When baseball returns please support your local teams. Public Health experts will be cautious in reopening the country, hopefully the politicians will listen. Major League teams will be fine, they have their millions. Support Minor League and Independent League teams, they are feeling the biggest impact of the shutdown. Many of these teams and leagues operate on the edge of existence in the best of times. The Coronavirus has left many vulnerable to folding.
Minor League and Independent League teams are often in smaller cities than Major League teams. They are more connected to the well being of their city as they depend on local support for survival. These teams lack the regional or national fan bases of MLB. Minor League teams can rely on their Major League affiliate to pay players through Player Development Contracts. MiLB teams fund everything else including stadium maintenance, game day staff, front office, and concessions. Independent League teams do this too and must also pay their players. Baseball teams draw visitors to their city and its economy. Fans pay the salaries of team employees, but they also go to restaurants and bars, or other attractions, before or after games. Baseball teams attract visitors and their money, and give the community something to rally around.
Growing baseball means reaching people, such as expanding television and radio coverage. However, the excitement of watching a game in person is quite different than watching or listening from home. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is pushing a plan to cut 40 or more Minor League teams in favor of the Dream League, an Independent League with some MLB support. This is foolish. MLB continues to see record profits, while MiLB players are paid criminally low contracts. Reducing the number of teams affiliated with MiLB is about reducing cost and increasing profits for MLB teams. Baseball is a business, but MLB must be careful to not stifle the future of the game to save a little money to increase record profits.
How can you not be romantic about baseball? View of the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star Game at Whitaker Ball Park, home of the Lexington Legends. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Not everyone lives close to an MLB or MiLB team. Obviously baseball cannot have a team in every city, nor can every family afford to take their baseball crazed kids to a game several hours away. There are some fans who live in a baseball desert. The cost hinders the exposure of the in person experience and could ultimately lose the fandom of kids and adults. Baseball has already priced out many low income youth players due to the ever expanding expense of travel baseball. Why would MLB and Manfred build more obstacles to the game?
Teams have contracts with cable providers for broadcast rights, including MLB.tv, which is another expense not every baseball fan can afford. MLB is strong financially, but they need to consider the finances of the fans. Reducing the number of MiLB teams eliminates access to professional baseball for many and could have unintended consequences. Cities like Erie, Lexington, Chattanooga, Billings, Danville, Great Falls, Missoula, and Colorado Springs will be changed by losing their teams if the proposed cuts are made. Some cities are close to other teams for a baseball day trip. Others create a professional baseball desert. MLB needs to think about the long term health of the game before cutting MiLB teams. Baseball should not trade saving a few dollars for losing a generation of fans.
The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.
I took a few days to think about Pete Rose and his quest to have his lifetime ban from baseball lifted. Reflecting on what I think about the man and his situation, I feel sorry for Pete Rose. I have softened my view of Pete Rose. The All-Time Hit King’s lifetime ban from the game of baseball may have truly become written in stone.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he was not reinstating Pete Rose from the permanently ineligible list. This now makes three Commissioners of Baseball that have denied Rose his reinstatement after Bart Giamatti banned him in 1989. Commissioner Manfred and Rose met to discuss his petition. I believe Commissioner Manfred did the proper thing in meeting with Rose and listening to him. There is nothing wrong with listening to Rose. Having served over 25 years in exile, it is only fair to listen to the man and see if he has reconfigured his life as Commissioner Giamatti urged. Pete Rose admitted he continues to gamble on sports, including baseball. This sort of honesty is 25 years too late, but it is never too late to start telling the truth. Telling the truth is a small step towards reconfiguring his life, however Rose has not moved away from the gambling. His continued gambling on baseball does not instill faith into Commissioner Manfred, or anyone else, that Pete Rose has changed his ways.
I am not sad that Pete Rose is banned from baseball. Personally, I believe it is justified based upon his now admitted gambling on baseball games he was involved in. I am sad that a 74-year-old man has not been able to face the truth and change. Major League Baseball may now be completely finished with ever entertaining the reinstatement of Rose. The reality is that Rose may never have the opportunity to present his case for reinstatement to another Commissioner. The impact Rose could have had on the game and its players will never be known, as the man could not conduct himself within the rules of the game.
