In 2014 and going into 2015, all the talk in baseball world was pace of play and length of games. Yet this season for various factors, games are taking a good bit longer to play. One of my theories is that strikeouts are way up in the modern game and fewer outs are recorded as a result from double plays and runners caught trying to advance on either a stolen base or stretching a hit an extra 90 feet. With the high focus now also on on-base percentage, walks are as valued as hitting safely, so batters are walking more and striking out more than ever. This is reinforced by the focus on power pitching, which goes all out for the wif and seems to put less value on the art of changing speeds and pitch locations, sacrificing overall control.
Obviously some games that go 4, 5 and beyond 6 hours are the legendary extra inning contests. So this focus will be taking a look at games that were just 9 innings in length and 4 hours or longer in total playing time.
Using baseball reference, I compiled a list of games that fit this dataset, which covers everything from 1913 through Wednesday May 18, 2016, the night prior to the writing of this post.
How rare were such games at one time? Only three took place prior to the 1961 expansion, one each in 1916, 1925 and 1926. The fourth game was on June 22, 1962, an 11-9 Braves win over the Giants. The giants and Dodgers played a similar game on October 2, 1962, a loss to the Dodgers. It would be 21 more years until July 10, 1983 when the Brewers took a 12-9 victory against the White Sox in 4:11. Such games became a tad more frequent starting with #7, a June 8, 1986 Yankees Orioles contest. The 1986-1989 seasons each saw one such game, and all the games starting with that 1983 contest to this point were AL games using the DH. After 1990 was free of such games, a then record four were played in 1991, again all in the AL: White Sox v Red Sox May 15, Tigers v White Sox august 14, White Sox V Rangers on September 6 and Red Sox v Mariners on September 7. Three such games were played in 1992, four in 1993, four in 1994 and three in 1995, the ladder two shortened seasons. Still, all these games were in the AL. the record jumped to six such games in 1996, including a pair in the NL, Dodgers v Rockies June 30, Marlins v Padres July 27. That record of six would again be tied in 1999, 2 AL, 2 NL, and 2 interleague games.
From 1916 to 1999, 47 such games were played, with 37 of those between 1991 and 1999.
But then came 2000 and 13 such games alone that season, more than double the prior record. It returned to more normal values of three and four games the next two seasons, jumped to five in 2003 and then shockingly none in 2004, the first such season since 1990. The 2005-2007 seasons produced four, two and eight such games, with a drop to five in 2008. The 2009-2011 seasons produced totals of four, six and three such games. Since then, a spike, ten in 2012, eight in 2013, a record 16 in 2014, then a drop to six in 2015, yet 2016 has already had six such games and the season is not quite a quarter of the way to its conclusion, a record breaking pace. When we realize that strikeouts and walks are making up a combined 30% of all MLB plate appearance conclusions, it makes for a game that drags and is not as active. If strikeouts were reduced to 17% and walks to 6% of all play outcomes, that reduces the number of such plate appearance conclusions by over 25%, meaning 25% of those plate appearances would turn into action resulting in hits or defensive plays and thus faster and more crisp games. If MLB is serious about dealing with this issue, then perhaps it will accidently address another one, arm injuries.
I am not a doctor, but I believe we are pushing vilosity at the expense of career length when it comes to pitchers, now that everyone brought into a big league game seems to throw 90 or more. If we went back to valuing pitchers for their ability as a pitching artist, rather than just looking at who can send the radar gun to triple digits, we would have a crop of pitchers who were more durable. It would mean more balls in play, but it would allow for a faster game and yes, a game that could then maximize the defensive value that now is rightfully being placed on players. If strikeouts dip, those defensive positioning and shifts are going to be all the more important and it would also encourage teams to employ speed guys who could bunt against the defensive shift in place.
These are just my views of course, but I wonder who agrees with me on this theory?
During the Thursday press conference when Rob Manfred said it was much easier to work with division of 4’s than divisions of 5’s, that signals what MLB likely would look like under a 32 team structure, eight divisions of four teams each.
When the radicle realignment was met with great anger in 1997, it was quickly shelved, a proposal that would have aligned the leagues geographically into a 16 team circuit with eight teams each in the western and central part of the continent, with two divisions of seven in the east. The Brewers would become the first team in history to switch leagues later that year, but it was a natural fit as Milwaukee was originally a NL market when the Braves moved in back in 1953. The reaction was more positive among Brewer fans who had identified with the NL style during the golden day’s of Milwaukee baseball. A polar opposite reaction occurred in Houston when the leagues were finally evened out at 15 each starting in 2013, as the Astros fan base did not take kindly to the switch from NL to AL, this blogger among them.
But now we see an ever evolving game with regular interleague play and some day many believe, the DH in both leagues, which will effectively bring an end to the difference in league identity that has marked the game my entire life time, as I was born just weeks before the first DH games in 1973.
Knowing that such changes are likely on the horizon, it is easier to imagine what some new alignments might look like under a divisional system with eight groupings of four teams each. Assuming as I have before that the new expansion teams would be in Montreal and San Antonio, and also assuming that the Athletics and Rays do not relocate, here are some possible scenarios. For team names, I will use the historic Missions name that San Antonio has been known for during much of its minor league history, and we all know that Montreal will gladly welcome back the Expos name and colors. Note that because of geography, right now five of the eight teams in the western US are in one division while three are in the other, someone, either the Rockies, Diamondbacks, or Padres will have to make a switch.
Astros and Diamondbacks switch leagues, Missions to NL, Expos to AL.
AL West: Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Diamondbacks.
AL Central: Rangers, Royals, twins, White Sox.
AL East: Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox.
Al North: Expos, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians.
NL West: Rockies, Padres, Dodgers, Giants.
NL Central: Missions, Astros, Braves, Marlins.
NL East: Nationals, Pirates, Phillies, Mets.
NL North: Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Reds.
More radicle realignment, focusing more on geographic rivals though same city teams would not share divisions.
