The topic of "growing the game" has been a constant for years within Major League Baseball. We need to grow the game. Okay, cool. But how?
Well, for one, if we could just taste ourselves here for a second -- I think podcasts like Starting 9 help a lot. Baseball fans getting access to their favorite players and hearing them speak on a platform where they're actually comfortable and open, that helps grow the game. How else do you grow the game? Players being marketable. One of the things that Bryce Harper talked about in the interview was that you have to actually want to be marketable. It's not just something that comes with being good at the sport. That's abundantly true. Not every superstar player wants to carry the torch of being the face of the league. And if they don't want to be, then they won't be.
Harper also mentioned the blackouts, which is a huuuuge one. Imagine being an LA Dodgers fan, living in LA, and not being able to watch the Dodgers on TV because of blackouts? Like, what are we doing here? Also, baseball is a regional sport. A vast majority of baseball fans are only interested in watching their own team. If you're a baseball fan and you buy a season subscription of MLB.TV, you can watch every team...except for your own! If you're in the broadcasting area, of course.
Say I live in Cleveland and I'm an Indians fan, but I'm taking a night class and I want to watch the Tribe while my professor goes on and on about chlorophyll, I can't do it. Blacked out. Say I'm a White Sox fan and I got invited to a wedding in Chicago on a Saturday at 1 o'clock, Lucas Giolito is pitching against Shohei Ohtani and that's a matchup I can't miss. Well, you're gonna miss it because that game is going to be blacked out on your phone and the bride sucks so she made sure they chose a venue that didn't have TVs anywhere.
Those are things we've all heard before, essentially screaming into the abyss about something that MLB has yet to even think about changing. But Harper had an idea that I hadn't really heard before -- send MLB players to the Olympics. Ummmm, yup. Sign me up for that. I mean, he's right. For as fun and exciting as the most recent World Baseball Classic was, the WBC really only exists inside of a bubble where baseball fans would already be. You're hardly getting new eyeballs with the WBC. You're entertaining a fraction of the ones you already have. You get big leaguers at the Olympics? Now we're cooking with gas.
Everyone's in full blown MJ mode right now because of the documentary series. Look at the impact that the Dream Team kicking the shit out of everyone at the 1992 Olympics had on the popularity of the NBA. That shit skyrocketed. The problem that MLB would face in that regard is that not all of the best MLB players are from the United States. The talent pool coming from Major League Baseball would be much more spread out in the Olympics than it would've been for the NBA back in '92. While the USA would certainly have a disgustingly talented team, you'd have some pretty nasty teams coming out of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Japan, too.
Perhaps that's almost better, though? Sure, it was awesome to see the Dream Team drag their nuts across everybody's face on a global scale, but I would imagine that seeing some great competition between four or five countries would almost be better for engaging fans across the world. I could be wrong. That's happened before.
Either way, the idea of sending major league players to the Olympics, like Harper said, would be a dream scenario. Players that have passed on the World Baseball Classic in the past could surely see the draw in playing for the Olympics instead. Just the thought of Harper, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Jack Flaherty, Justin Verlander -- holy fuck! -- all these dudes wearing the stars and stripes ready to launch bombs and blow heaters by fools. Now that I see the names on paper, yeah. I take back the idea that there couldn't be a modern day equivalent to the Dream Team.
Team USA would throttle the rest of the world in baseball if every superstar player that was eligible to play opted to go. And wouldn't that be one hell of a marketing tool for your product? Hm.