TIME Baseball

The Kansas City Royals Are the Future of Baseball

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014. Dave Kaup—EPA

In baseball, power is out. Speed and defense are in. And the Royals play small-ball best

Updated on Oct. 15, 7:18 p.m.

Sure, the Kansas City Royals are an intriguing tale for the typical rags-to-riches reasons. A team that hasn’t made a post-season appearance in 29 years becomes the first team in baseball history to win its first eight games in the playoffs. On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, completing a sweep and sending the team to the World Series.

But the Royals are more than just an enchanting small-market success story. They represent the changing game of baseball.

In the post-steroid era, the game is going through a remarkable transition. Power is out. Pitching, speed and defense are in. Home runs per game are at their lowest levels since 1992. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game during the 2014 regular season, according to stats site Baseball-Reference.com–the lowest total in 33 years. Runs-per-game are down 15% since 2007, and off 21% from their steroid-era high of 5.14 in 2000. Players are striking out 7.7 times per game, an all-time record, breaking the prior high of 7.55 set last season. In fact, in each of the past seven seasons, baseball set a new all-time high for strikeouts per game.

Enter the Royals. The Royals had the fewest home runs in the majors this past season, with 95. But no team had more stolen bases, and the Royals have kept running this post-season. The team has stolen 13 bases so far: seven of them came in Kansas City’s wild 9-8 comeback win over the Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card game.

The last big-league club to reach the World Series while finishing last in home runs, but first in swipes, was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals. Those Cardinals teams of the 1980s played an exciting brand of “small-ball” throughout the decade: the ’82 Cards finished second in steals, and last in home runs, and won it all (the ’82 Oakland A’s finished first in steals, thanks to Rickey Henderson’s 130 swipes, a modern-era, single-season record that still stands).

For the Royals, that speed pays off in the field too. According to FanGraphs.com, Kansas City players collectively finished with the highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – an advanced metric that measures defensive value – in the majors. Kansas City’s outfield, with three-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center, and defensive replacement Jarrod Dyson shoring up center field in the late innings (Cain then usually moves to right), have baseball analysts raving. “Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” wrote Sam Miller of Baseball Propectus. “We’re not just talking about a good outfield, or a great outfield. We’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the greatest defensive outfield of all time.”

The Royals have found a winning formula. These days, if you swing for the fences, you’re more likely than ever to strike out. So just put the ball in play – Royals hitters have both the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, and the lowest walk rate – and take your chances with your legs. Steal bases to eke out those diminishing runs.

Since today’s pitchers are better keeping balls in the park, if your opponent does make contact, make sure you have players who turn these balls into outs. (Like third baseman Mike Moustakas diving into the stands). Let the big-market New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels overpay for aging sluggers who will inevitably depreciate at the back-end of their ludicrous contracts (Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols). Small-ball is cheap, and effective. This is where the game is heading. The Royals just do it best.

Read next: The 7 Greatest Trick Plays in Sports Movie History

TIME MLB

St. Louis Cardinals Clinch Fourth Consecutive NL Championship Series

The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers as Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks off the field in Game Four of the National League Divison Series at Busch Stadium on Oct. 7, 2014 in St Louis.
The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers as Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks off the field in Game Four of the National League Divison Series at Busch Stadium on Oct. 7, 2014 in St Louis. Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Even an arm like Kershaw couldn't keep the mighty Cards from progressing to face either the Giants or the Nats

St. Louis pulled off a 3-2 win against Los Angeles Tuesday to claim their division, a victory cemented when Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams launched a seventh-inning three-run shot against star pitcher for the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw.

With the Busch Stadium victory, the Cardinals nailed the best-of-five playoff by Game 4, the New York Times reports. The team will head into the National League Championship Series for the fourth time in a row, to face either the San Francisco Giants or the Washington Nationals on Saturday, depending on which team wins Tuesday’s showdown at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

TIME MLB

Giants-Nats Game Longest in Postseason History

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game Two
Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants runs the bases after hitting a solo home run to right field in the eighteenth inning against Tanner Roark #57 of the Washington Nationals during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on Oct. 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Patrick Smith—Getty Images

It lasted for six hours and 23 minutes

The San Francisco Giants’ 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals this weekend was the longest Major League Baseball postseason game in history, going for 18 innings — literally two games’ worth of innings — and lasting for six hours and 23 minutes.

The record-setting event technically spans days: the second game in the National League Division Series began around 5:37 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 4, but finished after midnight on Sunday, which also happens to be the birthday of Nats pitcher Tanner Roark, according to MLB.com.

The previous record for longest postseason game was set in 2005, when the Houston Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 in game four of the NLDS, which took five hours and 50 minutes.

[MLB]

TIME world series

Watch Never-Before-Seen Footage of the 1924 World Series

The Library of Congress released surprisingly well-kept nitrate film of the Washington-New York game

Baseball fans for the first time can now get a glimpse of the 1924 World Series.