Missions to AL, Expos to NL, Braves and Diamondbacks move to AL, Blue Jays and Rays move to NL.
AL West: same as before, Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Diamondbacks.
AL Central: Missions, Astros, Rangers, Royals.
AL East: Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves.
AL North: Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Indians.
NL West: Same as before, Giants, Dodgers, padres, Rockies.
NL Central: Using the NL North from scenario 1, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds.
NL East, Marlins, Rays, Pirates, Phillies.
NL North: Nationals, Mets, Expos, blue Jays.
Four leagues with two divisions each. Interleague play would still exist with the other three leagues. The union would never go for this option, but think about how historic this would be based on the below layout.
East: Braves, Phillies, Pirates, Reds.
West: Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants.
West: Athletics, Twins, white Sox, Tigers.
East: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Indians.
Continental League, the 1960’s expansion teams.
West: Angels, Padres, Rangers, Astros.
East: Brewers, Royals, Nationals, Mets.
Federal League, most recent expansion teams.
West: Mariners, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Missions.
East: marlins, Rays, Expos, Blue Jays.
MLB expansion, Montreal must be considered favorite: San Antonio and Vancouver could battle for second prize or relocation
Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that while baseball needs to first resolve the stadium issues that confront the Rays and Athletics, expansion is in the long term view of the sport. He also said that it is important to keep those clubs in their current markets, which means MLB unlike the other major sports leagues truly wants to try and maintain those two ball clubs in their current markets. Clearly any market that could offer relocation to the Rays or Athletics would first also be required to have a place for the team to play temporarily and only a small number of cities can make such a claim. Those same cities will of course be on the short list for expansion to 32 teams as well.
I have read some columns in recent days that talk about how baseball doesn’t have enough markets that would be a good fit for the sport, and yet we have to remind ourselves that baseball has five duel markets, by far the most of any of the five major sports leagues. The NHL has two teams in greater Los Angeles and Anaheim, three in greater New York with teams in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Newark. The NFL has three such markets, Baltimore and Washington have successfully coexisted for over 60 years, minus the 12 year period from 1984-1995 that the Baltimore team was high jacked to Indianapolis, only to have Baltimore obtain its replacement in a similar manner from Cleveland. The Giants and Jets have shared the same stadium for the last 32 years and have played in the same New York market together since 1960. The Raiders have always shared a market too, with the 49ers during their time in Oakland, and with the Rams during their time in Los Angeles. The Raiders might be a year from joining the Rams back in L.A., after both left in 1995. The NBA has the same pair of duel markets, New York and Los Angeles, though the Warriors and Kings are 80 miles apart in Oakland and Sacramento and MLS will have the same arrangement within another year or two. MLB has all four of those dual markets in greater Los Angeles, the bay area, New York and Baltimore-DC, plus a fifth dual market that has the longest shared history, the Cubs and White Sox have both been in Chicago together for the last 116 seasons.
If you look at existing NFL cities that don’t have an MLB team, the list of landing spots for relocation and expansion are Charlotte, New Orleans, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Nashville. Ironically, none of them have a viable MLB stadium option. The NFL stadiums in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and buffalo are not able to be configured for baseball. Buffalo does have the largest minor league baseball facility that could potentially be expanded to serve as an MLB venue and do note that all of these cities accept Jacksonville are AAA markets, Jacksonville is in the AA Southern League. New Orleans could at one time configure the Superdome for baseball, though it had been updated to a locked in football configuration and it would cost a good chunk of change to redesign the dome for baseball. MLB surely would prefer that a new stadium just be built. Indianapolis has the very multipurpose oriented Lucas Oil Stadium, though to my knowledge this venue could not be configured for baseball, though perhaps it could serve as a temporary home if a team were to arrive, waiting for the baseball facility to be built. The same locked configuration would eliminate Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, which did host a three game set in 1997 though even now, a Honolulu franchise presents a unique timezone travel problem.
The two cities that have large stadiums that could host baseball ironically don’t have NFL teams, though one, Montreal is in the CFL. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is by far the best temporary venue as it was at least built with baseball in mind and that configuration still is in full operation. San Antonio is the other city which found a way to take the Alamodome that had never been built with baseball in mind, shoe horning a diamond into a football structure as was done in the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Dodgers until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
Looking at other NHL and NBA cities that could host MLB, the candidates would be IN addition to the afore mentioned Montreal and San Antonio, a group that includes Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Orlando, Ottawa, Columbus, Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Of these, Vancouver is the only one with a large stadium that could host baseball, though the ability to configure the stadium to baseball there was as I understand it also taken away with restructuring following the Olympics.
When we look at the last three expansions in MLB< the stadium plans tell a big story about how the teams would do long term. IN 1977, the Mariners moved into a massive dome stadium, planned for them and the football Seahawks who arrived the prior fall. King Dome was never a good baseball facility and bad management the first 14 years of the franchise didn’t help matters. Toronto played in what was best described as an outdated multisport facility, but a well-run franchise and great fan interest helped the team survive, as the now rogers Center begun to be planned in 1983. The teams that got it right as far as stadium work was concerned also happened to be more successful at the gate. The Rockies came in knowing that they would play two seasons at Mile High, a football venue that could also capably host baseball, moving into Coors Field in 1995. The diamondbacks had no stadium to call home when they were awarded to Phoenix in 1995, but plans were already on the board to build the retractable Chase Field and it opened on time in 1998. The marlins thought they had a viable plan moving into a stadium that was intentionally built for them and for the football Dolphins. It became apparent within a few years though that it was not as ideal of a facility for baseball given the Florida climate. Climate was not the issue when the already built Tropicana Field finally earned its right to host a team, when the then Devil Rays arrived in 1998, but its location is sited as a reason for lackluster attendance ever since the first season of the Rays franchise. IN fact, the Rays only averaged 30,000 in their first year, the Marlins were over 32,000 in their second year, a large drop followed aided in part by the 1994-95 strike. The Diamondbacks would average over 30,000 for several seasons until 2005, the Rockies would do the same for the first 10 years they existed and Denver and the Colorado franchise by far has been the most successful in terms of attendance.
