Donald Trump is politically bombproof but politically incompetent

Donald Trump is staggeringly unpopular in the United Kingdom, with most miffed about how a campaign such as his could gain the astonishing traction it has. The majority of those then conclude that racism isn’t dead across the pond and that demagogues can win because, hey, look what happened in the 1930s.

These are unsurprising assumptions from those who dip in and out of the race and need constant reminders of how the electoral college works. They aren’t wholly wrong, but they can’t truly understand what’s going on as they aren’t immersed in the madcap reality Americans currently are.

Trump has gone after Mexico, China and goodness knows where else, but his most persistent and successful attacks have been levelled at an enemy much closer to home: the mainstream media.

Trump laid the groundwork for this when he kicked off his campaign, and has continued to build on it throughout. Barely a rally goes by without a fierce probe on the ‘dishonest press’ for not panning the crowd or reporting accurately – or at least Trump’s version of accurately. Cringe-inducing tweets about a “dopey” journalist or how much of a disaster former promoter Morning Joe is come morning, noon and night too.

This war on the media has proven mightily effective, so much so that he can easily spout a plethora of lies and half-truths before dodging the splashback. Harsh criticism of Trump from the media, whether it’s warranted or not, screams of, “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?” to his fervent followers, many of whom then visit their chosen online right-wing source for the “real” news, if only for confirmation bias.

Americans’ trust in the mass media is at a historical low, with just 32 percent saying they have either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust, according to a recent Gallup poll – an 8-percent decline from a year ago. Much of that can be attributed to Trump, who has simply exploited the omnipresent scepticism of mainstream media. Moreover, a CNN poll discovered that 50 percent deem Trump trustworthy. That’s a whopping 18 percent higher than the media’s trust ratings, and 15 percent greater than Hillary Clinton’s, his presidential adversary.

It’s what makes fact-checking a waste of time too, even from those doing it diligently with noble intentions.

Trump’s lies are pretty obvious – like when he called Clinton the co-founder of Islamic State who, as we all know, was in cahoots with President Barack Obama. Or when he said that Clinton would “abolish the Second Amendment”. But if a voter isn’t picking up on his brazen lies from the off, they aren’t about to do so from a smarmy know-it-all whose reputation Trump has directly or indirectly chipped away at.

Independent fact-checkers are a bit better, but once into the muddier waters of half-lies and half-truths, the implicit bias of the author will inevitably slip in, no matter how much they strive to be impartial.

Not to mention, those with the time and desire to traipse through a fact-checking sheet are likely to be well aware of the happenings of the election and the world to have worked out the “pants on fire” stuff for themselves. Fact-checking is a tool made by political junkies for political junkies, so trapped in their echo chamber that they think everyone cares about the new CNN poll for Pennsylvania and the subtleties of the crosstabs.

Trump is nigh on politically bombproof to media criticism; it’s his penchant for a personal dogfight which has harmed him – borne out of his thin skin and political inexperience. A sweeping generalisation on illegal Mexican immigrants being rapists is forgotten because it’s political, a singular attack from an oafish Trump on an undeserving target isn’t since it’s personal – a big guy going after a little guy doesn’t play well, unless that little guy is Marco Rubio.

Had Trump buried the Obama birther debate years ago, left Judge Gonzalo Curiel alone and responded respectfully with an olive branch to the Gold Star Khan family, he would probably be on his way to victory, simply because despite all of this it’s still a very tight race, largely because – on a personal level at least – Clinton is also an appalling candidate whose image has plummeted.

But, of course, that’s not in his nature, and Democrats are ever-grateful it isn’t, for it has given them plenty of juicy ad material and nice bait for Trump to hook himself with, as Clinton demonstrated in the first debate.

It comes from Trump’s belief that “all publicity is good publicity” and that as a counter-puncher, if someone, anyone, hits him – or he perceives them to have – then he must whack back twice as hard. That may work in business, but on the political battlefield, it’s about knowing when to pick or avoid fights.

If Trump loses by a big margin on November 8, something looking increasingly unlikely, he and his ideas would have been firmly rejected. A narrow defeat, however, it would be because the electorate deemed the orator of those ideas too inarticulate and lacking the political savvy to be a safe pair of hands in the White House.

But if Trump wins, it won’t be because of policy, for he has few. Nor will it solely be down to his brash outsider status. No, the main reason will be because he took on the media, discredited them further and, in doing so, made himself immune – even when he had no right to be.

