There was a comment on a recent rant asking about any sort of indication(s) of progress in the MLB/MLBPA negotiations. The bottom-line answer is that the two sides seem to have begun their “thousand-mile journey” by taking a first step. Reports said that the two sides met for an hour and …
- The players were “unimpressed” by the offer made by the owners
- The meeting ended without physical violence.
- There was no announcement of the next scheduled negotiating session.
The negotiations ongoing here are about nothing other than money; the chasm between the two sides is simply that the players want more of baseball’s revenues to flow to them and the owners want to keep more of that same revenue for themselves. Everything else that you will hear and read about is peripheral to or derivative of that fundamental issue. So, I want to take the following position on the negotiations:
- There is a mountain of money up for grabs here. If anyone wishes to doubt that consider that Max Scherzer will make more than $40M per year for the next 3 years to start – hopefully – 30 times in a season for the Mets. That means the Mets have a lot of money and Max Scherzer is getting a lot of money.
- I can point to other examples here, but you get the idea. No one involved in these negotiations on either side of the table is going to qualify for a $600 stimulus check from the government.
- Ergo, I want to ignore all the economic issues confronting baseball today and assume that the two sides will have a kumbaya news conference once they figure out where the economic balance point is. At that time, I’ll become interested in the economics once again.
What I want to do is to look at the on-field product that MLB and the MLBPA puts on for the fans who provide both sides with the money they are arguing over. The reason I want to focus on that sort of stuff is that neither side is going to be happy if the revenue stream starts to flow less robustly. And make no mistake, there are problems to be solved in the “product arena”.
The MLB/MLBPA “product” is entertainment; sometimes the entertainment is experienced live and in person; sometimes it is consumed via radio or TV. Entertainment is enhanced when something happens on the field and some things that happen on the field are more entertaining than others. So, consider the following stats from 2021:
- For the season, there were 39,484 base hits in MLB games
- For the season, there were 42,145 strikeouts in MLB games
In 1969, baseball faced a similar “problem”; hitters were overpowered, and the game slowed to a crawl. So, they lowered the mound and there were more base hits meaning there was more entertainment for fans. MLB and the MLBPA need to take a deep breath here and recognize that their arguments over revenue splitting might someday be trumped by the fact that revenues for baseball are in decline. Maybe, the two sides need to work on how to improve the product with the same vigor as they pursue getting a bigger portion of the pie.
Let me say this as starkly as I can:
- It will not matter if the new CBA contains measures to assure that teams are not tanking and living off shared revenues nor will it matter how long it takes before a young player becomes eligible for salary arbitration if the public gets bored with the entertainment product and takes its interest elsewhere.
And just for giggles, consider the possibility of a shift in interest by the public in 2022. Suppose that the hardliners on both sides of the table lock down these negotiations to the point that the season does not begin until May 1st. I hope that does not happen, but please do not rule it out. Starting in April 2022 will be the rebooted USFL which is partially owned by FOX Sports, and which already has a national TV contract. I suspect that the execs in the USFL offices are lighting candles in churches all over the country praying for the baseball lockout to extend beyond their first couple of weeks on the air.
Football – collegiate and the NFL – now dominates the sports attention of the US public; it used to be baseball, but that day is gone. If MLB is playing its normal schedule without making fans hear and read about spats among billionaire owners and millionaire players – – along with smug and oily agents – -, it would command much more attention that yet one more “Spring Football League”. But if MLB is dark…???
Here is a challenge for Rob Manfred, Tony Clark and their minions:
- Get the CBA done quickly and with minimal rancor such that two things happen. First, Spring Training and the regular season begin “on time”. Second, there is enough residual “good will” for everyone involved to come together again and to address changes to the game that will solidify baseball’s position in the US sporting cosmos.
Here is a challenge for sportswriters, columnists and TV “hot-takers”:
- Let the CBA negotiators know that you are going to ignore them until and unless they have a press conference to announce the existence of a new CBA. In George Orwell’s novel 1984, there were things called “unpersons”; they were erased from public memory; there was no record of their existence. That is too harsh for the CBA negotiators but maybe they should be consigned to “unperson status” until they reach an agreement?
Did someone ask what sort of game changes might be needed to increase the entertainment value of MLB? I am not going to pretend to have a magic balm that once applied to the game will cure everything instantly – – but I do think the time has come for serious consideration of these alterations:
- Implement an electronic means for calling balls and strikes. If hitters have a more consistent strike zone to manage – – consistent from game to game and from first inning to ninth inning in a single game – – they are likely to get more hits meaning they are likely to produce more entertaining action.
- Lower the mound again? To me, that is certainly a better idea than moving the pitching rubber back one foot.
- Pitch clocks – strictly enforced – along with limits on the number of pickoff attempts will also produce better pace of play and potentially more stolen base attempts (more action).
- Revisit the idea and the implementation of “instant replay” because it is never “instant”.
Since today was about baseball, let me close with some words from Henry Aaron:
“It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. It took one afternoon on the golf course.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………