A Simple Kind of Fan. Guilty of Inflating One’s Own Worth – 5.10.11
Major League Baseball has done a wonderful job of promoting itself throughout the years. Television has allowed an entire nation to watch the game and recognize the players, hence the phrase household name. Television created a wave of popularity that led to increased attendance, revenues, and salaries. Personally, I have always identified the off season of 1989, and in particular Kirby Puckett’s contract, as when the salary explosion in baseball began.
Kirby Puckett signed the first $9 million dollar contract, as part of a three year deal. It was the richest contract in baseball history. When you consider that the average major league salary was $300,000 at the time, it was a huge deal. Lar over at Wezen-ball.com does a great job of portraying what happens next. Puckett’s record contract and title as ‘Baseball’s highest paid player’ lasted about a week. In fact, five players surpassed Puckett in the span of two months. By the two year anniversary of Puckett’s contract, ten players had achieved the honor and it was being held by Bobby Bonilla at almost $6 million dollars per season. By 1992, seventy players were making more than $3 million dollars a season. Things were certainly careening toward fiscal irresponsibility.
This is usually where I would be anticipating what the political spin of the author will be. I look for what opinion the author would be trying to interject into the story. While I do in fact possess a Political Science degree, I will not waste your time, or mine, attempting to break down who is more to blame for the salary explosion in baseball between labor and ownership. You can observe the multitude of bias in stories on the NFL lockout for that angle. I really feel that ownership, management, players, and agents ALL have plenty of blame to go around. However, it is my contention that steroids were the ultimate convection needed to brew a fan screwing thunderstorm of epic proportions.
Steroids inflated offensive and pitching statistics in baseball throughout the 1990s. Players were coming back from injury at a hastened rate. When players were healthy, they were putting up outrageous record setting statistics. Once the ink was dry on the first mega contract awarded to a steroids user, the system was changed irrevocably. Of course, the next player looking for a big contract based his demands on the previous contract awarded. Undoubtedly, the next deal was then tainted and soon the entire system was inflated with outrageous assortments of steroid laden, as well as steroid influenced, contracts. What accelerated this growth was a flawed contract system, where all new agreements were based on previously signed deals. This has led us to Scott Boras saying that if Adrian Gonzalez is worth $154,000,000, then Prince Fielder is certainly worth a little more than that.
Agents such as Scott Boras are indeed part of the problem. To be fair, it is Boras’s job to make the most money possible for his client. The sleaze and distastefulness are just an unfortunate side effect. The Tim Kurkjian piece about Prince being an above average defender is a flat out joke and the piece might as well have been written by Boras himself. This column is a shining example of what an agent contributes to the system.
How did it get this way? Why didn’t baseball step in and do something about the steroid problem? That is the easiest question of this whole dilemma: money.
The time is 1992 and baseball owners are in a conundrum. Attendance is terrific, the game is popular, scoring is up, and there is a new commissioner named Bud Selig. The one issue concerning all owners is the increasingly prevalent steroid use in the game. It has become commonplace to see steroids infiltrating the locker room and a majority of players are rumored to be users. There are whispers about it in every corner of the game. In a perfect world, MLB would go ahead and ban them from player use on the major and minor league levels. What complicates this issue is the labor agreement with the players that will be ending in 1994. The hotly contested labor negotiations will make any additional player concessions, in terms of drug and steroid testing, nearly impossible. The owners are looking for a better financial deal and are even prepared to cancel the season in 1994, if it should go that far.
In some smoky backroom the owners and Bud Selig meet to discuss these issues. One owner suggests that perhaps steroids are ruining the game. Another says that regardless, an 11-10 game sells more beer, food, and has higher television ratings. Besides, the public loves home runs. A conscious decision is made to protect the short term interests of the game after an impending work stoppage. Some at the time had even suggested baseball would never recover from a work stoppage. As a trade off for the inevitable hoards of vengeful and upset fans, the owners agree to turn a blind eye to hulking sluggers and aging players performing like they were 10 years younger. The lock out forces the owners to ignore a growing steroid problem in order to remain profitable in the short term. This decision ultimately allows the owners to fleece the fans by negotiating for publicly financed stadiums (no roofs!), increasing fringe revenue streams, signing humongous television contracts, and raising ticket prices.
Sounds crazy right? Is it? MLB is claiming that 2010 was the “Year of the Pitcher” and now 2011 is too. Oh really? How about if baseball is finally making a regression towards what the NATURAL mean is? The days of five or more players each hitting 50 home runs a year are long gone, yet the $20 million dollar a year salaries remain. The seasons of 43 year old pitchers throwing 160 innings or hitting 40 home runs are over, yet players are still getting contracts based on the accomplishments of some tainted athletes. The financial side of the baseball salary structure is completely askew from what the results in 2011 have become. I truly believe baseball is guilty of inflating its own worth with steroids.
That is quite a problem for owners who pay out these huge financial albatrosses throughout the league. As a result this cause has spawned several fan screwing effects. Publicly financed stadiums, PSLs, high ticket costs, high amenities costs, and highly restrictive local blackouts from MLB.tv all collaborated in a perfect storm. Speaking of MLB.tv…..
I am Calling You Out!
MLB.tv, what a sad joke you are. I guess I have been living under a rock for quite some time. I was unaware of the MLB blackout policies in effect for MLB.tv. The Ayatollah (my wife) has authorized a new television with internet capabilities for the household. This should be a glorious day. This should be a day I am signing up for Hulu and integrating my existing Netflix account. This should be the day I give my cable/satellite provider the boot and save my family roughly $80 a month. This should be, but it’s not. MLB.tv has a local blackout policy that can only be described as ludicrous.
Unfortunately, the only hang up on saving my family roughly $1000 a year is having access to my beloved Milwaukee Brewers. Only cable and satellite customers are allowed to watch the game in the Milwaukee area. MLB.tv customers in the Milwaukee area are currently blacked out from watching Brewers games. That’s right, some schmuck in Fairbanks, Alaska that isn’t going to any games and isn’t helping the Brewers financially in any manner, can watch all of the Brewers baseball his heart desires. I would gladly pay the $110 a year + extra for the right to watch MY home team.
I suppose I understand the MLB is protecting its product and wants fans to go to the games. Heck, I go to more than 10 games a year, but parking, tickets, and extras for 82 games? That is slightly unrealistic for a man with a family. Besides, buying season tickets still only leaves me with ½ the games on the schedule.
I feel like MLB is constantly behind the curve when it comes to innovation. Only allowing cable or satellite customers in Milwaukee access to their local product is bad business because it excludes a growing market of potential customers that are committed to leaving the existing sources of distribution. I would suggest some sort of system that recognizes fans that purchase season ticket packages in combination with being allowed to purchase MLB.tv in their local market. At the VERY LEAST, season ticket purchasers should be able to see the away games for the $110 fee! Anything less than this option is unacceptable and unexplainable. Elderly leadership in Major League Baseball is preventing the game from growing and becoming more prosperous.
Yuni’s performance can be described as disappointing. His season slash line of .229/.258/.322 is simply putrid. He doesn’t work counts and he doesn’t understand when he should be taking pitches. Of course, like everyone else he slumped this week.
HOLD ON! STOP THE PRESSES! As I proofread this week’s edition, I just witnessed a tremendous double play effort from Yuni and Weeks. The Betancourt flip from the glove behind his back to a barehanded Weeks was a work of beauty. It might be the play of the year for the Brewers. Hence, I have erased much my scathing analysis of Betancourt’s play and instead I will play nice this week and say he just is struggling to make an impact offensively.
Shameless Self Promotion
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