Sports

Major League Baseball: Don't Nationalize it, Privatize it!

Opening Day and a bad New York Times op-ed are timely reminders that much of what ails professional baseball is the intrusion of government.

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Thursday marks Opening Day of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, which means it's open season for hot takes about how to fix what ails the National Pastime—disputes between labor and management, declining attendance and TV viewership, increasingly dull on-field product, etc.

The New York Times Wednesday probably won the MLB preseason hate-clicks derby by publishing a Matthew Walther op-ed under the headline, "Baseball Is Dying. The Government Should Take It Over." It's at least semi-satirical, so not worth getting exercised over (beyond the basic responses of "No it isn't," and "No it shouldn't"), but both the essay and the spectacle of an ambivalent Opening Day are timely reminders that much of what plagues the sport is not solvable by government, it emanates from government.

It's weird that baseball would still require rescuing, given that Congress as recently as 2018 passed the Save America's Pastime Act (see how semi-satire works?). That law, which probably never could have been passed as a standalone bill, was actually crammed into a must-pass omnibus spending whatever, and as such is a fine example of what happens when you mix government with baseball.

Sold both by gullible congresscritters and arms-twisted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) owners as the last, best hope for maintaining small-town professional ball, the act in fact was something closer to the opposite: a way for bottomless-pocketed Major League Baseball (MLB)—which pays for, and dictates terms to, the captive feeder leagues—to use the threat of franchise-contraction for a federal exemption from labor laws, so that minor leaguers could continue being paid as low as $1,100 a month for their seasonal work.

Within seven months of the act's passage, MLB started leaking out the names of MiLB franchises that would be euthanized anyway. By December 2020, the deed was done—40 of the original 160 teams were summarily severed. As I wrote in a feature on the topic last year, "Local governments were suddenly on the hook for a quarter-billion dollars' worth of investment in event spaces that no longer held events."

Hmmm, why would local governments invest in professional sporting facilities? Let's hit the refresh button on one of the worst recurring examples of mixing public sector activity with a private sector business: Stadium welfare.

Giving out subsidies and tax breaks for sports business owners is self-evidently terrible enough, as have concluded virtually every non-corrupted economist who has ever studied the issue. (The eminent domain used for these projects, too, constitute abuse egregious enough to inspire Ry Cooder albums.) But let's not sleep on how such a culture of welfare dependency has been bad for the recipients, and especially to fans of the allegedly boosted sport.

By acclamation, the single most spectacular facility to watch a football game is SoFi Stadium, home to both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, and host to the most recent Super Bowl. Unlike virtually every other National Football League facility constructed over the past three decades, SoFi was built without government subsidies.

In baseball, the handsomest stadium I've ever set foot in is Oracle Park, home to the San Francisco Giants. Opened in 2000, it was the first ballpark built without public money since the 1960s. Why, it's almost as if people who spend their own money on a thing take extra care to make it real purty!

Self-funders are also incentivized to stay put, rather than jilting the local fan base. "When governments become landlords," I wrote last year, "sports businesses, no matter how deep their pockets, start acting like tenants: always eyeing the exits for a potentially better deal. If you build it, they will leave."

Baseball doesn't need to be nationalized, it needs to be privatized—no more subsidies, no more finger-wagging congressional hearings, no more State of the Union address moralizing, no more unique-to-this-one-sport carve outs from federal law. It's time for these welfare queens to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and compete for audience share as if their bottom lines depended on that as much as it does on the ribbon-cutting innumeracy of dull-witted politicians.

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  1. which means it's open season for hot takes about how to fix what ails the National Pastime—

    Oooh, an article about Tik Tok!

  2. As long as everyone is masked, I really don't care what happens to baseketball.

  3. When people tell you that everything done for COVID was for good reason, even if it eventually was abused, they're lying at this point:

    Bothell banned cars from Main Street in response to COVID. They may never return

    BOTHELL — Nearly two years ago, Bothell banned vehicles from a downtown street to promote outdoor dining and strolling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Now, it looks like the cars may never return.

    The rapidly growing Seattle suburb will keep the street vehicle-free for at least two more years while studying whether to make the change permanent, based on a split vote by Bothell’s City Council last month.

    In one sense, it’s a relatively modest step toward prioritizing pedestrians and nonmotorized activities. The zone on Main Street stretches only one block. But local activists who pushed for the change say the decision to keep it intact, despite some business and traffic concerns, demonstrates how new ideas are taking hold in Bothell. Experts say communities across the region should be paying attention, and the mayor is comparing the space to a European central square.

    1. new ideas are taking hold in Bothell

      Not having cars is not a new idea. Does Main still have hitching posts in that area?

      1. Western Washington, I'm betting not. I'm also betting this town didn't exist fifty years ago (but I could be wrong about that).

    2. Experts say communities across the region should be paying attention, and the mayor is comparing the space to a European central square.

