The owners, running out of feet

2020-06-14 CamdenYards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Other than frustrated Oriole fans who’d like to throw things at Peter Angelos, baseball fans don’t spend money to see their teams’ owners. The owners still don’t get the message.

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. That’s what enough of Major League Baseball’s owners kept trying to tell us while they tried to strong-arm their product (the players, in case you keep forgetting) into playing a short 2020 season and accepting less than their agreed-in-March pro-rated 2020 salaries. Right?

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. Never mind that the redoubtable Thomas Boswell once actually figured out that, over the past century’s time, baseball owners have hauled down a twelve percent compound annual rate of return: “That kind of tax-free compounding . . . is like striking an oil well that never runs dry.”

But . . . but . . . not. profitable. Baseball’s such a money loser that MLB just nailed a billion-dollar deal with Turner Sports—you may recall that its founding father once owned the Atlanta Braves—to “keep a playoff package that includes one of the league championship series on the network,” according to the New York Post. Earning MLB at least $150 million a year more than under the current deal set to expire after next season.

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen couldn’t resist. “But baseball is dying!” he snarked. And who could blame him?

When you’re a group that pulls down the aforesaid compound annual rate of return, Boswell said three days ago, and you happen to be baseball’s stewards, “holding the sport in multicentury trust for fans who love it and support it,” you “have a duty to take the brunt of the financial hit from the coronavirus. In the long run, the owners, as a group, are always the huge winners. The players just pass through and get what they can grab — some of them a fortune but most far less.”

. . . The owners’ position appears to be: We don’t want to lose money. The whole world is. But us, no. We want players to accept additional pay cuts below a prorated level (but we won’t show you our books). In contrast, we will take a $0.00 year but not a share-the-pain loss . . .

. . . The owners are so self-protective, so oblivious to the good of the game, they even want to maximize their defenses against a second wave of the virus. Oh, we will play until the normal Oct. 31. But don’t talk to us about playing games in November because that would increase the chance of an erased World Series, lost TV money and losses for us.

That was three days before the Turner Sports deal. Now, remember, as Boswell does: The owners want the absolute maximum safety margin if the Show comes back, but if you assume the coronavirus isn’t quite finished with its grand tour guess who takes the maximum safety risk?

Hint: They’re the ones you pay your hard-earned money to see in uniform on the field, at the plate, on the mound. Accuse me as you must of flogging a dead horse, but nobody hands over anywhere from $15 to $150 or more per ticket to take themselves and their families or friends out to the ballpark to see Peter Angelos (not counting frustrated Oriole fans wanting to throw things at him), Mark Attanasio, Jim Crane, Bill deWitt, John Henry, Mark Lerner, Arte Moreno, Tom Ricketts, Hal Steinbrenner, and company.

Again assuming the coronavirus tour isn’t finished, the maximum risk takers are also the ones who guide you to your parking spot; sell you the food, drinks, souvenir hats and jerseys and other chatzkahs of rooting; post around the parks to keep the lunatics from spoiling your fun; and, run the park facilities from the gates to the scoreboards to the concession stands and back.

Show me a baseball owner and I’ll show you someone who shoots himself in the foot so often it’s a wonder he has a foot left to shoot. Of all the cliches you can attach to the so-called Lords of Baseball, and it’s been true for just about the entire life of professional baseball, the truest may be that they never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity. (Except, perhaps, for the tax write-offs.)

Here’s the sport that could and should have dropped the big one on its competitors and gotten major league baseball back onto the field on the Fourth of July. “You get 15-games-a-day visibility before the NBA and the NHL return,” Boswell wrote, “as well as a two-month jump on the NFL.” So much for that idea.

That kind of image enhancing would have been worth more than the entire difference ($4.6 billion, roughly, if you’re scoring at home) between what Hal Steinbrenner’s late father paid to buy the New York Yankees from CBS in 1973 and what the Yankees are worth today.

The only shock, then, in the players all but walking away from the negotiating table on starting a delayed 2020 season—as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich put it Saturday, “The March agreement between the parties empowers commissioner Rob Manfred to set the number of games as long as the league awards the players their full prorated salaries, with the caveat that the league make its best effort to make the schedule as long as possible”—is that anyone should be shocked.

