No organization is without its flaws. The NBA has a boring, predictable product. The NFL can’t keep its foot out of its own mouth. The NHL and MLS have a major problem appealing to Americans.
The MLB doesn’t have these problems per say, but they have a major enemy that seems to be actively looking to suppress the popularity of the league. And that enemy is the MLB itself.
Obviously, the MLB isn’t consciously out here trying to kill its own brand. However, Rob Manfred does, in many ways, seem to be part of the old “boys club” that is years behind in growing the sport. The MLB still doesn’t want to harness the power of social media grow their sport, and the MLB’s loss is other sports’ gain.
If you missed it, a video of umpire Tom Hallion from 2016 leaked on Tuesday. Hallion was the crew chief of the umpiring crew when Noah Syndergaard was ejected for retaliatorily throwing behind Dodgers 2B Chase Utley with a fastball. The Mets were still annoyed that Utley’s slide in the previous NLDS injured second baseman Ruben Tejada.
This video quickly spread like wildfire over Twitter and even those who don’t actively follow baseball were spreading it and reacting to it. Baseball hasn’t had a viral clip spread that wide in a long time, so it was a major accomplishment for the league. Naturally, their next step was to claim copyright and take it down. Luckily, copies were up all over the internet, including this one on YouTube. Just as a warning, this video does have some NSFW language in it.
To be fair to the MLB, Rob Manfred claimed the next day that the leak violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and Umpires Union, so they have a valid excuse to be taking the video down. However, I do not understand why either party wanted this removed.
Rob Manfred said that the Terry Collins/umpire viral video has been scrubbed from the internet because a collectively bargained agreement with the umpires that said those interactions involving microphoned umpires wouldn’t be made public. MLB is trying to figure out how it leaked
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) June 14, 2018
Tom Hallion, the umpire in the clip, has gotten universally praised for how he handled the situation. Hallion keeps a calm head, explains the situation very well to a group of Mets players and their former manager Terry Collins, and defuses the situation. This is a perfect example of how to umpire in a situation like this, and without this audio clip, we would have never realized what Hallion did to make sure this situation didn’t escalate further.
This also answered a popular question amongst some baseball fans. We now know what is said in those arguments on the mound. Sure, not everyone is going to be as fired up and vulgar as Collins in this clip, but this does answer how umpires react to situations in which they are. Hallion is deserving of the universal praise he is getting.
However, Hallion being good at his job isn’t the point of this clip or this article. The MLB finally had a product appealing to ALL fans, regardless of their devotion to the sport. The MLB finally has a product the casual fan cares about. The MLB finally had a product which they could market heavily on social media. And they wiped the internet clean of it.
It’s clear that the MLB wants to think that casual fans will adapt to the game. However, as the NBA is showing everyone right now, it doesn’t matter how good your product is if you can market it properly.
The MLB needs more field access. Mic up all the umpires. Mic up all the coaches. Heck, mic up all of the players. Showcase the players’ personalities. Let us into the mind of the coaches when they make a mound visit. Allow us to enjoy the true experience of a baseball game. The MLB has taken some steps forward, micing up some umpires and even having conversations with some players during exhibition games.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) March 27, 2018
They don’t do enough, however. The MLB is not harnessing the power of twitter to promote their brand, and they are running the risk of being left in the dust by those who do. Luckily, only the NBA seems to have caught on to this so far, so they still have time to change course.
But if Cut4, MLB.com’s fantastic Deadspin-style site, isn’t a household name in the next couple years, being left in the dust is a major possibility.