retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story yesterday about a study saying that Amazon is stronger in New York and California, while Walmart is stronger in Texas and Florida. This prompted MNB reader Robert Dyer to write:

One has to note on the market share spread between Amazon in California and New York is that unions and politicians have worked hard to create roadblocks to Walmart stores in these areas, most specifically in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  The false narrative on Walmart is pervasive and continues to shape the attitudes of consumers in those market areas.  So, Walmart has to work harder to overcome those challenges, while Amazon has not such roadblocks to overcome.

I’ve always had a problem with the roadblocks that politicians in New York and California have thrown up against Walmart, but while those may be a factor, I also think there are cultural reasons that New Yorkers and Californians are more in tune with Amazon than with Walmart. And I say that, to be perfectly honest, as someone who has lived in both places.

We also had a story yesterday about how Kroger has decided to remove all publications about assault rifles from its stores. There apparently aren’t very many of them, but from now on readers will have to find them elsewhere. The decision comes just weeks after Kroger said that it would no longer sell any gun or ammunition to people under 21 years of age in its Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest. That decision followed similar moves by both Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart.

I commented:

These moves are not going to have an enormous impact on the availability or maybe even the use of guns in the US, but there are, I think, an attempt to position the company as being on what management sees as being the right side of history - not anti-gun, but perhaps with a little more attention to detail and oversight into who has them and who doesn’t.

In the end, this is all happening because of a growing force of young people who are politically engaged and intend to use every tool at their disposal - especially in social media, which is their weapon of choice - to bring about change.

One MNB reader disagreed:

Kevin, Kroger is yet another example of a company trying to gain publicity with a statement that has no impact on their stores. In fact, I'm not even aware of any magazine that is devoted solely to assault rifles since they don't exist. Perhaps Kroger should just say any gun that looks intimidating will not be allowed in magazines in our stores.

Secondly, I'm unclear on your statement "the right side of history", I'm not aware of any changes to the constitution. Did I miss something?

No. I wasn’t talking about the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which, even if we don’t agree on its guarantees, I think we could agree that there are ongoing arguments about those guarantees. I was talking about how history is shaped by the passion and dedication of people who feel strongly about an issue. We’re going to see a lot of that, in the form of marches and protests, this weekend, I think.

MNB reader Woody Weddington wrote:

It is not the responsibility of retail to make federal law.  I can promise you that Dick's and Walmart is off my list of places to shop.  When the federal government move to create the 21 age to purchase all firearms and ammunition then retail will be obligated to follow the laws of the nation.

Another MNB reader wrote:

I think this is a great idea. I just returned from a trip to FL where the local Publix had these publications on display, front and lowest shelf — in plain view of all children. It was disturbing to see, even as a parent of grown children.

On the subject of frequent return visits by customers to Amazon Go in Seattle, MNB reader Herb Sorensen wrote:

This is outstanding confirmation of the fact that stores are "communal pantries."  Checkout is a needless impediment to grab and go, what you do when you go into your personal pantry.

So Amazon is building REAL pantries for all of us to share, the true communal pantry!

It gives me enormous pleasure that I got a lot of email yesterday in response to my “MNB Sports Desk” piece.

The story said that “the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) announced last week that it is imposing a number of changes in how minor league games are run, including the decision that whenever a game goes into extra innings, each of those extra innings will start with a runner on second base. That runner will be the last person in the order during the previous inning, with authorities saying that the rule change is necessary in order to make games go faster.”

There also will be a timer put on pitchers, requiring them to make their pitches more expeditiously, as well as a limit on visits to the mound. All the changes are aimed making games move faster.

I commented:

At the risk of being that old guy who just tells kids to get off his lawn and sits in his rocking chair reminiscing about the good old days, I’d just like to say that I find some of these changes to be outrageous.

I have no real problem with limiting visits to the mound, or in putting a time clock on pitchers. To a certain extent, I think it puts baseball in the position where it is imitating football and basketball, which I don’t think is a good thing. Baseball is designed to be a more leisurely sport. It doesn’t have the sheer physicality of basketball or the violence of football, but that’s one of the reasons I love it. You can sit back, drink a beer on a warm day, nibble on a hot dog and enjoy the fact that it plays out at a slower, more deliberate pace. There’s no time clock … games take the time they take.

I’m a lot more concerned about this extra inning, man-on-second-base nonsense, because it seems to be a test balloon for a change that could be brought to the major leagues. You’re not supposed to be on base unless you’ve earned it; you’re not supposed to be just be there, in scoring position.

Sure, some people want to go home earlier. But a lot of them already do, leaving in the seventh inning to beat the traffic. Sure, longer games put more stress on pitchers’ arms … but that’s reason to make pitchers’ arm stronger and more durable, not change the rules of the game.

We live in a world where people like to take shortcuts, don’t like to play by cultural and societal norms, where the fabric of society begins to unravel because people simply aren’t decent to each other.

There’s a reason, in the words James Earl Jones spoke so eloquently as Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams, that “the one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game -- it's a part of our past … It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

We can’t let the bureaucrats steamroll over our game with rules changes that will make baseball something else, something less than it is.

Not everybody agreed with me.

