For the Return of Real Baseball in the Major Leagues -- Part 7
The ongoing discourse of what must happen for common sense to come back to the world of professional sports
by David Beck
"Baseball is what must dictate what happens in baseball."
Installment 7 -- February 19, 1999
In past installments of "Free Agency is #!*%@#*!%#*&!" and "The Call" I have made the point that in light of all that free agency has done to wreck the game, it is Joe Fan who ultimately decides what he wants. Joe Fan may very well be perfectly content with the pretentious pap that the major leagues pass off as baseball, and as such he has every right to get what he wants. And he gets it.
This assertion was reached based on the foremost principle of the market economy: The consumer is sovereign. If Joe Consumer buys it, it will be made. If Joe Fan is entirely willing to contribute to the gidzillion dollars Joe Ballplayer wants for playing, then there should be no reason why Joe Ballplayer should not get it.
As I looked back on the 1998 major league season, I began to see how dangerous this is. I asked myself this question, "Is baseball great because it is baseball, or is it great because fans like it?" This question is indeed derivative of the whole "Which came first chicken or egg?" quandary, but really, ask yourself that question. What is the answer?
In my writings I have boldly proclaimed that the answer is baseball. Pundits through the century have commented about how perfect the dimensions of the game are -- the 90 feet between the bases, the spin of a curveball, the way the grass is cut, and so forth -- as if it were all evidence of divine design. After exhaustively detailing the ravaging effects of free agency, however, I have in the end betrayed myself by conceding to the proscriptive powers of the "free" market that confers upon Joe Fan the authority to forge baseball's rank and reputation. In doing so I neglected to see that I was acquiescing in the surrender of baseball to fanciful and destructive forces that would be its ruin -- no matter how nobly "market-oriented" they are.
It is not greedy selfish Joe Ballplayer, after all, but ignorant, sycophantic Joe Fan who bears the most reprehension. I have excoriated Joe Ballplayer but have shrugged off Joe Fan's complicity. I've realized now that in some ways, I stay away from the ballpark not as much because I don't want to patronize Joe Ballplayer, but because I don't want to be seen with Joe Fan.
Joe Fan may reasonably reply, "Yeah, Dave Fan, stay home. Don't come to the ballpark. We don't want a depressing curmudgeon like you spoiling our time anyway. Good riddance." And by the principles of the American free enterprise system, I must sadly comply, because quite frankly many more fans would come to the Giants' ballpark -- whichever one it might be -- and root for Mark McGwire to hit his 71st home run than would root for him to strike out so the Giants could win.
From all that I have shared, I may certainly envision being like Orpheus, the Greek musician who played so beautifully that all the animals, trees, and rocks listened joyously. In this sense I would like all baseball fans to listen to my "melody," follow my lead and really make the statement: refuse go to the ballpark.
Perhaps, but that is not it. I wouldn't care for beans if no one knew who I was. I would just want a whole bunch of really powerful people to see the merit in what I was saying and go, "Oh, yeah, what's-his-name said some great things there. Baseball would be much better if free agency were tossed completely. Let's all do it, get it outta there, and see the game become something truly great!"
At the least, I would like to consider that some people have actually listened and seriously considered the points I have made. The problem is that not nearly enough have, and I despair so much because I am convinced that what I know to be the beauty and wonder of this extraordinary game will never return.
If you are someone who has chanced upon this site or you are indeed someone who is a regular reader of EEEEEE! and you have some input about what I have shared, I now have e-mail, and I would love to hear from you. If you are indeed a supportive voice, I deeply appreciate it. If you have constructive thoughts and would consider sharing them, I welcome those too, even if they reflect opposing views. If you have devised some brilliant, iconoclastic alternative, then please -- let me in on it!
If you are, however, someone who thinks I am out of my tree and only wants to get a good dig in, or you just want to make the point that you think I will never get anywhere because I refuse to consider compromise, then please save it. Joe Fan to me has simply become an ignorant sycophant, and certainly my narrow-mindedness in this area does not make my task profitable. I understand that.