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Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Politics, comedy and a man in a hamster wheel

Sod the haters. The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest was actually pretty good. The Swedes were, as ever, superb hosts, there was passable comedy throughout, and the new voting system made for a genuinely exciting climax – even if the final outcome did leave a bad taste.

After three and a half relatively short hours, it was revealed – with a new voting system that split the jury and public votes – that Ukraine had pipped Australia to the post, overturning a huge deficit thanks to the popular vote – not that it didn’t go without controversy.

No politics we were told. “Come Together” they preached. Thus, why were Ukraine allowed a three-minute slot to deliver an obvious message to Russia? Jamala’s winning effort sung of the Soviet Union’s deportation of Crimean Tatars in ‘1944’, which was also the song’s title.

Officials allowed it since it was historical, not political. But two years after Russia’s annexing of Crimea. Come on, really?  It was heartfelt, passionate and all the rest of it, but its intentions were clear – previous songs have been denied entry for less. This was not Eurovision’s finest hour.

Russia is not liked here, but is tolerated (just about). However, one wonders whether they will be welcome in Ukraine a year from now. The nation is also desperate to win again. The bookies’ favourites relied on a catchy – albeit unoriginal – track with magnificent visual effects. It ended up third, behind Ukraine and Australia.

So, what to make of the Aussies, Eurovision’s unlikely insurgents? Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’ was the jury’s pick by a mile, but came up a long way short in the popular vote. Perhaps the good folk of Europe disapprove of Australia’s involvement, or maybe the contest was always ordained to stick one to Russia. Should they come back again? I don’t see why not, but part of me was glad they didn’t win it. It might be time for them to go and start their own contest closer to home.

Scandinavia has pretty much owned the event lately, with Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (twice) hosting in the past decade, with the last-mentioned proving themselves to be the doyens of Eurovision. In the legitimately funny and ever-popular PETRA MEDE, along with the affable Måns Zelmerlöw, the show had presenters who didn’t look like they’d be hung, drawn and quartered if they put a foot wrong.

The half-time act was littered with brilliance: we were whisked back to ABBA and the glory days, greeted with Eurovision darling (Cockney accent required) Lynda Woodruff and treated to a smorgasbord of the contest’s good, bad and excellent in Petra and Måns’ ultimate Eurovision mashup, ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which executed parody perfectly. Lordi, the Russian grannies, Alexander Rybak all turned up for cameos.  Oh, and Justin Timberlake made an appearance too.

As for the United Kingdom, the less said the better. We are simply out of ideas. The jury gave us more love than we’ve become accustomed to (Malta awarded us 12!), but the televote just consolidated the known fact that Europe bloody loathes us. ‘Joe and Jake’ did what they could, but our trial with generic pop was shunned.

Now 19 years bereft of top spot, it is high time we took it really, really seriously or give up and go back to sending trash – our “proper” attempts in recent years have reflected an ungodly neediness.

But while the UK isn’t going to be staging Europe’s biggest party any time soon, Sweden showed for the second time in four Eurovisions that it’s in safe and competent hands.

Yes, it was cheesy, and there were plenty of “in” jokes, that would have befuddled those who don’t have the shameless tag of being a ‘Eurovision addict’. But in an era where the contest has developed a reputation for being a joke, to turn it on its head and embrace that was a stroke of genius.

Eurovision is something I usually love to hate, and that feeling will probably return in Kiev(?) next year. But credit where it’s due. Stockholm 2016 was fun, fresh and paid homage to what Eurovision has become. Can Sweden have it every year?

Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Revelling in the Farce

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest these days tends to be a masochistic experience. Lacking class, respect and even a couple of night-redeeming songs, it’s hard to believe that the graceful Katie Boyle hosted this contest in its infancy.

But on we plod – some of us have nothing better to do on a Saturday night – to another year, safe in the knowledge that even if the music’s crap, our eastern European geography will get a much-needed brush up. Nice and easy this year. Stockholm… Sweden.

So what’s to enjoy in 2016? Not that much in all honesty. The usually trusty Scandinavians took a battering in the semi-finals, leaving only Sweden to carry the flag in Saturday’s Grand Final. The trashy Europop that normally floods the show – providing multiple chances to sneer – is notable in its absence. Even the Greeks have shied away from sending over a bit of skirt, evidently not prepared to take even the slightest risk that they might have to host it.

Armenia, however, has followed the unwritten rules, and Iveta Mukuchyan’s risqué outfit should be enough to keep Europe’s red-blooded males until the 26th – yes, TWENTY-SIXTH – and final act of the evening.

