Unpacking Barstool at the Ballpark Night | The Hardball Times

Unpacking Barstool at the Ballpark Night

Citi Field began hosting Barstool at the Park back in 2015. (via slgckgc)

While it has made strides, Major League Baseball has struggled to make historically marginalized fans feel welcome. Whether it’s problematic tweets, some teams’ reticence to celebrate Pride Month with ballpark events, or the ongoing issue of domestic violence (and teams’ proclivity to look past these incidents if it will benefit their win-loss record), baseball is heavy with tradition, and tradition that isn’t always especially inclusive.

There have been attempts to right these wrongs in recent years. By next year, 29 of 30 major league teams will host a Pride Night. In 2015, the league implemented a collectively bargained domestic violence policy that, while imperfect, is still much better than that of other leagues. The sport’s conversations around diversity have been halting at times, but there have been moves toward progress.

Many teams have tried to inspire fans to come to the ballpark by centering their interests, big and small, silly and substantial, as much as they can — country music night, Billy Joel night, a bevy of evenings designed to recognize fans’ diverse ethnic heritages. All of these efforts have served a dual purpose: to include those who have previously been excluded, or at least ignored, and to combat baseball’s growing attendance problems, an issue that has inspired a great deal of hand wringing from league officials and baseball writers alike. Some of these events carry the endorsement of teams’ marketing departments. Others are less official, with teams working with large groups to create ticket deals, as corporations might for company outings.

Which brings us to Barstool at the Ballpark, a series of events that began in 2015 at Citi Field and has expanded to Guaranteed Rate Field and Yankee Stadium. After seeing some tweets on my timeline that expressed concern about the events, I wanted to find out how they came to be and how the baseball community at large feels about them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve expressed concern about Barstool’s approach, tone, and content in the past; I stand by those statements. But what I was keen to explore for this piece is how baseball and the site’s content – the totality of its content – intersect. I was particularly interested in how the teams that host these events understand them. Who are they meant to serve? Do they complement baseball’s desire to draw more fans to the ballpark, or does the Barstool Sports brand necessarily put them at odds with that goal?

The first thing to note is that BATBP nights are different than many typical theme nights. The former are organized by the Barstool writers who cover the respective teams working with the teams’ group ticket sales reps, while the latter are formally sponsored by the teams themselves. Dave Williams, known on Barstool as “White Sox Dave,” described it as a “very simple process.” Teams’ group ticket sales reps work with a group — in this case, Barstool — to reserve a block of tickets confined to one section of the ballpark. There’s typically a food and drink deal that comes with the purchase of your ticket.

Kevin Clancy, who goes by “KFC” in the Barstool universe, started the social gatherings. “I’m a Mets fan and was living in Hoboken, and the Mets ticket rep was living there, too, and we met up at a bar and hashed out the ideas,” Clancy told me over the phone. “We’ve done game watches at a bar with an open bar special, where it’s more social [than about the game], so I tried to replicate that at the stadium.”

The first year, they reserved 100 tickets and sold out almost instantly. The ticket count was upped to 250; the group was later moved to the Coke Corner in right field, where they could accommodate 500 attendees each game. This year, they’ve been moved to the Bud Light Landing in left, where they’ve sold about 500 tickets for each of the three BATBP events they’ve hosted. (They have a fourth event scheduled for August 25.)

The events at Yankee Stadium and Guaranteed Rate Field have been similarly well-received by those in attendance. White Sox fans get a Guaranteed Rate Field patio ticket. Organizers were allotted 540 tickets for this year’s July 14 event, though Williams estimates they could have sold around 750. He organized a BYOB tailgate in the parking lot before the game, too.

The most recent Yankee Stadium event, a Subway Series game on July 22, was allotted 300 tickets in the Masterpass Batter’s Eye Deck in Center Field and included all-inclusive beer, soft drinks, and food for 90 minutes. It was the third Yankee Stadium event in 2018; it’s Barstool’s second season doing gatherings there. “They sell out every single time,” says Eric Hubbs, the Barstool Yankees writer who organizes the events.

