Bad News Baseball

With the first week of the MLB regular season canceled – for the moment – most of the national baseball press seems to have taken sides in the contretemps.  Here are a few headlines from the last 48 hours or so:

“How Rob Manfred’s ineffective reign as MLB Commissioner led to baseball’s ‘disastrous outcome’”

And …

“MLB Commissioner Manfred blasted after announcing cancelation of games”


“With MLB games canceled and fan apathy blooming blame rests solely on owners”

You get the idea – – and I think that narrative is wrong.  By that I do not mean that the owners – and Rob Manfred far more specifically – are the aggrieved party in this mess.  What I mean is that for every bungling mishandling of dicey situations faced by Commissioner Manfred, there has been a similar lack of ability to compromise on the other side of the table.  Please, do not try to make Tony Clark out to be a reincarnated Samuel Gompers; he is not; he and the negotiating team that he leads cannot be held blameless when it takes “two signatures” and a ratification vote on both sides to put a new CBA into effect.

It is not difficult to point to a half-dozen actions taken by – or dodged by – Rob Manfred that were not in the “best interests of baseball”.  If you were to go and rank the ten MLB Commissioners going all the way back to Judge Landis more than a hundred years ago, I would be surprised if you put Manfred in the top five.  Rob Manfred makes Bud Selig look like a certified genius.

But please do not forget to examine critically Tony Clark’s role in all of this.  Clark has been the Executive Director of the MLBPA for just over 8 years.  If you want to point to a problem with the game that has arisen or has captured national attention in that time, please stop and tell me how Tony Clark acted to make everything better.  Which side of the table opposed pitch clocks?  Which side of the table refused to have a Federal mediator try to bring the two sides together to get a deal done here?

In the opening paragraph here, I said that the games in the first week of the regular season have been canceled “for now”.  The question as to whether those games should be made up and/or how players will be compensated for games lost simply puts another barrier in the path to get a deal done.  Given the history of the lack of leadership skills shown by Rob Manfred AND by Tony Clark, another bone of contention is not a good thing.

And in the midst of all that sturm und drang, Derek Jeter made headlines this week announcing that he has stepped down as the CEO of the Miami Marlins AND that he is going to divest himself of his 4% ownership stake in the franchise.  Say what?

If you put any faith in the Forbes valuations of sports franchises, you can find that the last valuation from 2021 puts the Miami Marlins value at $990M.  That is the lowest valuation in MLB and the only team valued below $1B.  [Aside: the Marlins sold for $1.2B just 4 years ago meaning that if Forbes is correct, the Miami franchise has declined in value over the last 4 years and that is a rarity in US sports businesses.]  Nonetheless, Jeter’s 4% stake is worth a tidy $39.6M and his abrupt and surprising departure from the organization is surely not going to enhance the value of that stake when it comes to an outsider bidding for it.  Obviously, the $64,000 question is:

  • Why?

Here is the salient part of Jeter’s prepared statement when he made his decision known:

“Today I am announcing that the Miami Marlins and I are officially ending our relationship and I will no longer serve as CEO nor as a shareholder in the Club. We had a vision five years ago to turn the Marlins franchise around, and as CEO, I have been proud to put my name and reputation on the line to make our plan a reality. Through hard work, trust and accountability, we transformed every aspect of the franchise, reshaping the workforce, and developing a long-term strategic plan for success.

“That said, the vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead. Now is the right time for me to step aside as a new season begins.”

A difference of opinion that cannot be resolved regarding “the vision of the future” can mean almost anything; I was ready to ignore this whole situation until I read a column by Joel Sherman in the NY Post.  I recommend that you take a moment to follow this link and read that column in its entirety.

Joel Sherman is a baseball insider; he has information sources inside the game that are usually reliable.  If he is correct that this impasse over the future vision for the team boils down to a “$15M misunderstanding”, that might be almost as myopic a situation as the one demonstrated by the league and the players union at the negotiating table.

Finally, since I spent time exposing my feelings today about Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, let me close with an observation by scholar John Ciardi:

“The Constitution gives every American the unalienable right to make a damn fool of himself.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Here Come the Lawyers…

Back when the announcement came that there was going to be a USFL 2.0 backed by FOX Sports in the Spring of 2022, I automatically assumed that FOX had acquired the rights to all the names and trademarks from “Original USFL” which existed – and then folded – back in the 1980s.  As of this morning, all I can say is that perhaps that assumption was correct and perhaps not.

