Does Baseball Need a Reality Check?
Written by Jared Rosenthal
The beauty of baseball (courtesy of www.parksattexasstar.com)
We are living in the year 2020. The 20th year of the 21st century. It’s ironically contrary as to how 2020, and if split can look like 20/20, is classified as having perfect vision, and yet nobody foresaw this pandemic harming society in the manner that it has. Nevertheless, discussions must persist in the midst of this crisis in order to bring sports back. With the MLB, players and owners are having an exceedingly challenging time in trying to devise a fair plan for a return. Let me walk you through this dilemma.
Most recently, the MLBPA pondered an idea suggested by owners which would consist of a return to baseball with 82 games played. The caveat: elite players in the league with higher salaries would be taking on large salary cuts. The anticipated counter deal to this proposition, coming from the players, consists of about 100 games and the players earning the salary they were guaranteed going into the year. As far as the health and safety of fans and players goes, there will not be fans in attendance and there will be a number of designated ballparks for games to be played at. The expectation is that stadiums will be able to produce and project crowd noise when the games are being played. As for testing players for the virus--like any league that is in the middle of discussions--an ample number of tests will be required.
Francisco Lindor celebrating (courtesy of CBS Sports)
Today, politics surrounding baseball have truly started to make people lose sight of the importance of this sacred game. Originally we were talking about player and fan safety as well as the interesting ways in which the sport can be revised, but now it seems as though all of these talks regarding money have just exposed the rapacity of so many people affiliated with the game of baseball. If I were Rob Manfred, my mission would consist of doing everything in my power in order to have my league be the first of the four major sports to make a return. Baseball has been neglected and has increasingly lost popularity over the years for various reasons (length of season, length of game, minimal “action”, etc), but this is the MLB’s chance to come back better than ever. For starters, if the MLB devised an MLB package, similar to the existing NBA package, money issues can be reduced to a degree and this small monetary obstacle for viewers can potentially create more hype around the game due to the perceived exclusivity. Additionally, consider the obvious: more free time in the life of a sports fan leads to more sports games being watched. Also, for the average person that isn’t too fond of baseball and has nothing else to really watch besides the sole season of Outer Banks on Netflix, that person will be more inclined to watch a game of baseball if the sport comes back first.
Baseball off the bat is simply the most money-hungry league in all of sports. For crying out loud, there isn’t a salary cap! Pitchers are making at least five million dollars per year! The average NBA point guard makes about one fifth of that! Let me emphasize something: in order for the MLB to make a return, owners are going to have to take the hit and give players the better end of this deal. In the grand scheme of things, a plan that favors the life of this league, the players, will not make monumental dents in the lives of owners. When you consider Major League Baseball as a whole, you need to consider the large number of players that are not earning the big bucks yet. These players have families to support and necessary health regiments they need to meet, so by significantly reducing the monetary values on their contracts this year, you are jeopardizing the entire sport before the players can even think about approaching the field.
A serious Aroldis Chapman pitching in the playoffs (courtesy of Bleacher Report)
Assuming there was a settled agreement in place for a return, if I were to market the MLB when that return happened, I would begin advertising my players in the manner that the NBA does where people are coaxed into hailing the superstars and become intrigued by the ongoing narratives (some embellished, others not). In this return, I would shed more light on those stories and stud ballplayers as opposed to overwhelming people with the boring numbers and idiotic stats. Narratives and controversy in baseball nowadays consists of accusations surrounding cheating, so can we create a shift where we hone in on rivalries? Can we steer more players towards a path aimed at becoming spunkier and more charismatic through branding incentives? There are so many cultures on the field being represented, why can’t we pick up on and utilize worldwide trends in the game? From a broadcasting standpoint, let’s zoom in and find ways to capture the raw emotions! If a slow sport like golf was able to look fun last weekend, then can’t we take some notes on it and make some revisions to baseball? Can we incorporate celebrities in some area of the game? People enjoy stories--that’s why ESPN’s 30 for 30’s are very successful--so let’s become storytellers and act responsively when it comes to societal preferences and cultural changes. If corporations like McDonald’s, Sony, and Disney are able to keep up with the times, then why can’t “America’s Pastime” do the same?
Gerardo Parra smiling after winning the 2019 World Series (courtesy of WTOP.com)
In terms of my ideal breakdown for the league, I side with the owners in the respect of the season’s duration. Not only would 82 games make the season more intense and competitive throughout, but a larger number of fans would more consistently care about their team(s) at a higher level. Think about how many fans check the MLB standings between the months of June and July and actually care about what place their team is in...not many. You’ll have greater fan interest if the season is narrowed down. When it comes to money, I think some sort of cut is necessary but not to the point where it is going to impact the lives of players to an extent that prevents them from fulfilling their normal lifestyles. For this to happen, I envision owners taking on more of the financial burden. There should not be a 50/50 split and there should not be any proportional amount of a team’s generated revenue this year being toyed with. Ideally, I think that players should be entitled to 75% of their salaries. Due to the deep pockets which make up for the backbone of this league, I believe that this is that “rainy day” scenario where having that cushion is supposed to come in handy. Let me give you a comparison. When you continue to save money in your bank account--over some time--that wealth evidently accumulates. Now, imagine that your sump pump and backup sump pump break in the middle of an extreme flood 20 years later, what do you do? Well, this is that extreme time when you unleash the benjamins and save your house. Let’s save the house and bring baseball back.
The owners in this league are worth several billions of dollars and trust me, I can assure you, they will be okay in the long run if they take a bit of a financial hit. Ted Lerner of the Washington Nationals is worth 5.3 billion dollars. Charles Johnson of the San Francisco Giants is worth 4.6 billion dollars. John Malone of the Atlanta Braves is worth 6.7 billion dollars. The list of rich owners is innumerable and to think that the owners could not curate their proposals is astonishing. By no means are the players’ approaches to this messy circumstance great either, I think that it is a matter of principle and that players should not be entitled to receiving the entirety of their original contracts made for this year when a full season will not be played. The one thing I do know for sure though is that we know who has more leeway between the best player in the league who is worth 630 million dollars (Mike Trout) versus your typical owner in the league who is worth 3.3 billion dollars (John Middleton of the Philadelphia Phillies). Both men are obviously financially secure, but this just demonstrates the wealth gap--causing the logical person to wonder why ownership needs to nickel and dime their players when a reasonable negotiation can be settled with much less chaos. Baseball has the ability to help us unite or can cause us to fight, so let’s make the correct choice and we can all rejoice.
Money represents the core foundation of baseball (courtesy of Debt.org)