MLB BASEBALL 2011: REUNITED AND IT FEELS (NOT) SO GOOD

 

Former MLB commissioner Bartlett Giamatti wrote in his famed baseball poem, The Green Fields of the Mind, “(i)t breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” He was speaking of the early promise that arises with each new baseball season, which is then ultimately washed away by the “cold rains” of the fall at seasons end.

I’ve experienced the baseball fan’s plight explained by Giamatti. As a Pittsburgh Pirates fan (insert joke here), my harshest sports memory came in 1992 when Sid Bream beat home an errant Barry Bonds’ throw in the ninth inning to eliminate the Pirates from the NLCS for the third consecutive year. Moments after Bream barreled into home, “cold rains” of tears streamed down my face and I proceeded to lock myself in the bathroom – broken hearted, yes.

Of course, that type of broken heart is actually endearing in the sense of fandom.

Now, the Pirates provide more comical relief than anything, but I am still suffering a broken heart from baseball. This time, however, it is not the endearing kind a fan experiences, but rather the ugly and disappointing kind - like two quarreling lovers. So without further adieu, here is a list of reasons that MLB and I are entering couple’s therapy.

Appropriately, I will open with opening day itself, or the lack thereof. Baseball season did start last week, but don’t question your sports attentiveness if you missed it. I can’t remember a time when this day had less fanfare and anticipation - probably due to the combination of teams having different opening days and games starting at the end of the workweek right before the Final Four. In years following, I hope MLB makes a more concerted and organized effort to produce a bigger spectacle for opening day. Whatever that is, MLB needs to think on a Cincinnati scale, but in every city and on the same day.

Another reason baseball’s opening day was lost in the shuffle was due to the earlier start date. I do applaud the vow to avoid November baseball, but I wonder if pushing up the start date is the only remedy to avoid the heart of the NFL season. Can’t MLB vow to avoid oft-chilly early April as well?

Weather aside, the season is just too long, and it is tough to sustain interest for so many months, especially once football kicks off. One way to close the season window would be to schedule more double headers. This will sacrifice some gate revenue, but that could be made up by the positive momentum generated by a more manageable season length. Someone queue Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”

My biggest personal gripe, however, comes with MLB’s reluctance to embrace new and digital media. Countless times this NBA season I have clicked, received, and sent YouTube links of NBA highlights back and forth with friends. This has heightened my interest in the current NBA season, as well as those I share the links with. The NBA allows this because they realize that younger fans (i.e., future “paying” fans) utilize this type of media frequently and stay connected with the game in this fashion. And as the Wall Street Journal has chronicled, dying baseball participation among American youth is an alarming future problem (WSJ). Unfortunately, MLB ignores this marketing tool for youth and shuts down any of its content that reaches YouTube faster than Mariano Rivera shuts down a ninth inning.

Staying with digital media, MLB Advanced Media has created a mobile application called “MLB – At Bat” that has to rank near the top in fan apps for leagues and does deserve credit. It is user friendly and has great features, including in-game highlights (just minutes after they happen), and most importantly efficient and high quality live streaming home and away broadcasts of every game. But, the $15 asking price is a little steep for a mobile app, so it will probably only reach a small percentage of fans. The price therefore fails when comparing to the NFL mobile app, which is free for Verizon customers.

I’m going to finish my therapy session talking salary cap – specifically the need to implement a salary floor (not ceiling) in the next CBA. As revealed in Deadspin’s glaring article last year detailing team’s financial records, the way owners are neglecting to spend shared revenue money on baseball operations is offensive (Deadspin). Forcing teams to spend a higher amount will help create more competitive balance - a paramount element of MLB’s overall success. As much as traditional major baseball markets thrive, a disproportionate amount of small market teams are fading into oblivion. MLB, unlike the NBA, cannot sustain that unbalanced model going forward without continuing to lose fan interest with younger demographics.

Those are major starting points I want baseball to work on for the betterment of our relationship. Of course, I could also bring up the subject of division realignment, adding wild card teams, interleague play, drug testing, etc. But, I don’t want to nag. 

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