Blake Snell might have won the battle, but baseball fans may have won the war.
With Snell taking home the honors of the "MLB: The Show" Players League, the door may have been irrevocably opened
Really, baseball fans of all sorts have been clamoring for a bigger peek behind the curtain for years. For a sport that's played almost every day for six months, the players are till relative unknowns to its fans. It's a weird paradox in which regionalized fandom, blackouts and players' willingness to cooperate can only go so far as an excuse for MLB.
This year, with the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the season indefinitely, 30 players from 30 teams took to the internet to play an "MLB: The Show 20" tournament. Fans who were inclined to pay attention got small doses of personality from its players, like Snell, Lucas Giolito, Brett Phillips, Hunter Pence and others. David Dahl even went as far to retire from the esport in its entirety.
I’ve made the difficult decision to hang up my controller. After going 6-23 in the #MLBPlayersLeague, I’ll be retiring from MLB The Show. Thanks to the fans for your unwavering support. pic.twitter.com/AtY5MhJ6Y5
— David Dahl (@ddahl21) April 28, 2020
This! This is what we want! This is all fans want!
Give us a little more. Let us see guys playing video games. Let us see dudes getting emotional over giving up an e-homer. Let's see them joke a little bit with their competition. Let's see them get mad over missing a play in the outfield. It's fun. It's lighthearted. Of course, there needs to be cooperation from the players, but of the 30, 26-man rosters across the sport, it shouldn't be hard to find guys who want to promote themselves for a few nuggets at a time.
Unfortunately, baseball is so set and drenched in "tradition" and being a "national pastime" that it took a long time for the sport to catch up and realize the modern athlete isn't as buttoned down and serious as the one 30 years ago. There's obviously a bit of snootiness that goes with MLB, but if there's ever been an opportunity to show the fans more of its players, it's now.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 11, 2020
Yeah, these guys share agents and, yeah, these guys are buddies behind the scenes a lot more often than they are opponents on the field. This isn't inherently a bad thing, even with the guise of hot-blooded competition waning throughout sports in a social-media era.
Even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged the importance of the esports competition and showcasing its talents when they can't be on the field.
"I think that esports are really important to our future," Manfred said during the ESPN broadcast. … "We think that gaming can be an entree for us to attract new fans, younger fans, where technology is so important. It's a crucial part of our business plan moving forward."
To that end, the blending of the players and the gaming is one attempt to get younger fans behind the sport. There's no single promise or formula, there's no amount of focus groups that'll get the answer to how to get those kids more behind the sport, but it's worth a shot. And the strange, unfortunate side of the "MLB: The Show" Players League is that we likely wouldn't have gotten it without a global pandemic.
Still, it was a little bit of levity in a time where baseball fans needed it.
It might have been a little late, but it's definitely not too little. It's a small lead off first base that might eventually score a run.