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OC Register: Alexander: Is baseball marching to the edge of a cliff?


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The news broke Monday morning, hours before the deadline – was it really a deadline, or merely a negotiating tactic? – to determine whether Major League Baseball would indeed play an Opening Day as scheduled on March 31. Derek Jeter, Hall of Famer and player turned owner, stepped down from his position as CEO and relinquished his 4% share of the Miami Marlins.

Ostensibly, it was because of a difference of opinion regarding the Marlins’ direction going forward. “The vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead,” he said in a statement, suggesting that he was more willing to spend money on talent than was the rest of the Marlins’ ownership.

But there might be an unspoken message here as well. Do you think the player side of him might have been embarrassed by the way management has conducted itself in these collective bargaining talks?

The saber-rattling continued at the start of Monday’s talks. Ownership had previously said Monday would be the deadline to reach an agreement in time to save Opening Day. Early Monday, owners then reportedly told players they’d be quite willing to miss a month of regular-season games. At least.

Will cooler heads prevail? Talks among themselves and between the sides continued into the night in Jupiter, Fla., and this might be a case of that supposed deadline getting people serious about an agreement.

But it should have never gotten this far. From this vantage point, the whole kabuki – management implementing a lockout on Dec. 2, not making a proposal for six weeks and then expecting the other side to do 90% of the compromising – has been a not-so-subtle attempt at union-busting.

Only one current owner, Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, was in place during the game’s last labor war in 1994-95, and maybe this collection of owners doesn’t quite grasp why the Major League Players Association has long been regarded as the strongest union in professional sports. Players come and go, but the lessons learned through past collective bargaining battles have been handed down. The haggling over a pandemic schedule two years ago probably steeled the players for this moment.

This stoppage, while it has only affected a few days’ worth of spring training games to date, has again put baseball on the edge of the cliff. The game’s relevance has already decreased dramatically among generations of potential fans, who are turned off by long, drawn-out games, the increasing lack of action (thanks, Three True Outcomes) and an inability to market baseball’s stars anywhere near the amount that other sports do theirs.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I’ll double down on it: The sport’s agenda has been hijacked by a cabal of owners who are more interested in pocketing profit-sharing checks than winning and who care less about being stewards of the game than about how much they can leech out of it. How much do you think that had to do with Jeter’s sudden departure from the stage?

Years ago we talked about “small-market” owners. Then the terminology changed to “small-revenue.” I say the proper designation should be “small-minded.” I wonder sometimes if they even like the game.

I’m not alone in that line of thinking. Eric Nusbaum, who wrote the wonderful book “Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers and the Lives Caught in Between” about the residents who inhabited Chavez Ravine and the attempts to eliminate that community long before Walter O’Malley was even aware of the property, noted in a tweet Monday:

“Everything happening in baseball from the lockout to the contraction of the minors to the conquest of indie leagues points in the same ominous direction: the consolidation of power by a handful of owners interested only in extracting resources from the sport.”

Yes, and you can find most of their teams at the bottom of the list of team payrolls. Manfred is their willing accomplice. And I don’t sense they’ve understood what they risked by picking this fight. If there were an extended stoppage, I don’t think a PED-fueled chase for the home run record would bring baseball back this time.

Meanwhile, a report surfaced in the New York Post on Monday that MLB has had discussions with NBC and Apple about a deal to air games, mostly on NBC’s Peacock streaming service. Nice timing. What games?

At least the sides were talking, and people seem to be choosing their public utterances sparingly and carefully. I reached out Monday afternoon to a player agent with whom I’ve had frank discussions in the past and was told that he had been advised to lay low.

But there are frustrations among the rank and file. Bryce Harper posted a photoshopped image of himself in a Yomiuri Giants uniform on Instagram with the caption: “Aye @yomiuri.giants you up? Got some time to kill. I know you got @borascorp number. Let’s talk,” followed by three flame emojis. Would that be considered reverse tampering?

Here’s the sticking point: The core economic proposals could have easily been settled by compromise long before this. But only one side seemed willing to move toward the middle, and it wasn’t the side that initiated the lockout.

And if you live in Los Angeles and are looking forward to a 2022 All-Star Game that was already delayed two seasons by the pandemic – a game that hasn’t been played in Chavez Ravine since nineteen-freakin’-eighty, for crying out loud – and was again threatened with delay or postponement, shouldn’t you be irate?

The alternative is to just quit paying attention, and for those who work in baseball that should be the scariest possibility of all, Maybe that point has finally hit home.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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27 minutes ago, AngelsWin.com said:

And if you live in Los Angeles and are looking forward to a 2022 All-Star Game that was already delayed two seasons by the pandemic – a game that hasn’t been played in Chavez Ravine since nineteen-freakin’-eighty

Dodger beat writer complaining that MLB doesn't want to host the All Star game at their dangerous venue. Maybe when your fans quit curb stomping other fans. Maybe.

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2 hours ago, Blarg said:

Dodger beat writer complaining that MLB doesn't want to host the All Star game at their dangerous venue. Maybe when your fans quit curb stomping other fans. Maybe.

I decided long ago that my last trip to Dodger Stadium was indeed the last one for good. When I attended wearing my Braves gear (and this was long enough ago that Greg Maddux started for Atlanta), people who I hadn't even spoken to were wanting to fight in the bathroom. When the Giants fan was beaten to within an inch of his life and was left permanently disabled - for the egregious offense of supporting his team on the road - I was totally done.

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