To only enhance the farce, Australia, those adopted Europeans, probably have the best entry with Dami Im’s Sound of Silence. The bookies’, late to the news that other countries’ X Factor winners can actually sing, have slashed her odds from 20/1 to 4/1 since her semi-final performance on Thursday.

It has not gone unnoticed that the last few years have seen Eurovision become an LGBT celebration of sorts. Hence, that Russia – cue the boos – is the runaway favourite to swoop to victory adds an element of interest for those who just like to watch the world burn. Since the “anti-gay laws” coupled with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has been Eurovision’s bad boys. And for that reason alone, there would be plenty amusing about seeing the carnival rock up in Moscow a year from now.

But enough about the rest, what about the best? The nation that has sent the nil-point Jemini, a half-cut Bonnie Tyler and the frankly pathetic Scooch to compete since our last victory in 1997, has cobbled together “Joe and Jake” this year – no, I hadn’t a clue either. Both took part in BBC flop ‘The Voice’ last year, but they have a chance of doing better than many of our recent entries… look, I’m trying.

Once the initial tricking of results confirm the British entry has bombed yet again, the drunken debrief can begin. Trashy song? Bloc voting? Probably a combination of both. What about if we put a transvestite up? That worked for Austria, and Israel. Suggestions, suggestions. If only Adele would bite the bullet and prove once and for all that the rest of Europe just loathes us, we could stop pouring in megabucks and FUND OUR NHS INSTEAD!

However, while the music itself – you’re not actually here for that, are you? – will be instantly forgettable, in Sweden, we have a country that knows how to put a show on.

Thankfully for us in Blighty, the Swedes’ humour is not all that dissimilar to ours, so expect popular host Petra Mede to deliver a snigger-inducing innuendo-filled performance. An appearance from another Eurovision “favourite” (she is, in fairness, mildly entertaining), Lynda Woodruff, “spokesperson for the European Broadcasting Union” is expected, as she reprises her role from 2013, the previous time the contest came to Sweden.

A pre-warning: it’s scheduled to last three and a half hours, but expect it to go on even longer. Not that it will matter if you are suitably plastered, as is Eurovision tradition. So, how will I be getting into the spirit of things? A homemade curry – to celebrate the Indian diaspora in Europe, of course – is on the menu, which will be appropriately washed down with Germany’s finest weissbiers. Any excuse.

It’s a shambles, but it’s Europe’s shambles. There’s something still relatively charming about its awfulness – and anyway, what respectable Brit would pass up the opportunity to have a 210-minute moan? And, on the off chance that you still need a reason for Brexit, it won’t hurt to give this a try.

Could Donald Trump win? Definitely, maybe

Donald Trump is still a thing. When he took to a raucous Trump Tower in June to finally jump into a presidential race after years of teasing, even the most astute of political junkies predicted a brief Trump whirlwind before crashing out ignominiously.

However, the brash billionaire businessman has taken the presidential race by storm and, as the primaries draw closer, the lead that was supposed to dwindle has only solidified and grown. The Summer of Trump overran into autumn and is whipping up a winter storm as 2015 draws to a close.

It was not supposed to be this way, especially after a series of comments that would have been campaign-ending for anyone other than The Donald.

But where others would fall, Trump only seems to strengthen his advantages. The backlash over his policy to temporary ban Muslims from entering the U.S. in an effort to combat Islamic State would have finished lesser candidates, but the very next day, he was back on TV cruising through interviews with ease.

In his short time as a politician, Trump has shown his mastery of the media. Despite a glaring lack of specifics over the past six months, no interviewer has been able to successfully pin him down – Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has arguably been the best at calling out unworkable policies and question dodging. Why? Because Trump answers the questions he wants to, happily wanders off on tangents, while ensuring he provides a few juicy quotes to grab the headlines.

It’s all in Trump: The Art of the Deal 

As explained in Trump: The Art of the Deal, “the second-greatest book of all-time”, sensationalism sells and guarantees that “the press is going to write about you”. The Trump-coined phrase “truthful hyperbole” suggests slight exaggeration is innocent, and a “very effective form of promotion”.

These quotes help to clarify the logic of Trump’s approach, and dispel the claims that he is clueless. Most of Trump’s eyebrow-raising moments are examples of this ideology put into action. He knows exactly what he is doing.

For the media and Trump, it’s a convenient alliance – however much the two may like to despise each other. The media offers Trump copious exposure because he draws the ratings like no other. That exposure has allowed the New Yorker to keep his campaign coffers virtually full. While former establishment favourite Jeb Bush has expended $32.5 million on practically useless ads, Trump has shelled out just $216,000.

