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Articles & Opinion
Written by Various Authors   
Sunday, 15 June 2008 23:04
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State of Major League Baseball - 2008
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Craig CalcaterraCraig Calcaterra
Author of ShysterBall

The game is resilient. Be it labor strife, financial and competitive inequality, drug scandals, or anything else you can name, the game seems incapable of being diminished. Its essential patterns and rhythms so ingrained that no matter what happens off the field, all is forgotten between the first pitch and the final out. There are as many as 15 games a night nearly every night between March and October. With that kind of signal to noise ratio, it's easy to concentrate on the good stuff and let the bad stuff seep towards the margins.

Not that it's all good. I fear we are approaching a day of reckoning with respect to the Rule IV draft. It's original purposes -- to put a cap on signing bonuses and provide a means of parity-encouraging talent redistribution -- have largely been thwarted as as teams which pick high in the draft are increasingly unable or unwilling to pay the bonuses demanded by the players and their agents. This phenomenon, in turn, has allowed the richest and best teams to enhance their already-strong farm systems. I'm no wizard when it comes to this stuff, but it seems to me that revenue sharing money has to be tied to talent acquisition and development somehow, or else we're going to see an increasing talent disparity as time goes on.

Game time and pace is also a problem, particularly in the playoffs. I've been watching a lot of 1970s and 1980s games on tape recently, and I am shocked at how bad the time in between pitches has gotten compared to where it was a mere 20 years ago. The umpires need to enforce Rule 8.04 and something needs to be done to cut down on batter baloney (i.e. adjusting gloves, hats, cups, etc.). Let's just play some ball already.

Finally, baseball has to be reminded to trust its product. I went to a game at PETCO Park last year and was shocked at how much singing, dancing, clowning, and general farting around goes on between innings. Giant dancing Muppets and pep squads and t-shirt cannons and the like may have a place somewhere in polite society, but a baseball park is not one of them. It's as if the people running the game are worried that all of the casual fans they've managed to attract over the past few years will simply go away the moment they aren't being assaulted with entertainment. Maybe some will, but are they the ones we want hanging around to begin with?

But these are mere quibbles, because baseball may very well be at an all-time high. The worst drawing team in baseball will still likely get a million and a half butts in the seats this year which, not too long ago, would have placed them pretty squarely in the middle of the pack. For all the moaning many of us do about publicly funded stadiums, there's no denying that a night at the ballpark is a much more comfortable, enjoyable, and accessible thing than it used to be. Above all else, the quality of play is fantastic right now, and is even poised to improve as more and more teams realize that the youngest players are the best players. Speed and kinetic energy is on the rise, and those things are going to attract more fans than a giant dancing Muppet ever will.


David ChalkDavid Chalk
Reports on the Devil Rays and MLB for Bugs & Cranks, Contributor, Yahoo!'s Big League Stew and East Windup Chronicle

Economically, baseball seems to be as healthy as it has ever been. Personally, I've been more interested in baseball the past few years than ever before. Still, there's plenty of issues that I would like to see addressed and which make me skeptical about how long baseball can sustain its current level of success.

For starters, the simple joys of the game seem to be dying out. Whether on TV or at the ballpark, baseball is getting harder to watch and especially listen to. I made my first trip to Fenway Park earlier this season, and after a few innings it hit me -- I was hearing nothing except baseball and music. How refreshing that was compared to the mindless promotions that assault fans at every break in the action at the four other parks I've visited this year. On TV, it's difficult to think of more than three or four announcers I really enjoy listening to -- at least that many send me reaching for the mute button, and most are mediocre at best.

There's also obviously something wrong with the game when the 2007 NLCS between the Rockies and Diamondbacks had a lower rating than the 12-year-olds competing in the Little League World Series. Marketing could be better, but the dearth of talent and personalities on those two teams was also a problem. While more small-market teams are competitive and signing more of their young stars to long-term deals, they'll always be working with little or no margin for error -- as long as there continues to be no real revenue sharing and no salary cap. It's hard to see the trend of successful low-payroll teams continuing for very long before the balance tips back to the big-market behemoths.

Baseball also seems to lose some of its unique character when an 83-win team like the '06 Cardinals can be called world champions. I'd love to see a return to 7 and 8 team divisions to try to cut down on weak divisional races. Another return to tradition was suggested by Cork Gaines of RaysIndex.com, who proposed adding a second wild card to each league, and for the non-division winners to face off in one-game playoffs. That would be exciting and give more meaning to the division races and regular season.

