Five Positive Trends for Baseball Heading into 2017
From start to end, 2016 was a year of massive success for Major League Baseball. The season culminated in an exhilarating World Series Game 7 victory for the Chicago Cubs, the most watched World Series game since 1991. Indubitably, baseball is trending in an encouraging direction. So, what are the five most positive signs for baseball heading into the new year?
1. The Chicago Cubs
The emergence of the Cubs is the best thing to happen to baseball in a very, very long time. The Cubs are poised to make a run akin to the great New York Yankees teams of the late 1990s, with a core of young stars set to win multiple championships. All along, 2016 was the year of the Cubs. Almost every baseball analyst pegged the North Siders to win the World Series from Spring Training, and the Cubs became the rare team to live up to their preseason hype. With Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras all set to remain with the Cubs for the long term, Chicago is primed to remain in contention for years to come.
2. The Influx of Young Stars into the Game
On a macro level, baseball is experiencing the same inundation of young talent as the Cubs. The entire postseason was flooded with youth, as stars such as Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Noah Syndergaard displayed their considerable talent on the game’s most significant stage. Surely, baseball’s future is in good hands with the next generation of superstars. For baseball, this rush of exuberance could not come at a better time as MLB has had some of its most pertinent stars of the last decade retire in recent years. Baseball is in the midst of a massive transformation, and as fans we are reaping the benefits.
3. Rob Manfred’s Influence on the Game
Commissioner Rob Manfred has already established himself as a forward thinking leader, making it his mission to progress baseball into the next iteration of itself. Manfred has not shied from the fact that baseball is in need of a considerable makeover in order to assimilate into modern culture. The game’s core fans are the oldest of any major American sport, and Manfred is determined to make the game more appealing to millennials. Manfred has already begun tinkering with pace of play rules in an attempt to speed up the length of games. He has taken great strides in making the game more optically pleasing, and has done a better job of marketing the game’s stars, an aspect that baseball struggled with under Commissioner Bud Selig. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Manfred hinted at implementing a pitch clock, limiting the number of relievers a manager could use in an inning, and placing restrictions on defensive shifts. These are all radical changes that would seem blasphemous to the old school baseball fan. Still, these moves seem essential in the effort to make the game more appealing to a younger audience.
4. The Right Teams Are Good
Though Manfred may never admit it, baseball is better when certain teams are good. Clearly, the Cubs are one of these teams, as their entire 2016 run was met with an incredible amount of coverage as they wiped out a 108-year World Series drought. At the same time, the Boston Red Sox are building together a championship caliber team and the New York Yankees are beginning to assemble what looks like their next great team. The Cleveland Indians are peaking at the same time as the city itself, as LeBron James and the Cavaliers have put Ohio into the national spotlight. In the American League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are continually competing for the pennant, the St. Louis Cardinals have remained a steady force, and the New York Mets have opened up a championship window. Another important franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies, are confidently rebuilding around a solid rotation. Across baseball and America, the right teams are playing well for the game to receive national attention.
5. No Lockout
Even though the arrow is pointing up for baseball, it would all be for naught if the game locked out. With the NFL’s ratings being the lowest in years and the NBA’s parity in question, MLB is in position to take a leap toward their competition in terms of popularity. This could not occur, however, if no baseball was played. Thankfully, a Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached between the players and owners, ensuring that there would be no lockout in the immediate future. It appears as though Manfred and the owners see the potential for growth the game has moving forward. After a wildly successful 2016, there’s no reason to believe that Major League Baseball won’t continue to thrive in 2017.