Except, perhaps, by the owners looking for every possible way to renege on the March agreement, and the players—not always eloquently, not always with their best (unshot) feet forward—looking for every possible way to thwart them.

Remember the wisdom of the late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, again: We try every way we can think of to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it. Come Monday, when the players asked the commissioner to finalise seasonal plans, we may begin learning whether Anderson is still right.

MLB’s own Saturday statement said they were “disappointed” that the players chose not to negotiate “in good faith.” Set aside for the moment how similar that is to the classic Communist tack of claiming the invaded were the invaders. Remind yourself that, from time immemorial, the owners demanding “good faith” is like hearing Attila the Hun sing “All You Need is Love.”

“It looks like 1994 all over again”

2020-06-08 FayVincentRogerCraig

Then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent relaxes with then-San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig. Today Vincent thinks MLB owners haven’t learned a thing from their unforced errors of the past.

The Los Angeles Dodgers left Dodgertown—their legendary Vero Beach, Florida spring training complex, which Branch Rickey began and Walter O’Malley completed—for fresh digs in Arizona after the 2008 season. Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and his wife built a home in Vero Beach six years earlier.

From that home today, Vincent is unamused by today’s coronavirus-abetted baseball furies. The commissioner who didn’t ask “how high” whenever the owners ordered “jump!” thinks today’s owners are looking for more trouble than even the 1994 strike those owners provoked eyes wide shut.

Today’s owners, pleading potential poverty with little enough evidence to support the plea, seem to prefer jamming an abbreviated 48- or 50-game 2020 season down the throats of the players who prefer and hope to play an 80- or 82-game season. This morning’s whispers indicate that the haggling could mean a season beginning not in July but in August, if at all.

Assuming the owners stay on the terms of a March agreement to pay the players pro-rated 2020 salaries, even Sesame Street‘s residents can tell you that normal times equal the owners thinking the good of the game is making money for them, but abnormal times equal the owners thinking the good of the game is . . . making or at least saving money for them.

Not so fast, warns the last commissioner not to cancel a World Series. (1989, rudely interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake shaking Candlestick Park into being nicknamed by one wag “Wiggly Field.”) “[I]f you shut the game down,” he told NJ.com columnist Bob Klapisch, “you’re going to war with the [Major League Baseball Players Association] and that union cannot be broken. It looks like it’s 1994 all over again. I don’t think anyone has learned their lesson.”

The players want the owners to live up to the agreement the two sides made in March. The owners want the players to live down to it. Vincent remembers what a lot of people forget: nobody pays their hard-earned money to go to the ballpark or watch the game on cable television because they’re anxious to see their team’s owner.

The names on the backs of jerseys in which Joe and Jane Fan step out on the town read Trout, Harper, Scherzer, Bellinger, Judge, Yelich, Altuve, and Bumgarner—not Moreno, Middleton, Lerner, Guggenheim, Steinbrenner, Attanasio, Crane, or Kendrick. (Unless it’s Howie Kendrick, 2019 World Series hero.)

“Over the last 25 years,” Vincent told Klapisch further, “there’s been this general myth that the players have done better than the owners. People think, ‘the union’s won because the players are making so much money.’ Well, the reality is the Yankees are worth $10 billion. If the Steinbrenner family sold the team today, the players wouldn’t get a nickel. The players don’t own YES, they don’t own SNY, they don’t own NESN. So tell me who is the winner and who is the loser?”

It cost George Steinbrenner and his original partners $10 million to buy the Yankees from CBS in 1973. Today the Yankees—with their singular if not always controversy-free history—are actually worth $4.6 billion. But still. “That team is one of the greatest investments in history,” Vincent said, “and [the Steinbrenner family] owns it all. The same is true for all the owners: after tax dollars and capital gains (tax) they’ve held onto every bit of equity.”

Vincent gets why the MLBPA and their executive director Tony Clark, himself a former longtime major league first baseman, trust the owners about as far as they can hit or throw them. It’s not that the owners necessarily learned to play nice beforehand, but the mid-1980s collusion of owners suppressing genuinely competitive free agent biddings probably did the most to re-convince the players that most of the owners were about as trustworthy as a politician.