I just value the "hallowed station" of the baseball too much. It is a slam dunk to me that free agency has so profusely profaned baseball that a true devotee of the game cannot help but see it -- and would furthermore want to do whatever is necessary to change it. I'm not talking about a purist or even a traditionalist.
Just a devotee. Joe Devotee.
Joe Fan is just a bandwagon jumper. And because there are so many of them and they have so much of the cash that the major leagues now covets, he has now become The Guy Who Decides.
Joe Devotee would say, "Let baseball be baseball."
Joe Fan now says, "Change this and that and this other thing so I can be entertained!"
Joe Devotee says, "The game in and of itself is perfect, I enjoy all the different possible scenarios and outcomes."
Joe Fan says, "Gimme more home runs! And if I get what I want, I'll pay whatever these guys want me to pay! If I don't, then I'm outta here."
It is simple. With baseball's economics as it is, the game cannot survive with only Joe Devotee's support. It needs Joe Fan's.
Above and beyond the whole economic aspect is the simple fact that because Joe Fan has been decreed ruler over baseball when his only qualification is that he shows up means that his boorish, petulant, and inexorable arrogance will continue to be indulged. It is because of Joe Fan's imperious influence that the overwhelming pressure for Joe Ballplayer to perform distends to such a degree that it is really the primary reason he asks for his gidzillions. Joe Ballplayer really is saying, "Joe Fan, you are so insistent on me hitting that home run against the most wicked of sliders, a pitch you would never even see. You want me to hit your little home run for you? It's gonna cost you."
And Joe Fan pays. He pays because he simply must have his bread and circuses. He howls maniacally for his star ballplayer to come through. Doesn't even need to be a guy on his team. Just a guy who the media showcases and Joe Fan can get his vicarious kicks through. In the end, however, when Joe Fan has spent his wad and pleasured himself with the game, after he has mangled it for his own gratification in the name of free market economics, he'll chuck it like a rotten melon rind.
I do use the term Joe Fan with a certain amount of disdain, to say the least. It is, however, a rather generic term that could be seen as applying to anyone. I must add the disclaimer here that I do not believe that Joe Fan is representative of every fan who is in the ballpark. At its worst, Joe Fan is indeed any single individual who plunks down his ten bones for a ticket not just to procure a thrilling, well-fought sporting contest but also to enable greed, peevishness, vulgarity, abasement, conceit, and whatever other acute adjectives that would describe all that free agency has wrought. Yes, the way I feel now, in some ways Joe Fan is anyone„even my own very good friends who stroll on into that "forbidden domain.
But to their credit, they should not be indicted because of the wretched behavior of others, including that of Joe Fan. It would be like indicting the people who buy power tools for abetting the guy who uses a drill to murder his boss.
Joe Devotee is the one who loves the game and has an exceptionally strong affection for his team, whichever that team is. He may even appreciate the feats of good, skilled ballplayers even if they are not on his team. But Joe Devotee also genuinely discerns what free agency has done to the game, to the major leagues, and to his team. Even if he goes on into that park, he has a keen understanding of what the real score is. Dave Fan simply cannot find enjoyment in the illusion anymore. Joe Fan doesn't care -- or perhaps, to be honest, doesn't even nor care to know -- that his team has no chance to get to the Big Show, and that if the Yankees and Dodgers get into the World Series with only the merit of their mounds of cash, then that is just fine with him.
Joe Devotee isn't any brilliant baseball analyst or anything, he is just someone who is sincere. Joe Fan is a phony. When I look at the world of baseball patronage, it seems that for every one Joe Devotee, there are fifty Joe Fans.
That's just the way of the world. Today's major league world.
In this light, there are only two things left for me to do.
The first is to simply offer my predictions for what will happen in the future of Major League Baseball. I do this to detail exactly what will happen as a result of the proliferation of free agency in collusion with Joe Fan. I truly believe, as a devotee of the game of baseball, that most of the following predictions are bad news for baseball. They may be wonderful for Joe Fan, but bad for the game. Should they come to pass, I imagine that at least I will earn my own little vindication and perhaps the tiniest bit of credibility. If they don't, then maybe the game can be saved, and as a poor psychic I will be none the worse. Anyway, here goes....
