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OC Register: Alexander: MLB moves ever closer to irrelevance


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At what point do we determine that baseball, the business – and possibly the game itself – has reached the edge of the cliff and is one powerful gust of wind away from going over for good?

Or have we gotten to that point already, with a hissing match between owners and players that never should have gotten this far?

In an environment where scores of Americans are hurting financially, a global pandemic has by no means gone away and another instance of racism and police brutality has created a new round of social unrest, a fight about compensation – picked in this case by the richer kids on the block – is so tone-deaf it’s a joke, only with no punch line.

This is a year that has combined the worst of 1918, 1929 and 1968 so far – kids, consult your history books – and it has now been overlaid with a reprise of 1981 and 1994. The billionaires who own baseball teams, the same ones who profited greatly by manipulating the last collective bargaining agreement of 2016 in their favor, are now attempting to revise an agreement reached with the players in late March – even though they should have been fully aware at that point of the possibility that games could resume with no fans in the ballparks.

(Pause here for a reminder: We certainly do understand that no spectators means no gate revenue. But it also means no game night employees and thus fewer expenses. And the TV money – fully prorated, we assume – starts rolling in.)

If it’s any consolation, we now have a preview of next year’s collective bargaining talks, assuming that there will still be a sport over which to collectively bargain. Baseball has had enough trouble attracting the attention of younger people anyway, and to dither this way while every other professional sport in this country has a plan for restarting play and has players and owners working in at least some sort of harmony … well, MLB couldn’t look more dysfunctional if it tried.

Or maybe it is trying. Maybe, as speculated, there really are some owners who would do better financially by not opening the doors at all. If so, I fear even more for baseball’s future.

The latest proposal from the owners, offered Monday, calls for a 76-game regular season that would pay players 50 percent of their prorated salaries with an increase to 75 percent if the postseason is completed. It’s no real compromise, because this formula is only a slight increase from what full prorated pay would have looked like for a 50-game schedule: 35.1 percent of full salary here, if the postseason were concluded, as compared to 30.8 for the shorter schedule

(But maybe with that 50-game sprint MLB could have modeled the postseason after the NCAA Tournament and College World Series. Could we at least have gotten a Los Angeles regional out of it?)

If you’ll recall, the players had offered a 114-game schedule plan, to which the owners responded that it would run too far into October and could hit a second wave of COVID-19. Layman’s translation: “We’d have to pay you more money than we’d like. No.”

Who knows when that second wave will hit, anyway? As National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci likes to put it, “The virus will determine.”

So the stalemate continues. But wait. There’s more.

While squabbling with the big leaguers, commissioner Rob Manfred’s office is also continuing to bigfoot the player development system and, not incidentally, take the game away from fans in dozens of minor league towns across the land. We’ve written about this before – and the city of Lancaster and Antelope Valley, solid partners over 25 seasons of California League baseball, are about to lose their team not only through no fault of their own but without even a proper goodbye, assuming that the minor leagues don’t play at all this summer.

Big league organizations had to be shamed into continuing stipends to their minor league players, and in some cases major league players – such as the Dodgers’ David Price – were the ones who provided the embarrassment by dipping into their own bank accounts to help the minor leaguers.

Meanwhile, teams set about releasing hundreds of minor leaguers in the last couple of weeks. Some were players who would have been released at the end of spring training, while others might have been released anyway in advance of the amateur draft. But these numbers were abnormally high, according to Baseball America, which suggests this was the precursor to the downsizing of the minors. One tipoff may be that many teams still have not announced those transactions as of Monday.

Oh, and as for the draft itself? It will begin Wednesday evening as a shadow of what it used to be, five rounds of selections, after which teams will attempt to sign undrafted free agents for $20,000 a pop. For what it’s worth, the average worth of the players taken just in the sixth round in 2019 as calculated by MLB came to $267,826, though the bonuses most teams handed out were under slot value.

What will they do with all that money they save?

Should we care about all of those players who in all likelihood will never reach the majors? Yes, and Royals GM Dayton Moore explained why on a conference call with Kansas City writers a couple of weeks ago, in talking about his team’s decision to not release any minor leaguers:

“Understand this: The minor league players, the players you’ll never know about, the players that never get out of rookie ball or High-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game (as) 10-year or 15-year veteran players. They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time, because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro baseball. They’re growing the game constantly because they’re so passionate about it. So we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor league player during this time, a time we needed to stand behind them.”