The owners were finally mandated to pony up $280 million in damages for their trouble then. “They owners stole that money from the players,” Vincent said, and you could practically feel him snap as you read the quote. “Stole it. There’s no other verb. When you steal that much it’s a hard argument to deflate. It’s why the players have never trusted owners since then.”

2020-06-08 FayVincent

Banishing George Steinbrenner from baseball over paying a street hustler to find dirt on Hall of Famer Dave Winfield made Vincent a hero in New York.

Vincent was thrust into his former office upon the death of A. Bartlett Giamatti, who barely got to serve a full year in office before—abetted, but not necessarily caused by the ferocious stress of the Pete Rose gambling investigation he’d been bequeathed—suffering a fatal heart attack at 51 eight days after he banished Rose.

When he showed himself a mediator instead of an owners’ errand boy or strong-arm to end the 1990 spring lockout, Vincent made few enough friends among those who thought he was there to do their bidding strictly. Like Giamatti, who didn’t live long enough to suggest whether he’d always behave as though the good of the game didn’t always equal making money for it, Vincent didn’t see himself as his bosses’ stooge.

A man who loves baseball as deeply as his predecessor did, but without Giamatti’s scholarly but accessible eloquence, Vincent visited as many ballparks as he could. He was present and rooting in Milwaukee on 31 July 1990, the night Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan earned credit for his 300th win, even accepting the chance to sit and chat with Ryan in the dugout.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, arguably the number one pusher for the 1994 strike, was not amused. “Nolan Ryan’s a player,” Reinsdorf “reminded” Vincent. “You’re the commissioner of baseball. You can’t be in awe of a player, I don’t care who he is.”

Thus said the man who commissioned statues of Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk, Nellie Fox, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome around Comiskey Park—oops! Guaranteed Rate Field—not to mention those of Paul Konerko, Minnie Minoso, and Billy Pierce. Reinsdorf certainly seems somewhat awed by middle and corner infielders,  a couple of designated hitters, at least one catcher, and at least one pitcher. (So where’s Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm?)

When he banished Steinbrenner from baseball in 1990, after Steinbrenner was caught and exposed having paid a street hustler to dig up dirt on his future Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield, Vincent lost the Yankees as an ally but won admirers in New York and elsewhere. The news broke while the Yankees hosted the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium and provoked a slowly circulating standing ovation from beleaguered Yankee fans.

Vincent ran afoul of the owners for keeps in 1992. A cabal of smaller market owners led by Reinsdorf and then-Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig (the cabal was known as the Great Lakes Gang), fed up with Vincent’s apparent disinclination to let them keep pleading poverty against those big beasts in the larger markets, knowing only too well that they weren’t as impoverished as they claimed, were only too ready to dump him and finally lined up the votes to do it.

He knew a few things they’d forgotten conveniently, including that it was their own fault player salaries inflated beyond sensible logic as the 1980s turned into the 1990s. Nobody put guns to anyone’s heads when, for example, San Francisco Giants general manager Al Rosen blew a hole in the market ceiling by signing a good but not great 33-year-old pitcher named Bud Black to four years at $2.2 million per, the kind of money paid usually to the Orel Hershisers of the time, not guys with ERAs approaching 4.00.

Vincent also didn’t help himself when he tried strong-arming three Yankee people including manager Buck Showalter out of baseball for going to bat on behalf of drug-troubled relief pitcher Steve Howe, whom Vincent allowed to return to the Show after six previous drug-related suspensions. The commissioner enraged many and caused headlines when he ordered the Yankee three to his New York office as Showalter was preparing to manage a game—with Showalter returning as the game was in progress.

Vincent resigned in 1992, after an 18-9 (one abstention) no-confidence vote by the owners. Except perhaps for his foolish bid to drive the Yankee three out of baseball over Howe (he fumed when one said he’d learned in the Marines that you don’t abandon the wounded), he was the commissioner who swung and missed at knockdown pitches. He remains the last commissioner who was neither an owner nor the handpicked successor to that eventually-former owner.

