Sunday, June 14, 2020

MLB Strikes Out, as Usual

Buster Olney's article How shortsighted greed is tearing baseball apart provides a great summary of some of the reasons that MLB is falling apart. It is worth emphasizing that he sees a direct connection between the flawed tanking mentality that has also harmed the NBA and the current mindset that is damaging MLB:
It's the Luhnow mindset as applied to labor relations.
Under Luhnow, the Houston Astros were the sport's supreme practitioners of tanking, becoming the first team since the 1962-65 Mets to lose at least 106 games in three consecutive seasons. In Luhnow's first three seasons as Houston GM, the Astros spent a total of $137.4 million in payroll--$53 million less than the next-lowest team, the Pirates ($190.7 million). The Astros drew a 0.0 in local television ratings for consecutive seasons. They manipulated the service time of some of their best young players, as did other teams. Luhnow's team engaged in ultra, next-level sign-stealing, and traded for Roberto Osuna fresh off his 75-game suspension under the sport's domestic violence policy.

But so long as the math made sense, Luhnow pushed the envelope and the Astros won a World Series in 2017. Of course, in the big picture, Luhnow's management turned out to be a disaster for many reasons besides wins and losses. Under his watch, the Astros helped to drag the sport under a low bar of credibility as other teams tried to replicate his formula, with fans left to wonder if what they paid to see was farcical.

Throughout those years, which included Luhnow giving the OK for a club employee to monitor the opposing dugout from an adjacent camera well, you kept waiting for someone to step up and lead. You kept waiting for someone to acknowledge the astounding accumulation of damage to good-faith competition and operation, just as you keep on waiting for someone on the owners' side to end this embarrassing negotiation with the players' association, rather than engaging in this battle of reconstituted Spam offers.

The house of baseball is burning and somebody needs to put out the fire immediately, by making a deal that moves the sport forward beyond this absurd fight over increments.

The opportunity to own the sporting stage in early July is gone. The potential goodwill (and ratings) all but certain for the first big sport out of the gate may be all but squandered.

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts talking about a cash-flow problem when tens of millions of people have lost their jobs? Not good. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, who has seen the value of his franchise multiply by at least a factor of 10, talking about how you can't make money in baseball? Not good.
If COVID-19 had not prevented the 2020 MLB season from starting on time, the focus would have been on MLB's weak, incompetent, and impotent response to widespread cheating. Now, the focus on that fiasco may have faded a bit, but only because MLB seems determined to commit suicide.

MLB has been a disaster for over 25 years; the best thing that the sport did in that time period, paradoxically, is to have a strike that ended Michael Jordan's baseball career; this hastened his NBA comeback, during which he won three more NBA titles, culminating in the "Last Dance" season. The strike was terrible for baseball, but I would gladly give up the World Series in exchange for watching Michael Jordan play in the NBA again.

Bud Selig was a horrible Commissioner who presided over the destruction of MLB's once-cherished record book; it is a travesty and an embarrassment that he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame at all, let alone that he was welcomed while Pete Rose remains banned. Rob Manfred, Selig's successor, may turn out to be even more horrible than Selig was--as bad as Selig was, MLB did not die on his watch; if Manfred and crew do not get their act together, MLB may lose the entire 2020 season, and suffer permanent damage.

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