For baseball, that’s an enlightened attitude. Too bad so many others in the sport have so much trouble getting out of their own way.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

 

 

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It is almost like the stewards of baseball actively dislike the sport of baseball.

This thing about cutting minor league baseball, when the costs can't even be the size of a middle infielder's two year contract, make little sense.  It is like they have never heard of the term, "grow the game".

I hope some municipalities who have spent real money money on minor league stadiums fight back when major league baseball screws them.

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7 minutes ago, yk9001 said:

It is almost like the stewards of baseball actively dislike the sport of baseball.

This thing about cutting minor league baseball, when the costs can't even be the size of a middle infielder's two year contract, make little sense.  It is like they have never heard of the term, "grow the game".

I hope some municipalities who have spent real money money on minor league stadiums fight back when major league baseball screws them.

Yk, you will not believe this, but I agree with everything you just said.  

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I think we have an incoming self inflicted wound.  
The game was already killing itself in modern times by being slow and dull to the average fan and now money squabbles and possibly being the only sport not to return and the only one thats having these issues... not a good look. 
It doesnt really matter which side you believe, the end result will be the same. 

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11 minutes ago, Stradling said:

Yk, you will not believe this, but I agree with everything you just said.  

well, your broken clock is right twice a day!

I am going to guess that I am the least baseball fan of practically anyone on this board.  Baseball is fine, but its been a decade since I cared about who wins and loses.  I have literally no interest when player X reaches the 600 hr milestone.  I am not agonizing over this work stoppage, because it is futile.  It is more than obvious that if both sides can't get their crap together, they are either stupid; or selfish; or so shortsided, that they can't see what kind of long term damage this brings.  They have this absolutely virgin territory where NO sports is being played, and sides refuse to budge to take advantage of it.

 

A stupid made for tv golf match - with two football players - had the biggest rating of any golf in cable tv history.  That includes the US Open, the Masters, Ryder Cup.  And with all the cord cutting that has gone on recently.

If baseball can screw up this, then I'm not going to sweat it.

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3 minutes ago, floplag said:

I think we have an incoming self inflicted wound.  
The game was already killing itself in modern times by being slow and dull to the average fan and now money squabbles and possibly being the only sport not to return and the only one thats having these issues... not a good look. 
It doesnt really matter which side you believe, the end result will be the same. 

I agree at the same time MLB has the most difficult time returning based on when their season was going to start and the revenue sharing the league has compared to others. 

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1 hour ago, Stradling said:

I agree at the same time MLB has the most difficult time returning based on when their season was going to start and the revenue sharing the league has compared to others. 

I don't get any of this.

MLB has the most difficult time returning based on when their season was going to start

They were a month into spring training; they could have re-started practice three weeks ago, and been ready to fly next week.  They were in a perfect position to go, not a difficult position.

the revenue sharing the league has compared to others. 

Its their job to figure it out.  This isn't splitting the atom.

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2 minutes ago, yk9001 said:

I don't get any of this.

MLB has the most difficult time returning based on when their season was going to start

They were a month into spring training; they could have re-started practice three weeks ago, and been ready to fly next week.  They were in a perfect position to go, not a difficult position.

the revenue sharing the league has compared to others. 

Its their job to figure it out.  This isn't splitting the atom.

Ok.  The NBA and the NHL have both played 80% of their season and have already brought in a ton of their revenue.  MLB won’t have fans this season more than likely.  Without fans at games they are losing almost $1 million per game before a single hot dog, soda, beer or pennant is purchased.  Also the longer they play the better chance they have of an additional outbreak, which would then virtually eliminate most of the TV revenue MLB brings in.  The MLB is different than the NFL because of all the local TV money.  So there is about $275 million difference a season between the Dodgers and the Rays in TV money.  So my guess is the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Angels along with a couple of other teams, don’t want to split all of their money.  The NFL has network deals so all the money is already split.  So that is why I made those posts above.  While it isn’t splitting the atom my guess is taking lots of money from very rich people isn’t all that more of a difficult task.  