Predictions for the Coming Years in Major League Baseball
- The Yankees and the Dodgers will meet in the World Series. They will do so at least once at some point within the next four years. They will then meet a couple more times, at least, over the next dozen. A matchup like this simply represents too much damn money for the major leagues to dismiss managing to see that it happens somehow. In a lot of ways, they already have mostly through the machinations of free agency endowing those teams with tremendous advantages.
- Some unexpected team will simply make the decision to break the bank. This will happen once next year, then again two years after. The notable factor is that they will really break it ("money is no object" to the most extreme) and extend spending on players far beyond any other team's capacity to spend money, let alone beyond its own. For one ensuing year that team will then supplant a typical big spending club in the World Series. The possibilities for that team this year include the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, though no team so far has broken the bank to the extent that some team will at some point. Of course the best example of this in the past is the Florida Marlins of 1997.
- More advertising will appear in once-thought sacrosanct places. Most likely places you will see it are as follows, in order of what you'll see the most soon to that which will appear a little more in the future:
- Stadiums given corporate names. Already a widespread practice, look for nearly every stadium to be so named, if not all of them. Watch, too, for other ways to assign corporate names or symbols to frequently mentioned venues. "Welcome to Pac Bell Park where today, on the Charmin Bathroom Tissue Field, the Giants play host to...."
- Ads along the fences in foul ground, behind home plate, and in the dugouts. Again, already standard practice, it will just become far more pervasive and acceptable.
- Ads on the outfield fences. A couple of parks already have put Gap ads in the appropriate places as sort of a novelty. Look for many more "appropriate" ads to go up. The ads will not be the unsightly "George's Auto Body" types as they are in minor league parks, but will be very stylish and representing much larger corporate interests for sodas, beers, automobiles, and the like.
- Ads on your seat at the game. They put ads on all your promotion goodies, why not there? [Or on the back of the seat in front of you. -- GP]
- On broadcasts, more time devoted to airing commercials. Time devoted to commercials has already too frequently pushed into the first couple of pitches of the half-inning. The envelope of tolerance for filling non-playing time will always be stretched as far as it can. If commercial air time during non-playing time is maximized, look for more "creative" ways to stick advertising in and around the TV screen during play. This is already done with score updates; watch for more of it coupled with the posting of stats and the like.
- Ads on players' gear, equipment, and uniforms. Many players already have contracts to use a company's bags, hats, and of course, shoes. Begin looking first for ads to appear on bats, gloves, helmets, and then upon uniforms. Nike's Swoosh is already seen on nearly every uniform, and if the uniform is not Nike, then the product name or symbol of the jersey's maker is prominently positioned. In college football players wear huge insignias on their jerseys that display the name of the bowl game they are playing in -- and that name is always that of a company sponsor.
- Active player endorsements during play. A player will not necessarily stop in the middle of a slide, jump up, and plug the virtues of Pepsi, but he will be asked to have a Pepsi cup in his hand at some specific time while he's in the dugout, and the cameraman will be asked to get a shot of him at that time.
- In the further future look to see a baseball game in which the players look like NASCAR racers in their racing uniforms. Look to see ads on the field such as directly placed on the bases or sprawled across the playing grass.
- Of course there is always the Rollerball possibility where the name of the team itself becomes the name of the corporate interest that runs it. Instead of the "San Francisco Giants," how about the "Safeway Giants?" Think that is too far fetched? They renamed Candlestick Park "3Com" Park and nobody said diddly -- at least not enough to prevent it. They have renamed every college bowl game after a corporation and no one thinks anything of it. And remember that some team nicknames are actually derived from the owner's business interest. From among many example, I just think of the San Diego Chargers, who were essentially named after a credit card company!
- Much more emphasis will be placed on players and their performances. The "Boo, different shirt" mockery mentality will be adopted by more people and they will expect to see and to have sensationalized the accomplishments of the Mark McGwires, the Sammy Sosas, the Cal Ripkens of the major leagues. Should baseball fail in promoting them, attendance and interest will decline. The media is crucial to this, so look for attempts to hoodwink Joe Fan with pseudo-accomplishments such as, "My goodness, he's just hit his umpteenth double in day games against lefthanders named Robinson! That's a record!" Any attempt to break one of the more "legitimate" records like the season home run record will be treated as if it's the greatest feat in the history of the world. This, of course, is no bold prediction on my part, it happened last year.
