Saturday, May 7, 2011

How deep do baseball's problems run?

On the surface, things look pretty good for Major League Baseball. The early 2011 season has been full of great surprises (go Cleveland! Boston sucks!) and the continued return of pitching dominance to the game that has already produced two no-hitters. So, of course, now is the time to worry about baseball’s future.

High on the list of worries for Bud Selig & Co. has to be the notable attendance decline across baseball. It could be a fluke caused by the terrible weather that has already cost the New York Yankees three baseball games early in the season. But I wonder if the economic recession has led to a permanent sea change, with people forced to root for their favorite baseball teams from the comfort of their homes rather than the ballpark.

I’ve become addicted to using Stubhub to get ridiculously cheap tickets (like seeing a Mets game with my good friend Scott for $4 per ticket this week), but now that the company is getting a lot of ink I expect the good deals to become more difficult to find. However, Stubhub is creating a major problem for baseball because savvy fans are going to the Web site to purchase tickets rather than paying full price at the box office.

Then, of course, is the disastrous nightmare involving the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who happen to be playing each other on the field this weekend, but are really in a tight competition for the title of most-messed up franchise in baseball. The Mets seem to be getting closer to finding a buyer for a minority stake in the team, but they will be embroiled in the Bernie Madoff litigation for years. The fight between MLB and Frank McCourt for control of the Dodgers is getting more contentious by the day and will undoubtedly result in a nasty court fight.

But really the biggest concern is the upcoming labor negotiations between MLB and the Players' Union this offseason. Selig is going to try to take a hard line on many issues, including more severe punishment for bad behavior such as drunk driving and steroid abuse. The use of performance-enhancing drugs once again surfaced this week with concerns that the current system is still too weak and I’m sure Selig is determined to limit the damage the steroid era did to his reputation and legacy. And I haven’t even mentioned major issues such as revenue sharing (bound to be controversial as the union is upset by smaller franchises pocketing the money rather than spending it on payroll) and a potential playoff expansion (which some players already have quite vocally objected to).

So the mirage is that baseball is in great shape, but there are numerous problems bubbling beneath the surface that will explode into the limelight later this year. For Selig & Co, there won’t be a dull moment in 2011 as they try to find the right solutions.

Thanks to the US Air Force via Wikipedia for the photo.

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