At the start of the 2010s, the Astros were terrible, the Cubs hadn’t won a pennant since World War II, the Yankees hadn’t gone a decade with out winning one since the 1910s. The game’s biggest controversies were about which players had used sports drugs, with Barry Bonds’ career just ended, Mark McGwire lolling about the lower reaches of the Hall of Fame ballot, and Manny Ramirez coming off a 50-game suspension. “Tanking” was an NBA problem, not a Major League Baseball one, and “shifts” were something you saw at hockey games.
In the last 10 years, baseball changed more than it did in the 40 years prior. Pitchers, aided by technologies we couldn’t imagine at the start of the decade, honed their skills to a fine point. Hitters abandoned 100 years of teaching in an effort to become machines dedicated to pulling the ball hard and in the air. Defenses countered with alignments pulled from the ’85 Bears playbook. Successive Collective Bargaining Agreements, along with explosive growth in national revenues, changed the fundamental relationship between a team’s on-field success and its financial success.
As the 2020s begin, we don’t talk about drugs as much, except around Hall voting time. The Billy Goat curse has been retired. The Astros may still be terrible, but in an entirely different way than they were 10 years ago. My 9-year-old, tragically, has never seen her Yankees in a World Series. The challenges baseball faces at the dawn of a new decade are different than any before, and they may require the kind of radical, forward thinking that has never been a strength of our game’s leaders.
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