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1 minute ago, Randy Gradishar said:

Lol at having more than 8 teams play basketball.

It's crazy that the season was over when the shutdown started, and yet it still wouldn't be over today. What a terrible league.

Not a real big fan of the NBA but kudos to them for having a plan in place. 

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4 minutes ago, Randy Gradishar said:

Lol at having more than 8 teams play basketball.

It's crazy that the season was over when the shutdown started, and yet it still wouldn't be over today. What a terrible league.

Why do you say the season was over when the shutdown started?

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4 minutes ago, Stradling said:

Ok.  The NBA and the NHL have both played 80% of their season and have already brought in a ton of their revenue.  MLB won’t have fans this season more than likely.  Without fans at games they are losing almost $1 million per game before a single hot dog, soda, beer or pennant is purchased.  Also the longer they play the better chance they have of an additional outbreak, which would then virtually eliminate most of the TV revenue MLB brings in.  The MLB is different than the NFL because of all the local TV money.  So there is about $275 million difference a season between the Dodgers and the Rays in TV money.  So my guess is the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Angels along with a couple of other teams, don’t want to split all of their money.  The NFL has network deals so all the money is already split.  So that is why I made those posts above.  While it isn’t splitting the atom my guess is taking lots of money from very rich people isn’t all that more of a difficult task.  

Then fine.  The alternative is to have no season, and become even more irrelevant on the national landscape.

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Yea, personally, I don’t think I care about whether other people find baseball to be irrelevant.  In my opinion baseball’s biggest enemy is baseball.  The game is less exciting and more boring because of the way it is played these days.  I don’t think the game is worse because it is less popular on a larger scale.  The game is worse because of strike outs, because of the shift, because of all the relief pitchers.  Not because it is no longer the #1 sport in Americans eyes.

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Just now, yk9001 said:

Then fine.  The alternative is to have no season, and become even more irrelevant on the national landscape.

Baseball will never become irrelevant. I think this pandemic situation sucks but it’s something so complex that’s it’s too difficult to comfortably satisfy both the owners and the players. 
 

In reality baseball is in need of a year off to reinvent itself. They do need to get past the controversial stuff that plagued them the past few years. They should take their time and work out a new CBA and try to avoid fan-less games. 
 

I think that a fully operational spring training in 2021 would be a huge draw. MLB teams need to enter a full season with everyone healthy and rosters rearranged ready to go. They need to just do it right without controversial lingering issues. Baseball will rise to the top with the fans right there with them. 

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5 minutes ago, Stradling said:

Yea, personally, I don’t think I care about whether other people find baseball to be irrelevant.  In my opinion baseball’s biggest enemy is baseball.  The game is less exciting and more boring because of the way it is played these days.  I don’t think the game is worse because it is less popular on a larger scale.  The game is worse because of strike outs, because of the shift, because of all the relief pitchers.  Not because it is no longer the #1 sport in Americans eyes.

This is why I think baseball should take this idle time to re-evaluate and reinvent itself. Your points are spot on. They can make the game even better and that opportunity is now. This extended offseason gives them a great window of opportunity. I hope they get it right and I’m more than willing to wait for it. 

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7 minutes ago, Randy Gradishar said:

Why are they waiting until August, though? Just do Lakers-Clippers next week, then Bucks, and get out of 2020.

It’s an indoor game so they don’t have to worry about weather issues. There’s really no rush and maybe they’ll figure out a way to allow a partially filled arena by that time. They’re doing right. 

Edited by RendZone
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19 minutes ago, Randy Gradishar said:

De-juicing the balls fixes most issues. Pitchers less afraid to throw strikes = fewer BBs, Ks, and HRs. And players have already beaten the shift by hitting over it.

No, baseball haven’t been juiced all that long and yet k totals have been going up and up year over year for awhile now.  The shift just sucks.  

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3 hours ago, Stradling said:

I agree at the same time MLB has the most difficult time returning based on when their season was going to start and the revenue sharing the league has compared to others. 

Do they though?  i mean there are like 5 plans of varying lengths that all seem mostly acceptable but the pay.  Seems to me the real issues is the money, not the schedule.

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