Major League Baseball does not control the National Baseball Hall of Fame and its voting process. In theory, Pete Rose could appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, while remaining permanently ineligible for reinstatement to baseball. Rose’s support seems to have waned in recent months after ESPN reported that Rose had bet on games while he was playing and managing. This evidence further highlighted the half-truths and blatant lies Rose has been telling since the investigation into his gambling began in 1989. The Hall of Fame voters have been tough on alleged PED users such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and many others. It is doubtful that these same voters would show kindness and mercy to Rose.
I feel sorry for Pete Rose because he will never have his day in the sun as a Major League manager and as a newly inducted member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His accomplishments as a player made him a legitimate first ballot Hall of Famer. Is there any baseball fan who would try arguing against this? What is so unfortunate is that the gambling and his banishment from baseball will forever overshadow Rose’s accomplishments and the honors he should have received. No one, except for Rose can say with certainty why he has literally gambled away his opportunity to return to baseball. The wreckage that has become his baseball life is solely his responsibility. Yes, he has begun working with Fox during their baseball broadcasts, but this is as close to reinstatement as he will get.
On August 24, 1989, Commissioner Bart Giamatti summed up the investigation and banishment of Pete Rose due to his gambling activities with the following:
“The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. By choosing not to come to a hearing before me, and by choosing not to proffer any testimony or evidence contrary to the evidence and information contained in the report of the special counsel…Mr. Rose has accepted baseball’s ultimate sanction, lifetime ineligibility.”
Commissioner Giamatti understood the sad duty he had to carry out. The lifetime ban of Pete Rose had stained the game of baseball and brought doubt upon active players and managers about gambling on games. Even in the face of a potential lifetime ban, Rose was defiant. Rose would continue his defiant stance for over two decades before his stance began to weaken. A little at a time the truth seems to be emerging about Rose and his gambling. On the day he was banned from baseball, a reporter asked Rose if he would seek help for his gambling. His response was quintessential Pete Rose,
“No, because I don’t think I have a gambling problem. As a consequence, I will not seek help at this time.”
Giamatti had no choice but to issue baseball’s harshest punishment in order to protect the game. Pete Rose willingly accepted the lifetime ban. Bear in mind that it was not a punishment simply levied on him in response to a discovery of rules being broken. Rose signed an agreement that he would accept a lifetime ban from the game if Major League Baseball would halt their investigation into his gambling. Rose chose to deal with the devil he knew, a lifetime ban from the game, instead of the devil he did not know, the exposure of all his gambling activities and associates. Rose was compelled to make a decision for his best interest. He could either accept the lifetime ban or deal with the United States government and his gambling associates. Rose chose the lifetime ban.
I have softened on Pete Rose because we never want to see our sports heroes suffering from human foibles. The childhood of millions of Americans forever changed when Mickey Mantle spoke about his life shortly before his death in 1995. The regrets Mantle had about his life during his press conference at Baylor University Medical Center humanized Mantle like never before. Mantle became real and frail, no longer the perfect ball player but the imperfect man. Pete Rose has likewise become human. He was a gritty ball player who has continually shown he is an imperfect and stubborn man. Thousands of kids in Cincinnati and elsewhere looked up to Rose. Charlie Hustle gave everything he could on the baseball diamond. He truly was the best baseball player he could be, and that is something for which he should be admired. I have little doubt that Rose bet on the Reds to win every time he gambled on them as a manager and a player. His desire to win, seemingly at all costs and reflected in the way he played the game, would not allow him to purposely lose. Even if this is true, it does not make it better. Playing and managing to win the game, even when the game is well out of hand can have an impact on the following day’s game. While not purposely throwing games, this can change the perception of whether the game is played fairly. The loss of confidence by fans in this notion can irreparably harm the game, such as it has in Taiwan. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect; we all have our faults. Rose, however, has never been able to admit he has these faults, and this is what makes his story so awful. The pride of the man will not allow him to accept what he has done and work to make amends.