But if you ask as Klapisch did whether this year’s strife means no major league season and good luck selling a 2021 season, Vincent says . . . well, not so fast. “Even with what’s gone on it’s hard to really, truly damage this game,” Vincent said. “It always comes roaring back, especially if it’s been taken away for a long period of time. Fans end up missing it. Remember one thing. People do love baseball.”

He said in less tortured grammar what Sparky Anderson, Hall of Fame manager, once said by smooshing a pie in the face of the King’s English: “We try every way we can think of to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it.” Possibly until now.

“Stop us before we mal-spend again”

2020-05-28 MaxScherzer

Max Scherzer isn’t buying the owners’ bid to renege on a March agreement to pay players their 2020 salaries pro-rated if baseball returns this summer.

Most of major league baseball’s labour issues have come down, historically and factually, to the owners trying to order the players to stop them before they overspend, misspend, or mal-spend yet again. And, again. Despise Scott Boras to your heart’s content, but he has a point when he calls upon players to decline bailing the owners out for their financial follies.

The players seem to want nothing more but nothing less than for the owners to live up to the agreement they secured in March, that the players would play a shortened 2020 with their regularly-due 2020 salaries pro-rated accordingly. The owners want the players to forget that deal and pitch and swing for less.

“If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization,” says the uber agent in a memo obtained by the Associated Press. But, of course, this isn’t just about playing baseball.

“The owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks,” Boras continues.

This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.

Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect.

Under normal circumstances such borrowings might have made a certain level of sense and seem unnecessary at certain points, as Boras and others who wheel and deal in the game understand well enough.

I’m hard pressed to recall what occupied Joe and Jane Fan’s mind more, the deficit financings by which the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and redeveloped Wrigley Field in the first place, or the Cubs reaching the Promised Land at long enough last four years ago. Uh, oh. It’s been four years since the Cubs won the World Series. Will their next Series drought last even half of 116 years?

Whatever you think of him, Boras—and he’s hardly alone—would like to remind you appropriately that it wasn’t the players who counseled the owners to borrow big buying their teams, and the players benefit comparatively small from baseball’s recent record revenues and profits.

Beware the rat, Boras advises: the Rickettses [and other owners likewise] “will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans. However, the end result is that the Ricketts will own improved assets that significantly increases the value of the Cubs — value that is not shared with the players.”

Before the AP made the Boras memo public, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted, “We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”

Remember: An awful lot of public misinformation accompanied the runup to and the duration of the 1994 players’ strike. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was there. Last week, he reminded one and all, “If it were to come down to an economic issue and that’s the reason baseball didn’t come back, you’re looking at a situation similar to the strike of ’94 and ’95 as far as fans are concerned. Even if players were 100% justified in what they were complaining about, they’re still going to look bad.”

The players association “has held firm that a March 27 agreement between the parties ensures the players their prorated share, while the league believes that language in the agreement calls for a good-faith negotiation in the event that games are played in empty stadiums,” notes ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Good faith, indeed. The players, with good contemporary and historical reason, Passan continues, are “skeptical of the data the league shared that showed significant losses across the sport and recently submitted additional document requests to the league in search of information about local television revenue, national television revenue, sponsorship revenue and projections from teams.”

With the coronavirus pandemic still in play, too, the players and the owners have health concerns to address and secure to the best extent possible if they want to play ball this summer. You may think the players are being greed heads for insisting that the owners live up to the March agreement and cut the shenanigans, but what does it say for the owners looking to use the pandemic still in play to force the players yet again to stop them before they overspend, misspend, or mal-spend—again?

There will always be the folks who blame the players no matter what,” tweets The Athletic‘s Marc Carig. “But let there be no mistake about it. The blame will also fall to the owners, who seem to have made weakening the union a priority over getting baseball back on the field.”

Part of that, of course, is an availability issue. It’s headlines when players sign bazillion-dollar contracts, but it’s crickets when the owners are asked to provide complete, undoctored financial disclosures that would indicate how much they actually as opposed to allegedly invest in actual baseball activity.

