The Politics of the Diamond: How Baseball Endures

Politics of the Diamond

Sports are  having all kinds of trouble in 2011. You may have heard The NFL is enduring a lockout, that the NBA has one looming.  Baseball, however, seems to be the only sport continuing without some sort of labor debacle–despite the fact that the current collective bargaining agreement (the rules which players and owners agree to) expires in December.  Yes, it seems that baseball will continue, even though the Major Leagues face their own crises.

Although the NBA had a shortened season in 1998-99, the most devastating work stoppage in America’s big 3 sports was the 1994 MLB strike.  (The worst strike of all would be the 2004-05 NHL strike, but that’s a story for another time).  The 1994 baseball season ended abruptly in August that year, and no post-season was held.  People were pissed.  After the strike ended, attendance and TV ratings plummeted.  Baseball was in shambles.  Not until Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr, and Mark McGuire’s home run races of the late 90s did baseball really recover.  Of course, that solution only created more problems.

All of this is to say that baseball, more than any other sport, realizes the perils of cancelling games, and it makes sense that they are doing what it takes to keep baseball being played.  While football owners seem content to cancel one or even two seasons of football, baseball owners know what happens if that occurs–and its not good.  Hopefully football and basketball won’t have to learn these lessons the hard way.

Not to say that baseball doesn’t have its own problems.  It does–and they are significant.  First of all, people aren’t coming to see baseball at the same rate as they have been.  Whether it is the weather, or the quality of ball being played, or just the behavior of the fans in the stands, people aren’t showing up–and baseball’s leaders don’t seem to care.  This, in my opinion, is a mistake.  This is a problem that is going to have to be addressed–Barry Bonds isn’t walking through that door (because he’s headed to prison).  Furthermore, baseball has two ownership crises with some of its marquee franchises–the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Although these problems are sure to be solved, they point to some unhealthiness in the league, for sure.

No matter what the problems with baseball, the sport is resilient and defies expectations.  For instance, although it is the only major American sport without a salary cap, it has crowned nine different champions in ten different years–giving it sport’s greatest parity.  And although attendance appears to be waning, baseball still draws more fans than the NFL, NHL, and NBA do combined.  And even though MLB has some seriously draconian video policies, it’s online subscription model is fantastic (seriously, it’s great.  I have, and I love it).   So, while other sports are headed for some real labor struggles this year, baseball steers clear.  Which gives it plenty of time and effort to spend dealing with its other, equally significant, problems.


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