The Library of Congress recently released footage of the matchup between that era’s D.C. and NYC teams–then the Washington Senators and New York Giants–in which the Senators won 4-3 in extra innings.

Eight reels of footage, including the one containing these shots of the 1924 World Series, were found in the rafters of a Massachusetts garage after being stored there for nearly 90 years. The canisters were sent to the Library of Congress for conservation, and archivists were shocked when they realized what they had landed on, as there are no other known pieces of video of the 1924 World Series in existence.

The nitrate film’s surprisingly good quality is practically a miracle. Nitrate film is known for being sensitive to its environment, and often doesn’t keep well when stored in non-optimal conditions.

The Library of Congress said in a statement that it was merely a coincidence that this footage was found right before the Washington Nationals take on the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series.

TIME Baseball

Bryan Cranston Delivers a Hilarious One Man Baseball Show Spoof

The MLB's new commercial is pretty great

The One Who Knocks really knocks one out of the park in a new commercial for Major League Baseball–which features Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston touting an epic Looney Toons-inspired one man show about the sport.

“I felt it was just time for me to get back to the basics by diving right into my great passion: baseball,” Cranston says, over a puffed up dramatic musical score.

In a faux behind-the-scenes vignette, he describes this supposedly self-funded passion project: “Then it hit me: why not dramatize the entire MLB postseason? It would be my greatest acting challenge.”

Cranston (who is on a roll, guys) will—in the imagined universe of the mini-mockumentary—act out all your favorite moments in baseball all by himself. He’ll come up to bat, he’ll get a pie smashed in his face, he’ll talk in a dramatic voice about the mystique of the game. There will be ballet (he even gets dance lessons from Misty Copeland, in a delightful cameo appearance by the American Ballet Theatre dancer). There will be spoken word renditions of classic songs dripping with gravitas.

“Any actor that tells you that he is not inspired by Bugs Bunny is a liar, frankly,” he says. “Or just a hack.”

After watching this glorious piece, who does not want to make this fake one-man show a reality? We’ll just go ahead and get those Change.org petitions and Kickstarter accounts started now.

MONEY Sports

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

TIME Television

Infamous Ex-Pitcher John Rocker to Star in Newest Season of Survivor

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Former Braves player John Rocker participates in a pre-game ceremony honoring many Braves alumni at Turner Field on August 8, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin Liles — Getty Images

Series kicks off on Sept. 24

The newest season of Survivor will feature none other than former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker, according to CBS Sports.

The retired pitcher, who played portions of six seasons in the MLB, will compete in Survivor: San Juan del Sur — Blood vs. Water, which will debut on Sept. 24, CBS says.

Rocker is notoriously remembered for the bigoted comments he made about New Yorkers during a widely publicized interview in Sports Illustrated in 1999.

“I was raised in a professional baseball clubhouse and still carry a lot of that idiocy with me,” said Rocker in a trailer released by CBS.

The former reliever will appear on the show alongside his girlfriend Julie McGee.

TIME Sports

Top 10 Worst First Pitches

From 50 Cent to Mariah Carey, there are some people who should never, ever be allowed to throw out the first ceremonial pitch. Then again, everybody deserves a good laugh.

Look, most of us aren’t important enough to be invited to throw a ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, so we shouldn’t judge. Shouldn’t being the key word, though. We are still totally going to judge.

Some celebrities do a totally respectable job when they take the mound, but others screw up so royally that we can’t help but laugh wildly as we’re overcome with pure schadenfreude. Beginning with the most recent fail, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable (worst) first pitches in baseball history.

  • Miss Texas Monique Evans

    To be fair, Miss Texas appeared to be attempting ballet and baseball simultaneously when she threw the first pitch at last week’s Angels-Rangers game. So that provided an additional challenge, since most people simply attempt the pitch and nothing else. The result? The ball hit the ground within seconds and rolled very, very far away from the plate. She did manage to keep her crown on her head, though, so bonus points for that.

  • Carly Rae Jepsen

    Oh man — the Canadian pop singer should have called a baseball coach maybe. In July 2013, a year after her hit “Call Me Maybe” charmed the world, Jepsen headed to Florida to throw the first pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays. We would call the result “absolutely dreadful” but that would be the understatement of the century.

  • 50 Cent

    The rapper grinned so wide after throwing the ceremonial first pitch on behalf of the Mets in May 2014 that you’d think he threw a perfect strike. Not so, friends. Not so. He launched the ball literally MILES (well, okay, feet) from the plate, and though he laughed it off at first, he later blamed it on a shoulder injury. Okay, okay, so that’s not too embarrassing, right? Well, he then blamed that injury on “excessive masturbation.”