      Do you think that the distinction between a European and an American central square being a gallows vs. guillotine debate dawns on them?

  4. In other news, there is no problem.

    W...well, ok there is a problem, but it's not as bad as you say.

    Ok, the problem is every bit as bad as you say...

    Former Mayor Jenny Durkan rolled out the plan for “Triage One” last July. But the city is only now doing a risk analysis of which 911 calls might be safe enough for this proposed new group to respond to. Police say it will likely be calls that officers are “simply not going to at this point” — so it may not ease their work load after all.

    “We’re still working on this,” said Brian Maxey, the police’s chief operating officer.

    OK, the council shrugged. There’s no urgency in that bunch. In meetings they seem mostly defensive about how their protest-fueled experiment isn’t working out.

    You voted for it. Fuck off.

    1. At an earlier meeting, Juarez summed up that over the course of a year or more, the council had finally settled on a two-pronged strategy. One is to hire more officers. Two is to stand up an unarmed alternative.

      The catch is that neither of these prongs is working at the moment.

      “I don’t have an answer for you about what’s going to happen to stop people from getting a gun and coming into your store,” she told a Seattle shop owner who had been robbed repeatedly.

      He got the message.

      “For now, we need to harden,” he said, “and unfortunately become not as soft a target for people that would do our employees or our customers harm.”

      In other words: He’s on his own. Words to live by, in a city frustratingly going back in time on crime.

      El oh el.

      1. But don’t put up bullet proof glass, cuz racist.

    2. It’s touchy raising this topic in Seattle. As City Council President Debora Juarez said recently, people are “afraid they’ll be called a racist, or demonized.” I hesitate sometimes for different reasons — the above-mentioned worry about sensationalizing crime, and also because if you say something bad is happening here it gets used as proof by the Fox News types that Seattle is a dying liberal hellhole.

      Except something bad really is happening here. The violence trend is not unique to Seattle, but our city finds itself especially poorly situated to deal with it.

      Fucking hilarious! I love how he acknowledges his real opinion even as he attributes it to 'Fox News types'. Smart liberals like Bill Maher and this guy are trying to distance themselves from their radical (mainstream) brethren. That may get them shot first during the Marxist revolution. It will remain to be seen.

    3. One common thread that emerges among a lot of "big" cities of the American West after World War II (Dallas, Portland, Denver, Albuquerque, Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix--ones not as large as LA or San Francisco, but experienced massive growth as the population migrated from the northeast and California), and especially after the 60s, is the MASSIVE insecurity complex so many of them have. You see this constant obsession with being a "24-hour city," for instance, and a relentless neuroticism about how the DC-NY press cabal will portray them on national TV.

      These places really just need provide their citizens with a stable, decent quality of life, and stop giving a shit what the people of Megacity One and Megacity Two think about how they're going about that.

  5. I watched one game at the SF baseball park about 15 years ago, and it was every bit as good as it could be. Great sight lines, close to the field, and a collection of snacks to make a good lunch destination. The most interesting part was the outfield fence screened view, standing only, and cleared out every inning or two so no one can hog it. If I worked anywhere near, I'd take a lot of lunches there.

    But that was 15 years ago. No telling what it's like now.

  6. Ratings for all professional sports leagues are down. But trust us, it has literally nothing to do with all the leagues suddenly engaging in virtue signaling for political and activist causes. Ignore that rating dropped over 20% compared to 2019 after MLB decided to punish Georgia for passing election reform laws that were in law with New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

    1. Baseball like football, was losing a lot of appeal as leagues tried to make the game more attractive to casual viewers, the drift into social causes (which predates George Floyd but that's when the pimple finally grew a head) was just the final nail in the coffin for many life time fans. Know your customer is the first rule of any successful business, it rarely pays to chase new customers at the expense of your long term customers.

      This is a problem with a number of corporations today. They're so busy trying to figure out the new generations, that they've forgotten their customer base. It comes from hiring high paid consultants to deal with a problem that doesn't truly exist or is often overblown. Wrangler offering skinny jeans is an example. Wrangler made it's money off of being the blue collar, every day work pants. Let Levi worry about trendy, Wrangler should concentrate on what it does best. But they haven't. And they now cost damn near as much as Levi's and aren't any better quality. I never wore anything but wranglers for years, but they don't last like they used to and they cost more than the ridge cut jeans, so I bought ridge cut last time and find they're more comfortable and more durable, so Wrangler lost a lifelong customer. I doubt a brand known as the cowboy brand is going to attract enough millennials to make up for the defection of their customer base. It just doesn't make sense.

      I find the same thing with Tractor Supply Co., they're so concentrating on the pet supply side of the house, that they've neglected their farm and ranch side. I often can't find what I need and end up ordering on line from another source.