- In the same vein, team accomplishments will mean squat, unless those teams are the Yankees and the Dodgers, they are both in the World Series, and they are evenly matched. This scenario will send World Series television ratings to Pluto. Should these two teams fail in their task, the media will make a valiant attempt to play up the Cinderella story of some team, but will inevitably and assuredly fail. This will be reflected in the low television ratings.
- Several major league teams will be forced to fold in this environment, or they will be subsidized by the big-spending teams. This is the whole idea of the "luxury tax." This scheme is designed to give the illusion of "evening out the playing field," while in actuality it merely keeps other teams barely viable to be used as fodder for the darling teams, most significantly the Yankees and the Dodgers. The prediction here is that the fans will continue to be taken by this ruse, because they will be perfectly content if McGwire and Griffey engage in a race to hit 80 home runs a year in the regular season and the Yankees and Dodgers meet in the World Series. If the big media-enhanced season performances do not occur and the Yankees and Dodgers do not appear in the World Series, look for ratings and interest to go in the tank.
- Expect to see more drastic "dress up the game" activity, because the Powers-That-Be will work valiantly to prevent that collapse from happening. Examples include:
- Radical realignment that includes more interleague play. There will continue to be a demented desire to try to get practically every game of the season a Mets-Yankees match-up or a Cubs-White Sox match-up or even a Dodgers-Yankees match-up for that matter. Keep in mind that for every Mets-Yankees match-up there must by necessity be a dozen Rangers-Brewers-type match-ups.
- Moving the fences in to produce more home runs. Other home-run-producing ploys will be making bats lighter (which they have already done), making the strike zone smaller (they've already done that too, really), and getting players to buff out more (McGwire admitted to using steroids and barely a peep was heard because everyone thinks so highly of his home runs).
- Construction of the unique, traditional-style ballpark, a la Camden Yards. Gimmicks in those ballparks will continue to be devised, such as putting the right-field fence so close to the Bay, as they have in San Francisco's new ballpark, that a home run hit to right will literally go into the water.
- Regular ticket prices will remain relatively unchanged. "What is that?" you may scream. "I would think that would be the one certain prediction! That ticket prices would go through the roof! What the heck are you saying?" A number of factors are involved as to why:
Please note that this is regular ticket prices, and it is for tickets. The cost of going to a ball game will always be somewhat constrictive, as it has been ever since free agency became so entrenched. The Powers-That-Be will always try to gouge fans through items such as parking and concessions.
Many more instances of dishonorable behavior will occur on and off the field, some of which may be reckless, vulgar, or even criminal. For one thing, the regard for character and sportsmanship has already been vastly diminished, but more significantly, there will continue to be no substantive penalty for that conduct. Think about how everyone went out of their way to point out how Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were not only great home run hitters but also great human beings, too. It was almost as if Joe Fan wished it to be true so he could be relieved that he wouldn't have to be ashamed about going bananas for a couple of miscreants. Clearly not all ballplayers are so "angelic." Certainly we know of all the instances in major league history when they have not been; it's just that in the coming years more license will be taken by more and more rogues. In a trenchant scene from one of my favorite movies, Heathers, one of the members of an elite high-school girls' clique furiously asks another, "How can you be such a mega-bitch?" Without a blink the malevolent Heather smugly replies, "Because I can be." The major leagues is just one big group of Heathers.
- The Powers-That-Be persist in their strident demands for luxury boxes at ballparks. In fact, luxury box "owners" will be a significant part of the Powers-That-Be aristocracy. Ballclubs plan to get a huge portion of the revenue for increased costs from luxury boxes, in part to ease the burden of high ticket prices for the more "average" fan. Catch is, the Powers-That-Be will further maximize their return on the luxury boxes by cajoling cities and communities (that is, taxpayers) to pay for them -- as well as for whatever other amenities the club feels it needs to cater to Joe Wealthy Fan [or Joe Corporation -- GP].
