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Play Ball!

©02 The Media Desk


Read the Response from MLB!

      The final two words to the National Anthem... "Play Ball!"

      For some reason the Desk just cannot get into it this year. Maybe it's the fact that the lead story this week from Spring Training is that the Commissioner won't order a lock-out of the players.
      Hmm... The first non-Cal Ripkin Jr. Season in how many years and all there is to talk about is labor trouble?
      Maybe if we look a little deeper.
      No good. Not that far down the page is a story about how Baseball is going to jettison the Expos and maybe another team or two in the interest of the bottom line.


      Then there is which team is in what division and who's playing whom in the inter-league series this year.

      And oh yes, can't forget that we must change Offensive Team Names like the Padres (demeaning to Homosexual Pedophile Priests), the Reds (offensive to Communists who give money to Democrats), and the Brewers (upsets the anti-beer crowd).

      It's enough to make a Cubs fan give up and watch Italian soccer.

      Then think about this, 426 players, or slightly under half of all players, make over a million dollars a year. With 24 of them over the 10 Million line.

      That's enough to make a Cubs fan sick to his stomach.

      Eighteen players on the Cubs roster make over a million a year.

      [Webmaster Note: The Cubs Fan just ran screaming from the room]

      But the good news is that 18 in that range isn't that unusual, and appears to be right in the pack of teams listings of millionaire players. Some have a couple more, a few have a little less, but it's about average.

      "I think it's the greatest shot in the arm baseball could get. Once upon a time, all kids wanted to be baseball players, but nowadays a young kid dreams about playing basketball or football and making millions. I think it's great to see a man who has reached the pinnacle of his career, and now he wants to go back and do what he wanted to do as a kid: play baseball."
-the late great Harry Carey on Michael Jordan's baseball career

      From where the Desk sits, Baseball really may be on its way out. Yeah, it has a few years left to it. And last year's World Series was one of the highest rated of recent years and was actually a Good series of Good games with a couple of extra inning games, and came down to a nail biter to decide it.
      But face it, even a GOOD baseball game is about the dullest thing to watch on TV there is, running a close second to Golf and maybe Celebrity Lawn Bowling.
      And even with the 'Speed Up The Game' rules, if you time it out looking at when the ball is actually IN PLAY, how much of a game is actually action?
      The Desk has tried to time it. And has almost fallen asleep doing it. But this is what it came up with. The average number of pitches per batter is five or six. For the ease of the math we'll call it five. The average amount of time the ball is actually in play per pitch, windup-pitch-foul tip or whatever, is about three seconds. Which means that per batter, the ball is in play about fifteen seconds. Most innings consist of about eight batters. Some more, some less. That means that the ball is in play, most innings, for about two minutes. In a nine-inning game, that gives you eighteen to twenty minutes of stuff happening on the field.
      So what occupies the rest of the three-hour and change broadcast? Who knows?
      Besides, who can stay up till after midnight to watch a Game when they have to work the next morning anyway. The Desk can't.
      At least with football there is a play clock forcing the offense to do something every twenty seconds. When an ump calls a pitcher for 'delay of game' he gets boos from the home crowd. The Desk wants to run out on the field and give the ump a high-five and buy him a beer.

      Major League ticket prices are almost prohibitive... They average $20 a seat for someplace where you can see the field without binoculars to in the low to mid teens to be in a different ZIP code from Home Plate. Of course if you want to sit where the Umpire can hear the things you yell at him, prices can quickly be double that. Add to that your standard 'at the ballgame' type stuff ($3.00 and up for a hot dog, two bucks for a soft drink, 'If you have to ask...' prices on beer). Without exaggerating at all, for a family of four to go to a major league game, and without buying a team jacket or going bonkers at the snack bar, you are looking at dropping at least a hundred dollars for the day, and you haven't even paid the parking lot guy yet.
      But the Desk likes baseball, and has taken its kids to Minor League games even when it didn't have a press pass to get in free.
      Minor League Baseball is a little more reasonable. And you can get deals. Free tickets through the schools, coupons in the paper, promotional days ('two free tickets when you buy fifty dollars of groceries'), and such like. Of course the concession stand still gives you sticker shock and will put a Major League dent in your wallet. But since most minor league parks have free or cheap parking, it's more bearable. And at a minor league park the Desk walked down the steps next to the visiting team's dugout and had a pleasant chat with their manager between innings during the mascot race. Try that at a National League park.