Do yourselves a couple of favours, dear readers. (All ten of you). Don’t let yourselves fall into the trap of thinking this is all a bunch of hooey over playing a kid’s game, for crying out loud! Remember whom you pay your hard-earned money to see at the ballpark. (Hint: it isn’t the owners, or even the general managers, no matter how dubious was that lopsided trade for which your team’s GM got the short end of the stick.)

Then, ask yourselves, if it’s just a kid’s game, for crying out loud, whether you, too, could really handle going to work every day knowing there’ll be about fifty thousand people watching you do your job at the office, on the loading bay, or along the conveyors—never mind whether you, too, could really hit Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, or Jack Flaherty into the bleachers or sneak a meatball past Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, or Cody Bellinger.

Now, put the dollar amounts to one side, and ask yourselves how you’d feel if you had a deal with your employer and your employer decided you need to renegotiate it down, because said employer needs a bailout after borrowing up and out the kazoo despite having the wherewithal to carry on without debt financing.

Thought so.

. . . and, will it come back smartly?

2020-05-12 SeanDoolittle

Sean Doolittle during last year’s World Series. He’s now concerned that baseball considers everyone’s health before coming back.

Forget for the moment how arduous might become the grapple between owners and players on how to pay whom if the Show returns. More significant will be how to keep more than just the players healthy, a significance that has not escaped the thoughtful eye, ear, and mind of one Washington Nationals relief pitcher.

Sean Doolittle isn’t even close to the only major league player with health on his mind. But it isn’t every player who’s unburdened himself aboard Twitter to lay out the health questions that must be answered if the Show is to come back to give a coronavirus-exhausted nation even a small degree of respite.

Bear with me,” Doolittle (who calls himself Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter) began his Monday stream, “but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season.”

There are players and other personnel now who may be more vulnerable to the virus than others almost regardless of the health and safety protocols MLB might secure, as Ken Rosenthal observes in The Athletic. Colorado outfielder David Dahl is one. Rosenthal cites the Mayo Clinic saying your vulnerability to life-threatening infections heightens after spleen removal. Dahl’s spleen was removed five years ago.

Doolittle’s own wife, Eireann Dolan, is vulnerable thanks to being asthmatic. Two Chicago Cubs, pitcher Jon Lester and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, are cancer survivors. Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco has battled leukemia and, six years ago, undergone “non-invasive heart procedure,” Rosenthal writes. At least three players are Type 1 diabetics: pitchers Scott Alexander (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals), and outfielder Adam Duvall (Atlanta Braves).

One and all of them plus countless more players are only too willing to play ball this year. “Obviously, this thing is unstoppable if it gets you the right way,” said Rizzo, who’s worked with and through his charitable group aiding Chicago front-line workers, in April. “But they said I’m cured and as strong as ever and that everything functions the right way. If I was to get it, they’re not overly concerned, like they would be with older people who have had conditions before.”

Doolittle also knows it’s not that simple to work with. “Because this is a novel virus, there is still so much we don’t know—including the long-term effects,” he said aboard his Twitter stream. “On top of respiratory issues, there’s been evidence of kidney, intestinal, and liver damage, as well as neurological malfunctions, blood clots & strokes.”

Referencing several research results, the lefthanded relief pitcher cited coronavirus patients’ vulnerability to scarring in their lungs, “found even in asymptomatic patients, and because the virus often affects both lungs, can cause permanent damage in some cases. Definitely a concern for an athlete.”

It’s also a concern, and Doolittle knows it, for those who work in close enough proximity, including clubhouse personnel, press personnel, team staffers, and stadium workers. Baseball as a game may work in a kind of social distancing on the field, if you don’t count the three-man cluster of batter, catcher, and umpire at the plate, but off the field in the dugout, the clubhouse, and the ballpark is something else.

Even if the Show returns come July with no fans in the stands to begin, it isn’t going to be simple. “We know that sharing indoor spaces greatly increases the infection risk,” Doolittle continued, “and it’s rare that only 1 person gets sick. Will there be modifications made to clubhouses or other facilities to prevent a spread?” Indeed.

