4 Innings of Great Baseball Sparking an Economic Question

September 3, 2009

TBR

The first four innings of the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox September 2nd game contained everything I love about baseball. Oddly enough, it caused me to think about some of the major problems I have with Major League Baseball despite my sincere fandom of it.

Since I’m not really a fan or opponent of either team, I just happened to begin by rooting for the Sox but soon began to root for the Rays upon seeing their entire team exemplify to the audience and the viewers at home how to do everything right on the field and at the plate.

A depressing sight, however, occurred anytime the cameras panned the stands—which were practically empty. The commentators stated that it was unusual for a team playing very successfully and that had just been to the World Series the previous year to draw such dismal numbers. The Rays have been drawing several thousand under the average MLB team attendance this season. The sportscasters suggested that the local Florida fans had already fled for college football. While narrating they reiterated the oddity of local fans not supporting such a winning team but said that (to paraphrase) “however you wish to spend you disposable income in such an economy is up to you, but it’s just odd.”

So despite the excellent baseball I was seeing, I began to wonder how the national pastime would continue if the recession lasted a significantly long period of time. I could go on yet another rant about baseball being better than football in a historic, artistic and cultural manner and digress that it’s simply symbolic of short attention spans and degraded culture that has caused the almost usurpation of baseball by football. I’d do so primarily in jest, even though I can’t help but believe small aspects of those arguments, but that’s not the direction I thought in nor where I am going with this now. No, here I was watching Major League Baseball on a public television set—I don’t even have cable so unless the game’s on a network available by antennae I’m not getting it at home. I also quite clearly wasn’t at the park paying the ticket price to see it. So the organization wasn’t making a dime off of me no matter how much I enjoyed it. If the recession continued a long time, the general public simply wouldn’t have time or money to spend to go out to the big game. By the time a family pays for gas to the park, tickets to the game and a few concessions, they’re looking at over a hundred dollars for an afternoon’s entertainment.

How could we bring down the cost to see the big game? Of course many will still pay their large cable and satellite prices. Many will pay the additional dozens of dollars a month to expand that to get things like “Season Pass” to catch all the games no longer available for the general public on basic cable. Eventually, though, if there aren’t enough people in the seats something has to give.

How would the cost come down? Well, let’s see….these players are making millions of dollars to play this game. When that much money is going to the people playing, the tickets have to be expensive. If this game is truly a national pastime, how about we lower the ticket prices and fill the stands?

Here the argument becomes one very comparable to a complaint many have over health care reform (believe it or not). A common fear expressed by some Health Care Reform opponents is that if we pay doctors less we won’t have doctor’s that work as hard, we won’t have the drive for technological and medical breakthroughs and we’ll fall behind. A recent AP article took on 5 common health care myths and in addressing this one, mentioned many of the products, techniques and breakthroughs we use in the US that emerged from medical communities in France, Germany and Canada under socialized health care plans. Well, when it comes to baseball, the argument is that salary caps and cut pay rates for players accustomed to lavish lifestyles will result in the greats dropping out and the powerhouse years coming to a close. As much as I love many of the players raking in big money and I do recognize that many of them devote decent chunks of their money to needed community programs, I feel that even if they were to leave, there’d still be those that are just hungry to play the game. Look at the minor leagues alone. Ninety percent of those playing in AA and AAA teams will never see the big leagues. Granted, most of them have the hope or even the confidence that someday they will and that in that day they will make millions. Yet many, if not most, players in these leagues probably realize the odds say they won’t and yet continue to play very hard every time. These players make less than most middle class workers. They also spend their time shuttled around on the roads playing in out of the way parks for sometimes uninterested viewers. They wear their bodies out and live pretty hard. Yet many of them play the game with complete heart. So, say the average Major League player goes from making millions a year to making $400-500,000 a year. That’s still quite a bit more than an AA player making $20,000. Add fame, recognition and all the perks and do you really think the average AA or AAA player will struggle less to make the jump to the big leagues?

If we really want to return Baseball to its rightful place as a national Pastime and a populist sport, a drastic cut in salaries and restructuring could do that. I say this begrudgingly I guess, because I love the game and I love the big name players, the World Series, the entire thing and it’s so big scale now that a drastic restructuring would shake it up completely. Will this happen? Almost certainly not. Should it? Yes. Will I continue to watch either way? Yeah.

I love MLB, movies, music and entertainment. Yet hearing the sportscasters lament that the stands weren’t full and that our expendable income was our choice (but “hint-hint” we should probably spend it at the baseball park) made it appear even odder to me that in a recession, we the fans are asked to show our support. We the fans who make between 20,000 and maybe $200,000 a year are to support those that make 2 million and up a year? I hope the amount these players are giving back to the community and the world has gone up tremendously in these hard times, yet I doubt it’s gone up enough. Why do we pay those that entertain us so much better than we pay those that protect us, save our lives, treat us in clinics, educate us and serve us?

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