The sadness comes from a man who should command so much respect, yet has thrown it all away because he could not fully admit he made a mistake. Rose would have been better served if he had spoken honestly about his mistakes and actively worked to remove all gambling from his life. Pete Rose does not seem to understand that he is the master of his own destiny. He could not persuade Commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig, nor can he persuade Commissioner Manfred to lift his ban. If he had actively worked to reconfigure his life, he would have not only shown these Commissioners that he had changed, but it would have also increased the support for his reinstatement. There are no guarantees in life, but it is better to strive for greatness and fall short than to never try. Major League Baseball has done what is necessary to protect itself from the potential damage Rose could have inflicted upon the game if he had continued playing and gambling. I wish Pete Rose could enjoy the honors his playing career earned him. However, Pete Rose has chosen not to allow baseball to reexamine his banishment due to his ongoing behavior and refusal to reconfigure his life. Pete Rose cannot get the last 25 years back. He has made his own decisions, and will continue to live with the consequences of those decisions. Everyone loses in the end. No one can truly claim there is any victory in any of this. Commissioner Bart Giamatti summed it all up perfectly in 1989 and it still holds true today, this is “the sad end of a sorry episode”.
The netting at baseball games is about to increase. Major League Baseball has recommended that teams add netting to shield field level seats within 70 feet of home plate. This is an effort to protect fans from baseballs and bats that can reach the stands before fans have the opportunity to react.
There has been some resistance to the additional netting from Major League teams and fans. Teams do not want to run the risk of installing additional netting and upsetting fans. Fans do not want their view of the game obstructed in any way. Both the teams and the fans have valid arguments. However, a third argument is even more important: fan safety. Fans are the lifeblood of the sport, without them professional baseball does not exist. Protecting the fans is important for multiple reasons, but there are two primary reasons why Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball had to take this step. First, protecting the fans is critical from a decency standpoint. Additional netting is a simple solution to a problem that can result in serious injury or potentially death.
The National Hockey League was pressed into adding additional netting behind each goal following the death of 13 year old Brittanie Cecil who died two days after being struck by a puck in 2002. Hockey understood that it had to protect its fans. Commissioner Gary Bettman also understood that fans want to see the action on the ice. The netting allows for both as Bettman responded to concerns about an obstructed view of the game “After three minutes people won’t know it’s there.”
The addition of some extra netting does not change how the game is played on the field, thus it preserves the pleasure fans seek from attending a game. This leads us to the second reason. Baseball fans watch the game in an intimate setting. Seats are literally inches from the playing field. Sitting close enough to home plate where you can see curveballs curve. The addition of netting does not change this. I have had the opportunity to sit behind the netting at minor league and college games. On several occasions, if a ball had been hit at me I would not have had enough time to react to protect myself. However, the netting in place protected me without obstructing my view and enjoyment of the game. If the netting did obstruct the view of the game baseball as a whole would have long ago found a way to resolve this issue. The seats directly behind home plate, and behind the netting, are not cheap, baseball is going to take care of their highest paying customers.
About 15 years ago, my family and I attended a Greenville Braves game in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Municipal Stadium was a great place to watch a baseball game. We sat down the third base line, a few sections past the dugout and third base. A screaming foul ball came our way and everyone ducked, but the ball ricocheted off the seats behind us and hit my Mom in the head. The medical staff quickly arrived and checked my Mom out. She was thankfully fine, nothing more than a good knot on her head and a decent headache that went away in an hour or so. Imagine what that ball could have done to someone’s face if they did not have time to react and the ball had not ricocheted off something, thus reducing the force of the impact. My Mom could have easily been hospitalized or worse. Simple solutions to potentially life altering problems should be common sense.
The addition of extended netting to protect fans is a win-win. Families with small children do not have to worry about their children being struck by a bat or ball. These families can gain a new and wonderful view of the game. Major League Baseball has worked to keep the focus on the field where teams are playing and not in the stands after a fan is struck with a bat or ball and unfortunately injured. Attending a baseball game should always be about having fun not worrying about being hit by a bat or ball. Commissioner Manfred and the rest of Major League Baseball have done the right thing, there was a problem with a simple solution and they took action to fix it.