Blame Pointing One Way

If you go to the ‘Important Dates‘ page on our blog you’ll see that the Spring Training opener countdown is at 0 and there are celebratory effects to show we have reached that moment.

I’ve decided to keep it there for now, just to highlight the ridiculous position MLB is in.

Whilst the ever-present “baseball is dying” comments on Twitter can be ignored, there’s no question that in the States MLB’s general popularity has reduced over the past 25 years. Local markets still love their own teams, but the ability of MLB to cut through into the wider popular culture is now a long way behind the NFL and increasingly behind the NBA too.

We are regularly reminded by all sorts of sources, not least MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, that the sport’s popularity in the States heavily trends towards those 50 years old and above. Trying to appeal to a younger audience is a key ambition of MLB, as it should be, yet the glacial pace of any changes has meant there has been little success in that area of late.

Add in the very genuine financial impact of two pandemic-hit seasons and you have a sport that should be doing everything it can to present a positive, exciting, forward-thinking agenda.

Instead, it’s presenting a shambles of epic proportions.

Spring Training is delayed and it now looks increasingly likely that Opening Day will be delayed too. March 31st should be a celebration of arguably the deepest talent pool of players MLB has ever seen. Instead, the ballparks will be silent and the broadcasting void will be filled with people angrily questioning why millionaires and billionaires cannot get along.

Those with an intellectual understanding of economics may have a more nuanced interpretation of extreme wealth, but my basic rule is that you don’t become a billionaire without being a shady, exploitative arsehole.

If a given billionaire is putting some of that wealth into good causes or investments that bring jobs and wider benefits then it’s fair to give them a partial pass, but one that comes with the caveat that their actions should remain under constant scrutiny.

For example, you surely didn’t need to be an academic expert on the exploitation of former Soviet Union industry to realise that Roman Abramovich wasn’t chucking £1.5bn of loans into a West London football club solely so that he could enjoy doing a troika dance down Wembley Way for a Carabao Cup final or two. But I digress …

My point here is that whilst us mere mortals may at times envy the riches that some ballplayers enjoy, that shouldn’t make it any less objectionable when they get screwed over by their bosses in the same way we often are.

Whilst it’s usually fair to say there are two sides to every story, especially in the context of bargaining negotiations, there is literally nothing in the way MLB operates that should give them the benefit of any doubt.

MLB is 30 wealthy ownership groups who have a legal monopoly that allows them to do pretty much whatever they like. And they do, as brutally shown by the way they recently culled 42 minor league teams and used their lobbying powers to get an act passed into federal law, shamelessly entitled “The Save America’s Pastime Act”, to exempt baseball players and other staff members from the federal minimum wage and rules around overtime pay.

MLB has set tomorrow, Monday 28th, as the deadline by which an agreement is needed to implement a four-week Spring Training and to not lose any regular season games. It’s often only possible to strike a deal when a hard deadline focuses minds, as we see in football transfer deadline days, so I’m not criticising that negotiating tactic.

However, what is increasingly becoming clear is that it is MLB’s almost total intransigence in conceding any current ground on core economic matters that is the reason we are at this point.

Much as I want to see the A’s facing the Angels at the Coliseum on Thursday March 31st, if forcing the owners to take a hit in the pocket (the players aren’t on strike, don’t forget) is the only way to get a fair deal then baseball fans should be prepared to sacrifice some games in 2022 for the betterment of the game in the longer term.

Next podcast recording coming up

The one potentially significant bit of news from Saturday’s negotiations was the reported agreement on both sides for the A’s to become a revenue-sharing recipient once again.

We’ll discuss that and much more in our next A’s UK podcast. Dom, Hannah and I will be recording that on Tuesday evening so it should be available across all major podcast platforms on Wednesday.

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