Williams estimated the gender breakdown at the White Sox event as 65 percent men to 35 percent women, and Riley Ludwig, 22, who has attended BATBP events at both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, says “it’s definitely a male majority, but there are always other women there.”

The Barstool employees who run these events see them as a chance for fans of the website to meet each other, relax, and enjoy a baseball game. “Mets fans are some of the most passionate fans and I think it translates really well to the Barstool/Mets fan base,” Clancy says.

Hubbs concurs. “When you combine drinking and Yankees baseball, the Stoolies will always come out for a good time. Also, it gives them a cool chance to meet me and some of the other personalities at Barstool who show up,” he explains. “Barstool doesn’t gain anything from it [financially]; I just do it to give Stoolies an awesome time and have some fun.”

But Barstool’s events also come with detractors. The site is extremely polarizing in the sports media world. Stoolies explain away the criticism by saying the site is “not for everyone” or that much of that behavior is in the past, claiming that the site has evolved since Dave Portnoy started it in 2003. (For his part, Portnoy has been almost defiant in his refusal to shift the site’s tone, telling the Boston Globe in November of last year, “If you don’t like it, don’t read it.”)

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Some have expressed their concern and frustration at the events, sharing that BATBP nights make them feel uncomfortable or demonstrate that baseball is representing them poorly. (Much of the criticism was shared using asterisks to mask the site’s name in Twitter searches. Given that, I have refrained from linking to tweets that people intentionally tried to obscure from Barstool staff and fans.) Clancy seemed surprised I had seen any backlash to their events. He said he’d never heard it. Williams says he sees “very little” criticism. “There is a few people who chirp on Twitter every year that we run it, but it’s always just random outliers.”

What has inspired that so-called chirping? Barstool has a history of problematic content. The website has a “Smokeshows” section. It has played host to incidents including filming an employee in the shower, telling an intern two employees were in a race to see which one could “f*ck her first” (a conversation on Barstool Rundown that featured Clancy), and asking a prospective employee to sign away her right to a harassment-free workplace. Its Olympic coverage was marred by a Barstool Radio host calling 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim “a hot piece of ass.” And Portnoy has hounded women online, publicly shaming an ex-girlfriend for infidelity, and repeatedly pursuing a Deadspin writer despite her strongly expressed disinterest. Some of the site’s readers, who appear keen to curry favor with Portnoy and other Barstool personalities, have responded to criticism of the site by directing degrading – sometimes threatening – tweets and emails to female and non-binary reporters and Twitter users.

When asked about Barstool’s reputation as misogynistic, many of the women I spoke to acknowledged that history. “I think a lot of that comes from the previous, older stuff that Barstool did, and they’ve evolved [since then]”, says Rebecca Carr, a 35-year-old government employee who told me she identifies as a feminist. “I guess it sometimes gets frustrating because it’s ‘cool’ to be anti-Barstool when sure, disagree with things they say or think they might have gone too far, but to automatically paint with a wide brush that anyone who likes or listens to them is sexist is unfair.”

BATBP attendees also pointed out there are a wide variety of personalities on the site, noting that if you don’t like one, there are plenty of others to choose from. “Through the years, Barstool has shown itself to be more of a ‘co-ed’ atmosphere, with Chicks in the Office and other female podcasters, and now a badass female CEO,” says 34-year-old Tara McDonald. “I like being part of their broadening horizon.”

Some of the site’s most prominent personalities, including Pardon My Take host PFT Commenter, have embraced humor that is more consistently respectful of women and people of color. But just last month, Portnoy made a 20-year-old female employee cry by telling her on-air that she would be too ugly to be on camera in five years because “people will throw up” when they look at her. In June, on an episode of Barstool Rundown, three employees tried to convince a first-generation Mexican-American colleague that Corey Lewandowski saying, “Womp, womp” in reference to children being separated from their parents at the US/Mexico border was funny.

