I was never blessed with enough athletic ability to go pro. I won a free throw contest and got a certificate. I made all stars in Little League and Babe Ruth baseball and got trophies. I’ve shot some rounds in the 70’s in golf, which was good for a pat on the back from my playing partners. I never made a dime playing sports.
The entertainment I get from watching the guys that are good enough to earn a few dimes is substantial. In a capitalistic society being an entertainer can be quite profitable. Nobody has taken advantage of our capitalistic society than baseball players and owners.
So I get it. Baseball owners made a boatload of money; enough to buy a sports franchise. In order to win they are willing to pay top dollar for the best players—sit back down Mr. Nutting. The question becomes where should the ceiling be on that top dollar.
For years upon years the price tag for the best players in baseball has steadily been rising—straight through the roof. Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game, will make almost half a billion dollars through the entirety of his contract. I didn’t mistype that number. It’s billion with a B, for playing baseball.
That sure does beat my trophy and certificate. And, it is utterly ridiculous.
The worst players in the league —and some are very bad— make over half a million dollars each year. Additionally, TV money is through the roof, as is licensed merchandise, ticket prices, concessions, and souvenirs.
Large market teams have never had any interest in a salary cap that would level the playing field for small market teams. Those small market teams also have no interest in a salary cap because they get a juicy cut of revenue sharing. It is harder for them to win under this system, but they are all making plenty of money so who cares.
Owners and players have been making money hand over fist, happy as larks even though the popularity of their sport wanes. Then baseball hit a snag. All sports did. A snag called Covid-19.
Baseball has gone through at least half a dozen plans for how to play at least a partial season. It seems as though they have settled on a plan that would start their season in early July and have each team play 82 games. No plan was going to create the feel of a real season. Nevertheless, baseball would be back.
Alas, the plan may not come to fruition because the billionaires are having a full blown brouhaha with the millionaires. I used to love a good brouhaha. I like to type the word brouhaha. I love to say the word brouhaha. However, this is a brouhaha the sport of baseball can’t afford to have.
Despite already agreeing to split the profits of a mostly fan free season, the owners decided they wanted the players to take a cut in pay. The owners claim a season without fans will cause a great reduction in revenue. It is their feeling that despite the agreement they already made, players should assume some of that lost revenue. The players, to the surprise of nobody, are not on board with such a plan.
Obviously the owners are correct. According to commissioner Rob Manfred, in an interview with CNN, MLB will lose $4 billion if no season is played. Ronald Blum of The Associated Press calculates that 82 games in empty ballparks will cost them $640,000 per game. The Pittsburgh Pirates would stand to lose $91 million.
The players have a valid point, too. Playing under potentially dangerous health conditions, isolated from family, and taking a massive pay cut clearly would not be palatable to many people.
Players have been speaking out, voicing their concern and dismay for a plan that requires even more of a pay cut.
St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Gary Templeton once said in reference to not being voted the starter in the 1979 All Star Game, “If I ain’t startin’ I ain’t departin’.”
Last week Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell channeled his inner Templeton when asked about playing in these conditions on a reduced salary. Paraphrasing, Snell said, “ If you ain’t payin’ I ain’t playin’.”
Unfortunately, this is another case of bad optics for a sport that can’t afford more bad optics.
Despite the high level of risk and cut in pay, even the league minimum players would clear approximately $200,000. Guys like Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole, and even Blake Snell will make anywhere from $5 to $15 million. That is with the second pay cut owners are asking. The middle class fan base baseball relies on has little sympathy for guys who would still make $15 million to play 82 games. Fans have even less sympathy for players making almost half a billion dollars. The players come across as greedy, yet they aren’t the only greedy ones in this scenario.
Owners, aka the billionaires, are even more shameful than the players. Obviously nobody expects a business to operate at a 91 million dollar loss. Not even the Bill Gatesiest of business owners is willing to take a $91 million loss. That is insane by any standard. Some owners claim it would be the end of their franchise. In Bob Nutting’s case he has a net worth of $1.1 billion. No, he doesn’t have a billion dollars stuffed in his mattress, but he has plenty plus a team valued at $1.3 billion. So losing 91 mill would massively suck, but Nutting would survive.
Covid-19 doesn’t care about your wealth. It has taken a toll on everyone. Massive unemployment, small businesses closing for good, rising prices on essential goods, and yes, a major blow to the sports industry. The people who have the most capacity to withstand the financial impact of the virus are the millionaires and billionaires.
Baseball doesn’t get it. Baseball never gets it. I’m one of those who has no sympathy for the sport.
The players have been overpaid and coddled for years. It has caused the game that I grew up loving to drift into the abyss. Pitchers strictly worry about velocity and spin rate. Hitters strictly worry about power. Nobody runs the bases properly, rarely do players throw to the proper base, many don’t hustle, and most refuse to hit the opposite way to beat the shift. Nevertheless, players get paid more and more.
Who has allowed the game to get out of control? The owners. They have allowed salaries to skyrocket to levels that are hard to comprehend. They gouge fans for parking, concessions, and tickets. Big market owners have virtually no spending limits. Small market owners like their cut of the pie enough that they don’t ever push for a salary cap, which would give them a much better opportunity for winning. I haven’t even mentioned the other bonehead decisions they’ve made to cause their sport’s popularity to set adrift.
Now baseball risks losing a ton of money, and they want fans to understand. Oh I understand, but I just don’t care.