    Either way, this confirms any suspicions anybody might have had that 50 Cent was a secret baseball superstar. Maybe just stick to rapping, Fiddy.

  • Mariah Carey

    As soon as Mariah Carey walked onto the field at the Tokyo Dome in 2008, you knew things weren’t going to end well. The first giveaway: her staggering, four-inch heels. (Her itty-bitty short- shorts don’t exactly scream athleticism either). Perhaps just as disturbing, though, are the mascots who escorted her and the cameraman’s lingering gaze at Ms. Carey’s stems.

  • Mark Mallory

    On Opening Day in 2007, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory uncorked a ceremonial first pitch that briefly made him a nation-wide punch line. “That’s one of the worst opening pitches I’ve ever seen!” mutters an announcer. Former Reds star Eric Davis — Mallory’s catcher — appears flabbergasted; the umpire is so disgusted he mock-ejects the mayor.

    Richard Nixon once said that a man unable to hold his own in a poker game was not fit to be President. The same could be said of politicians unable to hurl a Little League-caliber fastball. To Mallory’s credit, he maintained a sense of humor about the incident, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Eric Davis missed the sign. I called for a pitchout.”

  • Carl Lewis

    It’s hard to pick on Carl Lewis. Once known as the world’s fastest man, he notched nine Olympic gold medals in four track-and-field events. But for a superhuman athlete, the guy cannot throw a baseball to save his life — as this 2003 effort at Seattle’s Safeco Field reveals. Here’s what’s truly frightening: Lewis’ performance on the mound was betterthan his 1993 rendition of the National Anthem. It’s probably best that Lewis steer clear of baseball diamonds entirely.

  • Joan Steinbrenner

    To be fair, Joan Steinbrenner is old. And her feeble toss didn’t ruin the 2008 renaming of the Yankees’ spring training facility after her husband. But why couldn’t a club that ponied up more than $400 million this off-season on free-agent acquisitions alone shell out a few more bucks to get the owner’s wife a pitching coach?

  • Annika Sorenstam

    In 2008, the Swedish golf star took the mound before a Mets game and deposited a 55-footer that shocked the Shea Stadium faithful. “No matter what stage you’ve ever performed on, when you have to throw out a first pitch … outside your realm of normality, that’s a tough, tough thing to pull off,” an announcer explains. Still, we’d have expected better from a woman whose booming drives helped her to 72 LPGA victories during a storied career.

  • Patrick Sharp

    Patrick Sharp is a damn cheater. After the Chicago Blackhawks winger stepped onto the mound at U.S. Cellular Field in September ’08, he surprised players and fans alike by abruptly walking right back off the mound only to return with a hockey stick. He then slapped the ball right into the glove of White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle. Sure, it might have been a perfect strike, but we’re not counting it!

  • Dick Cheney

    The throw wasn’t half bad. But the reaction Dick Cheney got from fans at the Washington Nationals’ home opener versus the New York Mets in 2006 — “with loud boos and some cheers,” as the Associated Press put it — makes this one of the worst ceremonial first pitches ever. When asked later about the audience’s vitriol, Mets third baseman David Wright shrugged it off: “When you’ve got 50 percent of America that’s Republican, 50 percent that’s Democrat, you’re probably going to get mixed reviews.”

    The original version of this list was published on April 6, 2009.

TIME MLB

Meet Baseball’s New Commissioner

Memorial Tribute To Tony Gwynn
Rob Manfred speaks during a Memorial Tribute To Tony Gwynn by the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on June 26, 2014 in San Diego, California. Stephen Dunn—Getty Images

Rob Manfred will succeed Bud Selig

Rob Manfred was chosen to be the new Major League Baseball commissioner by the league’s owners on Thursday, the Associated Press reports. Manfred, who has been working in baseball since 1988, will replace Bud Selig at the helm of an organization that catches $8 billion in revenue annually.

Manfred, 55, is the 10th man to step into the most powerful position in baseball. He beat out Boston Red Sox owner Tom Werner and the MLB’s executive vice president of business, Tim Brosnan, for the spot. He was Selig’s pick for successor—Selig, 80, promoted him last September to chief operating officer—but only got the job after several contentious hours of debate and voting among the league owners in Baltimore.

Manfred served as executive vice president of the MLB for 15 years. During his time heading up labor relations, there were no lockouts. He also oversaw the league’s crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs.

[AP]

TIME Baseball

10 Not-to-Miss Moments From the MLB All-Star Game

Derek Jeter went 2-for-2 in his 14th and final All-Star Game performance and the American League defeated the National League 5-3

Fans gathered at Target Field in Minneapolis Tuesday night, to watch the American League face off against the National League in the All-Star Game. Here are 10 of the best moments from–and Derek Jeter’s last appearance at–the annual celebration of baseball’s finest.

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