The site also recently announced their hiring of Michael McCarthy, a blogger with a history of making rape jokes, who introduced himself to readers by saying, “I don’t discriminate…I don’t like anyone. So if you feel I am being too tough on Italians*, just give it a sec, and I will eventually get to the Irish**. And don’t get me started on the fucking J*ws*** (can I say that? I’ll ask).” An editor’s note from Clancy at the bottom of the post said that McCarthy “is the reason I’m a blogger” and called him an “inspiration.”

Barstool CEO Erika Nardini has said, “I think Barstool stands for ‘everything should be funny … Sports should be funny. Nothing is sacred. And I think it stands for [the idea] that guys can be guys.”

But it is difficult to parse the site’s more innocent (if raunchy) humor from its more prurient and problematic content, and this uneasy coexistence has led many to conclude the site’s more unsavory moments are features rather than bugs. It is against the backdrop of these incidents and this conversation that the BATBP nights take place.

The consensus from people I spoke to who have attended these events is that they offer a fun evening. I was interested in speaking with female attendees who are attracted to Barstool’s content and culture because their voices are often lost in the conversations critics and Stoolies have about it. They are at once members of a historically underserved part of the baseball community and fans of a site that is home to problematic content, of which women are often the target. What was their experience of the events?

“I enjoy the Barstool Sports content as a whole, as well as interacting with the Barstool personalities and other Stoolies on social media, so I figured it would be cool to get together on a second common ground — the torment of Mets fandom,” says McDonald, who works in TV news and has attended BATBP at Citi Field. “It was a great time, as expected. Just a fun gathering of Mets/Barstool fans and getting to meet Stoolies face-to-face.”

Michelle Ioannou, a 27-year-old Mets fan and blogger, says the site speaks to her because it’s “real.” “I’ve been following and reading Barstool for years now, and when I saw this happening with my favorite team, I couldn’t not go,” she says. “The atmosphere in the area we were in was great — everyone was excited both for the game and to be all together in this setting. It was one of the most fun Mets games I ever went to.”

Despite its problematic content and the consistent criticism of the site by many baseball fans, teams and players have embraced the Barstool brand and their “Saturdays Are For The Boys” motto. As of this writing, both MLB and the MLB Players Association follow Barstool’s main Twitter account; neither follow Portnoy’s personal account. As part of a pediatric cancer fundraiser, Chicago-based Barstool writer Big Cat threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game in 2015. The Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, and Marlins have all tweeted variations of the motto from their official accounts. (The Mariners offered their own twist as well, but it was in response to a since-deleted “SAFTB” tweet from the Angels, and was clearly meant to indicate the inclusivity of their ballpark.)

Mets ace Noah Syndergaard has said “Saturdays are for the boys” on camera, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi has been spotted wearing a “SAFTB” shirt, and Oakland pitcher Brett Anderson gave an interview with a Barstool hat on. Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson tweeted “Saturdays are for the boys” before responding to a tweet calling it sexist by saying, “I look at SAFTB as a day where dudes get together and hang out, not anything against women.” Whatever else they might think they are doing, and whatever the experience of fans who attend the events might be, teams can’t credibly claim they are unfamiliar with Barstool.

I reached out to the Mets, Yankees, and White Sox to ask them about their decision to play host to BATBP events. I wanted to understand why they felt like Barstool’s fanbase and their own were a good match. But when the teams received my questions, they balked. I asked how the promotions came about, and if the teams were familiar with any of the controversial aspects of the site’s content. Only the White Sox offered an official comment, saying:

Individuals, organizations and businesses regularly contact our ticket sales team to organize group ticket outings to the ballpark. We do not have a partnership with the group you mentioned and as such, do not promote the business, nor condone the content described. The White Sox strive to create a welcoming, safe place to enjoy baseball, and any offensive or derogatory language, actions or behavior is not tolerated within the ballpark. Any fan at the ballpark who violates our Fan Code of Conduct will be subject to ejection from the ballpark.”

