Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.
-Matthew (Tex) Arnold, Dover Beach, (1867)
You know there's trouble ahead when a baseball article begins with a Matthew Arnold quote. But hear me out! Spring Training is a serious national problem, and we need to do something about it.
As many people do, I start to hanker for Spring Training about the middle of January. That's when the sports media goes into full-throated Super Bowl hype and I seek out the start of baseball the way an addict in Breaking Bad pursues blue meth. It would probably be simpler if I just got psychiatric help but I can't afford it. I have to save my money to buy regular-season, dynamically over-priced A's tickets.
Ah, Spring Training! Is it not the first sign of a nascent spring? Who doesn't love spring time? That's when our Athletics hearts begin to rise, newly mended from the previous season's playoff coronary. In our minds, we hear the crack of the bat. (Insert another drug joke here.) We smell the grass (okay, one more drug joke) and imagine the verdant, manicured fields of...Arizona?
You see? That's what Spring Training does. It turns otherwise rational people into puffy-sleeved Romantic poets who regard Arizona and Florida as hallowed places of rejuvenation. And that illusion persists right up until a key player blows out a knee or an elbow.
Exploding ligaments are probably beyond our control, but we can do something about Spring Training. I say, get rid of it! Just start the real season March 1. Expand the rosters at the beginning of the season the way they expand in September. Add a few games to the schedule to keep the owners happy. Start the season in Arizona and Florida to avoid snow-outs and keep the Chicago Snow Birds satisfied. But get on with it!
I realize some of you (Bud Selig?) may not be ready for my premise so let me talk you through this. We must recognize what an imposter Spring Training is. First, it starts in winter. That's kind of a tipoff right there. Second, it's not even training anymore.
Sandy Koufax once said, "People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." Sandy is a baseball immortal, but what does he know, really? He played baseball in the Sixties when $100,000 was superstar pay. Players didn't stay in shape in the off-season and modern, year-round training techniques hadn't been developed. These days a good high school player has a more sophisticated training regimen than major leaguers did then.
Since we are being true to one another, as old Matthew Arnold dictated, I should state this bluntly: Spring training was invented to make people in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast forget they are still buried under ten feet of snow. Why should that matter to us? We're Californians! We have a long tradition of not giving a damn about the rest of the country. Why should we have to endure Spring Training simply because Massachusetts fans can't get their cars out of their garages?
Spring Training is bonding and boredom for the players. But isn't that why they play the regular season? Billy Beane is so fed up with ST he agreed to pay Jim Johnson $10 million to stage a team talent show. When your players must listen to Stephen Vogt recite soliloquies from "Richard III" just to stay awake, I say it's time for a change.
It's even worse for us fans and the poor schlubs who have to produce Spring Training copy. Frankly, I don't give a damn who the Opening Day starter is. (For the A's, Opening Day starterhood doesn't matter. Whoever gets the designation never lasts past April 15 anyway. If Bob Melvin named me Opening Day starter I would just report to the intensive care unit and save everyone the hand wringing.) If I read one more Spring Training story about a reliever adding a new pitch to his repertoire, or an infielder being in the best shape of his career, or the vagaries of instant replay strategy, I swear I will convert to lacrosse.
It doesn't matter, and that's why Spring Training is so boring. It is faux baseball. Nothing counts. Nobody good tries very hard. (Yes, Josh Reddick made the greatest catch in history during the first practice game this year. But Josh hangs out with professional wrestlers so his effort comes under the mental instability exemption.)
In ST, everybody without a chance excels. You see it every year. A guy will rip up the Cactus League then be exiled to Single-A Winnipeg. No one will hear from him again. Yes, I know why spring training performance means nothing; the sample size is too small and the competition is wildly uneven. Okay, I get that. But if you can't accurately assess some 4-A journeyman, how can you evaluate prospects like Addison Russell and Billy Burns? You can't. They have to play real games. So let's start the real games already.
We all know that ST is just another way to squeeze a buck out of us, the customers. If MLB starts the season March 1, it can squeeze more bucks out of us, and isn't that what Bud Selig dreams about? After all, if God did not intend for us to be fleeced, He would not have made us baseball fans.
The people I don't get are the players. Why do they go along with the ST racket? As I understand the situation, major league players with contracts only get paid once the regular season starts. Minor league players don't get paid at all. (They do get some marginal expense money.) Start the regular season on March 1, and that problem gets solved. Why isn't the players association all over this idea?
And what about the injuries? Blowing out body parts in a practice has to be the very definition of frustration for players. It's amazing how difficult it is for a player to advance his career in Spring Training yet it is so easy for him to end his career there. I am still haunted by the heartbreak expressed by Scott Sizemore's wife when Scott blew out his knee in 2012. First play. First practice. Season gone. Now Jarrod Parker, career gone. I can't take much more of this.
Starting the season March 1 won't prevent injuries but at least the players will be on the payroll as they hit the dirt. The reward will be more in line with the risk of playing in spring games. That would seem a natural discussion point between the players and the owners but what do I know? Maybe the MLBPA reps are still snowed in their garages up north.
So I say again, "Death to Spring Training!" As Matthew Arnold himself might have posted on Athletics Nation (if he hadn't died 126 years ago), Spring Training has neither certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. Ending it may be a long shot, but you never know. One of my sources suggests Bud Selig is open to the idea and wants to form a Blue Ribbon Committee to study the matter.
That should move things along.