2017 marked the third consecutive season in which MLB attendance declined. In fact, it went below 73 million for the first time since 2002. You need to realize that attendance has declined for 5 out of the past 6 years (Maury Brown Forbes Magazine). It’s not huge, but it is a decline… almost half a million less in 2017 over 2016. Major league baseball attendance has declined 8.59% since 2000. Yet, some players, agents and fans insist that the game is extremely healthy. It’s not! It is in decline, and how fast it declines depends upon a myriad of factors, including pace of play, time of games, ticket prices, concession prices, payroll equality, luxury tax rates, salary caps, minimum salaries and the collective bargaining agreement.
Young fans don’t like baseball and many can’t be paid to go to a game. Owners and General Managers are getting wise to doling out huge contracts that become a boat anchor upon the organization like Albert Pujols of the Angels. Agents are crying collusion (of course they are) because they only get paid when their clients get paid and if Scott Borasss thought the $200 million contracts he was going to get for Arrieta, Martinez and Hosmer would fund his next yacht, he is mistaken – he might have to buy a motorboat!
It’s time for some change in baseball and not just the rules, like DH in both leagues, speeding up the pace of play and the like, but baseball needs to becaome affordable for families. Dodger fans are up in arms that the team has raised ticket prices, but the Dodgers ranked near the bottom of all teams. The Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees made triple on ticket sales compared to the Dodgers. Smaller markets will not support that, which is why Tampa Bay, Miami, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Oakland are non-factors and unlikely to be in the near future.
Small market teams are tanking to make money, get prospects and rebuild for a title run once every ten years. Fans feel very little loyality to that sort of organization. There needs to be better revenue-sharing, a mininum and maximum salary cap. Manfred is talking about adding two more teams, but Miami, TB and Oakland are not currently viable.
Then there are the allegations of collusion which is absolutely presposterous. Everyone and his brother can access the information and see that these long-term deals are just plain stupid! Some GM”s may be slow, but they are figuring it out. MLB has some big problems and they have to be dealt with, quickly, rationally and with an eye on the future.
The Athletic is a pay site that features Ken Rosenthal, Jim Bowden and Peter Gammons as baseball insiders. It’s $39.95 a year, I think and well worth it. This is my shameless plug for Ken Rosenthal. Yesterday, he wrote a piece called: “At some point, MLB and its players need to understand the sport must evolve” Normally, I would not publish so much of an article, but I am doing it in the hope that you will recognize what great writing and information this is and subscribe. In part, he says this:
The players did not create a style of play in which a record 33.5 percent of all plate appearances last season ended in a walk, strikeout or home run, the action-sucking three true outcomes. No, the players merely adapted to the preferences of 21st-century front offices—pitchers who produce high strikeout rates, hitters who get on base and mash homers.
The effect of analytics on starting pitchers also is considerable. Starters do not want to throw increasingly fewer innings—fewer than 5 2/3 last season, a record low. But front offices preach against allowing starters to face hitters a third time through the order and promote matching up with one reliever after another in the late innings, slowing games to a crawl.
Manfred is not blind to the impact of analytics. His idea—with the introduction of a pitch clock, reduction in mound visits and other pace-of-play initiatives—is to take smaller steps first, then re-evaluate. Yet, even his smaller steps are eliciting howls of protest, most significantly by an intransigent players’ union that opposed a pitch clock on general principle and grew vehement in its opposition due to an entirely unrelated issue—the slow-moving free-agent market.
As I’ve written previously, the players have only themselves to blame for signing off on a collective bargaining agreement that enabled the owners to clamp down on free agency—not so much on players such as Yu Darvish and Eric Hosmer, who will get deals close to or at market value, but on those like Logan Morrison and Jon Jay of the middle class, who are getting squeezed by the seeming preference of clubs for minimum-salaried rookies over established 30-somethings, skill and experience be damned.
The arguments of the clubs for greater efficiency are not wrong—the foolishness of awarding expensive contracts to declining players is well-documented. But the clubs, too, bear a responsibility for labor relations. Even if they are correct in every single free-agent valuation—highly doubtful—players perceive their overall approach to the market as overkill. And if total payrolls decline from a year ago, as Craig Edwards suggested in a recent article for Fangraphs, the players’ fears will prove well-founded….
Manfred is not some kind of imperious egomaniac who wants to put his stamp on the game. Quite the contrary, he is open-minded to any idea that might improve the product. His concerns about pace of play, much as they incense traditionalists, are perfectly valid. The sport needs to increase its appeal to younger and casual fans, and remain appealing to its existing fans in a society with an increasingly short attention span. Part of a commissioner’s job is to be a forward thinker.
The union does not dispute that pace of play is an issue worth addressing, but many, if not most players, loathe the pitch clock and, in particular, the accompanying ball-strike penalties. Manfred, meanwhile, sends something of a mixed message with time-of-game “triggers” in his pace-of-play proposals, further confusing matters.
“Pace of game is different than time of game,” Manfred told reporters at the Grapefruit League media day last February. “Pace relates to dead time caused by batters stepping out, pitchers not working quickly, trips to the mound. A quicker pace in the game is good for fans both in the ballpark and watching our broadcasts.
“In contrast, time of game is dictated by a number of factors that we really can’t control. A longer game may or may not be a concern, depending on how much action is in that game. That is why we have never set a goal in terms of time of game. What we want is a well-paced game with action regardless of the actual time of the game.”
Well, Manfred’s latest proposal certainly conflates the two, stating that an average game time of two hours, 55 minutes or more in 2018 will lead to an 18-second pitch clock with no runners on base starting May 1, 2019. In baseball’s view, some type of pace-of-play measurement is necessary, and time of game is pretty much the only one available. Fair enough. But even then, the current game has structural flaws that a pitch clock will not correct, flaws that hint at deeper problems.
Clubs obviously are not going to stop using analytics, but baseball can adopt measures to counter the rise of the three true outcomes and increased use of relievers. Manfred has talked about raising the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to the top of the kneecap with the idea of introducing more action. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein floated the idea of requiring relievers to face as many as three batters per appearance at the 2015 general managers’ meetings.
Epstein’s suggestion would lead to fewer pitching changes and likely spur offense, a tradeoff that might not reduce the average time of game, but should help the pace. Raising the strike zone might produce its own set of consequences, and baseball would need to proceed with caution, acknowledging the potential impact on the overall product. A pitch clock, even with ball-strike penalties, would have a less dramatic effect. But if Manfred cannot take smaller steps without a major pushback, how is he going to persuade players and hardcore fans to accept bigger ones?
At some point, both groups need to understand the sport must evolve. Other professional sports routinely implement significant rules changes with minimal controversy. Most of baseball’s radical changes in recent decades—from the introduction of the wild card and expanded postseason to the home-plate collision and second-base slide rules—overcame initial resistance to achieve general acceptance. The pitch clock likely would follow the same pattern. I just don’t think it will make much of a difference.
The issues run deeper. The changes need to be more profound. And the responsibility falls on both sides, whenever they are ready to stop bickering. Sure, the players stall and dawdle and flat-out waste time, but the rise of analytics also contributed to the product suffering. Baseball is smarter but more boring. And a ticking clock alone will not stem the tide.
Rosenthal nailed it! This is a great site that will only get better with time. Try it out!
Do any of you have the solution? If changes aren’t made, this game we all love will slowly die a painful death.