TAMPA — Alex Tantum represents a minority constituency of sorts: He is a college junior, and his favorite sport is baseball.
When he talks to contemporaries, often, “The first thing they say, when I ask, ‘Why don’t you watch baseball?’ is ‘Baseball is boring,’” Tantum said in a conversation Wednesday. “I think that some of the things that baseball is doing — I think bat flips, more celebrations, embracing players’ personalities — helps the game become less boring,”
In October 2019, Tantum created an Instagram account called “MLB FITS,” championed by the slogan, “The Game is Changing.” Its posts highlight well-dressed baseball players — some on the field, like a recent shot of new Met Francisco Lindor, but mostly off the field, like the Yankees’ Clint Frazier sitting in his highly celebrated shoe closet..
The Frazier post features a comment from Yankees teammate Tyler Wade, and that speaks to what makes this account special: Among its over 21,000 followers are many ballplayers themselves, including Wade, the Padres’ Blake Snell and retired Yankees legend CC Sabathia.
“It’s so important for them to be able to express their personalities,” Tantum said. “It’s good for themselves. It’s good for the game as a whole. It’s good for fans to be able to relate to them. I feel like the players’ outfits are an extension of their personalities.”
Tantum cited the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Lindor as players whom he believes can compel his generation with the way they both play the game and understand the value of looking good while playing good. A Yankees fan, he ranked Frazier, Wade, Judge, Gleyber Torres, Aroldis Chapman and Giancarlo Stanton (not in that order – they all reside in his top tier) as the team’s best-dressed players.
“My friends are really into the NBA and NFL,” Tantum said. “I think what the NBA does a great job of is marketing the players and letting the players really speak for themselves. I think MLB is doing more of that recently.” Players Weekend, he added, was a personal favorite, and he applauded the formation of the Players Alliance.
After some talk of celebrations and expressions of emotion, I asked Tantum what he thought of the game itself, given all of the concerns and laments surrounding it.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching baseball. That’s just me as a baseball fan,” he said. “Obviously, there has been a lot of talk about time of the game, shortening the game, putting more hitting into the game, lowering the number of home runs versus strikeouts.”
There are changes that can be made to mitigate that; the attempted deadening of the baseball will be interesting, and fingers crossed that we’ll get pitch clocks and robot umps sooner than later. Ultimately, though, Tantum feels the best way to make baseball more exciting is to have the players be more excited.
“Emotion is good,” he said. “Pitcher celebrations are good, too. There’s always going to be those people who say, ‘I don’t like this. This isn’t the way it’s done,’ and stuff like that. But I think at the end of the day, the players are the ones who dictate what’s going on.”
The game, like the world, is changing. In a week when we saw Mariners president Kevin Mather resign in shame after voicing some fossilized views on players, it’s clear that baseball must further empower its players to be who they want to be in order for the industry to attain its full potential.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: The 1992 film “Light Sleeper” features a late scene in which a couple of people can be seen wearing baseball jackets, both sporting the same major-league team logo. Which team’s logo is it?
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Your Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees.
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