Perhaps most importantly, while Major League Baseball takes many opportunities to celebrate its civil rights legacy, it continues to fail to live up to that legacy in many ways. The way Barry Bonds has been treated by the commissioner, by the Giants, and by the Hall of Fame is a continuing disgrace -- and one that has surely alienated many fans, particularly in the African-American community. The possible collusion to keep Bonds out of the game has cheated fans everywhere, and seems especially ridiculous when amnesty was given to everyone named in the Mitchell Report. Gary Sheffield's allegations of unequal treatment of black players were not acted upon, despite being confirmed by Kenny Lofton and others. Discrimination has also extended to the fans in ballparks, as the Seattle Mariners continue to defend kicking two lesbians out of Safeco Field for daring to kiss in the stands. And the Cleveland franchise still uses a racist caricature for a mascot and logo. In these and other areas, baseball could and should be doing much more to become a true symbol of diversity, inclusiveness, equality and excellence.

Too much to ask? Probably. But it's baseball -- hope springs eternal.


Fred ClaireFred Claire
Former Executive VP and general manager of the L.A. Dodgers and author of “Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue"
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Fred Claire)

In so many ways, the game of baseball never has been in a better position. Ownership and the Players Association have figured out, at long last, that labor peace is better than being at war. The two parties have come together to recognize that nothing is more important than the integrity of the sport and the players who perform.

The marketing of the game is at an all-time high, as reflected by the attendance, and there is a great awareness of the importance of growth on an international level.

There are new stadiums throughout the country and all of this will be in even better focus next year when New York celebrates the opening of new venues for the Yankees and Mets.

With all of the good news and big deals and general razzle-dazzle it is my hope that the most important thing of all doesn’t get lost in the shuffle—baseball needs more young players being developed in the United States and throughout the world and baseball needs to attract more young fans.

The emphasis of the game needs to be focused on the basics—how does the Major League Baseball work with youth leagues to do everything possible to build programs for the youngsters; and how does MLB develop a solid plan to make the game more affordable for the families and for the youngsters.

Without the continued development of youth programs and the attraction of young fans, baseball is simply spinning in sea of momentary dollar signs with no real way to advance the greatest game of all.


Jerry CrasnickJerry Crasnick
Baseball writer for ESPN.com; Author of License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent

Which issues are paramount in Major League Baseball’s Campaign 2008? For Barry Bonds and Kenny Lofton, it’s all about the job market. John Smoltz is a health care guy, Barry Zito is concerned about gas (or a lack thereof), and when a new round of hostilities breaks out in the war zone, you can bet the Boston Red Sox and those feisty Tampa Bay Rays will be right in the thick of things.

OK, let’s dispense with that tortured, half-baked election theme and get down to reality: Two months into the ’08 season, the MLB landscape is rife with positive signs. When you peruse the standings and see Tampa Bay and Florida hanging tough despite the game’s 29th and 30th biggest payrolls, it’s a tribute to astute management and an indication that Bud Selig’s “faith and hope’’ mantra is alive and well. Chipper Jones is still hitting .400, Chase Utley is a joy to watch, and Edinson Volquez and Josh Hamilton are proof that front office executives really can put economic concerns aside and make the old-fashioned, equitable, mutually-beneficial baseball trade a reality.

Finally, mercifully, we’re drifting toward a focus on topics other than Jose Canseco’s latest book or the contents of Miguel Tejada’s medicine cabinet. Can baseball institute a fair and workable instant replay policy? Is someone -- be it a pitcher, third baseman or a fan -- destined to get impaled by the business end of a shattered maple bat? What’s with those startling home-road breakdowns in Cincinnati and Atlanta? Why aren’t the Washington Nationals drawing more than 29,000 fans per game in their new park? And can there really be room in the good-old-boy tent for a Mark Cuban ownership group in Chicago?

After a winter of Mitchell report overload and body language experts assessing what Roger Clemens must have been thinking when he swigged bottled water and had difficulty making eye contact with Mike Wallace during that “60 Minutes’’ interview, you get the sense that steroid fatigue has prompted us to flip to a new chapter. MLB’s drug policy is by no means perfect, but it’s about as good as we’re going to get. And from here on in, the debate will be more about putting those inflated home run totals in their proper historical perspective and coming to grips with a new, more nuance-friendly game.

In the meantime, while the NBA deals with a new referee scandal and the NFL sweeps up the remnants of “Spygate,’’ baseball can enjoy the latest milestone homers by Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez, the storybook tale of Jon Lester’s return from cancer to pitch a no-hitter, and the prospect of Lou Piniella and the boys making this an October to remember at Wrigley. There are a lot worse ways to spend a summer.