      Are the Major Leagues, and thereby all of Professional Baseball, Doomed?
      Is it on its way to irrelevancy like the NBA which has managed to act the Prima Donna to the point where its hardcore fans are turning away in droves?
      Even those fans who think the sun rises and sets on their favorite MLB team admit 'there is no joy in Mudville'.
      With one eye on Mr. Thayer's great poem and the other on what passes for the 'National Pastime' today, we wonder what's happened.
      OK. From the Opening Pitch...we are not here to debate Mr. Doubleday, suffice it to say that by the War Between the States a game we would recognize as baseball was being played in a more or less organized fashion.
      With that said... Is the sport that began in the middle of the 19th century, grouped itself into designated leagues in the 1870's, matured through the 'Roaring Twenties', came of age through the nineteen fifties after the Color Line vanished, reached middle age in front of TV cameras, and now, in a fit of politics, greed, and disregard for the fans, fading into history?

      The Desk hates to say it. And it is not jumping on the 'Boycott Baseball' bandwagon. But the Professional Game at the AL/NL level has lost its soul, and maybe the last batter of the last inning is coming to the plate, and the Great Casey is looking a little lame.
      And the old hands the Desk has talked to about it simply nod and say something like "Yeah, it's a shame."
      They don't hearken back to the days of Gehrig, or Mantle, or even when Cal Jr was a rookie. They simply look back before strikes and lockouts with longing.

      What can be done to save it?

      That begs the question that it should be saved to begin with.

      But. OK, let's call the thing a National Institution and suppose that it is worth the effort to save. What can be done?

      There is no way to get the money out of the game. The New York Yankees payroll exceeds a good percentage of third world countries national budgets. Massive ballparks require sizable armies of groundskeepers, maintenance crews, and other support services. Stadiums have financial impact on their cities, good and bad. Many people have vested interests in keeping the teams where they are, or relocating them elsewhere as the case may be. They make handy promotional vehicles for their host cities, a drawing point for other functions, and something to talk about besides why the garbage isn't being collected.
      But would Baltimore survive the demise of the O's. Would the North Side of Chicago be better off without the Cubs? Couldn't Seattle find something else to do besides root for the Mariners?
      In every case, the answer is 'probably'.
      Brooklyn got over the Dodgers. DC still misses the Senators, but they're almost over it. Other teams in other sports (the NFL most notably, not to mention the NHL) have moved here and there without St Louis burning to the ground.
      And now Baseball itself says that Montreal and maybe Minneapolis might be better off without the Expos and the Twins.
      How's that for loyalty? Since the sixties those two cities (1968 for the Expos, 1960 for the Twins) have supported their teams. OK, so they haven't sold out every game every year, who does? The teams don't run in the black every year, is that because of fans loosing interest or because of bad management in the front office?
      Is that reason enough for Major League Baseball to simply pull the plug?
      Depends on who you ask.

      But the Desk is willing to take that one step further.

      The pending demise of the 'xpos and the Twins is more of a symptom of a larger disease that is eating away at Major League Baseball more and longer than the suits on Park Avenue in the Front Office of front offices will ever admit.

      The Game is Killing itself. And it may be beyond any surgery to save it.

      It has priced itself out of reach of its fans, it has allowed labor lawyers to run rampant in its locker rooms, it has allowed Free Agency to bankrupt small market teams, and it has allowed its schedule to be dictated by TV, and the teams, players, coaches, management, agents, lawyers, and all the rest have forgotten that without its fans, nevermind the cute TV commercials, without its fans... there is no game.

      And the Desk is afraid that before this century is half over... there may be no game.



[Webmaster Note: The Desk is in no wise affiliated with Major League Baseball. MLB® and associated names and logos including team names mentioned are owned by Major League Baseball and teams and partners thereof, and used according to the Desk's understanding of the Fair Use Provisions of the US Code.]

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