Now, let’s look at every city on this list of possible expansion and relocation sites, and I will give my reasons for yes or no.
First the no column and a brief comment on each.
Portland, lost AAA baseball twice and has no real effort to build a baseball worthy facility on the board at even the minor league level. Sacramento, too close to a pair of existing teams, would only get team as relocation option if Athletics move from Oakland. Salt Lake City, with a caveat, has no facility that could be expanded to MLB capacity, though given support for NBA Jazz for last 30 years, market the size of Kansas City would clearly support a winner and market is more comfortable western option for MLB than Vegas for obvious reasons, so it could rise like Phoenix into a franchise and local fan base is not full of snow bird transplants like Florida . Oklahoma City, concern over market size and interest in the fall would be more about the two local college football teams and the coming Thunder NBA season. Memphis, a nice geographic fit between Dallas, St. Louis and Atlanta, but support for NBA team has always been among bottom third of the league and baseball has twice as many tickets to sell for each game and twice as many home dates. Orlando, see Miami and Tampa bay, too much else to do, too many transplants who would come to root, root, root for the road team. Ottawa, not a viable option as the market is too small and Montreal has what the capitol of the Great White North does not have, a history with the game. Columbus, growing market but fans there are loyal to Reds and Indians, plus Ohio State athletics. Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, all hockey markets that have or are now facing the possible loss of a team. Winnipeg would geographically work the best as it is not far from the US border and would be an easy road trip when joined to Minnesota, but the Gold eyes won’t be in MLB. Charlotte and Nashville, both candidates with a similar case that could be made along the lines of Salt Lake City. Fans are very enthusiastic about their local pro teams, but unlike SLC, college sports is a more dominant force in these markets and Charlotte has a lot of sunbelt transplants that could create a situation similar to Florida or at least to Atlanta which has never been known as a baseball attendance hot bed. New Orleans, was on the radar of relocation for the Athletics around 1980, but issues with local economy and recovery still after hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, the market does not seem to be ready for an MLB team. Jacksonville, market too small, has been rumored at times to be possibly losing Jaguars, though location would fit nicely within existing MLB alignment, but JAX has never been mentioned on any list of expansion consideration. Buffalo, at one time a city that really was on the short list for MLB expansion, but downturns in the local economy mean that if the city did get a team, it could be a replay of what we see now in Cleveland with lower attendance and weather problems would force this team to get a stadium that could at least be covered like Safeco, but it would need a very strong structure to hold the weight of the heavy lake effect snow. Indianapolis, has a large stadium that could be retrofitted for baseball perhaps, though here too, the story would likely be more like what is mentioned for Salt Lake City, building a stadium from the ground up if a team is awarded.
This leaves three candidates, Montreal and San Antonio plus Vancouver. Mexico City would be on the list as well, but the question here is how does baseball deal with an exchange rate and a perception income that is a third that of the US and Canadian markets. For me, the yes column clearly is Montreal if they agree to build a stadium, with San Antonio and Vancouver in a battle for the second franchise. Mexico City will get a lot of talk as a candidate, but its odds are too long in my estimation.
If If the stadium mess is not resolved for the Rays or Athletics, the loser out of the Vancouver and San Antonio contest could be the future home of the green and gold.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about the future stadium issues that would be likely haunting baseball fans as many ballpark leases signed in the 1990’s would start coming due. Well the Diamondbacks have started making threats of leaving and the lease they signed with Phoenix and the county still has 9 guaranteed seasons of Diamondbacks baseball to be played at Chase Field.
When this news broke with dueling press conferences on Thursday held by the team and by the officials with the stadium district, it only made me cringe. ON one hand, the baseball team says that the county has not paid for what they claim are $187 million in payments needed to maintain the ballpark. This in terms of contract obligation if true would seem to leave the locals on the hook for said repairs, but the Diamondbacks are likely to get a cold reception by the tax paying community in Arizona, since they just saw the team hand out a $203 million contract over the next 7 years for one of the league’s elite pitchers.
Beyond this though, where will the team go if it did leave. NO major city worth its money in gold will ever build a stadium for a team that it does not already have or will gain through expansion or relocation. St. Petersburg built a stadium before it had a team and by the time an actual team did exist, the facility was nearly a decade outdated, no one will make that mistake again. That leaves two choices, Montreal which still has its Olympic Stadium that was home to the Expos through 2004, and another city which built a stadium, San Antonio. The Alamo dome was home to the NBA Spurs for 10 years until they got a new arena and the NFL team San Antonio thought it could get with the dome when it opened in 1993, that team still does not exist. At best, Montreal’s big O would be a temporary venue until a new baseball specific stadium opened in 2-3 seasons. MLB won’t let a team go their until that deal is signed, sealed and delivered on the desk of Rob Manfred. As for San Antonio, the Alamo dome is at best a temporary venue along the same lines, as a baseball diamond would be shoehorned into the facility the way that it was done in the Los Angeles Coliseum for four years while Dodger Stadium was built. The only difference, right field rather than left would be the cheap side of the park for homers that would be outs anywhere else in the big leagues.
The other reason the Diamondbacks stated as the need for upgrades though is at the same time petty and childish sounding. The reason, Chase Field will be the third oldest facility in the National League behind Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field. Give me a damn break, the place is eighteen years old. Ballparks used to be built as long tern construction projects that would last many generations, yet the Diamondbacks like the Braves are copping an attitude that says, we must be in the newest, greatest, most modern facility to compete. So with that argument, folks in Houston, Cleveland, Arlington, Denver, Baltimore, the south side of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Seattle all must plan to fork over a billion dollars apiece or lose their teams in the next 5-15 years? If this is where MLB is headed, it will forever lose its credibility as a sports organization and what was once a growth touted by Mr. Manfred will be a great contraction. Cities and states are not going to be held hostage by these henchman asking for corporate Welfare and let’s get one thing strait, what the Diamondbacks are asking for, what the Braves received is pure and unadulterated corporate welfare.