Polls continue to strengthen

The polls, as you have probably heard from the man himself, have been “beautiful”. After briefly dipping briefly due to Ben Carson’s short rise, Trump has surged once more and he now regularly chalks up 35 to 40 percent in national polling.

As there is no national primary, such numbers come with a healthy dose of caution, but even in the early voting states, Iowa appears the only obstacle – the Hawkeye State sees Trump locked in a battle with fellow anti-establishment candidate and Republican buddy Ted Cruz. In New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada he leads handily, and has done so for much.

Consider too that the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses have picked the eventual nominee just two times out of six, failing to win the Midwest state wouldn’t spell doom. However, if Trump does win Iowa, his overall strength suggests he could indeed “run the table” and cruise to the nomination.

The biggest hurdle for Trump may not come from the opposition, but from closer to home. Polls have indicated that his rise isn’t coming thanks to the GOP faithful, but from outsiders being wooed back into politics by his candidacy.

It could go one of two ways: the cold winter nights may ultimately see many decide against making the effort to go and vote, or, his vitalised base could turn out in force, much like Barack Obama’s did in 2008. If Trump’s crowds are a true measure of his support, the latter outcome seems probable.

No-nonsense Trump resonates with disaffected voters

Determining why Trump is enjoying such unprecedented domination among the GOP candidates is simple – he speaks the language of Americans utterly fed up with Washington and has the no-nonsense approach to “get things done” that the rest so sorely lack.

That he has flip-flopped on the Second Amendment and abortion – two Republican issues – doesn’t matter, nor does his past praise of likely presidential adversary Hillary Clinton. He claims to have evolved like Reagan, and says that as a businessman it was his job to buy politicians and get along with everyone.

For those not on the Trump Train, such statements obviously do not wash, but his ability to speak frankly about Washington corruption is what appeals to so many others – many Americans are overjoyed they now have somebody to voice the opinions they have held for so long – and that he is entirely self-funding his campaign helps too. Illegal immigration, jobs going abroad, shoddy trade deals to mention three, Trump is throwing out the red meat and getting the exact response he wants.

Detail has been missing, but who needs detail when you can sell a good story? Trump presents himself as a negotiator, someone who can make the necessary deals to solve America’s problems.

Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012, claimed three years ago that Russia was the country’s “number one geopolitical foe”; three years on, and the party’s current front-runner is trading compliments with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

Those dismayed with Obama’s leadership and consider the US a waning force on the global stage see Trump as the solution to that problem. As far as they are concerned, his business has excelled and such cut-throat nous will help America do the same – especially with the strong team Trump promises his presidency would boast.

Before Trump jumped in, many pundits thought Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would be a major force with his libertarian outlook, even if he isn’t as rooted in the ideology as his father Ron is. As it has turned out, small government and liberty has been swamped by big government and “security”. If the primaries confirm that, it proves Republicans were never really searching for a reduced state, just a powerful leader.

Trump v Clinton

The prospect of a Trump-Clinton showdown is decidedly juicy, especially from the safe vantage point of across the pond. It’s a match-up that gives both sides reasons to be happy, while both cause for concern.

For the Democrats, Trump being the opposition over a smoother candidate such as Marco Rubio would be cause for early and perhaps premature celebration. The Hispanics – an increasingly important section of the electorate – US Muslims and floating voters could flock to Clinton in wake of Trump’s tough immigration stances, handing the Democrats a clear path to the White House.

But underestimating the power of Trump has been a foolhardy strategy so far. His ceiling continues to rise in spite of those deeming he has peaked, and he would likely run a charm offensive in a general election, opting for a more centrist stance. His business background would serve him well in the economic battle, and the “bringing jobs back” message could be very potent with the working class, even among minority voters.

As of now, Clinton has a solid lead in head-to-head polls versus Trump, but with more than 10 months to go until the race culminates, what’s happening now has limited relevance.

Could Donald Trump become the Republican nominee? Definitely. Could he then march to the White House next November? Definitely, maybe.

 

 

Johnny Cueto’s high-stakes gems ensure Royals fans will remember him fondly

Royals fans will be hoping they have seen the last of Johnny Cueto. Not because of his performances, but because it would mean when the club returns to Kansas City, they would be doing so not for a high-stakes Game 6, but as World Series victors.

Cueto’s three-month rental at the Royals has had more ups and downs than a dodgy romcom, but ultimately, when the franchise has needed their hired ace to deliver, the Dominican has swaggered around the mound like no Kansas City hurler has for years. It was a win not just for Cueto or Kansas City, but for his fellow countryman Edinson Volquez, whose father tragically passed away before the start of Game 1.

