Baseball has always been a sport that breeds conversation.
While some lament the slow-moving nature of the game, others see its steady progression as a fascinating spectacle that invites discussion. Thanks to the sport’s array of statistics, quirky personalities and strategic intricacies, there’s always something fresh to talk about during the season.
In the last ten years, there’s been an explosive change in the way that we communicate with each other. The encroaching presence of social media has been trumpeted as an interpersonal “game-changer” for some time now, and this applies to baseball quite literally. Because of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and many other social platforms, a significant portion of our discussion now takes place on the internet.
In the Bay Area, there are few media personalities who know the game like KNBR 680’s Marty Lurie. Although Marty has vast knowledge about its history, he’s particularly talented at exploring baseball as a binding cultural phenomenon. Marty has been talking baseball on the radio for over 20 years, but he’s also been active on Twitter since before the Giants won the World Series in 2010.
With that in mind, we spoke with Marty about his impression of baseball’s evolution in the social media age:
ATF: How do you feel about the consumption of baseball as entertainment in today’s fast-paced media environment?
Marty: It’s terrific. You know, baseball is a “talking sport.” And there’s no better way to talk about baseball than with 26,000 people on Twitter. As things come up, you can make comments, you can use it to talk about the preparation of the game and things that happen after the game. The game unfolds slowly, so you can engage with other people as these moments unfold.
“The technology of the world is changing every single day, and baseball is going to change with it.”
ATF: What’s your take on smart phone usage at baseball games? Do you consider it polite for someone to be constantly connected while taking in a game?
Marty: Well, it depends what you use it for. I use my phone for Twitter as I’m sitting in the stands, checking the scoreboard and things like that. Where it’s convenient for me, I’ll do it. At the ballpark, you have the game in front of you, so it’s a little different than watching the game at home or in the studio. You have people all around to talk to, so Twitter isn’t exactly necessary in that situation. Still, if something comes up and I want to see what the beat writers are saying, I’ll certainly use my phone at the ballpark.
ATF: As a sports radio figure, you have to create engaging content for your listeners. How do you engage listeners without being a loud mouth like Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh?
Marty: You have to enjoy the game. The game unfolds and tells a story. There are so many things that come up in the game that you can talk about. The other thing about baseball is that it repeats itself. There’s stuff that happened 25 years ago that happens again today. So if it happened five years ago today it can happen today. The game is about the players and situations—the game is not about me. The game is about engaging with other people. The game is the issue. It’s not about enraging people, it’s about the different personnel decisions, the strategy of the game and how our opinions differ. There’s just so much to talk about with baseball that you just have to come up with something interesting or unique to say about the team. That’s what I try to do on my radio show.
ATF: With the MLB At Bat app, you can view highlights from all over baseball within minutes of them happening. Do you think people still have an overwhelming appetite to watch full games? Is baseball better or worse in bite-sized chunks?
Marty: I think the team you watch is the team you’re interested in. I don’t see people becoming fans of just sound bites or video bites. People are engaged in the story, and each day there’s a new chapter in that story. Within our story, there’s 14 other stories. We’re going to see those teams and those players, but it’s a great benefit to be able to see highlights from other games within seconds. It’s amazing. All of these things are good because they help you enjoy the game. However, I don’t think highlights will replace the game and team you’re specifically interested in.
“I don’t see people becoming fans of just sound bites or video bites.”
ATF: I agree. I think easy access to these highlights can help us gain a better appreciation of the talent throughout the league.
Marty: Right. And in my position on the radio, people always want to talk about the Giants. Giants, Giants, Giants. And that’s alright, but I also enjoy talking about the league as a whole. When people can appreciate what Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen did that day, it adds value to our discussion about baseball, even as Giants fans.
ATF: What technological changes are coming to baseball that most people wouldn’t expect?
Marty: I think that the technology involved with the game is changing every single day. There’s a minor league operation that is coming up with a promotion where the fans can vote as to what can happen in the game. Whether it’s the lineup, or the pinch-hitter, or whatever. Maybe there will be an app where the manager gets live feedback from the fans in attendance about what position changes he could make.
In fact, this happened over 60 years ago. The owner of the old St. Louis Browns, Bill Veeck, had an idea called “Grand Stand Managers Night.” About 80 fans sat behind the home dugout, and they each had these large cards. And the manager would literally ask these fans “should I pinch-hit for this player?” and they would hold up a card that said either “YES” or “NO.”
I think the technology is going to get more people involved with the game in an interactive sense. I also predict that umpires are going to be done away with at some point, and computers will regulate the strike-zone. The technology of the world is changing every single day, and baseball is going to change with it.
ATF: Has your relationship with the Twitterverse evolved over time? Anything you really like or don’t like about it now?
Marty: As you become more familiar with Twitter, it becomes easier to express yourself within a 140-character limit. And also when to use it. You don’t want to be saying something every 10 minutes. I’m watching the game, you’re watching the game, so I don’t have to tell you the play-by-play of what’s happening on the field. What I’ve learned over the years is to tweet my opinion about what’s going to happen rather than blandly stating what’s happening.
Baseball was an interactive game before anyone had social media or smart phones. It has always been a game where we sit and manage the game along with the manager. That’s the fun of it. So baseball is made for the fans who watch it to play along, and social media enables us to connect with the game. We all want to be part of the game, whether it’s meeting a player, getting a foul ball, or tweeting to our favorite players. Social media is just the latest extension of that desire to connect.
ATF: Any particular Giants pundits or players you enjoy following on Twitter? What do you think makes someone exciting or engaging on social media?
Marty: I only follow people who I think that I can learn from. Someone who has legitimate information. It’s particularly useful to follow the Giants beat writers who are on the field and reporting directly to Twitter. I enjoy seeing MLB trade rumors, and reporters who analyze the game like Ken Rosenthal or Bob Nightengale.
It’s like having a book, or a window, and I can open it to find all the information that I need to be prepared before going on the air.
ATF: You grew up during the Golden-Era of New York baseball, a time period that is often highly romanticized. Do you feel that people have the same emotional and cultural attachment to baseball in the age of social media?
“Baseball was an interactive game before anyone had social media or smart phones.”
Marty: Absolutely. I did a show the other night where I was asking people about their favorite home run. It was a great topic. People talked about home runs that happened two years ago, and some people talked about ones they saw 60 years ago. They talked about Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Will Clark and Frank Robinson. The responses spanned generations.
In your life, you’ve experienced things as a Giant fan in the last four to five years that were extremely exciting. But then someone could say the same about being a Giants fan 30 years ago. Baseball is the same game whether it’s your era or mine. We’re all connected by this generational game.
My point is that, with baseball, no matter how old you are, or how long you’ve been watching it, you have your moment. And I have my moment. No matter our differences, whether it’s generational or geographic, we all enjoy the same things that thrill us. And that’s why we love baseball.
After speaking with Marty, it’s clear that social media and baseball will continue to evolve together for years to come. For now, we’ll impatiently look forward to the day when fans can vote on the Giants’ batting order and starting rotation.
On second thought, let’s leave those responsibilities to Bruce Bochy.