The Giants made some noise over the weekend thanks to the players commenting about competition during Fan Fest. Buster Posey in particular did something we’ve rarely seen: tweeted an honest to goodness opinion from his Twitter account:
Great news for Phils fans. But shouldn’t every team be in a win-right-now mode? What is the point in showing up if you’re not trying to win? Thankful for being in an organization that wants to win! pic.twitter.com/GoDYBYXpEJ— Buster Posey (@BusterPosey) February 9, 2019
And before that, he had this to say about Bryce Harper:
“I’ve always felt very fortunate to be a part of an organization that tries to put a team on the field that has a chance to make the playoffs ... I sure hope that’s still the case.” Buster Posey on Harper and free agency https://t.co/14X2ncch6J— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) February 8, 2019
Buster’s public opinion statements are seemingly few and far between. This might be the strongest one he’s made since the World Series parade for 2010, when he declared that the team should go out and win another one. Of course, he was way off — they’d win two more — but his opinions slash declarations have a way of working out. Maybe the Giants will hang in there are a serious competitor for Bryce Harper’s services.
It’s important to remember that one of the best players in baseball, at the age of 26, does not have a contract, as pitchers and catchers report as early as today (Oakland is first out of the gate in that regard). This is what Buster’s words are up against: we’re in a post-wins and losses world. As Sam Miller wrote last March for ESPN.com, teams have figured out how to make losing Actually Good and for that reason, competition is meaningless. And pointless.
After sabermetricians made the case for the “five-year plan” as a strategy, fans -- not all of them, but plenty -- embraced it as a philosophy. Losing no longer counts as losing; it is a vehicle for hope. A fan base might turn away from a 100-loss season -- the Astros famously drew 0.0 TV ratings in some games -- but it will loyally come back when the club’s ambitions do. (Even three years before they won the World Series, the Astros sold T-shirts that said, in team colors, “Process.”)
Good marketing can slow the rate of interest decay from the fan base and good business can make it — has already made it — so that the lack of attendance doesn’t hurt the bottom line in any meaningful way. The vast majority of fans “root for laundry”, which means they unwittingly root for a team’s ownership. If all team owners are forcing a market correction on free agency and on the nature of competition itself, fans could decide to opt out or else adjust and start rooting for profit margins and brains behind the operation.
One of the key quotes from Moneyball (at least the movie, anyway — I haven’t read the book in over ten years) is “I hate losing even more than I wanna win.” Figuring out how to compete against the most resourceful team in baseball was why the ingenuity on display caught on. At some point, the intellectual exercise of remaking a baseball squad in one’s own image seems to have become Baseball’s driving force.
Then again, the business of Baseball has always been a battle between the owners and the players and fans have always chosen sides in this ongoing conflict. The style of warfare has become more sophisticated, but the basis of the game remains the same. There are plenty of different ways to accomplish an executive’s goal of showing the world how smart he is at building a baseball team from the ground up, many different paths to victory — personally, I’m looking forward to the day when teams figure out that they don’t have to burn it all down just to build towards a new window of competition. The Yankees figured it out, anyway.
Is Baseball more fun when we’re telling the Buster Poseys of the world to shut up and stop trying so that we can watch Farhan Zaidis take five years to write and revise and finally execute their own Uniquely Genius Plan to simply compete in a game?