The ban on players from Major League Baseball had only just begun when Commissioner Rob Manfred sent a letter to fans trying to assuage the anger at the possibility of another partial season—the sixth in 50 years—or none at all. season.
Fans can read Manfred’s letter, but going through the pesky gobbledygook, the bottom line is that the billionaire owners, who run a multi-billion dollar industry, want to keep as much of their fortunes as possible. The players, many of whom are already multi-millionaires, want to earn a lot more faster. MLB has at least 10 billionaire owners; four of them have a net worth of more than $2 billion. The New York Yankees are the richest team, worth $5.25 billion.
From a list of the 20 richest players, including the active, the retired and the disgraced, their net worth ranges from the low of $80 million – CC Sabathia – to the highest – Alex Rodriguez – $350 million. In 2021, the player’s median salary was $4.2 million, nearly doubling since 2003, while the median household income was $69,000 in 2019. The minimum MLB salary for an eight-month work schedule is $570,000. Fans have no fundamental interest in owner-player confrontation; a smallpox on both their houses is a common rebuttal to clashes between the billionaires and the millionaires.
Baseball is in trouble, not a news flash, but an indisputable fact that should become more concerning for the commissioner, the owners and the players.
On the field, a single game illustrates the misery of baseball. In game seven of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates against the New York Yankees, the two teams combined for 19 runs and 26 hits, but the game ended in a neat 2 hours 36 minutes.
Today’s fans, especially the youngster who desperately needs baseball as it plods along, find the games too long and boring. The average game length of nine innings in 2021 was a record 3 hours and 10 minutes, compared to about 2 hours and 30 minutes in the 1970s. The 2021 postseason games were even longer. The average length of a nine-inning game was 3 hours 37 minutes, with nine of the 36 games lasting four hours or more endlessly.
The main culprit is the number of pitchers used in a game. The 2020 rule requiring a pitcher to meet a minimum of three batters or complete an inning before being evicted is ineffective. In the 2021 regular season, teams used a record 3.4 relief pitchers per game. In the postseason, almost half of the starting pitchers were knocked out for the sixth inning, bringing the average number of relievers called up in a nine-inning game to 4.3. It’s no surprise, then, that the last 30 World Series games have all ended after 11 p.m. EDT. In 1960, the Pirates finished off the Yankees at 3:36 p.m.
Today, MLB has more in common with Apple than with what was once reverently called the national pastime. Immediately threatened is the spring training that fans eagerly await in the dead of winter – sunny skies, swaying palm trees, green grass and fastballs. Assuming the games are played, bring your wallet. The affluent Yankees charge $100 for standing tickets.
Dinosaur fans remember a happier era when the months leading up to spring practice were about baseball, not lockouts. No fan had the months between February and April better than the Brooklyn Dodgers rooters who visited Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Florida.
In his book “Dodgertown,” author Mark Langill described how the camp became the fulfillment of team manager Branch Rickey’s long dream of bringing its players together in a single, premier training facility so that all Dodgers — regular and minor leaguers — can be evaluated simultaneously. . Vero Beach, with its vacant post-World War II naval facility, was the perfect spot. Dodgertown provided dozens of batting cages, two mechanical pitchers, an electric eye umpire who also measured the speed of each pitch, a sliding pit, and a track coach. Some of those baseball-focused features were Rickey’s innovations. Off the field, the Dodgers kept their players entertained and happy with jukeboxes, shuffleboard, horseshoes, croquet and pinball machines. Food was readily available and plentiful. “Take all you want, but eat all you take,” the cafeteria sign read.
But just as the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles fortune in 1957, in 2009 they left Vero Beach for the more profitable Camelback Ranch. The Arizona facility offers tourists more than 150 Dodgers caps for amounts as high as $65.00.
Those regal prizes help explain why the Dodgers franchise is valued at $3.6 billion and why baseball fans are turned off.
(Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and a member of the Internet Baseball Writers’ Association.)