One MNB reader wrote:

I'll bet you were upset when the NBA introduced the 3-point shot, too.  Maybe you should shift your ire to the NFL's decision to almost eliminate kickoff-returns, once just about the most-exciting part of their game.

I actually like the three point shot. As for eliminating kickoff returns, I’m not a fan. But basketball and football aren’t baseball.

MNB reader Jim Huey wrote:

Kevin, I wholeheartedly share your views on baseball and the proposed changes. However, it seems to me that MLB is doing what you argue retailers need to do, innovate. I love going to baseball games, but my millennial children find it boring and long and don’t want to go. Now maybe these proposed changes will only succeed in driving away purists like you and I and be unsuccessful at attracting a new audience with a shorter attention span and different desires, but they are doing something to try and combat their clientele becoming older and older.

Now, an argument could be made that what teams and MLB need to do is not change the product on the field, but change things to make the overall experience more desirable for millennials and others. Continue to give them other things to do while they are there (that incidentally they pay more for) and leave the game alone for purists like ourselves who only leave when our bladders are too full of beer.

It isn’t for everyone. But one of the great pleasures of my life is going to a ballgame with my son Brian. We get there early, we stay until the end, and life is good.

From another reader:

So let me get this oh guru of the “change or die” mentality is suggesting MLB NOT CHANGE to keep viewers/fans who are switching to other sports more engaged and satisfied with the product that is MLB….say what what…what did I miss.  Gosh I really loved the good ol days before UPC labels on products…..wink.

Much the same from MNB reader Richard Raudabaugh:

”Too many companies are not innovating for tomorrow. Instead, they are defending yesterday.”

Worked for football, baseball needs changes.  It’s bad enough that games start so late on the east coast and if they go long, there over when you wake up for breakfast.

First of all, I’ve never described myself as a “guru” of anything. I’m just a writer and a pundit and a wisenheimer.

Second, I’m totally with you about when games start, especially postseason games. They used to argue that they needed to start them at a certain time so folks on the west coast could get home to their television sets. But these days, people can watch games on all sorts of different pieces of technology in all sorts of different places, so that argument does not seem relevant. I think no postseason game should start after 7:30 pm … best to do it so kids can actually watch the games end.

I have no problem with making games more accessible, or even faster. But when you change an essential rule in how runs are scored, that strikes me as akin to Whole Foods opening McDonald’s counters inside their stores so they could drive more traffic.

One MNB reader wrote:

Kevin, I could not agree with you more! I grew up with a grandfather who listened to every Pittsburgh Pirate game on the radio and scored the games. My brother and I could not wait to pour over those sheets at breakfast every morning. I played baseball and then softball until well into my 40’s and still love it more than any other sport. I agree games can be sped up but to mess around with extra innings( my brother still has the score sheets from Harvey Haddix PERFECT 12 innings in the late 50’s or early 60’s) is sacrilegious! Tell the batters to step in the box and stay there and have the pitcher stay on the mound instead of marching around checking out the crowd after every pitch and you will have faster baseball. You never hear MLB complain about the money they receive from all the commercials between innings do you? Cut the commercials (the sponsors will pay more for them) by 40% and you will have faster baseball.

Funny you mention the commercials. What makes me crazy are all the quick ads inserted in the coverage - every pitch and every twitch seems to be sponsored by someone, which gets in the way of the natural poetry of the play-by-play.

MNB reader Christina Zook chimed in:

I’m with you on putting a man on second in extra innings, sounds like something that you would do in little league.  I’ve divided on the pitch clock because that could mess some good pitchers up who take longer than 15 seconds between pitches but they are some guys taking a long time between pitches even without runners on base.  As a Chicago White Sox fan we always loved when Mark Buehrle pitched because when he was on we were out of there in an 1hour and 50 minutes.  I do think the mound visits by the catcher needs to be limited, I’ve seen Joe Mauer of the Twins walk out there too many times to count during an inning.
There is a rule that the batter is supposed to stay in the batter’s box between pitches and I don’t see that one being enforced.  I’m surprised that the owners would really want the game to speed up since that would be less money in their pocket from the concession stands for extra innings.  Time will tell what makes it into the Majors.

Another MNB reader wrote:

If MLB co-opts this rule of putting a runner on second to start extras, then I will have to re-think my relationship with the game. Baseball has been a constant in my life since I was a small boy, and – at its heart – retains a purity, grace and beauty that no other game can match. None. I couldn’t even begin to explain how the game has influenced my life, but I can tell you that the one thing I love most about it is that, no matter what, in any given baseball game you will see or experience something that has never happened before.

Giving a single free base – let alone two – to a runner at the top of an extra inning is hardball blasphemy.

“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.” – Red Barber.

I miss the Ol’ Redhead, sitting inn the catbird seat.

I’m a little young to have heard him broadcast Brooklyn Dodger games, but I vividly remember hot summer nights, lying in bed with the window open and the transistor radio on, captivated by Barber and Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman broadcasting Yankee games.

Here’s the deal. I know other sports make big changes. I know that we have to embrace change. But as Robert B. Parker once said, “Baseball is the most important thing that doesn’t matter.” These changes would begin a slide that could make it matter less, and I find that unacceptable.
KC's View: