Friday, April 17, 2020

Cry Me a River

I came across a piece by Joel Sherman today talking about the MLB owners' need for salary concessions from the players for some sort of season to go forward without fans in the ballpark.  This would be basically some version of the Arizona plan that I have previously discussed in this space.

What really jumped out at me was this sentence: "There are owners who have privately said that without readjustments they would lose so much more money, why even play the games."  When I read those words some other words not suitable for polite public discussion quickly came into my mind.

Before I go into that, however, lets spend some words on being fair.  I understand that baseball has evolved into a very big business in my lifetime.

When I was a young man in the late '70s and early '80s, my brother and I would, on a whim, drive into New York from where we lived about 100 miles outside of the city.  We were Mets fans, but if the Mets were out of town and the Yankees were playing an interesting opponent we'd go there and grab seats in the upper deck of the old Yankee Stadium.  It was cheap enough to buy the tickets and pay for the parking that a ballgame was a reasonable expense.

Those days are long over, as anyone who goes to games today understands. It makes me kind of sad that kids in their late teens and early twenties with no real money to speak of, like my brother and myself back in the day, can't make that same choice to enjoy random days at the ballpark.  Still, no one is holding a gun to anyone's head forcing them to go. Those of us who attend live games make the choice to go, even if it's less often than the old days.

Baseball is big business today and caters to other corporate interests that can afford to pay for luxury boxes and seating with waitstaff.  If you watch some of these folks during a ballgame they often seem more interested in their phones and other distractions than the game on the field.  And no, I'm not talking about everyone in those seats, but it is a significant percentage of them. The financial realities of today's game squeezes out folks who live and die with their team but make an ordinary blue collar living.

Back to the article, Sherman seems to go out of his way to be fair to both sides.  Look, I get it that MLB players are a privileged minority.  The 1 year salary of a decent middle reliever could literally change the lives of most families in this country forever.  We're not talking haves and have nots.  If ultimately the players stand in the way of any potential return to baseball without negotiating in good faith then they are going to be looked at as bad guys in the story with some justification.  Still, I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't be willing to take some sort of a cut rather than make nothing by not playing.

The one thing that Sherman doesn't point out, however, that I feel is important, is that one side will be taking all of the risks to health and possibly life, and it ain't going to be the rich guys that own the teams.  With no vaccine available it's the players who are taking the big risk if quarantine efforts fail. It's conceivable that one or more players could even die if Coronavirus evades efforts to keep it out of whatever closed system on which MLB ultimately decides.  At the very least they will be forced to be away from their loved ones for as long as play lasts.

The risks that the extremely wealthy folks who own these teams are taking are monetary. They might not make as much money as they hope from a season.  Perhaps they might even come out of whatever lab experiment 2020 baseball might turn out to be with - GASP! - less money than they came in with. Oh, the horror!

Normal folks are worried about losing literally everything they have during this pandemic, while these folks have taken refuge from the virus in their fancy summer homes, insulated from the most dire consequences by wealth and privilege.

I'm not the sort of radical anarchist who believes that folks with a lot of money are inherently evil in any way, but the reality of the way our country has evolved over the last half century has been skewed so heavily in favor of extremely wealthy that it colors their view of reality.  They have utilized their extreme wealth to influence both political parties and purchase a system that is so heavily tilted in their favor that they lack any grounded sense of what fair really means.

The system that has been created has allowed multigenerational wealth to perpetuate itself without regard to talent or contribution to society. Their children go to the best schools and enjoy family connections to those in power that puts them on on third base before a kid from a normal family even steps up to the plate.  Their sense of entitlement tells them that whatever benefits them the most is what's best for us all.

These are the people who can afford to own a baseball team these days.  They can ask a question like, "why should I lose some money just so people can watch some real baseball games?  The country is hurting and in need of any diversions it can find, but sure, why should a very wealthy team owner make a personal sacrifice?

The thing is, it's not really in the team owners' best interests for there to be no baseball in 2020.  If baseball goes away for a full year, make no mistake, it will permanently lose some fans who will not return.  It's what happened after the last baseball strike, and why MLB has so vigorously avoided a work stoppage since then.  The hard core fans like me will return, but there are plenty of folks around the margins who will permanently move on.

Contrast that with the good will that can be purchased by offering the fans something to root for this season.  That has a value beyond dollars and cents.  Look, no matter what the logistical problems that are working against a return are huge.  But if it all comes down to money than owners are only going to have themselves to blame for the fallout.

Stay well, everyone.  See you tomorrow.


A quick note about yesterday's post.  I finished it quite late last night and inadvertently failed to mention that I found the Baseball America article on which I commented thanks to a link in Craig Calcaterra's article on NBC Sports' Hardball Talk site.  I've added the citation to the original post and mention it here for those who have already read the original.

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