Ticket prices will never make any drastic jump, only gradual increases. They do go up each year, but only in the smallest of increments. Too much of a noticeable increase would be unwise, so the Powers-That-Be jack it up as much as they possibly can, but not too much in order to appear fan-friendly. It does add up, though; the fans are treated like the little comfy froggie in the pot of slowly boiling water.
- The look of the fans in the ballpark is now a major marketing tool. Note how smaller ballparks is the trend. This doesn't seem to make sense. But the Powers-That-Be have realized that they can get more revenue with less, and here is how. With a huge, cold, concrete 60,000-capacity stadium a club may get 25,000 fans in the seats but it looks like the park is only one-third full. Should the park come close to reaching the 60,000 capacity, economically speaking ticket prices will stay the same because the huge supply of available seats will not allow more demand to have an impact on those prices. Now if you have a nice, cozy, "traditional" ballpark which in and of itself is significant (the Camden Yards principle) that seats only 30,000, then the 25,000 who fill the seats make it look like many more are there, and the perception that this team draws and is popular is enhanced (if not completely fabricated altogether). Should the demand increase to the point where there could very well be 60,000 people who want to be in the park for a big-draw game, then economically there is a reason for prices to go up: demand is exceeding supply. The Powers-That-Be have realized that the number of times they could get 50,000 in the park are so few and far between that it was not worth it anyway.
- The Powers-That-Be will also look to get a much more substantial portion of revenue from television and other broadcasting venues. Big-market teams are able to get massive media packages, and with an inconsequential portion of those revenues they can afford to subsidize the smaller market teams this, again, is the whole luxury tax thing.
- National broadcasting contracts with NBC, Fox, and ESPN provide considerable revenue. All teams in the major leagues benefit from their coverage of the high-profile events such as the World Series, even if some of those teams never get even remotely close to them. In fact, for the national broadcasts to make the most of their investment in the World Series, it is best economically for the Twins or the Expos if they don't get into the World Series. Can you imagine the sound of TVs being turned off around the country if there was a Montreal-Minnesota World Series? Deafening! (Key point here should be made. I should state that it is absolutely best for the Twins and Expos -- for each of them -- if they did get into the Series. The next best thing for them would be for the Yankees and Dodgers to get in, which would rake in the big money for everyone else, including the Twins and Expos. The worst thing for the Twins and Expos is if they didn't get in, but the Brewers and Rangers did instead. You can surely see why it is not unlikely for the Powers-That-Be to have a veiled fondness for the Yankees and Dodgers.)
- Owners will begin paying for teams and investing huge $$$ on free agents to "guarantee" success by dipping into corporate interests that have nothing to do with the team. It will appear very much on the up-and-up -- very legitimate -- but there will be no objections, simply because all the Powers-That-Be understand the economic nature of the game today. As I asserted before, Murdoch's Dodgers will now be an integral part of the blended Fox Group family. In fact, when he discussed the sale of the Dodgers, Peter O'Malley confessed, "I told [Murdoch] I thought it was too high-risk a business for one family because there is no reason to believe player salaries would level off. That they were getting higher by the hour and that there's not a whole lot you can do other that raise ticket prices or put up some more signs I told him the truth." (Los Angeles Times Magazine, January 31, 1999, page 36.) Murdoch will indeed radically change the way a major league team is managed, and will empower the Fox Group to do so many "creative" things that even I, Daviac the Magnificent, cannot predict what will happen.
The Y2K millennium-bug problem will be barely a blip and life will go on normally shortly after January 1, 2000. There, that's a prediction with some teeth in it. What? Doesn't have to do with baseball? Oh, but it does. For with the verity of this prediction comes the fact that all the other stuff I am predicting about baseball over the next several years will come to pass. Want some more really specific predictions? Okay, here goes. The Yankees and Dodgers will meet in the World Series in the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2008. The Yankees will win in 2001 and 2002, the Dodgers in 2003, and the Yankees again in 2006 and 2008. The Yankees will be in the World Series against some other team in 1999, and they will win. The Dodgers will defeat a team other than the Yankees in the 2000 and 2007 World Series. Just watch.
