Thursday, June 7, 2007

You Want Me To Watch That?

In a historic move, Major League Baseball is set to televise their draft tomorrow for the first time ever. Sports fans everywhere are giddy at the prospect of being able to witness the event, and media outlets and websites are suddenly coming up with mock drafts and projections which are being voraciously read and consu...

Except not.

Is anyone else completely unexcited about the baseball draft? The draft is a microcosm of a much greater problem, that being that if an event is televised on an ESPN network it is somehow newsworthy, purely because it is on ESPN. Which means that you are going to hear about said event for two weeks leading up to the event, and then for days afterward on all of the ESPN pundint shows. Seriously, I don't care about Arena football, I care very little about the X-Games, I care very little about the MLS, and no matter how hard anyone tries I am really not going to care about the baseball draft.

At risk of merely sounding whiny, let me explain. You see, if ESPN thinks that the baseball draft will attract NFL or NBA draft type attention merely because it is on television, they are sorely mistaken. The reasons why the NFL and NBA drafts are exciting are entirely missing in the MLB draft. For starters, an extremely large aspect of the appeal of the drafts in the other two sports is the familiarity of the players being drafted to the average sports fan. Everyone had heard of Peyton Manning before he was drafted. Everyone had heard of LeBron James. Everyone knew who Reggie Bush was before the draft. And obviously, everyone knows Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. The reason for this is extremely simple of course: college basketball and college football are extremely popular. Both sports on watched by millions of viewers on both the major cable sports stations as well as the major broadcast networks. College baseball? Well, thanks for coming at the beggining of every summer and interrupting my normal trick shot billiards viewing on ESPN, but I honestly would rather watch the Little League World Series over the College World Series. Now, this is not a knock on college baseball: I just can't get excited to watch teams I know nothing about. And even if I were a college baseball fan, most of the top picks in the baseball draft are high schoolers. How many baseball fans even know about high school prospects?

Secondly, the MLB draft lacks one of the most important components of the other drafts: immediacy. For example, everyone knows that the Portland Trailblazers and the Seattle Supersonics are going to be much better teams next season, purely because of the draft. And just look at the impact rookies had in the NFL last season, as Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, DeMeco Ryans, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, and Marques Colston all had major impacts on their teams in their first season after beign drafted. People watch the drafts in these sports because they know that they will see the drafted players in action almost immediately, changing for better or for worse the plight of the franchise that chose them. As for baseball? The guys that are drafted in the first round tomorrow will not be in the majors next season. Or for the nect season after that. Or likely, not even the season after that. Baseball is a fundamentally different from the other major sports in terms of development, and you can expect most Major League rookies to have been sitting in the minors for 2-5 seasons. So why should viewers wait in rapt anticipation in front of their television sets, waiting to see who might be on the field three or four years from now?

In addition to the previously mentioned reasons, there is another major and obvious reason as to why it is useless to watch the baseball draft. It doesn't really mean anything. There is a reason why the draft is 50 rounds long, and that reason is that baseball players are much harder to project coming out of college or high school than players in the other major sports. Don't believe me? Take a gander at this list of the pitchers that have been taken first overall in the draft:

2006 - Luke Hochevar
2002 - Bryan Bullington
1997- Matt Anderson
1996 - Kris Benson
1991- Brien Taylor
1989 - Ben McDonald
1988 - Andy Benes
1983 - Tim Belcher
1981 - Mike Moore
1976 - Floyd Bannister
1973 - David Clyde

Not a very inspiring list, is it? Why should your average sports fan care about a draft when the success rate is so low, not only for stardom, but just for even making it to the big leagues?

The aspect of the baseball draft that is unique, in a bad way, is the tendency that if a player is not satisfied with his contract or team he just won't sign. He'll just enter the draft again the next year. So not only might you not see the guy that gets drafted by your team anytime soon, you might not see him at all. I mean, there have been a few situations such as Eli Manning and John Elway where a player in one of the other sports threw a hissy fit and orchestrated a trade, but in baseball it occurs with disturbing regularity. The reason for this? Well, the NBA has a rookie salary scale, and the NFL only gives teams a certain allotment of money for their draft picks each season. There just isn't any more money available than there is in those sports. Baseball however, allows their prospects to negotiate signing bonuses unseen in the contracts of rookies in the other sports, eventually leading to the contentiousness that causes players not to play for the team that drafted them.

So ESPN and Major League Baseball, take this post as a cordial "No Thank You" in response to your invitation to watch four hours of people I don't know about, that won't be in the majors for years, who likely won't pan out, being picked by teams they may or may not ever sign with. I'll be watching something interesting instead.

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