Some the owners and executives from “Original USFL” have formed a legal entity known as “The Real USFL LLC” and that LLC entity has filed a lawsuit against FOX seeking to bar FOX from using the name “USFL” and the names/logos of the teams that played in “Original USFL.”  As I understand it, these are the positions of the two sides:

  • “The Real USFL LLC” claims that FOX has taken the name USFL to which it has no rights and that it has usurped the names and team logos for 8 teams that used to play in the “Original USFL.”  That makes FOX an “unabashed counterfeit” according to the plaintiff.
  • FOX claims that the names, logos and trademarks were abandoned by “Original USFL” and have been left fallow for more than 30 years.
  • The plaintiff alleges trademark infringement (makes sense to me), false advertising (makes no sense to me) and false association (sort of makes sense to me).

Recall that “Original USFL” folded after it filed – and won – a lawsuit against the USFL claiming violations of anti-trust laws.  The problem there was that the jury decided that “Original USFL’s” claim was valid but that it only mattered in a trivial sense.  The jury awarded “Original USFL” one dollar which was trebled under terms of anti-trust law bringing the total haul from the victorious lawsuit to three dollars.  I claim no expertise in the law, but it seems to me that “The Real USFL LLC” might be on a similar glide path.

Assume for a moment that a court agrees with the plaintiff’s claims and issues a restraining order/injunction (I do not know the difference between these two things) to prevent FOX from starting its Spring Football season using those names and logos and the like.  It would seem to me that ruling would be favorable to “The Real USFL LLC” but not so damaging for FOX.  If the court says they cannot play football games between the New Jersey Generals and the Tampa Bay Bandits because of trademark violations, what stops FOX from following that court order and playing a game between the New Jersey Seashore and the Tampa Bay Hurricanes?

“USFL 2.0” is scheduled to begin in late April – absent any sort of injunction of course.  There is another Spring Football entity out there seeking a relaunch in the Spring of 2023; that would be XFL 3.0; that is the league owned by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia.  At least for the moment, XFL 3.0 is proceeding along without legal entanglements or obstacles.  In fact, it appears that XFL 3.0 has charted a course for itself that makes it an ally/adjunct to the NFL.

About a week ago, the NFL and XFL 3.0 announced an “R&D partnership” whose purpose is to “expand the game of football.”  This partnership sets up a collaborative process in which the two partners will work together to create “forward-thinking physical and mental fitness programs for players.”  That is sufficiently open-ended that it could mean just about anything but there are some interesting – maybe tantalizing – nuggets in a statement made by Ms. Garcia relative to this partnership:

“We are bringing forward an XFL that is progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to innovation, leveraging the newest technology to enhance gameday experience. We have an open field for innovative rules to enhance in-game access. Sharing insights and practices between the XFL and NFL will do a tremendous amount of good for the game of football and support the player ecosystem overall.”

Please ignore the argle-bargle about “player ecosystem” and note the XFL 3.0 interest in “new technology” and “innovative rules”.

  • Maybe this is where the NFL can try out new proposals for rule changes that do not get the necessary support of 24 teams to be incorporated into the NFL Rule Book and yet there is enough interest to see how they might play out.
  • Maybe this is the laboratory where footballs with embedded electronic chips determine things like first downs and touchdowns “automatically.”
  • Maybe this is where fans can see ways for a coach’s challenge to be adjudicated far more quickly than they are now.

I am not saying that all of those things would turn out to be positive additions to NFL football – – but at least there is a venue for them to be tested/vetted under real competitive conditions.  One thing I would hope that this “R&D partnership” would investigate is the various playing surfaces used in NFL stadiums.  There was a time when the choices boiled down to “real grass” or something known as Astroturf that was laid out on a concrete slab.  Many of those “artificial” playing surfaces existed for several decades until new ways of creating and maintaining “other than grass fields” became available.

There is currently a tradeoff that exists.  Grass fields tend to be “safer”, but they also tend to degrade into dirt field late in the season when many climates do not favor grass growing and after thousands of cleat impacts tear up the grass and its root system.  Dirt field are not nearly as “safe” as grass fields particularly if they freeze.  Artificial surfaces are not as safe as grass, but they are far more durable and far less subject to weather conditions or “wear and tear”.  I believe there is plenty of room for some joint R&D studies/experiments/evaluations in the area of playing and playing surfaces.  Let the guys in the white lab coats begin…

Finally, since today’s rant began with “legal stuff”, let me close with an observation by the so-called Bard of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken:

“The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………