The same goes for the fleecing of Florida and Arizona tax payers for spring training sites. A storm washed out the final Astros game in Kissimmee on Saturday night, and how fitting that must have been. The building of new spring training sites for team after team by these two states has proven to be a money loser, as facilities stand vacated that were built within the life time of today’s college grads. Fort Myers has two teams in a pair of facilities, a third stands empty, City of Palms which opened in 1993 when Bill Clinton was a new President. What was once known as Tucson Electric Park opened in 1998 and it along with historic Hi Corbett Field do not have a spring tenant, though the latter now is home to the University of Arizona baseball team. The Champion Stadium facility built at Disney opened in 1998 and it likely will be vacated after 2017 by the Braves with all teams from Central Florida having headed south. Space Coast Stadium in Vierra Florida opened in 1994, it will be vacant for spring training by the middle of the coming week.
We treat today’s baseball stadiums as if they are temporary palaces to be built and torn down within 30, 40 years, not as treasures of great engineering and baseball history. This madness must stop and the fans must demand that it be stopped. People joke about the cost of the proposed wall Donald Trump wants to build, 11 billion or more. That won’t and should not happen. But guess what else should not happen, an equally amount of wasted money on new stadiums for teams that are crying poor because they don’t have the newest house to play ball in. If we as a nation spend another 15 billion dollars on new ballparks, we should demand that the leases are much longer, say 70 years in length, 30 years was clearly a mistake. That money should instead go to what really needs to be done, major infrastructure repair. If teams want new stadiums, come up with the money from your private funds, through the huge TV deals you signed with your cable and satellite TV providers. Ask now, before they too are crying poor because their business model has died like an outdated piece of computing technology.
IN closing, nice move Arizona. You get fans excited about your team by signing a major free agent and making big trades, then say that if you don’t get what you want, you will leave. Good luck finding a better place to play than the ballpark you currently call home.
Forgive me for writing something that will seem obvious to those who live in Texas and what will seem like a Lone Star slanted point of view to those elsewhere. While this blog does dedicate most of its baseball writings to things concerning the big leagues, I want to take a departure and look at college athletics, especially within the state of Texas.
Many of the major universities in larger states even today after a dizzying array of conference realignment are in one or two major college conferences. A third smaller conference is home to the remaining schools at the division I level in big states like Florida, New York and California. When I first truly began paying attention to all sports in 1985, to include college athletics, the state of Texas at college athletics largest level was basically part of just two conferences, the Southwest and Southland. The Southwest was home to 8 Texas schools, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, SMU, TCU, Texas Tech, Rice and the University of Houston, along with Arkansas. The Southland was for the smaller Division I programs that actually did have a true playoff even in those days, the old I-AA was for those smaller football programs, while division I schools that did not have a football program were listed as I-AAA. IN those days, the Southland was home to a few out of state schools, Northwestern State, Louisiana Tech and Northeast Louisiana, plus McNeese State were all part of that league, while Texas programs included UT Arlington, Lamar, and what was then called North Texas State, now the University of North Texas. Arkansas State was also part of that Southland league.
Over time membership changed in the southland and the Southwest died in 1996. Schools that were not even Division I-A in 1985 like UT Arlington and Texas State in San Marcos, as well as North Texas are now playing in various conferences at that level. UT San Antonio did not even field football until 2011, now it too is at that top level of classification, while the smaller schools like Lamar, SFA, and Sam Houston are now joined by other similar schools around the region, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and Houston Baptist among them. While the Southland does still have a degree of rivalry between many of the smaller programs, though some old division II rivals were split up when Incarnate word stopped facing St. Mary’s and Abilene Christian stopped facing Angelo State, there is at least a degree of Texas identity in that league. To follow sports is still enjoyable and this baseball fan does keep up with who the players are to watch from those different teams. The historic Southwestern Athletic conference has never lost its identity, Texas Southern and Prairie view A&M have been part of that league as long as I can remember and while they are small Historically black Universities, they deserve their due here too.
With the larger schools though, it is almost impossible. UT El Paso, which is so far west it naturally fit in the old WAC way back when, now is in the same league (Conference USA) as Rice, UT San Antonio and North Texas. Texas State and UT Arlington play in a second league, the Sunbelt which has teams spread over a huge geographic footprint. The largest of the old Southwest conference membership lingers in the Big 12, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas. Houston and SMU call the wide spread American Conference home, while Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern conference and renewed ties with Arkansas after 20 years apart. Who is in the old WAC, the newly renamed UT Rio Grande Valley, which was forever known as Texas Pan American.
One successful baseball only program should get mentioned here, Dallas Baptist University, which plays in the Missouri Valley as a baseball school, rather than with some of their local competition.
Given how large some of the once smaller universities have become, while not all play football, I firmly believe it is in the best interest of these programs to come back to their roots as Texas rivals and face one another in leagues that draw from among the best athletic talent in the nation. Texas is still one of the leading producers of football and baseball prospects, and we are better now in basketball as well. So my message is simple, realign into something that creates true rivalries that can bring students together even if it means leaving larger money on the table.
My proposed alignment would look like this. The old southwest Conference comes back with its eight original Texas schools, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU and Texas Tech. It adds North Texas, UT Arlington, Texas State, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso and UT Rio Grande Valley as full members and Dallas Baptist is a baseball only school. Note that UT Arlington and UT Rio Grande Valley do not field football, so your league would divide into a pair of 6 team divisions for football, Texas Tech, TCU, North Texas, SMU, UT El Paso and Baylor would be the western division, Texas State, Texas, Texas A&M, Rice, Houston, and UT San Antonio would be the eastern division. In football divisional teams would play every year, four of the six teams in the opposite division would play on a rotating schedule. In basketball, you would have a 14 team league, divisional placements would add UT Arlington to the West and UT Rio Grande Valley to the east, playing 2 games against each divisional and 1 against each opposite divisional member each season for 18 conference games. The top 12 would make the postseason tournament.
