Is it broke? If so, fix it?

added 9/6/2001 by Susan Evans and Darrell Pittman

With baseball facing the upcoming labor negotiations this winter, Susan and Darrell examine the state of Major League Baseball as it exists today.

As you might guess, they agree on some point, and disagree on others.

Susan's Take

Is Baseball Broke?  That is the question that Darrell posed to me.   At first, I thought he meant financially, because of an interview I’d heard with Drayton MacLane recently.  Then, I realized he was asking if the game, the rules, the methods, the procedures were in need of an overhaul.  With the looming possibility of a strike or a lockout, it presents a quandary.  Is baseball broken, or are the owners and players just too greedy?  And if it is broken, can it be repaired?

The game itself is not broken.  It is a beautifully played, strategic game.  There are players who play it for the love of the game, and those of us who watch it certainly do so for the love of the game and to cheer our team on.  The problem is not the game but the superstars, the salaries they command, and the owners who are willing to pony up those big bucks.

It is capitalism at its best.  The players get paid what the market will bear.

When will the owners learn that the mega-bucks will not buy them a team, but rather it buys individual players who many times fail to live up to the high dollars they command?  It ends up hurting the team, and ultimately the fans.

Has A-Rod been worth his mega-buck contract?  Let’s see, where are the Rangers in the standings?  Last I looked, at the bottom of the AL West.

The best acquisition by Houston this season was Vinny Castilla.  Granted, Tampa Bay has to pick up the majority of his salary, but we pay him the league minimum.  A heck of a deal.  But there is talk that we won’t be able to afford him next year.  Nor it is likely that we will be able to afford Alou AND Wagner.  A choice will have to be made. 

Richard Hidalgo has even admitted that it is possible his slump is a result of the high-dollar contract putting too much pressure on him to perform, and we all know what has happened in previous years to Bagwell and Biggio in the playoffs.

As with any profession, I believe that people should be paid their worth.  But the extremely high salaries and the total greed of the owners and players and the players’ agents has totally gotten out of hand.   Is A-Rod really worth $25 million?  Even Bagwell, as great of a player as he is, is he worth $19 million.  Yes, he’s one of the best, and he is a future Hall of Famer.  But is he worth $19 million?  I don’t think so.  Besides, what does one do with $19 million?  You can only live in so much house and drive one car at a time.

Drayton claims that he is losing money on the team.  While that may be true, you cannot tell me that he is not making money somewhere.  It’s called creative accounting.  ‘Woe is me, I have to pay all these big salaries to he players.’  But what he doesn’t tell you is his  revenues from other sources.  I’m sure it is the same with all owners.  They are just too greedy.

I hear a lot of talk about revenue sharing.  But just like kids in the sandbox, these guys are not going to share revenue.  Those who can make the big bucks from the media will continue to do so.  But, hey, Los Angeles is a big media market... let’s look at their performance this year.  They are 3 games back in their division.  Then look at Seattle.  Is that a big media market?  No, but they are playing their hearts out and running away with the division.  Are there any mega-buck players on the Seattle team?  No.  Tell me, what is the point in paying the big bucks to the so-called superstars who then fail to perform up to expectations, or get injured?

Baseball itself is not broken.  Do some changes need to be made?  Yes, but because of human nature, it is not going to happen.

Who suffers?  The fans, of course.  But hey, what do we know?  We only pay admission to the ballparks, consume mass quantities of overpriced beer and peanuts, or if we can’t make the games, we watch them on TV, thereby increasing the advertising revenues.

Players who play for the love of the game will find a game to play.  Owners who own for the love of the dollar will continue to make money for as long as we are willing to pay the price.

It is a matter of capitalism working the way it is supposed to.


Darrell's Take:

Remember the baseball strike of 1994?  The year there was no World Series?  Look for its like in 2002, for I fear there's a train-wreck coming, and we will see no baseball next year.

To understand the problem, the standard mantra applies: Follow the Money.

Free agency (thank you, Curt Flood) has created a system where a player is nurtured, invested in, trained, and developed by a ballclub, then just when he reaches fruition at about five years, the player is eligible for either arbitration or free agency, and then chases the big bucks, usually with a big-market club like New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

There are two vested interests, the owners and the players, and a non-vested interest, the fans, whose interests, oddly enough, always seem to be left by the wayside.  Interestingly, it's the fans who pay all the bills.

At least once a week, when I'm talking baseball with someone, they mention that they stopped caring about the sport in 1994.

Baseball, in and of itself as a game, isn't broken.  By and large, though, the people who run it, and the people who play it, are.  And so are we, for being so gullible.

We can decry the greed factor all we want, yet the fact remains that it is WE, the fans, who are the enablers.  We pony up all the dollars that make it all possible.

For myself, it is a beautiful game, and I am addicted.

Yes, there needs to be some combination of revenue sharing and salary caps to even the playing field, but the year that the Astros are having (and Arizona and Seattle, for that matter) proves that a mid-market club that carefully nurtures, husbands, and develops its home-grown resources can be successful.

Just don't expect to see Major League Baseball in 2002.

Major League Merger:

We are getting married this coming Saturday, September 8, in Houston.  We will be at the games against Milwaukee Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, at Enron Field, and we would love to meet any of you who come to those games.  Our seats are in section 324, row 2, seats 22-23.  (Saturday, I'll even be in my tux!)

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