Ken DavidoffKen Davidoff
Baseball writer, Newsday

Even as a registered cynic, I think the state of the game is outstanding. Each of the 30 teams has a clue as to what it's doing. The morons have been weeded out altogether. Fans never cared about steroids, and now the Mitchell Report, while put together by a profoundly conflicted, overrated man, succeeded in that it convinced Congress its work is done.

Instant replay is a problem, but it will be remedied next year. I just don't see any issue holding back the game - which disappoints my cynical side.


Jeff EricksonJeff Erickson
Senior Editor, RotoWire

 

Despite a number of negative issues and thorny problems, the state of major league baseball is as strong as ever. Attendance is up, revenues are up (and yes, so is the cost of going to a game), and the number and quality of ways we can interact with the game are as great as ever. We've been blessed with a series of great rookie classes, ensuring that the quality of the product on the field will remain in good hands. This past offseason was as ugly as it can get, with the Mitchell Report findings and the ensuing fallout with Roger Clemens, at the end of the day the game itself will carry the day. The issue of performance-enhancing gear in the game is a significant, but at the same time, some of the coverage of that has been overwrought. There's a tendency to always look for the story, particularly in the wake of existing news, and that search for the story is a self-perpetuating machine. But the core audience of the game is as connected with it as ever, and fans don't seem deterred.

The state of the economy as a whole is a story that might have a greater impact than some of the other hot-button issues that have threatened major league baseball. Hockey attendance was down for the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings this year, despite their continued excellence all season, due in large part to the state of the economy in Michigan. So far baseball hasn't seen similar drops in attendance, but there's a significant risk that attendance could drop as disposable income becomes scarcer.

Meanwhile, the fantasy baseball industry hasn't tracked along with the state of the economy. In fact, business is better than ever, judging by the experiences of RotoWire and some of our main competitors. It's also a time of consolidation within the industry. Corporate interest in fantasy baseball, led by the involvement of ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo and FoxSports has picked up, and there has been a wave of acquisitions and partnerships. It may be more difficult to thrive with a new business in an increasingly mature industry, but those that have established a toehold are doing well. The long-term outlook for companies and individual fantasy players looks strong, after the biggest threat to the fantasy industry, the lawsuit between MLBAM and CBC, resolved in favor of CBC. Existing games and companies can continue to operate, new companies and games can still be created, and the lack of high licensing fees will allow those companies to operate without passing on the higher cost to the consumer. The next big challenge for fantasy companies will be how to adapt to new technologies and ways people interact with each other. As thriving as the game and the fantasy industry both are, it's always a constant battle to evolve and capture the public's attention and imagination.


Brent GambillBrent Gambill
Senior Producer, MLB Home Plate, XM Satellite Radio

Major League Baseball is in the golden age of the game. Record revenues and attendance heights have surprisingly been achieved through transformative technology and relentless media. Baseball, not known for embracing technology, is leading the online video revolution in professional sports around the globe. MLB Advanced has continued to branch outside of baseball with its online video work and fans can follow their teams in more ways than any other league in history. Opportunities include network and cable television, DirecTV, MLBtv, XM Satellite Radio, local flagship radio, mobile phones, and creative internet means outside of rights-holders’ efforts. Attendance records could be better explained with turnstile clicks as opposed to the usual “ticket stuffing” of the figures, but the numbers will continue to provide record-setting press releases yearly.

The game is not without its issues. Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB have shown flexibility of late by acting in a timelier manner. USA Today recently reported that instant replay will be added on August 1st. Maple bats have become a safety in the workplace issue which baseball continues to discuss. Selig has stated he has “deep and abiding concerns,” and on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner on XM Satellite Radio, Selig stated he has already made a “recommendation on what we should do” concerning maple bats. The Commissioner has also made it clear that the pace of games has to improve. He recently instructed each team and umpire crew to enforce the rules already in effect to increase the flow of games. In one of the more impressive moves, MLB released information on each club’s efforts to provide affordable ticket options during these challenging economic times. This shows swifter action by the league and a resounding shift from a decade ago to directly reach out to ticket buying fans.

A state of the game overview would be remised if steroids and HGH were not mentioned. Although I was not a fan of the Mitchell Report at the time of its release, it did provide the media a finality to the story of performance enhancing drugs in baseball’s past. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds not withstanding, the game took an immense step forward in the public’s record of opinion. I do not see the National Football League or other professional sports leagues taking this same step.

Major League Baseball’s media coverage is exceptional and relentless compared to other league’s and the stories from game eight to game 142 are covered with extreme detail as no professional sport has as close a kinship between its athletes and media. This “truth” in media makes baseball the most well documented professional sport. Imagine if a player in baseball was suspended like Shawn Merriman in the NFL or Josh Howard’s admission of drug use during the playoffs in the NBA. In baseball, the stories would have been front page news and discussed for weeks. Baseball is held to a different standard than other sports, which shows its impact as the true national pastime.