“Even if maybe guys don’t realize it right now, it’s our job and MLB’s job to make sure all those concerns are taken care of,” says Cardinals relief pitcher Andrew Miller, who’s a member of one of the player’s association’s executive sub-committees. “Health and safety of our players and our staff is first and foremost before we can even think about getting games off the ground and the logistics of all that.”

Baseball players might not be in close contact during a game the way football players are,” Doolittle tweeted, referencing the prospects for an NFL season this fall, “but there is a lot of shared space in a clubhouse among players, coaches and staff.”

That’s one reason why it isn’t going to be as simplistic as just keeping the owners from using baseball’s measured return to try suppressing players’ pay, considering the question to be answered as to whether the players will play for a 50-50 revenue split or for the contracted-for pro-rated 2020 salaries to which they agreed in March.

“The risk of exposure to the virus is one reason players are adamant about not accepting a further reduction in pay,” Rosenthal writes. “They agreed in March to pro-rate their salaries in a shortened season, but the league will seek additional concessions, sources said, because the games, at least initially, will be played without paying customers.”

Doolittle also pondered, not unreasonably, whether baseball could or would consider additional health care benefits for players and staffers “extend[ing] beyond their employment and into retirement to mitigate the unknown risks of putting on a baseball season during a pandemic?”

We don’t have a vaccine yet, and we don’t really have any effective anti-viral treatments. What happens if there is a second wave? Hopefully we can come up with BOTH a proactive health plan focused on prevention AND a reactive plan aimed at containment.

Doolittle and other players hope any plan to bring the Show back considers plans to acquire enough real coronavirus tests “ethically,” and the best, most feasible protocols if any player, staffer, or ballpark worker contracts the virus.

The owners and the players union have that to think about as well, even if they also have to ponder concurrent issues. For the players, they know the longevity of given careers isn’t guaranteed. For the owners, whose longevity is far more assured, there’s the risk that the national economy’s eventual recovery doesn’t happen before they’re forced to furloughs, firings, and bankruptcies.

“We want to play,” Doolittle concluded. “And we want everyone to stay safe.”

Not once in his Twitter exegesis did Doolittle talk about money. The cynic might reply that that was easy for him not to say, since his full 2020 salary would have been $6.5 million and his pro-rated nut wouldn’t exactly be pocket money. Hearing comparable health and safety concern from more players such as Doolittle and Miller would go plenty far enough.

Before this week’s return proposal, earlier ideas that meant complete player isolation put several players on edge for having to go to the serious work of play without their families. A normal baseball season provides separation enough. A season played in near-isolation with out-of-the-ordinary health and isolation issues is tricky above and beyond the safety concern.

Mike Trout and his wife, who’ve been donating quite liberally to front-liners in the region of his native southern New Jersey (including donating food), await the birth of their first son in August. He’d rather hit the deck after taking a hit off the helmet from a headhunting pitcher than be absent when Baby Trout premieres.

Clayton Kershaw, whose third child (and second son) was born three months ago, and who raised money (and matched it dollar-for-dollar out of his own deep pocket) for a Los Angeles group serving 13,000 meals a day during the pandemic, has suggested the balance between playing baseball safely and being isolated from their families didn’t exactly thrill himself or his fellow players.

Still, it’s always reassuring to know that there are those who actually play the game, who understand that, for all the dollars they earn to play it, the common good of the game isn’t always the same thing as just making money for it or dividing the spoils from it.

They also know a coronavirus-exhausted country needs what they do. Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon doesn’t want to be ill, doesn’t want people making each other ill, but wants a way for the game to return for those who love it and those who depend on it for their living.

“But bigger than that,” Blackmon said in a Monday radio interview, “this country needs baseball.” This country, and baseball itself, also needs to have it done right.

The Show’s coming back?

2020-05-11 CodyBellinger

Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you . . . but . . .

Baseball, the sport that more or less invented social distancing (if you don’t count the batter, the catcher, and the home plate umpire in a close enough cluster), is about to return to America, so it is said. At least the Show will. This brings good news, bad news, and very bad news.

The good news is, the proposed July return acknowledges a nation in dire need of respite from the coronavirus’s toll in human life and human mischief and exhausted of asking, “Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you.”