But not all White Sox fans feel like that’s good enough. “Any time I see anyone promoting or partnering with them, I’m disappointed, whether it be the White Sox or anyone,” one 26-year-old female White Sox fan, who requested anonymity because of the backlash people who criticize Barstool sometimes receive, told me. “To me, it implicitly says what they do is okay. MLB partnering with them just normalizes liking them. If the White Sox are hurting for butts in seats, do more Dollar Dog nights or shirt giveaways or — I don’t know — field a team that can play.”

“I know the White Sox do a lot of theme nights, and I get it. They are trying to find new and innovative ways to get butts into seats. Maybe it’s a lack of foresight more so than an ‘endorsement,’” says 32-year-old White Sox fan Janice Valenzuela. “Barstool is incredibly problematic, but unfortunately so is baseball. However, I think we can reconcile these problems by discussing and bringing awareness to them.”

The Mets declined to comment for this piece. The Yankees did not respond to multiple follow-ups after they received my questions. The events occupy a strange in-between space. They aren’t officially endorsed by the teams the way a Pride Night, Irish Heritage Night, or Star Wars Night are. But they are facilitated by the team’s ticketing reps. They come with a beer and a hot dog. When fans purchase their tickets for the CitiField event, they are invited to “Join the New York Mets and Barstool Sports for Barstool at the Ballpark.”

These evenings may not rise to the level of an explicit partnership, but they are much more than a family birthday party you mark with a message on the Jumbotron. And just as PFT Commenter’s quips can be hard to cleanly separate from other personalities’ indiscretions, it is hard to disentangle MLB teams from the content on Barstool that explicitly insults those who the league has said they are so eager to include.

The women with whom I spoke who have attended the events appear to have done so without incident. But that stands in sharp contrast to the experience on Twitter of many whose identities diverge from the white, cisgender men who make up the site’s primary readership. Perhaps, stripped of the anonymity of the internet, many of these men are better behaved than they are when shielded by their online personas. Of course, they likely aren’t encountering those people who are so frequently targets of the site and its reader’s ire.

Many of the women who consider themselves Stoolies feel erased by much of the criticism of the website. “I can understand why people from the outside would think that [Barstool is sexist], but because I’ve been reading and listening for so long, I know the personalities and the sense of humor that they have, and I can tell when someone is joking, whereas someone who reads something out of context may hear something and say it sounds really bad,” explains Jillian Golden, a 30-year-old accountant and Mets fan who has attended BATBP at Citi Field.

“I’ve never felt personally offended, and nothing that makes me want to stop reading. That’s not to say the guys don’t say things sometimes that I think maybe they shouldn’t say, but they seem to genuinely care about being good people.” Clancy said that, too, indicating that none of their jokes “come from a place of malice” and “it’s never our intention to offend.”

Some fans I spoke to said there are many different theme and group nights, allowing fans to find the ones that interest them and avoid the rest, though Barstool’s presence was notably unappealing to them. “Honestly I’d stay away from a Barstool gathering, but then again I’d attend the Librarian Appreciation night or the one they’re hosting for the school I attended,” says Valenzuela.

Sheryl Ring, a FanGraphs writer and Yankees fan, asked incredulously, “We’ll do a Stoolie night but not Pride Night?” (The Yankees will be the only team not to host a Pride Night by 2019.)

And Ursula Parson, a Mets fan who co-hosts the Flipping Bats and Winning Games podcast, was sadly unsurprised by the Mets’ decision to embrace the site’s fans. “If the Mets are willing to employ Jose Reyes, then of course they’re willing to make deals with the Barstool jackasses,” she said.

“If you’re offended by our type of humor, then don’t go to the website,” says Clancy. “I certainly feel that for the game, if you have a problem with us, if you’re not sitting in our section you could still go to the game. We don’t take over [the park] or disrupt the fan experience.”

Parson, who described her reaction to knowing there was a dedicated contingent of Barstool fans at a Mets game as “more world-weariness than outright anger,” cynically said, “Actually … a dedicated section in the stadium specifically for fans of [their] racist, misogynist crap could be a GOOD thing. Keep them all over there away from the rest of us.”