Baseball’s historical and present influence on society will continue to make it the ever-present national pastime. To date no sport has as passionate a fan base concerning the sanctity of the game from the designated hitter to the wild card to on the field advertisements and PED’s in the game. With the advent of transformative technology, relentless media, and record revenues along with the recent changing of the guard with new superstars emerging (David Wright, Ryan Braun, Chase Utley) and old superstars closing out their career (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, John Smoltz) this is truly the golden age of baseball.


Kurt HumzekerKurt Hunzeker
Director of Business Development for Active Marketing Group, founder of Sparts Marketing. He is a regular contributor Business of Sports Network

Gas above $4.00 a gallon. Foreclosures skyrocketing. Interest rate hikes on the horizon.

Who knew that baseball would have been a telling indicator for the economy’s current slog through rough waters?

The Fed should have noticed that more teams were depending on cost-efficient talent within their own organization, in lieu of spending millions for free agent veterans on the downside of their careers (looking good so far Angels, Cardinals and Marlins).

Governments who partnered with teams in building new ballparks and surrounding developments suddenly found the brake pedal and halted new projects (hello, Ballpark Village in St. Louis).

Sponsors like Citi who only two years ago signed on for $400 million naming-rights agreements are hiding from the Nationals, whose new ballpark’s marquee stands bereft of a catchy name like “The Amtrak Ballyard.”

Looking back, all we had to do was take a look at what was happening in baseball the past year to see where we were heading as a nation. If the Nationals do find a naming-rights partner, if the Cubs and Wrigley Field are sold and if the Marlins and Rays secure all the financing they need to build new baseball palaces in 2008, then we will know that the U.S. economy will be booming soon.


Kevin Kaduk - 'DukKevin Kaduk (aka 'Duk)
Yahoo! Sports - Editor, Big League Stew

From my viewpoint as editor for just one of the thousands of MLB blogs on the Internet, it's hard for me to say that the state of the league is anything but as solid as a complete game effort from Roy Halladay.

Oh, people might make a lot about the steroids mess and the disparity in payrolls between the 30 teams, but at least they're talking about it. They're talking about it because they care and because they want to see the greatest game grow even greater. If no one had objected to Barry Bonds' run to No. 756 then you know that Bud Selig might have had a problem.

I think it actually would be hard to make a case that this isn't the best era ever to be a baseball fan. The wealth of information available to us is bigger than ever before and we have access to it within seconds after the pitch is thrown. With a satellite package, you can watch any game anywhere in the country (though not on Saturdays, but very often in hi-definition) and you can dial up any hometown radio call on XM. Want a viewpoint from the other side? Easy, just e-mail your favorite opposing blogger and make a baseball friend you would have otherwise never met.

That's not even taking into account actually going to the game, where you're likely to be sitting in a ballpark designed for comfort and watching baseball players who are taking better care of their bodies and working year-round instead of spending the offseason painting houses to make ends meet.

Do the players make too much money? Yes. Could small market owners be spending more of their money on payroll to create good scouting systems and maybe wisely add a prime free agent now and then? Sure. But when it comes to baseball in '08, I think the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.


King KaufmanKing Kaufman
Author, Salon.com

I'm one who believes that history moves slowly. I think baseball's post-World War II era, for example, ended in the mid-'70s, and that the era that started then -- I'd like to call it the Kaufman era but that doesn't seem to be flying, so maybe the age of free agency would be more apropos -- is still going on.

What I'm getting at is that I'll pretty much stick with the broad outlines of what I said two years ago: There's been an exciting influx of young talent, and on the other hand there's the whole drug issue, which is complex and confusing and thoroughly boring. The Mitchell Report hasn't really changed that. We have more details than we used to. I don't know that we're any further along in knowing what to do about them.

I sometimes wonder if baseball has sort of lucked into these boom times. MLB has done a great job with the Internet arm, but generally speaking, it still blunders around with a tin ear toward its public, and doesn't inspire confidence that it'll find the next cash cow without that cow landing in baseball's lap. Nor that it'll find a wise approach to the drug problem, or whatever the next problem is going to be.

And yet the game goes on, great as ever. The growing interest in the draft, prospects, the minors and so on is encouraging and exciting. A lot of that is driven by fantasy baseball. MLB recently lost in court in its bid to control fantasy, in a way that was thoroughly anti-fan. And so it goes.



 
 
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