      1. I wouldn't be surprised if government influence played a role in attempting to appeal to sociopolitical issues.

      2. Two words: New Coke.

        1. Fuck and coke classic, while better, wasn't classic coke.

      3. I doubt a brand known as the cowboy brand is going to attract enough millennials to make up for the defection of their customer base. It just doesn't make sense.

        A big problem with appealing to youth culture to make money is that you're constantly chasing your tail trying to get ahead of the next trend, instead of maintaining what's kept you in business for decades. Because those young people grow old, and a lot sooner than they expect, and inevitably they look for familiar institutions and brands that their parents used, because of the stability it represents. Corporations who actually cater to a middle-aged population or particular market demographics don't need to bother figuring out what "the youth" want, because those same people are eventually going to be their customers down the line, anyway. Just keep making reliable products and your reputation is what will keep your customer base stable.

        A big problem is that corporations can act incredibly short-sighted, because the boards live or die based on quarterly growth reports and stock earnings.

        1. The other problem is that chasing fads is a losing proposition because by the time marketing has figured out what the fad is, it's usually already fading. Then you've invested heavily in manufacturing something for which demand has decreased. There's a reason some companies are known for trendy clothes, they help set the trend, by the time other, less trendy brands have caught on, the original companies are already moving onto the next big thing. It's good to adjust business practices, or expand your base, but not at the expense of what made your brand in the first place. I remember in the 80s craftsman was the name for dependable tools, lifetime no question quality made in the US. My Dad wouldn't buy anything but craftsman, and my first tool set I purchased after basic was a craftsman set. Sears, however, as it was losing business decided to first transfer production to China, and then stopped honoring the old warranty. Craftsman tools are now shit, and I won't own another one. They may be cheaper, but cheap isn't everything. I want dependability and toughness. I don't want a driver or socket that breaks off when I have a frozen nut, and am beating on it with a hammer or using a cheater bar to break the nut loose. I liked Craftsman because Sears never quibbled when you took in a broken driver, they just replaced the damn thing. In fact one time my Dad's friend took in a half inch driver he broke doing a plumbing project on his farm, and the clerk joked (as he got a new one) "so how long was the cheater bar you were using?" And then laughed, but gave him the replacement free of charge. Companies would do well to get back to that kind of reputation. Sears could have kept that reputation while transitioning to more on-line marketing but the resisted the on-line marketing while also losing that level of customer care. I also think it was a bad idea to stop printing the Sears Christmas catalog. Yeah on line is cheaper, but man we used to go through the catalog and circle everything we wanted for Christmas (we didn't necessarily get it all) and my parents bought a lot of shit from Sears as a result. I think there's still room in the internet age for catalogs.

          1. "I think there's still room in the internet age for catalogs."
            My wife is proof of that. She gets about 6-8 catalogs a week.

  7. much of what ails professional baseball[FILL IN THE BLANK] is the intrusion of government.

  8. I don't think government in this case is what spoils baseball. The government isn't responsible for bad rules passed to "speed up" the game, but take away from the long held tradition that baseball is a game of strategy or for rules that favor a few well heeled clubs which are perpetual contenders while medium market clubs hemorrhage fans, because they are perpetually at the bottom. The government isn't responsible for bad umpire crews that are notoriously biased for and against certain teams, so much so that managers actually change to deal with these crews. Government isn't responsible for umpires who can't call a consistent strike zone from one batter to the next. Government isn't responsible for highly paid athletes striking and owners locking them up delaying the start of the season. Stadiums and stupid laws by Congress are just the tip of the iceberg, and if anything, blackout rules on games are an even bigger bone to pick. Baseball,like the NFL (although it's learning reluctantly) hasn't figured out the market is this day and age of streaming. Baseball has lost its purity. Once a game of strategy and statistics, of nail biting drama, it's now trying to embrace the new zeitgeist, and as a result has lost it's way and it's dedicated fan base.

    1. That's why for football I want to form my own minor, truly semiprofessional league. Single business entity, no franchises, all one "club", choosing up sides. Different rules both re overall competition and game play — mostly ones that've applied at various times in the past, and a lot of combination/compromise ones. Some would speed the game up, others slow it down, but overall mostly faster. Some would favor the offense, others the defense, probably lowering scoring overall because harder to score touchdowns. Some would favor passing, more against it, overall probably slightly discouraging it. A lot to favor kicking. Some to make the game safer, others to make it more dangerous, overall probably a wash. And mostly to favor in-person viewing.

      However, scoring would seem a lot lower, because touchdowns would count 2 points, goals 1, no safeties and no conversions.

      1. I prefer a close, defensive game and am tired of the rules favoring offenses and high scores. I want a well balanced game, and if the majority are decided in the last two minutes of the game, all the better.

        1. Yeah, the NFL has been in a positive feedback loop the past half century favoring the passing offense, and with no countervailing advantages for defense or the running game. They've kept attracting more of the audience that liked that, leading to more of the same. If fan interest is down in a sustained way, though, that loop might be broken.