In more and more ways the fans will dictate what the game of baseball will look like. Kowtowing to Joe Fan by the Powers-That-Be will continue unabated, only because most people think of themselves proudly as Joe Fan and believe that they are being duly gratified. Joe Fan has always sucked at picking All-Stars, but that was never enough to convince the Powers-That-Be to end fan voting. What will stop them now?
This last prediction, again, is the most destructive one. For really, it is the one from which all the other omens come.
Joe Fan dictating what happens in the game of baseball.
Ultimately, here is the deal that will save baseball:
Baseball is what must dictate what happens in baseball.
Because money is now the driving force of the game, and the fans are the ones with the money, then they will dictate what the game is and what it will become. They will also be profoundly goaded by the Powers-That-Be, so please understand that I do not solely condemn Joe Fan in all this.
The crucial question is then, how does baseball return as the rightful sovereign?
These things must happen:
- Free agency must be ended. Period. No in-between considerations, no compromise plans, no luxury taxes, no salary caps, no revenue sharing, no restricted free agents, no nothin'. I will say it as bluntly as it can be said: No player at any time should have the right to leave his team, ever, at any time, unless of course he wants to leave Major League Baseball and work somewhere else (team considerations aside). He can take another job anywhere. He can play for another team in another league. He can start his own league if he wants. He can go be a bum in the street if he so chooses. But for baseball to endure, it must be taken back from the players who have used their greed and petulance to wreck it. Again I will emphasize, nothing is wrong with the players each making a million dollars a year playing the game, it is just that free agency must be eradicated.Period.
All those things must happen for baseball to be saved. What? There was only one thing? Oh, well, then, all of that one thing must happen, then.
I will emphasize, I am speaking of just the game. Major League Baseball may survive just fine for fans who care only about seeing Mark McGwire hit a ball 700 feet or watching the super-$$$ teams like the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. Major League Baseball may make it based on its entertainment value, its show quality, its dazzling spectacle.
But it will not be, and has not been for some time, baseball.
And that is truly where my part as Baseball Orpheus comes in.
You see, I have given up paying attention to the game. Given up following it in any way. I read the sports page no more. I check out the sports magazines and websites no more. I plan to watch exactly zero baseball games this year, much less go to any in person. It is the complete cold turkey abdication of my commitment to the major leagues. As I think about it, considering the farce that was the Tony Phillips drug affair two years ago, I wonder what took me so long.
Whenever I watch a game, read about what's going on, listen to thoughts and ideas about what's happening, free agency is still around. Why should I continue to endorse it and furthermore enable Joe Fan and Joe Ballplayer with my attention?
A lot of other reasons enter into this plan of action, and an inventory of those reasons may be in order some other time. For now, I will say that chief among them is my firm resolution against being treated like a duped Washington Generals fan. The San Francisco Giants really have the tiniest of chances to go to the World Series unless they are the team that breaks the bank, and really then, what is the value of that? Would the Giants have won it, or their money? At its core, in my own little perhaps even a bit deranged way, I simply want to make my polemic against free agency that much more profound.
Baseball, and the Giants together -- they comprise my Eurydice. She has gone into the depths of Hell, and I want to rescue her. "The Call" is my valiant attempt to do so.
I am baseball's Orpheus.
Yes, the metaphor may be a bit melodramatic, but it works.
By indefinitely putting the whole thing aside, I am essentially compelled to look steadfastly forward. I will be sorely tempted. In forsaking any knowledge of the major league goings-on, it will seem to me as if she isn't there, and I will long to look back too soon. But if I do, the major leagues will snatch her right back. My Eurydice will disappear. The game, as it should be, will not be there.
I will see only the burning cinders of hell that free agency incessantly stokes.
So as I move ahead, on to other endeavors, I may indeed never be allowed to look back. I accept that possibility. Hades has proffered such a test of my resolve, and at times it will be agony.
EEEEEE! Contributing Editor David Beck teaches stuff in a Southern California high school and has some kind of master's degree 'cause he went to college and graduate school.
Copyright ©1999 by David Beck
Last updated 3/24/99
Gregg Pearlman, gregg@EEEEEEgp.com
Back to the EEEEEE! Home Page