Ioannou, who has a ticket package at Citi Field, says she doesn’t notice anything different about the games that have a gathering of Stoolies in the outfield, speculating that if other fans weren’t part of Barstool’s group, they probably wouldn’t even know the event was happening. “Having attended BATBP (and a couple of other Barstool events) I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe, at risk, or victimized at anything,” she says. “I met new people, had a few laughs, and talked baseball and drank beer with the guys, just like anyone else would. I would go to another BATBP in the future.”

The feedback from people who attend and enjoy these events — particularly women and other fans from marginalized groups — is important and should not be discounted, but nor should the discomfort of those fans who are among Barstool’s critics. The appeal for teams is obvious; with the site’s popularity, it is understandable that they would want to capture the built-in audience that comes with a Barstool promotion. At a time when MLB attendance has dropped to its lowest point in 15 years, teams are loath to pass up an opportunity to draw fans to the park.

But as Josh Hader’s standing ovation in Milwaukee has shown, ballparks are not always safe or comfortable spaces for historically marginalized fans. And if teams want to try to ensure baseball can be for everyone, they need to ask themselves tough questions before offering to collaborate on promotions with a brand that’s been known to create a hostile space for more marginalized sports voices — or, at the very least, be willing to defend their decision to host the promotion.

There is, and likely always will be, an inherent tension between tailoring ballpark events to particular interests and demographics and trying to explicitly include a more diverse fanbase. Ballparks aren’t famous for subtle messages. Indeed, they are prone to symbolic gestures, both playful and quite serious. Star Wars Night shows a love for movie classic; Pride celebrations welcome a previously excluded community into baseball’s embrace. Barstool at the Ballpark Nights come with fun, free hotdogs, and the site’s humor. But for many fans, they also carry Dave Portnoy’s problematic comments and the Stoolies’ barely restrained fervor, turning a corner of the park into, to borrow Nardini’s words, a place where guys can be guys, at a time when teams and their fans are trying to open up the park, rather than close it off.

The question becomes whether that hot dog and good time, laced as it is with the background bite of insulting humor, comes at the expense of other fans. We have to wonder whether that is too high a price to pay for a free beer. Whether, unable to completely separate PFT Commenter from Dave Portnoy and the rest, MLB risks alienating fans even as it embraces the Stoolies. At the end of the day, teams are going to have to decide which goal is most important, and what kind of franchise they want to be. Or perhaps, they could address that tension directly rather than avoiding difficult questions. As we try to make baseball open to everyone, it might be just the conversation we need.


Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, whose work has been featured in The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, espnW, and VICE Sports, among others. She is a recovered alcoholic, and baseball enthusiast living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.
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Spa City
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Spa City

Damn it, Hardball Times! You are going down the wrong road. Sports fans want to feel free to be themselves, which includes making off color jokes (God forbid). Most fans, including “historically marginalized” fans (I assume that means every single person who is not white male, but nobody ever actually says that) don’t get their feelings ouchy over Barstool.

bensnider94
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bensnider94

What.

Brewtown_Kev
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Brewtown_Kev

Judging a vast group of people based upon a sampling of its most outrageous members is usually the kind of thing that “progressives” call bigotry and hate, but not when applied to folks who read Barstool Sports.

csw117
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csw117

“Based on a sampling of its most outrageous members” it rather disingenuous, given theat one of them is the owner of the site.

sphenreckson
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sphenreckson

Are teams supposed to pick and choose which organizations are allowed to buy blocks of tickets based on how tolerant and feminist they are? You make it pretty clear at various point that these are not team sponsored events, and yet at other places you seem to talk about it as if it is somehow similar to pride night. What gives?

