They say one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well if that’s true then congratulations baseball you guys are absolutely crazy. Last week Major League baseball officially locked out the players when their collective bargaining agreement expired. It's the first work stoppage in baseball in 25 years and the 9th in the sport overall. If you didn't even notice it was happening that's ok. A work stoppage in baseball in December is kind of like the lockout the NFL imposed on players in the spring of 2011: sure it sounds kind of ominous but literally nothing is actually happening anyway. Side note: NFL teams actually made money during the 2011 lockout. They didn't hold camps or tryouts, they didn't sign any players or have any travel or business costs yet they still tried to sell the " we need to cut staff during these difficult times argument". It was actually genius on their part. However, when the NFL does anything it's a big deal. So even a work stoppage where not a single game of any kind was missed led to enough panic by a football crazed nation to ratchet up the frenzy so that a deal would get done. Baseball doesn't have that luxury and the fact that a lot of people either aren't aware of the lockout or don't care about it speaks to the much larger issue baseball is faced with, remaining relevant.
Baseball has two very bad things going for it right now: declining ratings and an aging fan base. If you were gonna point out two things you would not want in your business model in the uber competitive search for eyeballs in professional sports, these would the two red flag -smoking gun -hazard lights -neon blinking warning labels that you would want to avoid at all costs. Yet that's the hand baseball is dealing with. The World Series this year averaged just over 11 million viewers per game over the series. This year an average regular season NFL game is averaging about 17 million. The numbers for the Cowboys/Raiders game on Thanksgiving ? A whopping 38 million viewers. When the pinnacle of your sport is getting dusted like that over a regular season game from another sport it's REALLY time to ask yourself " What the hell are we doing here?" And that's where I'd like to offer baseball a helping hand. I'm speaking to both the owners and the players here when I say.. don't be this stupid, you literally can't afford it. Baseball used to call itself America's past time. Not it's more logical to say baseball's time has passed. I get it, there will always be hardcore defenders of the sport. It has a long and noble tradition in the sporting landscape of America. But baseball in this way is no different than someone wanting to win an election: your hard core base is never going to be enough. You need to find a way to cross over and bring in someone outside the rabid hard core believers to push you across the finish line. You know the worst way to try and do that? Not play games.
There's no real rush at the moment as again, it's December. The real deadline for baseball will come some time in February when spring training is set to begin. If that's pushed back then we're talking about a potentially shortened season. But it's not enough to just avoid missing games.. it has to be about making the games more interesting to watch and not feel like every one of the 162 regular season games is like sitting down to watch all 3 Peter Jackson Lord of The Rings movies in one sitting. In 2021 an average major league baseball game lasted 3 hours 10 minutes and 7 seconds.. an all time high. Forty years ago an average baseball game lasted just over 2.5 hours. To quote the great Thanksgiving movie Planes, trains and Automobiles " YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY". So while there's no rush in December to come to an agreement there HAS to be some creative give and take on both sides to find a way to make the game more consumable. We live in a society that moves at the pace of a hockey game. Baseball's pastoral tempo makes it seem even more outdated. And let's be clear about something else: this work stoppage is about money. The owners want to pay less to the players and the players have no interest in giving a dime back. If you go down this road in the court of public opinion no one wins. There's only one way for baseball to win here and it's pretty simple: find a way to get to an agreement without missing games and find a way to speed up pace of play. Otherwise baseball will fall victim to one of the great quotes in the history of mankind from the philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”Baseball doesn't have the luxury of showing that level of hubris anymore. The juice simply ain't worth the squeeze.