If I’ve learned one thing from this Albert Pujols mess, it’s that I can no longer try to separate baseball in my head from financial reality.
I’ve tried for the last several years to ignore the cost of doing business and instead focus mostly on the product on the field. Mostly because it’s the only way I can save my love of the game from the vileness of the “business” of baseball.
But you just can’t do that anymore. Not only are the top players apparently out of reach of the winningest team in the history of the National League. It seems that the middle-of-the-road players aren’t far from getting beyond the Cardinals’ grasp, too.
Baseball players and its elite owners are celebrating a new, five-year labor agreement. Meanwhile, is it any coincidence that it was ratified at the same time Pujols signed a contract with the Angels that set new standards for fiscal insanity and the lopsidedness of the Major League Baseball playing field? We needed change in the way baseball does business. But all we got was a big dose of more of the same.
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While the Halos celebrated a new $3 billion local television contract by inking the two biggest free agents of the 2011-12 off-season, the Cardinals are the equivalent of a recession-era family canceling the gym membership and their cable television package to try to make ends meet while knowing that they’re a year or two of these troubled times away from having to make tougher cuts — such as whether to pay the electric bill or buy groceries.
We’re not talking about some lousy team that hasn’t won in a decade or two. We’re talking about the defending World Series champs being unable to compete with the major markets to retain their best player. It’s pretty easy to see that baseball needs a salary cap and revenue sharing if it’s going to survive.
It’s a shame that a handful of mega-market owners can hold the rest of baseball hostage. After all, wouldn’t all owners prefer to lessen the amount of money they had to spend on players if they had the choice? When you’re handing out 10-year contracts to guys who will be 32 before they play their first game, haven’t things gone too far?
It all boils down to ego. Why let the other guys compete when you’re a billionaire and you can try to buy a championship team instead of building one on your own?
With all due respect to Curt Flood, free agency does very little positive for the people who pay the freight of Major League Baseball. Even if you take the loss of Pujols out of the picture, it’s hard to forget that free agency and the mega contracts it produces are the driving force between such novel concepts as the $10 cup of beer and the $25 bleacher ticket.
We’re never going to get the free agency genie back in the bottle. But if teams imposed a salary cap and shared the money they bring in, it would make things equal for everyone involved and it would make baseball infinitely more interesting.
In the National Football League, Pittsburgh is a powerhouse. In baseball, the once proud Pirates have been doormat since the early 1990s. In the NFL, Oakland, Green Bay and Charlotte can compete with the big cities. In baseball, 3.3-million ticket sales in St. Louis make us a “small market” also-ran.
So, forgive me if I don’t hoist a $10 brew in honor of the new collective bargaining agreement that increases instant replay and interleague play while forgetting about the fans and making baseball the national game again.