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Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Now that the strike is temporarily over, a lasting settlement must be found. The problem with the solutions proposed by mediators, fans, and both sides is that the players and owners will be the only beneficiaries of a settlement. Any settlement that excludes the wishes of the third group who should be involved, the consumers, would be nearly fatal to the long-term survival of Major League Baseball™. The only action that would irrevocably stick a sword through the heart of the major league game would be interleague play (sorry, Paul).

The players, owners, mediators, and negotiators (and even to some extent, the media) have ignored one fact: the fans believe both sides are wrong and do not want to see either side win. Thus, for labor and revenue sharing agreements to benefit the industry, the fans must be the winners, and the fans must perceive that the owners and players are making sacrifices to promote the health of the game.

If I were dictator of the game, here is the unscientific plan I would implement:

1. Appoint a commissioner who would report to the congress of the United States. As “baseball, inc.” has been declared the national pastime by legislative action, the president and the congress have the authority to dictate to the game as necessary. President Clinton should have ordered the owners and players to continue the season last September. The new commissioner should be a famous fan who is popular with the public, regardless of any other qualifications. Candidates could include (in alphabetical order) Sparky Anderson, Roger Angel, Ernie Banks, Jim Bouton, Bob Costas, Tommy John, Larry King, Buck O’Neil, Phil Rizzuto, Rachel Robinson, and Paul White. The commissioner will represent the fans, rather than any other side, in the same way a judge represents the law.
2. The maximum ticket price in all stadia shall be $8.00 (excluding luxury boxes). The maximum ticket price for general admission shall be $2.00. Children under age 18 receive a 25% discount off all tickets. This will help the fans and the owners, as lower prices will result in higher attendance. The caps are in effect through 1998.
3. Gate proceeds are split 50/50 between the home and visiting team. If people go to Yankee Stadium to see Ken Griffey, Jr. play for the Mariners, the Mariners have earned half the proceeds. That would be true even if the fans go to the game because they are likely to see the Yankees win. The teams that draw the most fans will still make the most money.
4. The MLB Players’ Association shall form a corporation that will receive 100% of all revenues from all television broadcasts of baseball games. The Association can do whatever it wants with the money: match player salaries, vote its own supplementary salaries for players, endow their pension fund, or anything else. The owners and players will equally split the cost of marketing the game to television. The owners keep all other media and sales revenues (gate, souvenirs, radio, etc.). The Association will provide all fringe benefits to players, including severance and disability pay. Rather than having to negotiate with the owners for fair treatment, the players can take care of themselves with their own pool of money.
5.

The maximum salary paid by owners to players will be $100,000 for players with fewer than five years experience, $120,000 for players with five to 10 years experience, and $140,000 for players with more than 10 years experience. The minimum salaries will be $40,000, $60,000, and $80,000, respectively. Service will be based on days on the active roster, and exclude time on the disabled list. Salaries will be based on a 12-month contract, and players are obligated to engage in marketing their team and the game at the direction of team management, or they sign a 7-month contract with a 25% reduction in salary. Players on 12-month contracts will be fined for declining reasonable requests of fans or the media.

All contracts are for one year, and not guaranteed. As owners have relinquished the rights to television income, the salaries should be in line with their reduced revenues. The best players will continue to make the most money, but the one-upsmanship salary escalation caused by ego-gratification will end. A senior star will earn 3 1/2 times as much as an unproven entry-level worker. The union could pay supplemental salaries that were a percentage of owner-given salaries.
6. The owners may sign a maximum of two free agents annually at more than 80% of the maximum salary for the player’s service class. Teams may have a maximum of seven players earning more than 80% of the appropriate maximum salaries. This will allow players to “switch jobs” for the same reasons union workers in other occupations do. An electrician may get union scale anywhere, but may prefer working conditions, co-workers, management, and other factors offered by a particular employer. Money will not be a deciding factor for the players because their income will result more directly from the success of the game (without the owners having to open their books). Fans will benefit from greater continuity and greater parity.
7.

The season is too long and too grueling for religious fans (like me) who don’t want to miss a game, but don’t want to give up the rest of our lives either. Organized baseball must implement steps to shorten the season and game times and increase off-days. Children cannot be at the ballpark or even listening to the radio at 10:00 at night.

a.

Teams must schedule at least five Sunday doubleheaders a year. Ticket prices will be two-games-for-the-price-of-one. At least half of all Saturday games for each team must be day games. Many fans live more than a couple of hours from a major league city. They need to be able to make day-trips and weekend trips to ballparks.

b.

All rules must be strictly enforced as written to speed up the game. Pitchers have 20 seconds to throw a pitch. The batter must stay in the batter’s box, and not obliterate the lines. The first-baseman must stay on the bag until he catches the ball. There are no phantom double plays. The strike zone for both leagues is exactly as written. Fans should recognize that reducing offense will result in more close games, more exciting games, more strategy, and shorter games. Literal enforcement of the rules should result in fewer arguments with umpires.

c.

Game delays caused by violence are almost as bad as the violence itself. Batters (or baserunners) who take two steps toward the mound will be automatically suspended for seven games. The only appeal will be whether the batter actually took two steps toward the mound. Second suspensions are for 30 games. A third offense will result in expulsion. Violence toward fans will not be tolerated, and will result in a minimum suspension of 30 games without pay. Albert Belle should have been suspended for life for assaulting a fan with a baseball from point-blank range. In the future, the victimized fan will decide the length of the suspension. The commissioner must enforce the suspension. A player can appeal through the legal system, but must prove he didn’t commit the assault to prevail. These rules apply to violence at the ballpark.

d.

Umpires shall allow a total timeout of two minutes for mound conferences, unless there is an injury. After two minutes the manager and the incumbent pitcher will be ejected, and the team must donate 2,000 tickets to nonprofit organizations.

e.

Electronic scoreboards will show times for pitch release and mound conferences to pique the interest of the fans when a game appears to drag.

f.

Three-division play with the extra round of playoffs will be dropped. Purists and traditionalists have good reasons why the new format hurts the game, but more importantly, we just don’t have an extra week to devote to it. The World Series must be played in baseball weather.

g.

Television networks and stations must agree that games will not be delayed so they can squeeze in extra commercials. Shorter games will benefit television, too.

8.

Teams who wish to relocate due to inadequate revenue must first reduce ticket prices 25% for 40 games to determine if that will raise revenues.

9.

The Players’ Association corporation can, at their discretion, finance new ballparks or upgraded facilities.

Issues of revenue sharing, free agency, and salary arbitration are not directly addressed by this proposal, but I believe the problems may be solved. The proposal is from the fans’ perspective, and we don’t care about the business aspects of the game; we want to keep our teams, we want a competitive balance to allow our teams a level playing field (well, not necessarily literally), we want the owners and players to treat us as customers, and we want exciting, uninterrupted seasons. Let’s make “Play ball!” the dictate of the fans as well as the umpires.

 

 

 

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