Baseball's Death Wish; Monday Followup
Like most men of my generation, I grew up with baseball. Little League, Babe Ruth, pickup games on the school field. It was a part of our everyday existence.
We’d play anywhere and everywhere. Since most shopping centers were closed on Sunday, that meant stick ball games after church on a concrete parking lot.
Our equipment wasn’t the best. We’d tape up baseballs and put a nail through broken bats. Towels, t-shirts and grocery bags would serve as bases. As our gloves fell apart, we’d find a way to string them back together.
As a young boy growing up in New Jersey, I followed the Yankees. My heroes were Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. I watched every game on Channel 11. Mel Allen and Red Barber were that era’s Kruk and Kuip. The broadcasts were sponsored by Ballantine Beer. More than a half-century later, I still can’t get the Ballantine jingle out of my head.
In those days, the NFL and NBA were just young upstarts. Nothing could touch the national pastime.
Fast forward 60 years.
Today baseball is losing fans and television viewers at an alarming rate. Football is the clear No. 1 sport in America, followed by college football. The NBA soon will overtake baseball in popularity.
My wife will watch football and basketball with me. Baseball? No way. The game has become boring and driven by analytics that few fans understand and even fewer fans approve of.
Baseball, it seems, now consists primarily of strikeouts, walks and home runs. Defensive shifts have reduced action on the field to the point that balls in play are a rarity. Everyone swings for the fences. The new buzzword is “launch angles.”
In all of baseball, only about 20 players hit over .300. Stolen bases and bunts are going the way of the dinosaur.
Complete games are virtually non-existent. Pitchers are limited to two times through the lineup or ridiculously low pitch counts. Why the best-conditioned pitchers in the history of the game can only throw 100 pitches is one of life’s great mysteries.
As a result, teams average almost five pitchers per game. Which means the games are interminable. Because nothing is quite as exciting as a reliever coming in from the bullpen.
And now the opening of the season has been delayed by a work stoppage. The excitement of opening day has been postponed. The first two series of the season have been cancelled.
The last time this happened, in 1995, it almost killed the sport. Only a steroid fueled home run race rekindled interest.
This time, the risk is greater. There are more alternative entertainment options. As noted, football and basketball have grown exponentially.
Sometimes there is blame on both sides. In this case, the fault lies squarely with the owners, and with commissioner Rob Manfred, a man who combines arrogance and incompetence with stunning dishonesty.
Manfred claimed he was locking the players out just minutes after the old agreement expired so he could “jump start” negotiations, then waited 43 days to submit a proposal. He set numerous deadlines to leverage the players, then praised his owners for hanging in past the self-imposed deadlines.
He was seen practicing his golf swing prior to the press conference announcing game cancellations, then smiled, laughed and joked with the media.
With a straight face, Manfred insisted that “the last five years have been very difficult for the league from a revenue perspective,” when the league took in a record $11 billion in 2019. He claimed his owners could’ve made more money in the stock market.
Really? Forbes reported that the value of the 30 major league franchises has increased from $15 billion to $55 billion over the last 10 years.
It’s clear that Manfred and the owners are driven by one thing and one thing only: profits. They cut the 2020 season to a sham 60-game schedule after failing to get the players to accept steep pay cuts. They slashed the minor leagues, cutting 42 affiliates, to save a few bucks. They tank games to depress payroll and get bigger league revenue shares because they really don’t care about winning.
To them, their team is just another asset that prints money.
The points of contention with the players’ union revolve around minimum salaries, arbitration rights and salary caps. Fact is, the players’ salaries have diminished while the owners have lined their pockets.
This will drag on, more games will be cancelled, and in the end, the players and the fans will be the ones who lose.
And baseball’s death spiral will continue.
Following Up: I'll end with a couple of follow-ups from Monday’s blog, in which I blasted Grambling University head coach Hue Jackson for hiring disgraced former Baylor coach Art Briles as his offensive coordinator. Briles had presided over a culture of rampant sexual assault during his tenure at Baylor.
We certainly weren't alone in our stance, and later that day, Briles resigned, saying he didn't want to be a "distraction" for the Grambling football program.
Sometimes the pen is mightier than the sword.
Socialism, Anyone? I also criticized Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Fox News host Tucker Carlson's white supremacy. I received a huge volume of emails praising the post (thank you all). There was, however, one negative email from a subscriber who called me a Socialist.
I've been called a lot worse, but if opposing Putin's invasion and Carlson's racism makes me a Socialist, I'm guilty as charged.