I love baseball. Since I was a little kid, I have always loved baseball. I loved playing baseball since Little League, if not sooner. I loved going to the games, the sight of the green, green grass, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the smell of hot dogs. I love all of it.
In particular, growing up in Michigan where going outside was a chilling experience for five months of the year, I looked forward to Opening Day ever winter. It was a sign of spring, when the Tigers returned from Florida for the season and would entertain us for the rest of the summer. Even after moving west, I’ve continued to follow my team, and even write about baseball, because I just love baseball. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that Major League Baseball doesn’t love me back, and it sucks.
MLB deliberately cut back on the number of games that were played during the 2020 season so that they didn’t have to pay the players as much. Now, they’ve canceled Opening Day, 2022, because they don’t want to pay the players as much. They care about their money far, far more than they care about baseball.
My fondest memory is the 1968 season, when the Tigers won the American League pennant with Denny McLain winning 31 games and went straight to the World Series. Best of seven games against the St Louis Cardinals with Bob Gibson and his incredible 1.12 ERA. There were no “playoffs” then. Just the pennant and the World Series. That would be the last year of that format, as MLB added four teams for the following season and split up the leagues into two divisions each.
Now, there are three divisions and ten teams in the playoffs. MLB wants to expand that to 14 teams. They have already sold the broadcast rights to ESPN for $100 million to carry the extra round of playoff games, and the players are inclined to agree in hopes of being paid for something close to a full season. In the bargain, the baseball season becomes less and less important, to the point where they can cancel a month of the season and not really even miss it, as long as they can squeeze what they want out of the players to keep their salaries in check. Instead the expanded October tournament will more and more become all that really matters.
The baseball season has become less and less relevant with each successive expansion, each time they expand the playoffs, and each time the owners feel the need to squeeze the players. They don’t care that it’s relevant to their paying customers- the fans. We’re supposed to sit back, be patient while they attend to business, and they’ll schedule some games once they’ve kept the players down where they belong.
When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred declared a lockout of the players on December 2nd, he said that it would spur negotiations. But he was flat-out lying to baseball fans. For over six weeks, MLB owners didn’t bother to make an offer to the players to reach an agreement. Not a proposal, not a meeting, not a phone call. Nothing. They weren’t trying. Instead, they used the baseball season as a bargaining tool to threaten players’ pay checks in order to pressure them into getting a better deal for the owners. Even when talks really began at the end of January, there was nothing approaching a reasonable offer from the league’s owners until the final two days of negotiations, with the start of the regular season already held hostage.
On March 1, 2022, the owners made a “last best offer” to the players that they knew, with absolute certainty would be rejected. The offer included an even harder de facto salary cap, with a competitive balance tax threshold that was less than five percent higher than the previous year, and contained no increases in the threshold for another two years. To the players, this was a complete non starter, and the owners knew that.
Worse yet, MLB owners were leaking stories to the media about how they were close to an agreement, while presenting an offer that they knew was dead on arrival, and simultaneously threatening to cancel Opening Day if the players didn’t take their bad deal.
Over the past few years, MLB has locked out the players and lied about it. They have juiced up the baseball and lied about it. They put ghost runners on base in extra innings to get the games over with so they don’t have to play more innings when they’re not making any more money. And they have canceled hundreds of games without batting an eye. “We’re trying” Manfred said. He was lying again.
The gravitation toward more playoff games has been in the making for a long time. We’re now at the point where Fox has skewed their broadcast package toward more playoffs and less regular season games. Turner handles playoff games almost exclusively. Now ESPN, the worldwide leader, is dropping their regular season coverage from 90 games down to 30, with that provision to carry the expanded playoffs. When there is money to be made, they’ll put on a show.
Nobody wants to carry regular season baseball games, at least on a national level. Locally, teams are getting record contracts for broadcasting their local teams. They sell the exclusive rights to those games within their protected markets to a regional sports network, who then sells their packages to satellite or cable companies to sell to fans as a subscription. We’re not just fans any more, we’re subscribers.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if they would just play the games and tell us how much the tickets are and what channel they’re on. We could try to tune in the games and tune out the noise of their money grubbing. But they can’t even get that right. Think ticket prices are determined by player salaries? Take a look at the tanking teams over the last decade. See any substantial bargains passed along to fans? Correct.
Now, they have to go and cancel games so that they don’t have to pay market wages to the players that we want to watch. It’s all about them. They don’t care about the players, or the game of baseball, and they certainly don’t care about the fans. So why should we care about them?