    2. Major league baseball was the greatest American team sport until money and greed ruined it. The actual game of *baseball* is still as pure and wonderful as ever.

  9. The unique to one sport exemptionfrom antitrust law is nt really unique. It's just that baseball gets its entire exemption thru MLB so it can run and screw the minors themselves. Football and basketball structure things so that the NCAA can trap its younger players into being paid nothing by colleges rather than being paid nothing by the minors.
    The solution is an actual governing body for the sport that is independent of the big money league. Only golf has that in the US. Everywhere else every sport has that

    1. Won't work, because you can't make the existing organizations submit to such a governing body, and they'd see no advantage to submitting to one.

      There are sports in the USA besides golf that do submit to or affiliate with an overall governing structure. There's US Rugby (formerly the USA Rugby Football Union). There's the US Soccer Federation, but it's the survivor of a "war" almost a century ago with a rival national soccer governing body. There's the National Bowling Congress, but it too has a semi-competitor in the form of one supporting by the bowling alleys.

      And believe it or not, there's one for American football that's not of long standing, and no football organizations you're likely to have heard of affiliates with them. They're the American chapter of the International Association for American Football. In other countries, where American football is not a big deal, the corresponding IAAF affiliate is relatively important. But that's the point: It's easy to be the Establishment, when you start out as the Establishment; otherwise, not.

      1. There are many different interests who benefit from a governing body. Athletes, future athletes, fans, munis who want a future team to play in their stadiums, media, leagues of different ages/levels who want to get things going without trying to create everything from scratch and without MLB free to do anything to kill themquck, clubs (meaning sports facilities) that want to leverage their assets), investors/sponsors who'd love to own a team but can't now.
        The German football governing body has over 6 million members who have a stake in running it.
        These sports can be magnitudes bigger than the constipated billionaire owners who currently force the sport into something smaller - that they can control

        1. But you can't get from here to there.

  10. Major League Baseball: Don't Nationalize it, Privatize it!Who Cares?

    Fixed

  11. MLB does not need to be nationalized. MLB does not need to be privatized. MLB needs to die. This applies to nearly all professional sports. Professional sports is no longer about physical competition but about the bottom line. The bottom line destroys the sport. The best example, and the reason I quit MLB, is the DH. The owners bastardize the rules of the game because people only want to see home runs. It destroys the strategy of the game. I harken back to the old ESPN commercial starring Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux of the Braves..."Chicks dig the long ball".

  12. Hmmm, why would local governments invest in professional sporting facilities? Let's hit the refresh button on one of the worst recurring examples of mixing public sector activity with a private sector business: Stadium welfare.

    Let's not lose sight of the fact that the primary reason all those new stadiums in the minors were built in the first place was because MLB imposed actual requirements on the design configuration. I've been to several minor-league games across the country in my travels the last few years (definitely a better deal than MLB games); these new stadiums all look like they were designed by the same architectural firm--and that's because of the stadium standards that MLB imposed.

    A lot of those teams would likely still be playing in older, more cheaply rehabbed bandboxes if MLB had let well-enough alone.

  13. The sub-head is strangely unrelated to the headline.

    The thing that ails baseball is that it is a mind-numbingly boring sport. There are PBS shows about meditation with hosts who have been smoking pot since the 60s that are more gripping than the average baseball game.

    I love swimming, but I'm under no illusions that it is interesting to most people who didn't swim. Baseball is just as boring, but it is a multi-billion dollar business trying to overcome the weakness of its core product.

    Public funding of stadiums is another thing entirely. That boondoggle is ridiculous.

  14. Was an MLB fan over 50 years. When MLB went "woke", I departed. Same with the NFL, and I never cared much for the NBA/NHL anyway. Find I don't miss "pro sports" at all.

    1. Pro sports is just another product now.
      And not a very good one.

  15. Back in the 1990s, the Art Institute of Chicago had a series of exhibits for a different Impressionist artist. The first was for Monet in 1995.

    A study showed that during the exhibit's run, roughly mid July to Thanksgiving, the economic activity generated (hotels, restaurants, parking, shopping) and the tax revenue generated was greater than for the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bull, and Blackhawks, combined.

    Mind you, Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls in the spring of 1995. That fall was the start of second three-peat.

    What some economists opined was that taxpayer-assistance to cultural institutions was far cheaper than financing sports stadiums, and had far greater returns.

  16. My solution: Nationalize the national league, Americanize the american league, and let them fight it out on the gridiron.

  17. Our idiot governor in Virginia is trying to give away millions of dollars of our money for a football stadium for the Washington football team. As far as I'm concerned, we shouldn't spend a dime on that. Virginia's schools need billions in renovations and our teachers and other public safety employees need better pay.

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