Major League Baseball was threatened with irrelevance

DThe circumstances of an American baseball professional have hardly been summed up as succinctly as Brad Pitt in the movie “Moneyball”, which has been nominated for countless Oscars. The statement concerned distorted economic competition. “The problem we’re trying to solve,” explained the Hollywood actor, who then brought up the thoughts of longtime Oakland A’s Manager Billy Beane. “There are rich groups and there are poor groups. Then there is almost 15 meters of crap and then we come. It’s an unfair game.”

The film hit theaters in 2011. And in theory, the situation should have improved since then, as wealthy clubs now hand over a significant portion of their revenue to their struggling rivals as part of a financial equalization scheme. Between 2010 and 2020, the average market value of the 30 teams tripled to $1.5 billion. A development that ensured that even a team as unsuccessful as the Miami Marlins found a buyer for an impressive $1.2 billion in 2017.

Nevertheless, the imbalance remains significant. And regarding player salaries. The New York Mets will spend $249 million on their team next season. In contrast, teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates don’t pay $40 million. But since there is no relegation, bad results have no permanent consequences.

Tough discussions between the union and the players

Those in charge of Major League Baseball blame the messy situation mainly on one group: the nearly 1,000 professional players and their unions. In order to convey this interpretation of things clearly to the outside world, they quickly locked up the activists in early December. The collective agreement negotiations dealt with, among other things, the increase in the playoffs, the level of minimum wages and the renewed distribution key for all incomes. Negotiations dragged on before an agreement was reached on Thursday. Training camps start a few days late on Thursday. But the new season could start on April 7 and run without any cancellations.

The agreement does not bring a radical solution to financial problems. The most permanent change concerns the game itself: a rule change for half of the 30 clubs playing in the National League. So far, every pitcher in the team’s all-player rotation has also played with a bat – as has been the practice since time immemorial. In the American League, where the other half of the teams play, in the 1970s the practice of relieving the pitching specialist with the help of the hitting specialist, the so-called “designated hitter”, was abolished.

Since then, the different practice has led to strange constellations in the meetings between representatives of both leagues – for example, in the final series, called the “World Series”. The National League had ordered a change for its teams already at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It has now finally been ratified by the collective agreement.


Waiting for the autograph: MLB is missing a young audience.
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Photo: AP

Other innovations: a playoff round with twelve teams instead of ten. A small increase in the minimum wage, which especially benefits young professionals. And an increase in the clubs’ luxury tax rates above the amount of the maximum salary set by the league. A mechanism designed to ensure a level of performance between rich and poor teams. In fact, no other league in the United States has as consistent a sporting record as Major League Baseball: a total of fifteen different clubs have won at least one championship in the last two decades.

The games are taking too long, the fans are too old

The sport, once the undisputed number one favorite of the American public, relinquished that status to the National Football League some time ago. And it maintains its No. 2 spot in annual revenue of about $10 billion, ahead of the National Basketball Association ($8.8 billion), only because it plays nearly twice as many games. Each club has at least 162 matches.

For years, critics have warned that the league is slowly but surely drifting into oblivion as the game has become an anachronism in an age of different viewing habits. There is no fixed playing time. Meetings often last more than three hours. Another trend indicator: the average age of fans. Fans of a major league baseball team are 57 years old, while other major leagues attract much younger audiences: the NBA’s number is 42.

For which the online magazine “Front Office Sports” has identified the reason: the lack of emotional intensity of the players on the field. While the NBA celebrates players whose antics and performances captivate spectators, professional baseball is encouraged to be as static as possible. Case in point: 23-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres, one of the highest-paid youngsters making more than $20 million a season, was recently forced to apologize. He had produced a Grand Slam run towards the end of the game when his team had a clear 10-3 lead against the Texas Rangers. This is considered a violation of baseball etiquette. And opponents see such deposits as humiliation.

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