In Game 5 of the Division Series against the Houston Astros, Cueto threw eight innings of magical two-run ball, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. On Wednesday night at The K, Johnny Beisbol went even better, firing a two-hit complete game to shut down the New York Mets – the best performance from a starting pitcher in the World Series since Greg Maddux’s gem for the Atlanta Braves in 1995. Cueto’s first feat kept the Royals dream alive, his second gave them a 2-0 lead in the Fall Classic, and a prime opportunity to end their 30-year wait for a world championship.

Cueto knuckled down after Luis Valbuena’s two-run dinger in the ALDS, and he mirrored that effort against Houston in his dismantling of the Mets. Only in the fourth inning did any trouble arise, and had Mike Moustakas’ throw from third to first been more on target, Cueto would have escaped with no damage. As it was, Lucas Duda’s bloop into left field landed safe and allowed New York to scratch out a run. Lesser men would have wobbled, but the only wobbling Cueto did was with his “rocking chair” wind-up – he proceeded to retire the next 15 batters, his solitary lapse came when he walked Daniel Murphy with two outs in the ninth. A night off for the bullpen added the finishing touches to a perfect night.

The Royals bats continued to stick firmly to their mantra. Making contact, getting the ball in-play and keeping the line moving. The most telling statistics from the first two games were deGrom and Matt Harvey’s strikeout count. They totalled just two apiece which prevented from blowing their adversaries away as they have all year. The Royals made them grind, and that persistence paid off.

After leaving the bases loaded in the fourth, Ned Yost’s men got straight back to work, bashing deGrom for as many runs in one inning – four – as he had conceded all postseason. Alex Gordon walked, Alex Rios singled, Alcides Escobar clobbered an RBI single, Eric Hosmer drove in two, Kendrys Morales got aboard before Moustakas drove in a fourth. Similar frenzied hitting in the eighth tacked on a further three runs and gifted closer Wade Davis the night off. A comfortable win was the exact tonic needed after the 14-inning roller coaster ride which had taken place just hours before.

Forget Cueto’s horror show in Toronto, his troubles working with catcher Salvador Perez, and all of those face-palming regular season starts that added fuel to the doomsayers’ fire. When Kansas City gave up Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed in July, this was the impact they weren’t just hoping for, but expecting. To echo Ned Yost’s words all season, the 2015 Royals are a ballclub borne entirely out of expectation.

Yet, even when the dreadlocked star was struggling on the mound, his presence radiated and aided a marked upswing in form for the Dominican Republic’s brightest young prospect, Yordano Ventura. Kansas City’s Opening Day starter endured a testing first half of the season, blighted by injury and a frustrating knack of instigating on-field fights, notably with Mike Trout. Ventura’s command was awry and his inability to knuckle down with runners on base saw his ERA balloon above 5.00. But after, the Cueto signing and a near demotion to Triple A, the 24-year-old talent began to light it up. One burgeoning ace looked to impress a bona fide ace. The result? A 9-1 finish to the season with a 3.10 ERA. It provided the Royals rotation stability and confidence while their prized asset suffered. Tie in “Steady Eddie” Volquez, one of the best off-season pick-ups, and the deadly Dominican trio was complete.

The mystery of Cueto’s tenure as Royal will have bothered him as much as anyone. He turned up and produced as expected, pitching a four-hit shutout in his first home start, but he then combusted with five successive horrendous starts. With free agency looming, his chance to escape the freefalling Cincinnati Reds for a winning team presented an opening to show the baseball world what Postseason Johnny Cueto is all about. That he is more than the man who dropped the ball after being relentlessly rattled in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game at PNC Park.

Indeed, the Blue Jays and their fans still rumbled him north of the border. Chants of “Cuueettoo, Cuueettoo” rang out, and murmurs of Toronto stealing signs left him confused. But at home, Cueto has been a different beast. Beating Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace-in-waiting, and handing Kansas City command of the World Series sent out an assertive message to all teams eyeing up a move for the 29-year-old in the off-season. When it matters most, chucking the ball to Cueto will give a side as much assurance of triumph as baseball ever can. On the road he remains an enigma, however on his own patch, he has thrived.

Yost knows this, and has used him expertly. For all of the seemingly baffling decisions which come out of the Royals dugout at times, Kansas City’s general manager has enjoyed unprecedented success in October – his 20-8 postseason record is the best-ever. Royals fans joke, but for the most part, it’s the opposition who have been “Yosted”. Even the Chiefs picked up a win when Yost was in attendance – perhaps it is destiny.

