Why Do Team Owners Hate Baseball?
It has long been my suspicion that the people who own and run baseball do not actually like the sport.
Otherwise, why would they keep meddling with it, almost as if to drive people away?
From my old-timey point of view, I think the self-destruction got worse with the designated hitter, and continued with a glut of interleague play that has demolished the old September pennant confrontations.
The owners’ documented sins have included collusion on salaries, neglect of the steroid evidence, the noise and gimmick bombardment at games, which generally begin so late (on the East Coast) as to make sure young people never get the flow of the game.
(I could rant about the sterile network blather in the recent World Series, but I won't.)
In recent years, the owners have avoided hints of technological sign-stealing, and have been complicit in the doctored baseballs that their launch-arc “hitters” try to propel prodigious distances, feeling no shame at striking out.
Now it’s even worse. The owners are planning to strangle the ancient network of minor-league teams and leagues in the smaller cities of America. There is currently a plot to demolish 42 teams in places where people can enjoy baseball for, let’s say, five bucks.
The owners, who have feared anti-trust penalties over the years, are ripe for Congressional oversight with this caper, if Congress were functioning, that is.
The owners -- who by the way spend millions and millions on marginal "major-league" players -- are trying to save a few dollars in minimal salaries to hopeful prospects, the vast majority of whom will never get close to a major-league uniform. But the farmhands perform the game with zest and hope, spitting and scratching and posturing for the home fans in generally balmy weather in the ancient ritual of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
The owners have figured it out that the compliant college system is producing prospects, as are the hard barrios of Latin America and baseball-centric Asian nations like Japan and South Korea. So why subsidize these towns “out there” – when in fact it seems these 42 minor-league teams have subsidized our generous owners?
For a glimpse of how it works, the New York Times dispatched one of its very best writers, Dan Barry, to Lexington, Ky., hardly a backwater town. Commissioner Rob Manfred has targeted Lexington and its league to be dropped off, like an elder left at a dog-track, or a litter of kittens given a sporting transfer to the town dump.
One of the principal tasks in the job description of sports commissioners is the shakedown of towns hopeful of keeping, or gaining, a franchise. Like a thug out of “The Sopranos” or a rogue President menacing a vulnerable nation like Ukraine, commissioners go around putting the squeeze on towns to upgrade ballparks in America’s outback.
“Nice little place you got here,” sports commissioners say. “Be a shame if you lost it because you didn’t have better bathrooms or lights or public-address systems” (or bat racks, for goodness’ sakes.)
Now baseball is going to red-line the minor leagues. The “sport” lives on a history of prospects like Babe Ruth pitching and taking his hacks in his home-town minor-league Baltimore, or a skinny kid pitcher named Stan Musial living in a rented room in Williamson, W. Va,, where the Cardinals sent their hordes of desperate (white) prospects during the Depression. Or fans around Lynchburg, Va., who still remember effervescent young Dwight Gooden in 1983, when he was 18 years old, with his 19-4 record and 300 strikeouts.
The legend of the minors is that almost nobody ever makes it to what Kevin Costner’s character calls “The Show” in the immortal “Bull Durham.” (I never heard that phrase until the movie came out.) But in fact, the Mets’ 1983 roster in Lynchburg contains around a dozen players I recognize as having made “The Show,” including skinny young Lenny Dykstra before he got muscles on his muscles one winter.
The minors are part of our American legend. My friend Jerry Rosenthal played two years in the Milwaukee Braves system; I love his tales of talented teammates like Rico Carty and Bill Robinson, the bus rides, the gritty managers, admirable hitting coaches – Dixie Walker! Andy Pafko! Look ‘em up, kids -- and the weekend he outhit a Cub prospect named Lou Brock. (Jerry has the box scores to prove it.)
The minor leagues are the soul of the sport but the owners do not seem to know this. They should cut a few Analytics Types and let baseball people teach the next wave how to make contact (like Jeff McNeil, the professional hitter who embarrassed the Mets last year -- by succeeding.)
The owners have what you might call their own thing; they control the American sport, and are cutting out the fringe people in the heartland.
* * *
(The great Dan Barry, writing from Lexington, Ky.)
(Dwight Gooden’s stats for the summer of ’83.)
11/20/2019 10:48:51 am
11/20/2019 04:23:33 pm
George sad but true. I remember back in the late 1950’s I wa a kid in Michigan City Indiana watching a minor league game with Juan Marichal pitching ...a. full windup and a high kick that almost went vertical. How exciting and great memories.
11/21/2019 08:50:59 am
Dennis: the same lefty Dennis with the 0.90 ERA that led the nation for Hofstra in 1960? That Dennis?
11/21/2019 08:48:27 am
Randy: Page 71, "Stan Musial, An American Life:" Musial wandered into the wrong house one evening, but was escorted safely to his own room next door. Also, Geneva Zando Fiery, your mom, would tell you about seeing Musial at Mass in Williamson.
11/21/2019 01:33:35 pm
11/24/2019 09:17:02 am
George: When you speak of ball players becoming part of the community, I assume you're talking about communities where minor league teams played, but this was also true in the case of one major league team: our Brooklyn Dodgers, of course. I once spoke with someone who grew up near Ebbets Field -- the same Ebbets Field to which you and Marianne so generously took Guadalupe and me, on a pilgrimage of sorts, back in 2014. My friend said he ran into Dodger players frequently on the buses and in the supermarkets.
