Tuesday, May 12, 2020

MLB in 2020?

MLB owners presented a proposal to the Players Association about resuming the 2020 season. It features an abbreviated Spring Training to start in June, an 82-game regular season to start on or about the first of July, a universal DH, expanded playoffs, a 30-man taxi squad with a 50-man enlarged roster, geographically-close opponents, blah-blah-blah. I don't give a shit about the details! All those things are subsidiary to the health concerns and the extraordinary efforts that will be required to protect players, staff, workers, etc.

But the crux of the matter is money. It seemed, at first, MLB and the Players Association could agree on pro-rated salaries and other matters like reducing the draft from ten rounds to five. The new proposal, however, is a revenue-sharing deal. The players would get a portion of the media revenue generated by the games (since there will be no gate receipts). I expect this will be a non-starter for the MLBPA as it amounts to a salary cap. (The luxury tax is a kind of salary cap but it operates at the team level.) Players get a lot of flack about how much money they make, but that's silly when you think about how much money the game generates for the owners. Imagine being able to afford employees who cost $25M/year! That's right, you have to be a billionaire.

Chris Rock put it perfectly: "Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his checks is wealthy!"

Fans don't typically make such distinctions, and when the MLBPA (rightly) rejects the new proposal they'll be seen as greedy, out-of-touch, pampered athlete-celebrities. In the midst of a global pandemic, if the owners really think getting baseball going again is THAT IMPORTANT, then they should foot the goddamn bill! One day perhaps we will make all players free agents from the get-go and get rid of the draft, team-control years, arbitration, and all that un-American nonsense that prevents the free movement of talent. But that's another story.

I understand the urge to get things "back to normal" in the midst of this crisis. I understand the economic pain of the shutdowns. And I love baseball and miss it terribly. But I'm having a hard time seeing a practical implementation of a baseball season this summer and fall. I'd like to see MLB and MLBPA hammer out that stuff first (like, what happens is if a player/umpire/trainer/etc. tests positive for the virus?) and then argue about compensation. And MLB needs to get rid of their anachronistic blackout policy and make ALL the games available in EVERY market (like the NFL) or they are going to slowly strangle their golden goose.

South Korea and Taiwan are showing how it may be possible to resume professional sports. I wish them all the best of luck. I'm not sure we here in the States can use those models as those societies are more comfortable with social restrictions and government mandates, not to mention being quite a bit smaller. They are more able to implement a national strategy for containment and mitigation. Here at home we see more of an ad hoc, state-level approach with less overall coordination. Getting the national pastime re-started is going to require a great deal of coordination!

Stay safe, my friends.


p.s. I realize that South Korea and Taiwan are more properly The Republic of Korean (ROK) and The Republic of China (ROC) but those names are not only a bit ponderous but less revealing so I'm using the casual rather than the formal appellations.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

There's baseball somewhere!

In Taiwan, in fact. The CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League) season is underway. They plan to open stadia to fans--only 1,000 to start--tomorrow. There are five teams in the league. Taiwan has a population of 24 million in an area that's a little bigger than Belgium and a little smaller than Switzerland. The parks normally hold from 12,500 to 20,000 fans at capacity.

And in South Korea. The KBO (Korea Baseball Organization) opened their season yesterday. The KBO has ten teams. The Lotte Giants play in Busan and the Sajik Baseball Stadium is the biggest in the league and holds 26,800 fans. South Korea is home to 52 million people in an area the size of Iceland, about three times the size of Taiwan. There are no fans at the games and no word yet on when that will happen.

Taiwan reports fewer than 500 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. South Korea reports almost 11,000 cases and 256 deaths. That's a very different public health situation than here in the States. It does, however, give one hope that a 2020 MLB season could happen in some limited form. I'm not planning to follow the CPBL (although you have to love the Rakuten Monkeys) or the KBO (although the SK Wyverns play in Happy Dream Park) so you'll have to use the links I've provided if you are desperate for pro ball.

Bundesliga, the top professional football league (soccer) in Germany is slated to resume on the 16th of this month. All matches will be behind closed doors. This seems like a riskier proposition. Germany appears to be ahead of places like Italy, Spain, and the U.K., but they don't seem to be near the level of containment that Taiwan and South Korea have achieved. I wish them the best of luck.

Stay safe!