Academic journal article Nine

What's Wrong with Baseball? (Triple Play)

Academic journal article Nine

What's Wrong with Baseball? (Triple Play)

Article excerpt

What's wrong with baseball? It depends who you ask. According to the owners of small-market teams, there's not enough revenue sharing. If you ask the fans of these teams, they will tell you there is a lack of competitiveness in the league. Lifelong Cub fans will tell you it's mismanagement in the front office. And players will argue that there is nothing wrong with baseball. (How could there be? The average salary is over $2 million.)

Two recent books--one, Fair Ball, by well-known sportscaster Bob Costas; the other, Stadium Games, by Jay Weiner, a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune--give their individual views of what's wrong with baseball and what can be done to fix it. (1) Costas argues passionately from a fan's perspective and plays right into the hands of owners of small-market teams and their chief sympathizer, Commissioner Bud Selig (coincidentally, the former owner of a small-market team) when he argues for substantial revenue sharing among owners and submission to a salary cap for players. Weiner focuses on the ills of the stadium game and puts forth a plan to end the current method of municipal charity to corporate billionaires.

Both books are interesting in part, off the mark in part, and entertaining overall. The Costas tome is an easier read than Weiner's book, which is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the history of professional sports stadiums in the Minneapolis--St. Paul area. Weighing in at 500 pages, Weiner's book does a thorough job of covering his topic. Costas, on the other hand, has written a much lighter, less substantial book. Weiner's book bogs down at times with its focus on detail, and it can be difficult to keep track of the scores of people he introduces. The reader is rewarded for the effort, however, because Weiner provides a rare insight into the machinations of the stadium game. While Costas will bowl over no one with his logic, scholarship, or intellect, his book is reader friendly, entertaining, and sure to pique the ire of many fans. Costas lays into both management and players, exposing their greed, which he cites as the root of baseball's current problem.

The problem with both books is that they fail to fully understand the economics of professional sports. Costas is especially guilty of this. He fails to offer a shred of evidence to back up his claims concerning baseball's problems. He merely echoes the prevailing popular opinion (espoused first and foremost by the owners) that the bifurcation of baseball into large- and small-market teams is ruining the game. Nevertheless, he is ready to offer a fairly complicated, convoluted, and somewhat ad hoc solution to these problems. In the end, the greatest weakness of his argument is also its strength: he speaks from the soul, as a true baseball fan. All he wants is a return to the "good old days," when baseball was played on the field and business was done in the background. He is not so naive as to believe that baseball was ever anything more than a business, but he does prefer the bliss of ignorance. And he has a point. Most baseball fans are much more interested in the compelling game played on the field than in the confusing game played in the front office. Pitching duels, circus catches, and dramatic home runs are much more interesting than contract clauses, free agent defections, and cable television deals. For this reason, Costas's book should get a lot of play and have appeal to a wide audience. Weiner's book, on the other hand, is better written and well documented and researched, but it will be less appealing to the average baseball fan because it focuses little on the game on the field. Instead, it is a textbook study of how the stadium game is played. It is revealing, educational and, understandably, a bit dry.

Both men propose solutions to the problems they discuss. While the solutions that Costas proposes would affect all teams and their fans, Weiner's solutions would primarily impact those few towns that are on the professional sports population fringe and are serious threats to lose a team if they do not build a new, publicly funded, state-of-the-art, revenue-gathering stadium to enrich their tenants. …

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