The Beginning of the End of Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball will collapse as it chokes on its own greed; is victimized by declining morality and corrupt leadership and suffers from diminishing attendance and interest in the league as fans rebel against rising ticket prices, length of the games and the troubles associated with building a product around a false commodity. Historians will see this era of professional baseball similar to what is perceived as the beginning of the Roman Empire’s demise because of the chaotic, bloated and self destructive condition of the period. And they will view the appointment made by the Baseball Owners on September 10, 1992 as the event leading to the fall.
That was the fateful day when the owners crowned one of their own, Bud Selig, and set in motion their plan to turn a national pastime into a cash guzzling profit making machine. This was part of a series of events initiated by the firing Commissioner Faye Vincent that resembled the operations of the Roman Praetorian Guard of the late 2nd Century who assassinated rulers attempting to hold them in check and placed into power emperors that would reward them for the appointment. History has taught that civilizations, and organizations, are unable to thrive for any length of time in such a perpetuating cycle.
At a glance the game’s appearance is of health and strength as it makes millionaires out of the players and ads billions to the portfolios of the owners. The league is grand, the stands are full and there is a tradition of success to look back on. But dig a little deeper into the present and a glimpse of the future will appear; the owners’ worship of higher profits are slowly eliminating two important elements Major League Baseball needs to insure its future is as celebrated as its past – the common fan and the game’s integrity.
After the owner’s lockout cancelled the 1994 World Series, Selig and company bought into the media’s doomsday prediction the fans would not forgive the owners and the record attendance of 1993 would not be repeated. But, rather than reaching out to the fans by lowering prices and speeding the pace of the games, Selig and the owners turned the sport into HomeRun Derby Contest, temporarily raising attendance and interest in the game with a carnival-style gimmick.
To accomplish their higher scoring more powerful game, that in four years produced the top six all time single season homerun marks, Selig and the owners ignored the league’s obvious steroid epidemic and encouraged the building of small dimensioned ballparks. With the Great HomeRun Race of 1998 between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, new fans, unable to stomach the thought of 2 to 1 ballgames, were drawn to the game and attendance immediately increased. But seven years later the memory of the race has been tarnished by allegations of steroid abuse and fans have begun to not come out to the ballpark. In another ten years we will look back at the race and Barry Bonds’ all time pursuit of the homerun record as fraudulent events based on artificial feats of strength that made a mockery of baseball’s sacred record book and deceived fans into parting with their money and time and investing their emotions into a sham.
The mighty homerun also puts money in the owner’s pocket by creating longer games leading to increased concession sales and numerous pitching changes which lead to more television commercials. Televised games run late into the night because they are initiated by the league whose main concerns are the network and advertiser who in turn bow to a small but powerful demographic. The average viewer, the family, and the working person who has to rise from bed at an hour when the fat cat owners are still snoring on their fluffed pillow dreaming of how much farther into the black last night’s game put them, are not on the league’s radar screen of importance.
Advertising revenue rules; it is on the backstops and outfield walls of most ballparks and plastered throughout every stadium and in 1999 Selig confirmed discussions were underway to begin placing advertising on the players’ jerseys. Post games interviews will begin to sound like NASCAR victory lane speeches, but don’t expect this to mean savings for the fan. Salaries will continue to increase and owners will see bigger profits but what happens when they have exhausted every inch to place a Viagra or Budweiser logo? How will the bills be paid then, Mr. Selig? What will be left when every resource has been tapped and every well drained dry, Mr. Selig? Who will be left to pay? When the Romans stopped conquering, the flow of gold into the economy decreased, inflation took hold, the merchants charged more and in the end the citizen’s paid for the greed of others.
The latest pawns in the ploy to overexpose the game’s assets and bring it closer to Vince McMahon’s league than the one housing what used to be known as the Grand Old Game is the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
A natural rivalry due to their locales and fueled by luck, theirs existed since before Woodrow Wilson was President and like many relationships have experienced highs and lows. But in the wake of some recent dramatic playoff series Selig and the owners have blatantly manipulated it for the purpose of higher television ratings.
Many of the game’s best players have ended up in playing for these two teams, which only makes sense given their enormous payrolls. But it is troubling when the transparency of the orchestration by the Commissioner’s office to move some players into the rivalry becomes obvious. The Alex Rodriguez transaction was a mess for the Red Sox, a blessing for the Yankees and a boon for the owners. Selig was there the entire time, tampering to assure the game’s best player was whisked out of Texas and dropped into the middle of the hottest stage in baseball.
Curt Schilling vs. Randy Johnson is the equivalent of matching Marcus Brutus vs. Caesar Augusts in a post Ides of March death match in the Coliseum and Selig saw to it the cankerous duo would face off October playoff game and the owners would reap the booty from the ratings bonanza it will bring. Already Schilling has stoked the fire with jabs at various Yankees and Johnson’s ego insures a response.
The attention starved David Wells will say anything to get his name on a headline so ending up as a Red Sox was a move that Selig was happy to make happen. Now he can go out like his idol the Bambino – old, tired, fat and a mere sideshow attraction in Boston.
Kindling in place, the fire is surely to start. Selig’s dream of some of the most caustic players of the time will throw the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry further into the national spotlight and cause a perception that their competition is one of the most important elements in baseball. More important, in today’s Major League Baseball, than executing a hit and run in Pittsburgh or making a well-timed double-switch in Kansas City, is what A-Rod will have to say about Trot raising his kids and what Manny’s sleepy eyes indicate about his desire to beat the Yanks. More significant, to Selig, than Seattle’s pitchers ability to hold the runners on base is making sure Steinbrenner says what he thinks of Johnny Damon’s hair. The constant pushing of this rivalry is teaching a generation to hate your opponent and obsess about beating them. Apple pie, mom and kicking the crap out of your opponent – Baseball fever! Catch it!
In reality the Romans did not fall, they slowly faded away. Germanic tribes and Mongolians took bites out of the empire that had grown too large to govern but they survived another thousand years in a less aggressive state. How much longer will Major League Baseball be able to survive given the current direction in which it heads we will have to wait and see. But if history has taught us anything it is that all empires one day crumble.
Here’s hoping someone will talk and lies will be revealed and baseball will be put back into the hands of the fans before it is too late.
By Eric Thomason