The bad news is, there’ll have to come bristling debate on part of the proposal: will the players get only their cuts of a half-and-half league revenue split, or will they get their normal if prorated-for-time 2020 salaries?

The very bad news is that slightly more than half season to come may leave room for some of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mischief. The proposal approved by major league owners and submitted to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association includes that the postseason will begin with fourteen teams, courtesy of two more wild cards each in the American and National Leagues.

Manfred has only sought such a postseason expansion for almost as long as he’s been Bud Selig’s successor, of course. Bad enough that some of his thoughts about redressing play-of-game issues have run the gamut from nonsense to more nonsense. Worse is that he has no apparent thought that play-of-postseason requires even more serious redress.

Even if the proposed structure for this year is one time only, well, we’ve heard it before when baseball’s governors tried things once—and let them linger regardless of their wisdom or enhancement of the game.

The postseason is already long enough. And we’ve suffered long enough, too, the thrills and chills of teams fighting down the stretch to the very last breath to determine who’s going to finish . . . in second place.

The original wild card advent legitimised the second place finisher as a championship contender, which was bad enough, and removed the time-honoured incentive of the first place finish as the sole legitimate entree into postseason play. Manfred appears to be witless to comprehend it even as he further exposes himself a man to whom the common good of the game equals little more than making money for it.

You guessed it: here I go yet again. But a three-division league giving a round one bye to the division winner with the best record of the three, while the other two slug it out in a best-of-three division series, with that winner playing the bye team in a best-of-five League Championship Series, would a) produce far more of a genuine league champion and b) far fewer viewers turning off or avoiding television sets or radios on the road to the best-of-seven World Series.

All that said, there are a couple of things to come in the short 2020 season that Manfred, the owners, and the players alike would be wise to make permanent. Rosters are proposed to expand from 26 to 30. Sound as a nut. Make it permanent.

The designated hitter will come to the National League for the short 2020. Good. Make it even more permanent. Pitchers batted for a .128/.159/.163 slash line in 2019. That is unacceptable production no matter what you think of “tradition,” and baseball history is nothing if not full enough with traditions that deserved to be and were killed. OK, you asked for it: Thomas Boswell’s wisdom, one more time . . .

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

As a result, some weaker pitchers survive in the NL. But survival-of-the-unfittest isn’t good for the evolution of a league. Over time, high-quality hitters migrate to the AL, where they can have longer, richer careers by finishing as a DH. That is the main reason the AL has dominated interleague play in this century.

Depending upon the team’s up-and-down lineup possibilities, I’d far rather have what amounts to an extra leadoff hitter or cleanup hitter in that spot than a gang of spaghetti bats who might maybe hit one to the back of the yard as often as Halley’s Comet shows up. Assuming they don’t get injured swinging or running the bases and taken out of action when you need their arms the most.

I don’t want Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jack Flaherty, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Josh Hader, Noah Syndergaard (when he returns), or Jon Lester wasting time at the plate no matter how many home runs they’ve hit once in a blue moon. I want them strictly on the mound missing bats or luring outs. That’s why they’re paid what they’re paid.

Beyond that? I’m not going to complain about the possible electronic strike zone, I want the balls and strikes called right, too, which means by the rule book and not according to Angel Hernandez’s mood on a particular afternoon or evening.

But I’m going to complain that Manfred and company continue underrating and underdiscussing umpire accountability, which still seems not to exist much if at all. More’s the pity. When the Korean Baseball Organisation sends an entire ump crew to the country’s minors for re-training after a few too many complaints about a few too many individual strike zones, the American Show needs to pay attention. And the Hernandezes, Joe Wests, and C.B. Bucknors ought to be made to watch their behinds.

MLB’s return will mean empty stadiums to begin with gradual re-openings, not to mention one-time mixed-league divisions based on geography to a great extent and special considerations for keeping players, coaches, managers, umpires, and grounds crews safe. It may sound like a pain in the sliding pants, but it may also beat the living hell out of the alternative, which we’ve had restlessly enough for over a month and counting.

And, like anything else, desperate times call for desperate or at least temporarily ameliorative measures. The only thing we have to fear is that the least appealing of them might become permanent and the most appealing and truly necessary among them might become memories after the season ends.