Maybe the Royals will not win the World Series. They are still two games from glory and the next three are in New York and, as ESPN will make sure you know, the last two teams to come back from two behind in the Fall Classic were from the Big Apple. However, Kansas City looks in magnificent shape, and with Ventura and the ultra-consistent Chris Young to follow, snaring baseball’s grandest prize is within touching distance.

If the Royals do take the crown, none of it would have been possible without Cueto. The late August and September waters were choppy, but once again, Dayton Moore has been vindicated. The all-in move has paid off, and the Royals faithful will remember Cueto fondly rather than fretfully. Now, it’s up to the rest of this historic Kansas City unit to finish the job. Missouri’s keenest baseball town is euphoric, excited and expectant.

Mike Trout shows the future is now as MLB delivers at Midsummer Classic

As the most-watched All-Star event in professional sports, Major League Baseball has a duty to put on a spectacular show each year, even more so in an era where interest – particularly among the youth – is apparently on the decline.

And as eyes descended on the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, it’s fair to say baseball delivered.  The revamped Home Run Derby brought with it new excitement, while the continued emergence of Mike Trout as the sport’s brightest young star was welcome, even if the MLB does do everything possible to shoehorn him into the limelight – no, “hitting for the cycle” doesn’t count if it takes you four games.

The showpiece All-Star Game saw the American League secured home advantage for this year’s World Series with a 6-3 victory over the National League – their 15th triumph in the last 19 Midsummer Classics. Trout homered off the fourth pitch of the game; Brian Dozier sent his first at-bat as an All-Star into the crowd as well, while Aroldis Chapman’s superhuman arm fired 12 out of 14 pitches over 100mph, striking out Brock Holt, Mike Moustakas and Mark Teixeira.

Dispelling the myth that a mass invasion of Kansas City Royals into the game would threaten the American League’s chances, their three eventual starters – Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez – went 3-8 and Perez also reached first base after being struck out, courtesy of Madison Bumgarner’s wild pitch, in a painful rematch of the final out from last year’s World Series (if only that had happened in Game 7 at Kauffman Stadium). Wade Davis threw a typically filthy eighth inning, retiring two, while the other Royals pitcher, Kelvin Herrera, did not get on the mound.

Trout was MVP for the second year running – the first time that has happened in All-Star Game history – but the award perhaps should have gone to Cain who was the only player with two hits, which he complimented with an RBI and a stolen base. The MLB’s desperation to find the “face of baseball” is an understandable one however, and it’s a decision that is hard to take too much umbrage with.

Derby Delights

In Monday’s Derby, hometown kid Todd Frazier saw off the impressive challenge of the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson.  The competition still managed to thrive despite being bereft of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Trout, who were unable to take part due to a broken left hand, a father not well enough to pitch and a humble 23-year-old who wanted to allow his Angels teammate Albert Pujols a chance for glory. No complaints there.

The new time format sped up the contest and made for an exciting couple of hours, even if the repeated “back-back-back-back-back” line from Chris Berman in the commentary box became slightly tiresome.

Pederson showcased his big-time talent in his first full season as a Dodger and his match with Pujols made for the most touching moment of Monday evening when the latter hugged Pederson’s brother, Champ. The two met for the first time earlier this year and Champ, who suffers with Down’s syndrome like Pujols’ older daughter Isabella, struck a chord, with Albert signing a jersey for him.

Champ said that Pujols was his favourite player at the time although was supporting his brother when the two faced off – the family bond is pretty unbreakable, especially in baseball.  It was one that tugged the heartstrings.

Viewing figures were reportedly down once again, which was in part due to the “Derek Jeter” effect. New York tuned in en masse in 2014 for the Yankee shortstop’s final All-Star Game and their interest in this year would have been muted further since there were no Bronx Bombers starting. An absence of Red Sox starters too marked the first time in All-Star Game history that there were no starters from either the Yankees or Boston. However, in comparison to other All-Star Games, baseball still towers above its competitors.

There were plenty of concerns ahead of the 2015 Midsummer Classic, the fan voting, the injuries – losing Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Stanton to name a trio were big blows – and the new Derby format. But by and large it worked, and in Trout, baseball is in possession of American sport’s hottest young property. The future may yet be bright.

 

Where are the British sluggers?

