Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Problem with MLB

Over the 4th of July weekend, MLB unveiled Stars & Stripes caps for all 30 MLB teams as part of a "Welcome Back Veterans" program created by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Though the Stars & Stripes program is not relevant to the Toronto Blue Jays, fortunately for Blue Jay fan, they were not left out of the program (their cap had the Canadian flag).

According to the AP, Wilpon hopes to raise $100 million. MLB will donate a portion of the cap sales (retailing at $34.99 each) to the program. The majority of the revenue not going to the vets will go to MLB, Mr. Wilpon himself and the other MLB owners. This is another classic example of MLB trying to do the "right" thing, but once again, coming up short. MLB's recent stances regarding uniforms, PED's and "staged moments" indicate that there needs to be a change at the top, specifically Bud Selig.

Regarding uni's, in March 2007 MLB instructed Craig Biggio to remove a cancer pin he had worn on his hat during spring training games for the previous 20 years. Biggio was the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids foundation. Baseball card photos are usually taken during spring training and during his involvement with the cancer stricken kids, he knew how important it was for them to see the pin on his baseball card. However, baseball didn't give a damn about kids with cancer. MLB sent a fax to the Astros advising management for him to remove the pin. The umpires working the next spring training game were advised that he was not allowed to take the field with the pin.

MLB didn't support Biggio's charitable work for cancer and forced him to remove a pin during meaningless exhibition games. One year later, MLB is dictating to all players that they need to wear a Stars & Stripes cap and appear as if they support the veterans whether they personally do or not. Most educated fans see this for what is: a publicity stunt and another way for MLB to milk the fans of their money by making them purchase yet another "special" cap. Using recent history as a guide, MLB does not support children with cancer, but whole heartily supports the veterans. A bit of a hypocritical stance for MLB, but that's how they roll under current leadership.

If only MLB was as vigilant with PED's as they were with uniform violations, perhaps MLB will not be questioned by Congress every six months. It is nice to know that their response time was about the same for uniform and PED violations: 20 years after the initial violation! After 20 years of wearing the pin, MLB decides to "crack down" which is approximately the same amount of time it took for a steroid testing program to be implemented after the drugs first started appearing in the sport. Excellent work, MLB - way to be enforcing uniform violations rather than players using illegal drugs - that's keeping your eye on the ball.

The reason why MLB was not out in front on both issues comes down to the same issue: money. When Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire brought baseball back from the brink, ownership and the Commissioner were not at all going to ruin a good thing. Attendance, ratings and interest were all up. That was not the time to "do the right thing" and set the right example for the kids who looked up to these juiced up ballers. Going as far to incorporate benefits of the Roid Era into marketing campaigns ("Chicks Dig the Long Ball") is proof that the people in the home office knew what was selling and they were going to ride it to the bank.

Uniforms too were changing about every three years for every non historical team (Devil Rays to Rays, different logos, etc.). MLB and ownership trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the public by constantly parading new merchandise for the fans. A fan of the New York Yankees is not going to buy a new Yankee lid each year, but a fan of the Brewers might buy the new uniform lid, retro lid and/or the Sunday home lid to mix it up with his old lid. Ownership will say that they have to change uniforms every 3 to 5 years in order to compete with the traditional powers because of the economic inequalities. Merchandise revenue is just another source of revenue that would allow a small market team to compete with a traditional, big market club.

The other issue with this Stars & Stripes event is it has the same feel as other "staged events" recently held by MLB. Usually these events occur at historical moments such as Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron or at the All-Star Game, where an icon from the sport will be brought out and the current stars of today will race out to slap five with the "old school" player. This took place at the 1999 All-Star Game when Ted Williams rode out of center field on a golf cart and was then greeted by the current all stars at the pitcher's mound. The fans appreciate the spontaneous historical moments, like when Aaron passed Ruth and the two fans ran out on the field to congratulate him. These forced celebrations have the sincerity and feel of a forced smile at a disgruntled family reunion. Stop banging us over the head and making the public feel like they are witnessing something "special" or "historic". They (and time) will make that determination.

Personally I haven't seen too many people rolling in their team's Stars & Stripes lid so I think Mr. Wilpon will have to revise his goal of $100 million downward. Either that or hope fans have buyers remorse when MLB busts out the S&S lids on Sep. 11th.

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