IN baseball, SMU, UT El Paso and North Texas do not field teams, though North Texas has been rumored to be looking at renewing the sport since a five year experiment from 1984-88. If that happened, Dallas Baptist as a baseball only member would play in what would be a western division of six teams. The east would maintain its basketball look. If North Texas fails to get baseball, an eastern team would rotate from those seven schools into the west each season to create a balanced 12 team baseball league. It should be noted that SMU has no baseball plans since it dropped the sport for good following the 1980 campaign. The baseball tournament could be an 8 team double elimination event and played at some of the largest ballparks in the state. The league would be a mix of Texas’s top universities, Dallas Baptist would give the league a 5th private school for baseball, while all of the large public universities would field teams in the major revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.
Could this happen and is it easy to draw up on paper, sure it is. Will such a reality of school spirit and local rivalry bring back together old conference partnerships, not for quite a long time I am afraid. The fractures created have their roots in the politics of money and big college athletics and as we see today in modern politics, no one really cares how much damage is done to what was once a great Texas, a great American institution.
Happy Valentine’s Baseball lovers. Tonight is the second half of the current season of “The Walking Dead” and while it is far from my type of entertainment, I’m personally all too familiar with the storylines because my wife like so many American’s finds it more interesting than politics, the news, or other more pressing subjects. So much of what is presented at least in the view of this writer is an overhyped and overblown focus on a postapocalyptical world where everything has been destroyed by some horrible event, be it man made or nature’s doing or some out of world alien/zombie created circumstance and the few survivors fight for what is left in a tribal like society.
What I present may seem a tad apocalyptical but based on past baseball history and current trends, it could become a stark reality that dramatically alters the sports and baseball landscape over the next 20-40 years. God willing, I’ll still be alive at age 82 in 2056 with spring training upon us, but will baseball look anything like it does today, will any major sports league? Below, I present some of the potential pitfalls that await MLB and its pro sports partners in the NFL, NBA and NHL, and the question is, what will they do to prepare for the end of the sports world as they know it?
Walkers are coming from all around to eat up the sports landscape. From the west, a group of walkers is carrying signs that state in very harsh language that government funding is dead, sports leagues must make it on their own. The owners are running in circles with no idea how to resolve this conflict. They don’t want to admit that society finally grew tired of their endless begging for corporate welfare, which asked for public money to build new stadiums and arenas to replace the ones that were built just 15-30 years ago. The last round of the sports building boom, everyone was told that to compete and field a winning team, the club had to have the latest, greatest state of the art facility. Build it, we win championships and contend every year for the opportunity to win more. Don’t build it, we leave. NO one stopped and realized, there are 30 teams in MLB, so if every team won just one single championship, it would take 30 years for every team to get its title, meaning it was nearly a stone cold lock that several MLB teams would not see a championship and might not even make it to the World Series during the same 30 year or shorter term for said stadium lease. The White Sox, Giants, Astros, Padres, Marlins, Rays, Athletics, Twins, Pirates, Mariners, all made the I’m leaving threat in baseball and the Expos eventually did leave. IN the NFL, the Rams have made good on the threat twice, the chargers and Raiders both could potentially join the Rams on that have done it twice list, while the Saints, Jaguars, Colts, Bills, Vikings, Seahawks, and buccaneers, have had or are currently making the same threat to government officials, while the Colts and Cardinals, and old Houston Oilers made good on the threat. IN the NBA, the Kings and Bucks are the latest teams to make the threat and get a new building, those two had brand new arenas in 1988, while the Hornets, Heat, and Magic which all got new buildings at the same time as new expansion teams all have since moved into new buildings that replaced those original new homes. The Grizzlies had a new home in 1995 and moved six years later, getting a second new building in 2004, while the Supersonics moved and became the Thunder in 2008. Similar arena threats were put out by the Rockets, Spurs, and pacers that got new buildings put up between 1999 and 2003, while other multiple sports cities, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago opened new facilities between 1994 and 2001. IN the case of Dallas, the new arena was replacing a building just 21 years of age that now no longer exists, Reunion Arena. Miami may be the most gross case here, because the new Miami arena that opened in 1988 was used to get both the expansion Heat in the NBA that year and the Panthers NHL team in 1993. It was built specifically for both sports. Yet by 1996 both teams were asking for new buildings, they each got one that they call home, the Panthers in 1998, the Heat a year later. The original Miami Arena was used sparingly until it was brought down less than 20 years before its first NBA game. Meanwhile, in the NHL, the Senators want a new arena, the current facility this 1992 Ottawa expansion franchise called home opened in 1996. The Red wings are getting a new building of their own, largely paid for by local public dollars in a city and state that is bleeding red ink, even though the owner could easily spend enough of his money to build the whole thing and still have billions left over. Talk about welfare, but of course when it is the owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza, the Tigers and Red Wings, that is somehow OK, but it is horrible when we give well fare to a 19 year old pregnant girl who is on her own with no family to turn too? Every arena used by NBA and NHL teams today not named Madison Square Garden and Oracle Arena is younger than Jennifer Hudson, younger than Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. Remember the Warriors are getting a new building unless things fall apart in San Francisco, scheduled to open by 2018. Only six MLB stadiums are older, Wrigley which is getting remodeled, Fenway which has had upgrades, Kaufman which received a new round of upgrades on the public tab in 2006, Dodger Stadium and yes, that ballpark urrrr stadium in Oakland; Angel Stadium went through a pair of major upgrades, one to add football in 1979 and one to undo that change and update the baseball only feel in 1997. IN the NFL, the only older venues that predate Jennifer and Mark are Lambeau Field and Soldier Field (both which had a major makeover and upgrade in 2002-03), Arrowhead Stadium, Rich Stadium, that stadium again in Oakland, the temporary home the Rams are moving to at Los Angeles Coliseum which had no NFL team since the Raiders left in 1995, QUALCOMM Stadium in San Diego and the new Orleans Super Dome which has had its share of upgrades and repairs. The Falcons like several NBA teams got a new facility that opened the year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in office, only to have it torn down potentially in the first year of another Clinton administration 25 years later in 2017. The Dolphins again as we point fingers at greater Miami moved to a facility built in 1987 for them and to get what would become the marlins. Almost immediately, the Marlins wanted out when it rained too much before baseball games to keep fans coming, hey Miami has always been that way, and now the Dolphins want upgrades or a new facility.