Baseball is one of the staples of the American sporting calendar and has a broadening global appeal. But while many countries revel in playing ball, Britain lags far behind

THE DIAMOND: the world’s glitziest and most precious gem. The definition pretty much ends there for most. It certainly doesn’t register even the remotest of sporting flickers for the vast majority of British folk. But across the pond, eyes are locked on the diamond from April to October as America indulges in its favourite pastime. Baseball.

Every year, two leagues of 15 – the National League and American League – do battle to determine their most proficient team. Then, the victor from each goes on to the World Series – the annual showpiece where the ‘world champion’ of Major League Baseball (MLB) is crowned. It is pure sporting theatre laced with that special, infectious buzz only the US of A can offer.

Baseball has played host to tumultuous achievements and scripted some of the most magnificent tales too. Last year, the Kansas City Royals looked poised to end 29 years of hurt and be crowned world champions once more, as they capitalised on the wildcard that granted them a post-season appearance. But they hadn’t bargained on the pitching might of Madison Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giant whose unrivalled performance earned him Sports Illustrated’s coveted Sportsman of the Year award.

Romanticists are not without a generous serving of entertainment either. The American League Championship Series of 2004 spings to mind: the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox – two of baseball’s most iconic franchises. The Red Sox looked down and out when trailing three games to none, but multiple escapes that Harry Houdini would have marvelled at ensured the dreams of a city came to life. Boston won 4-3 and went onto trounce the St Louis Cardinals a week later to claim a first World Series title since 1918.

But one cannot kid oneself. Such folklore is not etched into the minds of Britons. Baseball goes almost totally ignored in the United Kingdom, labeling it a minority sport is perhaps too kind.

It’s not as if the existence of the game here hasn’t been acknowledged – you will find a smattering of the world-famous Yankees caps on the streets of Britain’s towns and cities. But ask one who dons it whether they saw A-Rod’s crunching blow over the Green Monster at Fenway Park the other week – an effort which saw him tie Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list – and you will get more than a quizzical look.

Cricket – the most classic of English sports – is baseball’s closest relative. The parallels are clear. The ball is dealt, players attempt to hit it and fielders do their utmost to snaffle it. Both games are statistic-laden too. At times, one wonders whether the plethora of records for every nook and cranny are necessary, but they sure are fun to delve into.

However, on closer inspection it is crystal clear that while they may belong to the same family, they are now nothing more than cousins. The combination of precision hitting and agility found on a ballpark has yet to be perfected on a cricket field, even with the birth of the sport’s brashest offspring: Twenty20. And unlike in cricket where 360-degree shot-making is fast becoming the norm, the rules of baseball means a slugger is forced to “hit in the V”. Geoffrey Boycott would be proud.

Capturing the market

While cricket is constantly struggling to innovate and attract newcomers, baseball has a contrasting problem. According to co-host of the now defunct MLB on Five, Josh Chetwynd, the MLB has a fanbase, it is just neglecting it.

“It’s very telling that both the NFL and the NBA have staged regular season top professional games here in the UK and baseball hasn’t. MLB has a presence here but they need to be aggressive about the market.

“The fact that they let a domestic-based show on baseball slide and have basically been willing to just allow people who are already fans to either pay for a premium channel, or for MLB.TV, isn’t a great commitment,” laments Chetwynd.

On a potential MLB on Five comeback in the future, he is hopeful but currently unexpectant. “It would require MLB to make a commitment in this market. The NFL did just that and I think that’s why they remain on terrestrial television. Until that happens, it may be a long wait.”

Matt Smith from BaseballGB, a UK-based website which covers the sport in this country as well as in America, thinks that bringing a Major League game to the UK could be a stepping stone.

He commented: “Behind the scenes, MLB has had discussions recently about the potential of doing that (playing a game in the UK) in the next few years – potentially playing somewhere like Surrey Cricket’s Oval or at the Olympic Stadium – and we’ll have to wait and see if that comes to fruition and exactly how British baseball could really make use of that short burst of publicity.”

Smith is also acutely aware of the versatility some sports have over others when it comes to staging events – something which has held baseball back.

“Sports like basketball and ice hockey have been able to create this (presence in the UK) by playing in multi-purpose arenas, which provide a good viewing experience for paying fans and a good backdrop that sells it to TV companies like Sky, who have shown highlights of games from those domestic leagues. We really don’t have anything like that in baseball as whilst you can shoe-horn a baseball field onto a cricket field, it’s not quite the same.”

Scope for growth?

That American football and basketball have cut through into the British market and baseball hasn’t says either one of two things. That Britain doesn’t care about baseball, or more likely, investment and promotion is lacking. The game of rounders adopts many of baseball’s principles and is played regularly by schoolchildren on these shores, which indicates we are not averse to the concept, the interest just hasn’t been harnessed.