11/24/2019 09:56:37 am
Gene: I remember that day -- lunch in Park Slope, pilgrimage to the site of EF. I have subjected Marianne and "kids" to that tour. Yes, people talk about seeing Gil Hodges in a store in Flatbush. Many Dodgers rented in Bay Ridge. There is a story about an aging father and middle-aged son knocking on a door in Bay Ridge in, let;s say, the 80s, and the older man told the lady of the house, "Hello, ma'am, my name is Harold Reese and we used to...." She said, "I know who you are, PeeWee," and she gave them a tour of their old house.
11/20/2019 10:55:22 am
I agree 100%. My office has an annual outing to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones. Kitschy fun. Where else are you going to see a hot dog race, shake hands with human-sized seagulls, and watch a 20 minute stalement between a switch hitter and a "switch pitcher" as one, then the other, would step out and switch sides, repeating ad nauseum without a pitch being thrown? Yet the real payoff came in 2015 when the Mets made one of their must interesting and fun runs to and in the postseason. A truly fun team. And I recall, one with tons of homegrown talent. I'd seen probably half that team as minor leaguers -- including the beloved, if erratic, Murph -- under the lights and rides at Coney.
11/21/2019 08:53:57 am
Josh: Plus, the view of Coney Island and the refreshing ocean air add to the experience. And, minor leagues are where big-leaguers go for a rehab game or three. Only time I went to Staten Island Yankees was to see El Duque make a rehab start, early in September, 2001 -- great view of the WTC on the ferry back.
Bill Wakefield (Mets '64) via George Vecsey
11/20/2019 12:11:40 pm
My friend Bill Wakefield, who pitched so well for Mets in 1964, later was a mentor to younger pitchers in Met farm system, (Nolan Ryan, i.e.) Bill sent me this email and said I could post it:
11/20/2019 02:58:08 pm
Wonderful piece George and I'm crossing fingers that the scythe that MLB is trying to put through the minors under someone named Morgan Sword (no kidding!) can be dulled somewhat if not discarded. Your reference to the term "The Show" to describe the majors sent me to google and it wasn't any help. I first read the term in writings of the excellent sportswriters Tom Boswell and Bob Ryan in the late 70s/early 80s. Boswell said many ballplayers showed disdain for sportswriter-ink stained wretches (now carpal-tunnel-challenged writers) by calling them "green flies at The Show." I would not be surprised if the term goes back to early 20th century when many players had vaudeville acts in off-season. But it's just a guess. I don't think the great Ring Lardner ever used the term.
11/21/2019 08:58:54 am
Lee, thanks for the comment, and for forwarding my piece to our mutual friend. Ball player language varies by the generation, Dick Young -- the great baseball writer of my childhood -- had a great ear for the language of dugout and clubhouse. He knew (and added to) the nicknames on the Dodgers -- Carl Furillo was Skoonj (scungili) and George Shuba was Shotgun. And from my mentor Jack Mann at Newsday, I learned ball-player language (and Marine language). When I displayed my crabby side in the office, I was accused ot having "the red ass" -- dugout term for cranky umpires.
11/20/2019 05:39:54 pm
The human cost - affordable family entertainment in small cities - summer jobs for young people - and for many owners, their life savings- this is a massive human tragedy.
11/21/2019 02:27:19 am
11/21/2019 09:04:48 am
Bruce, Fair enough about "playoffs." Baseball needed to expand, and you couldn't have one two-team World Series.
11/21/2019 09:15:14 am
11/21/2019 09:39:26 am
Bruce: quite right about DH prolonging careers. Tommy Davis, great guy, Boys High in Brooklyn, played many years as DH with ruined leg from
11/21/2019 09:51:48 am
11/21/2019 02:28:04 pm
Bruce: Willie Davis. No. 3. CF
11/21/2019 04:34:11 pm
11/22/2019 05:54:25 pm
Memory time.My friend Bob Ludwig, a fine fundraiser for our Albertson Disability Center, played second base in Giants system, rising As high as Triple A Jersey City as a second baseman. He would explain his failure to reach the show as “Not good enough-not thrown out arm, etc.”
11/22/2019 07:15:01 pm
11/22/2019 07:54:24 pm
On the other side of the spectrum we here in Wichita are getting a brand new fancy stadium and a triple a team for the Marlins with a gadawful name. But what I missed about minor league ball was watching the guys I just knew were going to be big leaguers and then seeing them on tv that is great fun and it sucks hard lots of folks aren't going to have that fun. I wonder about MLB sometimes.
11/24/2019 03:37:33 pm
Very important piece George. Hopefully, more media will follow the same course. The foundation of the game we love is slowly, but surely, slipping away.
11/24/2019 05:02:01 pm
James: nice to see your name in the Comments. The great thing about baseball -- and other sports, too -- is that the fans have roots in their own community. Baseball is perpetuated by older generations talking about it. It gives me chills to see analytics types having such a big influence on baseball. I once heard Tony LaRussa, when he was managing the Cardinals in a World Series, say that he had not yet seen "Moneyball," and he added that he knew a lot of "baseball people" put out of work by the reliance on stats rather than observation. I still trust the scouts who sit/sat in good seats and observed players up close. Or the scouts who say on camp chairs at college games, observing not only the tools but the "intangibles" of players. I trust that knowledge.
11/26/2019 04:06:34 pm
One of the things to be thankful for at this holiday season is George’s timely and insightful posts. As the NYT and other sports news continue to amaze me with the idiocy of the owners, he is a reality check.
12/17/2019 03:53:45 pm
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.