How do owners then fund new palaces to play in you ask? Well that depends on where else they can reach out with buckets in hand begging for private money to build the new stadiums. The public money is all gone, being used to build much more needed and much more outdated public works items such as electrical grids, water and sewer lines, replacing old gas pipes that keep exploding, and upgrading the telecommunications utilities. But there is another problem, walkers coming from the east, with signs featuring more stark language. Your cable TV money is gone, never to return. Here, we see another problem that takes us back in time while also developing on the horizon like a hurricane 1000 miles out in the Atlantic. We know damage could be done, we don’t know where or to what extent, but we know it is coming. IN this case, let’s think back to 1988 and the announcement that CBS had paid massive media rights fees to MLB. Teams were spending money on players left and right with this new found wealth of TV dollars. Yet in 1994, that CBS deal was gone and the new package was not nearly as lush with free greenbacks. Since MLB is not the treasury, it could not issue its own money and had to cut back. Baseball’s best season was ruined by a player strike, but the owners had just as much to do with it. Instead of using some of that TV money to build and update stadiums, owners bid against themselves and overpaid players, then begged for a salary cap to keep their fellow owners from spending too much on player contracts. We all know how that ended. But now fast forward to 2016, many teams have recently entered into or are just now starting new TV contracts with massive payouts from regional sports networks that are operated by and owned by divisions of the major cable and satellite TV companies. ESPN, Fox and TBS also are in the middle of huge contracts that pay very high rights fees to MLB through the 2021 season. But by 2021, it could be painfully apparent that baseball will need to come up with new revenue sources. The problem is simple, many people especially younger folks are ditching cable and satellite TV for on demand internet programming and who can blame them, a new trend known as chord cutting. Our own Time Warner bill has gone up almost 25 dollars in the last year, most of that in extra fees including a 6 dollar sports channel use fee. TWC and the other providers like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish will say that ESPN is to blame because of the high fees it demands for carriage over these systems. That has some truth to it, but look at how much money these same cable companies have sank into local TV rights contracts for teams in MLB< the NBA and NHL. The NFL largely dodges this issue because most of its games are still on over the air TV, something that is almost unheard of these days with the other leagues. This also does not even take into consideration the huge amount of money promised to college athletics, mainly in the form of NCAA football and men’s basketball at the division I level, viewed by many including myself as nothing more than university sponsored minor leagues. As more and more customers drop 180 to 200 dollar a month cable bills for on demand internet programs where they are purchasing only the programming they want to see, it forces the cable folks to raise rates. That bubble is about to pop like an overblown helium balloon and when it does pop, the sports leagues could find themselves being short changed because future promised dollars that were coming are suddenly now evaporating in the smoke and dust that is left behind by the burning down of the cable and satellite TV industry as we know it today.
Walkers are coming from the north and south too. From the north, they carry signs from entitled players who want even larger salary figures from owners who no longer have public welfare and no private money in hand to spend. The southern flank carry signs representing fans who are revolting against ticket prices that are increasing at many times the rate of working wages, fans who are tired of overpriced food and drinks provided by third party venders that do not follow food safety requirements in several instances. Minimum wage was $4.25 in 1993, it is now $7.25 in most locations. Yet $4.25 in 1992 will cost you more like $9 in today’s market for the same goods.
So the fans won’t buy tickets, the players are demanding money that is not there because the cable contracts are dead and worthless sheets of legal paper, while the government bonds have expired and no public official worth his or her weight in is coming through that door with as much as a dime of free goodies. This could happen and when it does, how do the pro leagues respond, and how does baseball in particular adapt to this very possible future reality?
I don’t have all of the solutions, but here are a couple. First, MLB should realize that the way fans are going to consume sports is changing and they will not be able to rely on passing this service fee on to the backs of many people who will never watch a game on television, much less attend a game in a stadium. MLB must come up with other revenue from the broadcast of game events. How you do this in part would be to make every single game you broadcast on TV and radio available worldwide to anyone online, no matter what. The audio service largely already accomplishes this and the MLBTV product should follow suit. Make that service available to any fan who wants to see any game, any team, anywhere. Already class action has forced MLB to sell an individual team package for out of market games, but this out of market concept is outdated and frankly it should have been terminated 15 years ago. MLB should have a very basic process here, no matter the fan, no matter where in the world you are geographically. Want to get the audio only package, sell it on a monthly or season long basis, sell it also on a per team or whole league type of package. So, I can get all MLB games for a month at a time, one team for the entire season, or all MLB games for the entire season. The same concept naturally would be true for those who upgrade to the video streaming service.
MLB should also hire broadcasters to cover games in other foreign languages. Many teams already have Spanish announcers, but hire a few MLB controlled broadcast teams who can do games in various popular languages around the world. While these announcers would not be able to cover all 2430 regular season games, they could cover 5-7 games a week, with all teams being offered throughout the season. Imagine if on any given day, you could find a couple games with an option in French, or German, or Chinese, Etc. These foreign language products would be streamed anywhere in the world, including to US based customers with a 30 day free intro to get fans interested. Teach them about the game if you will, then if they get hooked and fall in love, they can by a subscription. Similar audio broadcasts in various languages should also be made available via streaming services and if in languages that are in parts of the world with less internet traffic, dedicate a shortwave or related radio broadcast service specifically for this purpose.