GoNYGoNYGoGo
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GoNYGoNYGoGo
Very serious questions Britni, and you present both sides fairly. My conclusion would be that it is a rabbit hole of having to diagnose the value of each business’ “value” to society and moral compass. If the KKK offered to buy a section or three of Yankee Stadium box seats, I would hope that the YS Ticket office would have the common sense to refuse to sell the tickets. However, what about certain banks that opened accounts for people that the people didn’t want in an inappropriate attempt to make more money? What about a company that has changed what… Read more »
Outta my way, Gyorkass
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Outta my way, Gyorkass
This is more or less my take when I read this. When taken to its logical conclusion, de la Cretaz is essentially advocating for MLB teams to refuse to allow entry to, or at least, sell group ticket packages to, groups that don’t meet her standard of social justice. That gets to be a really slippery slope, really quickly. It might not be objectionable to anyone but the worst frothing alt-right hatemongers for a team to not want to sell tickets to the KKK, but as GoNY has pointed out, this same logic, depending on how forcefully you apply it,… Read more »
coldbagel12
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coldbagel12

A fair point. I will point out that just because it is difficult to find the line in the sand at which moral policing should begin doesn’t mean we can’t question where that line is. To the author’s point, if the KKK is kept out of the ballpark, and I agree that it should be, but a somewhat unethical bank should be allowed, which also seems reasonable, then on which side of the line in the sand does Barstool fall?

Theres_Holes_In_My_Sox
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Theres_Holes_In_My_Sox
Kind of funny to see some of the outrage about this article. It’s a pretty fair article, the author never even goes farther than to call Barstool has problematic incidents. To go one step further it is kind of sad to see comments that the inclusive events ball parks are starting as “Pandering”; if the event doesn’t speak to you, fine, but don’t assume events like Pride/Latino/Black heritage don’t mean something substantial to someone. Overall if you feel persecuted or unfairly represented over THIS article covering actions of making jokes about the suffering of others, my response is…don’t read it… Read more »
Outta my way, Gyorkass
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Outta my way, Gyorkass

There’s exactly one comment that even remotely smacks of “outrage” to me. The rest of the comments seem like pretty fair, level-headed criticism. You’re not adding much to the discussion by conflating the two.

mike sixel
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mike sixel

Seems like a balanced look. I especially appreciated the tone of this article looking at the decision by the teams from multiple directions. I don’t understand why the teams didn’t comment.

IMO, and I’ve never been to the site and have only seen the occasional comment on it, teams should pretty much allow any group to buy group packages.

han60man
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han60man

I agree, the overall article was balanced; my one critical point notwithstanding

tb.25
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tb.25

Envision a see-saw, where one end is a place of censorship driven by the idea that ‘if one person is offended, then it shouldn’t be said’ and the other end is driven by the idea that ‘I will say what I want, screw being PC.’

We need to find the balance-point in the middle, individually as humans and as a society. Right now, too many people hit the ground from being too far one way or the other and, through that, I don’t think society has any sort of balance where we can live peacefully yet freely express ourselves.

Jeremy Meyer
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Jeremy Meyer

Theme night? Forgive me for my ignorance, but are the teams painting their mound logo in Barstool colors? Is the flag of Barstool on display with the first pitch like the photo in the article? Otherwise it’s just a team selling a bunch of tickets to people who enjoy a stupid website.

JeffWhitney
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JeffWhitney
Britni did an incredible job with this piece, particularly with fairly demonstrating all sides of an argument. Most online content people read exists within an opinion echochamber. Because this article is about a polarizing, sociocultural issue within a broader topic; it will actually reach people that do not already agree, and Britni could not have done a better job to accommodate that. The number of different perspectives given by women, in particular, show that there is nuance to the story. It would have been easy to zero in on some of the simply “problematic” stuff, which readers are so quick… Read more »
stonepie
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stonepie

who are these teams alienating? im not a barstool reader at all.. some of the ‘culture’ is a bit nauseating yet most of it seems rather harmless.
after all, baseball is a business. teams are aware of who barstool is and still let them have their nights. teams still let hoards of corporations and wall street executives own season tickets and attend their games without any second guessing. are they going to play doorman to a bunch of drunk college kids? money talks