Chetwynd understands the problems and, with the right measures, he thinks progress can be made.

“We lag behind greatly in infrastructure. The creation of a proper field at Farnham Park was a great step forward, but there needs to be three or four more facilities before you have a critical mass that will start attracting kids. To paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams, I do believe that if you build it (over and over again) people will come. We just need nice purpose built baseball facilities,” he said.

Yet British baseball is not only lagging far behind America, Japan and the Dominican Republic – the game’s powerhouses – but mainland Europe too. While the Netherlands stunned all to grab a fourth-place finish in the 2013 World Baseball Classic – the best showing from a European side – the UK failed to even qualify for the 16-team tournament.

The British Baseball Federation (BBF) has been in charge of the sport’s affairs in this country since its foundation in 1987. The organisation oversees the National Baseball League (NBL) – the biggest senior league competition in the UK – and eight other divisions in three lower tiers.

The perennial difficulty, and one that is yet to be overcome, is to craft something that will not only give baseball a sustainable base in Britain, but a system that encourages more people to both participate and spectate.

Chetwynd added: “I believe that the BBF and the developmental organisation Baseball Softball UK (BSUK) have come a long way in offering support for aspiring baseball players. There are lots of clinics and efforts to help teams in pockets without any baseball experience get going.

“That said, I’m always cautious on this front as British baseball’s history has had tons of ebbs and flows where it looks like the sport is gaining traction, only to have a few key figures who are driving expansion lose interest or have other factors derail their efforts. I do believe BSUK is more structured than most of those previous efforts, but you never know.”

The future

It’s difficult to predict if Farnham Park – a fully-fledged ballpark in Slough – will prove to be a trailblazer or whether it is destined to be an anomaly within the UK’s sporting landscape.

“I won’t be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and 16 wearing a glove and swinging a bat,” Babe Ruth, one of baseball’s best, once chimed. While such an event here would be pure fantasy, taking heed of the aspiration would not be a bad thing. Baseball in the UK is a niche market, but essentially, that market is there. Ensuring the game is accessible to those who want it is key.

The MLB lost the luxury of terrestrial TV in 2008 after 13 unbroken years – it was a hefty blow. It’s tough enough for a mainstream sport to be bereft of free-to-air coverage, nevermind a plucky outsider.

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way,” goes another Ruth gem. The road may be long, bumpy and at times without hope, but the desired destination is never totally out of reach. Just ask the Red Sox.

Fact Box

Playing ball at Stamford Bridge

Over 100 years ago, before World War One had begun and the New York Giants were known as a baseball team, Stamford Bridge – the home of Chelsea Football Club – hosted a match between the Giants and the Chicago White Sox. King George V and 20,000 others watched on a February day in 1914 as the final game of the teams’ world tour went to extra innings. The White Sox eventually prevailed 5-4 – thanks to Tommy Daly’s home run in the bottom of the 11th inning – to wrap up the series 24 games to 20.

Britain were world champions?

The first version of the Baseball World Cup (it was then known as the Amateur World Series) took place in 1938 and was contested between Great Britain and the USA. The five-match series was held across the north of England over a week in mid-August. The Brits raced to a 2-0 lead with wins in Liverpool and Kingston upon Hull before the Americans kept the competition alive with a triumph in Rochdale. Great Britain were not to be denied in their bid to win their first, and so far only World Cup though, sealing the title with a 4-0 victory at the Shay in Halifax.

The Northampton pitcher

Few English players have ever made it into the Major Leagues and even fewer have become seasoned campaigners. Danny Cox was an exception to the rule. The Northampton pitcher enjoyed plenty of moments in the limelight in an 11-season career, most notably for the St Louis Cardinals. Cox pitched twice in the 1985 World Series – which the Cardinals lost to the Kansas City Royals – but his finest moment arguably came in Game 5 of the 1987 World Series, where his winning performance gave his team a 3-2 lead, only for the Minnesota Twins to fight back and be crowned world champions in a deciding seventh game.

Contracts

The MLB has a reputation for being lucrative and it currently boasts 27 of the 30 largest contracts in all of sport. Alex Rodriguez broke the record twice when signing deals with the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees but he was usurped by Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera, who penned a $292 million 10-year contract with the Detroit Tigers in 2014. Miggy was then toppled just months later by Giancarlo Stanton when he struck a $325 million deal with the Miami Marlins. However, since his agreement is set to last three years longer, Cabrera remains the highest earner per match.

 

Question everything

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