Second, find ways to make the stadium into a year round money generating facility. Stadiums would become better public works investments if they were used more than 80 some odd times a season. MLB teams should find ways to book events at stadiums on all possible dates outside the baseball season and during the season, allow various events to take place at the facility on all dates not used for baseball, accept the day prior to a team returning home from a long road trip when the facility needs to be prepared for the next home games on the schedule. With more and more teams creating social zones in stadiums, those could all be rented out for big events and receptions on a very regular basis. I think the future here is interesting, as I could see a day where seats as we know it are no longer sold, with fans instead buying tickets to various zones within a ballpark and having areas to move around in, while using more restaurant style seating with tables and movable seating that allow for folks to face the field of play if using such setups on game days. Plus here is a big leap of Sheldon Cooper sarcasm, host more baseball games. Schedule the big state high school tournament during certain seasons at your stadium, bring college teams in on a regular basis for more than just the single weekend tournament and have events at the stadium on those open dates that are baseball related that get the community involved with one another. Have showcase events for international prospects, have baseball combine style events prior to the draft, and other events that promote baseball’s future talent, but do so in MLB stadiums where you can draw in MLB crowds. Imagine, you sell 30 thousand seats at 15 bucks a pop for any seat in the stadium and charge 5 dollars for parking, you know, minor league rates back in the day and you have made 450K just in ticket sales for that one event. For the stadiums as we know them to become true profit machines and thus to view them as investments or properties that have value, they must be living breathing spaces that are regularly active throughout the calendar year. We would never see funding for office buildings that were open only on Monday and Tuesday, or about 100 days in the year, which is even more than we see for actual game day events in MLB, even when postseason is accounted for. The numbers are certainly much worse in terms of usage dates for the NFL which has a max of about 12 in any given season, while the numbers for NHL and NBA arenas are about a max of 58 dates if a team played all the way to the finals, since no team plays the max 7 games in all four series. Even and arena that is home to both an NBA and NHL team gets a max of fewer than 120 usage dates during the year.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that things will probably not unfold in exactly the way that my imagination is presenting here. But the issues I have laid out on electronic paper here could very well take baseball and sports as we know it into new directions that require very difficult decisions and it will require creative solutions by power brokers who are used to getting everything the way they want it. All in the baseball and sports industry will need to be willing to make some real sacrifices and change how they think today, or risk forever destroying the very games we love in the future when resources have dried up and the league as currently funded becomes a bankrupt hulking mass of debt with empty decaying buildings that are home to no games, no fans, and no joy.
Spring training 2016 is coming upon us and one month from today, the first teams begin reporting for pitcher and catcher workouts in Florida and Arizona. As fun and relaxing spring training is for the many fans who make the journey to warm climates for spring ball, another tradition is the many games that are played between MLB teams at unique venues that do not normally host MLB games. Teams face one another in larger minor league ballparks, in international settings such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and in large multipurpose stadiums that could be temporary baseball venues for a city trying to show itself as a candidate for a potential MLB expansion or franchise relocation.
Typically, the final weekend of the exhibition season features about a 50-50 split of games played in traditional spring training venues and games played at sites outside Florida and Arizona. I propose a one-time unique form of baseball outreach for 2017, where all teams play outside Florida and Arizona on the final Friday and Saturday of spring training. March 31-April 1 of 2017 assuming the scheduling model remains as is would be those dates. NO games are played April 2 and it is likely six teams will have a regular season opener that Sunday if MLB finds that the 2016 triple header is a big success. So here is my proposal.
First, the traditional games, Dodgers v Angels, Giants V Athletics which have been made a bit less meaningful with interleague play, would still be scheduled as Wednesday and Thursday exhibitions, one at each ballpark.
The following matchups would all take place Friday March 31 and Saturday April 1, 2017. The Padres top two minor league clubs are in El Paso and San Antonio, while the Dodgers used to be a long time San Antonio affiliate. So the dodgers and Padres would face one another, Friday in San Antonio at the Alamodome, Saturday at El Paso. The Rangers and Astros would also face one another going in the opposite direction, Friday at El Paso and Saturday in the San Antonio Alamodome, as they did in 2014. Houston also played an El Paso exhibition against the Brewers in 1997.
The marlins and Rays would play a pair of games at the 55,000 seat stadium in Havana, Cuba, while another international matchup would take place in Montreal as the Blue jays play another pair of games, this time the opposition would be the New York Yankees. Keeping with the international theme of the moment, the Diamondbacks would face the Angels for two games at Monterey, Mexico. Other matchups, the Giants would face the Mariners for a pair of games in Sacramento, while the Rockies and Athletics play at Salt Lake City. The Nationals and Orioles would meet in Norfolk, the Pirates and Phillies at Redding, Pennsylvania and the Cardinals would meet the Royals in Springfield, Missouri. Indianapolis would get two games between the White Sox and Cubs, The Reds and Indians would play in Louisville, while the Braves would face the Twins in Charlotte. The new ballpark in Hartford, Connecticut though not affiliated with either of these teams would play host to a matchup between the Red sox and Mets, and Toledo Ohio would be host to the matchup between the Brewers and Tigers.
A while back I wrote about how other sports leagues after mergers had to decide which rules to play under. The ABA/NBA merger in 1976 took away the 3 point shot from the four ABA teams that had used it in their former league. It would be just three seasons until the NBA adopted the rule for the 1979-80 season. Similarly, the AFL teams once legally merged into the NFL in 1970 had to take away 2 point conversions after touchdowns out of the playbook, until the NFL brought the play back for the 1994 season.
