing consensus among ownership that we need to have a serious conversation about whether all of those organic changes are good for the game over the long haul,” Manfred said at this year’s All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. “I think we are at a point of time where we need to begin to manage that change.”

And if you listen to a national broadcast, you know that Major League Baseball thinks its own product is f-ing garbage and just wants to pump the old folks demographic who still bother to watch a game for all the advertising revenue they can before the sport dies in their hands. And yet, it’s hard to say that the feeling is totally off base. Sure, they could improve the situation by sucking it up and focusing on the positives, but most people who run and market baseball don’t see it as having many positives (I’m supposing this based on the cynical to terrible marketing of the game and the continued preference for crusty broadcasters who would rather take a dump on the sport than give it a pat on the back).

To a large degree, the Goose Gossage’s of the world can be ignored, because their preening, crappy personalities aren’t conducive to helping large groups progress large ideas — he’s one of those people in a group who actively works against the group; and yet, there’s something to the unnamed scout’s larger point about the boring predictability of the modern game.

It’s not because the game is boiling down to a Three True Outcomes Event Generator, it’s because the people behind the game are willing to make it go there. It’s because front offices have handed over decision-making to cost-saving algorithms and have decided that it doesn’t matter how the game looks so long as it supports the profit motive. Sabermetrics has built off its previous iterations instead of its core ideas: it’s not quantifying for the sake of understanding, it’s quantifying for the sake of making more money for people who don’t watch or play the game.

Star Trek: The Next Generation went out of its way to be different from the William Shatner-led original Star Trek — a different visual aesthetic and more emphasis on interpersonal relationships — while retaining the original show’s core philosophy of knowledge through discovery and evolution through open-minded experiences. Even The Next Generation’s spinoff show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine retained those core concepts even as it went in a completely different direction from its two predecessors.

All subsequent shows and films have simply built off concepts and characters from these three shows, to the point that the latest show, Star Trek: Discovery, is basically about the original series, and the next feature film (Star Trek 4) is about the first film of its own series (literally, Captain Kirk’s dad dies in the first 15 minutes of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie, and in this sequel, that death is undone). Star Trek basically stopped pursuing new ideas after 1995.

I think we can all agree that Michael Lewis’ Moneyball book was a flashpoint for the statistical revolution of modern baseball, at least in terms of the idea of finding “hidden value” in baseball players becoming mainstream. This mainstreaming has evolved to the point that you now have fans of the team actively supporting the team’s management in the suppression of young talent so that the team can have “more control” of the player.

That last image in the joke says “Trade Vlad Jr. for prospects”. Somehow, we’ve gone from rooting for our team to win to rooting for our favorite players to rooting for the front office to lead the league in payroll surplus value. That is, in essence, loving a new Star Trek show because of all the references it makes to previous Star Trek episodes.

Does this mean the San Francisco Giants — a team that ignores all current industry trends and intentionally builds teams that could only work last century — is a team of heroes? Are they as close to “the original idea” behind the game as any 21st century team is likely to get? Probably.

One of Star Trek’s enduring ideas is “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”. It’s an idea that doesn’t carry over into the development of its shows and films, but it’s an idea that exists. Baseball’s core viewership and ownership demographic (60+ year-old dudes) would tell you that there’s only one way to play the game — their way — while Baseball’s core management demographic, the ones most directly influencing on the field play, would tell you that there’s only one way to play the game — the present way.

The bottom line is that when an idea with limitless potential arrives on the scene, human beings will necessarily try to create limits as a way of becoming the idea’s master.