Maybe there will be a silver lining out of all of this. Otherwise this will just be another black eye for the game. And they are all out of eyes. I believe them when they say they want to play. Playing is better than not playing, I guess. I still think the season will be more exhibition than competition. Maybe all of this scrambling and bickering over revenue sharing in this fan free, abbreviated season will bring about some much needed change in the form of a salary cap.
Do you believe in miracles? Where is Al Michaels when I need him?
Two Cent Takes
~Now for some brouhahas I do enjoy. These guys certainly aren’t practicing proper social distancing. Here are my Two Cent Top Ten manager/player/umpire dust ups.
10. Let’s start with the obvious. Lou Pinella. How his head didn’t explode during one of his many infamous meltdowns I will never know. Here is one from Chicago from a fan perspective.
9. Bryce Harper is known to run a little hot at times. Here is a combo Harper/Gabe Kapler double ejection as narrated by a great Twitter follow @Jomboy.
8. Bob Davidson, aka Balkin’ Bob, is not a very good umpire. Just don’t tell him that. There are a slew of videos out there of him ejecting players and managers. This particular incident got him a suspension. Last week I showed you a clip of Charlie Manuel threatening to “knock out” Philly reporter Howard Eskin. Enjoy Charlie and Bob in an argument that could have just as easily taken place in a retirement home.
7. Phillies fans will love Joe Girardi. He’s got a Philly kind of personality. Las Diaz is one of the worst umpires ever. I’m not sure how he keeps his job. Girardi doesn’t know either.
6. Wally Backman was always a scrappy player in his day. As a minor league manager he still has that scrap. This is an all timer here. When you think it’s over, keep watching because Wally is done.
5. Billy Martin was a classic. The best brouhaha he was involved in was yanking Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson off the field in the middle of an inning. Here it is from the WPIX feed. One of the stations we got when I was a kid. It was fun remembering Bill White and Phil Rizzuto calling those games. Holy Cow!
4. Lloyd McClendon comes across as pretty low key. However, when Lloyd snaps, he really snaps. Plus, he becomes a thief. Here is one most have seen, but it’s still fun to watch.
3. Coming in at number three is one of the great characters of all time, Don Zimmer. In addition to the Zimmer/Jerry Crawford tête-à-tête, we get to hear legendary Harry Carey and partner Steve Stone on the call. The two best parts of this is Zimmer’s casual stroll from the dugout and Carey’s “Isn’t this priceless?” line.
2. My all time favorite manager/umpire brouhaha is a classic. Earl Weaver, never one to hide his feelings had a slight disagreement with Bill Haller. It leads to one of the great mic’d up scenes in baseball. Enjoy!
1. My all time favorite brouhaha comes from my favorite all time non-Pirates player. The only time I truly thought someone may kill an umpire was the famous George Brett pine tar incident of 1983. It is also the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone run with a wad of chewing tobacco in their mouth and eyes bulging out of their head.
A Penny For My Final Thought…
College football season is slowly creeping up on us. Or is it?
College football has the toughest path to having a season of any sport contending with the parameters set up by Covid-19. All of the professional leagues are dealing with somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 teams, and they are still struggling for answers to how to get back on the playing field. College football has 130 FBS schools spread out through conferences in all parts of the country. Getting college football up and running is no easy task in these unprecedented conditions.
As such, there have been, like, 58 different suggestions thrown at the wall. And that was just last week’s list. Play a regional schedule. Play your regular schedule. Play conference games only. Some conferences will play. All conferences will play or no conferences will play. No play without students on campus. A delayed start. A spring schedule. Start on time. Start on time where possible.
I get it. Trying to balance what the health officials are saying, with what governors are saying, with what conference commissioners are saying, with what school presidents are saying, with What AD’s are saying, with what coaches are saying, with what the NCAA is saying —okay, nobody cares what they are saying— is complex, complect, complicated, and anything but compendious.
This is another sport that will look so different if played without fans, bands, and cheerleaders. Those three things are part of the fabric of college athletics. Financially, the season needs to be played. At Akron University they have already dropped men’s golf, men’s cross country, and women’s tennis. Other schools will no doubt have to follow the Zips lead if the big money making sport is not played.
Obviously players and coaches want to play the season. Some kids have one last chance to impress NFL scouts. Coaches are trying to build or maintain momentum. For some it will be one last chance to play football competitively.
Maybe as importantly as anything else, it’s time for sports to get back to center stage. We could all use a little normalcy, or at least something resembling normalcy. As head fanatic, I must admit that I have survived without sports better than I would have imagined. No March Madness was brutal. But a few home improvement projects later and it was April, so I didn’t have time to miss it as much as I thought. I missed the Masters, but that is only four days. Baseball I addressed in the main column, plus as a Pirates fan I didn’t have a lot to look forward to this season.
Football is another story. Having no sports is getting long in the tooth. It’s time to have something to watch, time to cheer for someone, time to get my Clay Helton punching dummy back out. I really could use some college football.
Safety is of the utmost importance during a time like this. I certainly don’t want to throw people in harms way for my viewing enjoyment. Here is hoping that one of those 58 ideas they threw at the wall sticks. I’d prefer having the regular season they had scheduled all along. However, anything would do at this point.
Im going a bit stir crazy, which has actually increased my fanaticism.
If there is no football, it may be time to call the white coats.
Just my two cents…