Now, let’s look at how other sports teams are structured and use that as a way to debunk the argument that it is better to have a less skilled pitcher as a batsman rather than a skilled hitter at the dish. IN early football it was more common for players to take the field both on offense and defense. Today in some very small high schools with limited roster sizes, you may still see a few players take the field on both sides of the ball, but a majority of players are going to play only with the offensive or defensive unit. Could you imagine asking Aaron Rodgers or tom Brady to play defense just because that was how old school football was played? How about asking star defensive cornerbacks to come in and play quarterback. Sure this happens on rare occasions with players moving off a natural position in football, where a receiver or running back plays QB in a wild cat formation, but that is about as common as a pitcher coming in to pinch run for a slow base runner who would then be replaced by the appropriate defensive player when the team went back into the field next half inning.
IN hockey and soccer, the goal tender is never used as an offensive player and all that is contributed from that position is the start of a break out the other direction via a long outlet pass to a skilled position player. In basketball, the point guard would never be expected to be a leading rebounder and the center would never be expected to lead the team in assists. So why then do baseball purists insist that watching a pitcher swing the bat is somehow enjoyable baseball?
I used to be among those who believed that the DH took away a degree of strategy from the game, that it was too easy to just leave the starting pitcher in the game since he would not take a turn at bat. But I now view this differently, because having the pitcher bat could be an easy excuse to use as a deciding factor on when to pull your ace while down a run in the 6th inning or later for a better hitter. In the DH world, you truly have to evaluate when your guy has begun to tire or be figured out by the opposition as he goes through the lineup for the third or fourth time and decide when you then put in that relief specialist. Managers today often go to the bullpen to maximize a winning opportunity based on hitter and pitcher matchups, so why not allow the manager to place a 9th skilled hitter into the lineup against a difficult opponent?
As I have noted before, most modern pitchers do not learn to hit if they have always been a career pitcher since high school. Even those who played a position and converted later when in college or the minor leagues often did so because they were viewed as more capable on the mound than in the batter’s box. IN the minor leagues below double A, pitchers never bat and in double and triple A, pitchers only bat if the game is contested by a pair of NL affiliates. Even when an NL affiliate is at home against an AL affiliate, the DH is still used, thus these pitchers have very limited batting experience as professionals. It would be like asking the quarterback to suddenly double as a kicker or defensive safety with very limited training or experience. In other words, given the practices of professional baseball today, such expectations on pitchers being able to take what would even be considered a quality turn at bat in the majors can only be described as asinine.
If you ever here the reason for not making a change in your business practice that goes like this, “we have always done it this way because it is our tradition”, then you should already have your BS detector raised to the maximum. For centuries, women had no voting or property rights and this was even true for more than half of this nation’s history. Only in the last century have our modern democracies encouraged literacy for all citizens. Many arguments against changing things, interracial marriage, same sex marriage are all steeped in some form of religious and political tradition. Baseball has many rich traditions but how many famous plays, important games, hall of fame worthy moments are tied to a contribution with a pitcher at bat? Can you name one? I’m waiting. Sure it is cool when a pitcher comes up and jacks one out of the park, but how many of those hits decided a critical game, much less a post season game and I’m talking any type of a hit by a pitcher at bat, not just homers.
To underscore the point, during the history of the league championship series, only three pitchers have homered for the winning team at any point during the series and one of those was Mike Cuellar for the Orioles in 1970 before the AL brought the DH into existence. The other two, Don Gullett for the Reds in 1975 and Jeff Suppan for the Cardinals in 2006. How many world Series winners have had a pitcher go deep during any point of the series, not many. That list features only 8 names, Jim Bagby of the 1920 Indians, Jesse Haines with the 1926 Cardinals, Bucky Walters of the 1940 Reds, Bob Gibson with the 1967 Cardinals, Mickey Lolich with the 1968 Tigers, Dave McNally with the 1970 Orioles, Ken Holtzman of the 1974 Athletics and Joe Blanton with the 2008 Phillies. IN fact, no pitcher homered in any post season game from 1976 through 2005. The best baseball played is when the best pitchers face the best hitters with capable defensive players in the field, so why not have a universal DH?
Modern baseball is starting to evolve in a way that also would debunk the argument that says, the DH is not contributing to the team as a defensive player. Some teams now are using the DH as a way to rest another wise capable defensive player from time to time. So as more and more teams want to focus on having a versatile roster of players who have high defensive value, from time to time one of those players may need a day off from play in the field, but they would still be capable of swinging the bat for four or five turns during a particular game at DH. Finally, give me Edgar Martinez any day over Randy Johnson as a hitter, give me David Ortiz over Pedro Martinez and give me Jeff Bagwell in 2005 instead of any Astro pitcher during that World Series when the Astros were still an NL team. Oddly, had Houston been an AL team, Bagwell might have been able to continue as a hitter who would have been limited to DH only.
A universal DH brings about other potential implications for the good of the game. While this piece won’t be an extensive overview of potential realignment, another topic I have written about before, clearly having one unified Major League Baseball playing under unified rules makes for a more seamless transition from one division to another. When the Brewers went from the AL to the NL in 1998, they had a team that was built with a DH in mind and on the roster under contract, with only the 1997-98 offseason to adjust. When Houston needed to transition from NL to AL, the franchise had a year notice and could begin planning accordingly, even before the 2012-13 offseason arrived. Such a unified system would allow for more geographic realignment which would make it possible to create new divisions and organize franchises in ways that would in some ways remind fans of the reported but never considered radicle realignment detailed in media reports in August 1997.
IN closing, MLB needs to deal with this situation once and for all. You never saw the AFC playing under different rules from the NFC after the 1970 NFL merger. Baseball I have argued needs to settle on one common rule, DH or no DH for all teams. My vote clearly has evolved, as I now think given today’s game structure, the universal adoption of the DH is the only proper way to go. The only time we should ever see another pitcher at bat, is if the existing DH gets put into the field as a defensive player.