Keeping Score: Let’s fix this mess

Published: 11/27/2021 9:42:45 PM

Good morning!
When baseball’s basic agreement ends on Wednesday at 11:59 p.m., owners and players will have two-and-a-half months to hammer out a new deal.

Both sides need to work on making the game more exciting. According to statistics gleaned from baseball-reference.com, triples are down from 898 10 years ago to 671 last year. Meanwhile walks and strikeouts accounted for over 30 percent of all plate appearances.

That’s a whole lot of nothing, but worse is the failure to maintain a competitive balance, and exorbitant ticket prices have made that intolerable. According to frontoffice.com, the league saw a 33.9 percent drop in attendance from two years ago.

In the old days, players got stiffed and ticket prices were cheap. In 1967, the year of Boston’s Impossible Dream, the average big league salary was $19K, which is $150,426 today according to dollartimes.com.

Free agency became part of the basic agreement in 1977. Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley predicted that it would bankrupt baseball, but the owners simply passed the extra cost on to the fans.

Player salaries rose and so did the cost for tickets, beer and hot dogs. During a game at Fenway Park in the 1970s, I was standing behind Crosby Hunt at the beer stand under the third base grandstand. He got his beer and left a five cent tip. The vendor picked up the nickel and threw it at him. Five cents wasn’t worth a lot then either.

Boston’s first free agent was Bill “Soup” Campbell, a relief pitchers from the Minnesota Twins who signed for $1 million guaranteed over five seasons. On Opening Day of the 1977 season, Greenfield’s Steve Kramer hung a sheet over the centerfield wall that said, “Sell Campbell. Bring Back $1.50 Bleachers.”

Campbell came on with two out in the seventh inning and blew a 3-1 lead. The next morning, a photo of Kramer’s iconic sign was on the front page of the Boston Globe.

This year’s average MLB salary of $4.17 million was skewed by the 14 players who earned over $30 million. They include flat-out busts Mike Trout, Trevor Bauer, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the aforementioned 14 players combined to make more than the entire active payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates who finished 61-101.

Almost without exception every rookie that breaks into the big leagues earns the major league minimum of $570,500, including the AL and NL rookies of the year Randy Arozarena and Jonathan India, respectively.

They have virtually no bargaining power until they have six years of MLB service and become free agents. One exception is Tampa Bay rookie Wander Franco, a Willie Mays clone who signed this week for 12 years and $185 million.

Owners have learned to manipulate the system either by packing it in like the Pirates and five other teams that had at least 95 losses, or by finding good players with short service time like Boston GM Chaim Bloom, who got the Red Sox to the sixth game of the ALCS.

According to sportrac.com, Boston’s Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Nick Pivetta, Darwinzon Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec, Alex Verdugo and Christian Arroyo accounted for 2.25 percent of the 2021 payroll. Big contracts to Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi, plus dead money to David Price and Dustin Pedroia et al. accounted for the bulk of the rest.

It all amounts to this. MLB has become a league of haves and have nots. The system is broken and now’s a good time to fix it. Hopefully it’ll get done in time for the equipment trucks to leave for spring training on schedule.

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Utah residents Conner Mantz and Whittni Orton led BYU to a sweep of last weekend’s D-1 cross country championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. Mantz won the men’s 10K in 28:33, and Orton took the women’s 6K in 19:25.

Harvard’s Graham Blanks was the fastest men’s finisher from a New England school (23rd in 29:21) and Yale’s Kayley DeLay was the fastest women’s finisher (10th in 19:37).

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Glenn Youngkin’s days on the hardwood at Rice don’t compare to former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley’s three seasons at Princeton. Bradley scored 2,503 points for the Tigers according to sports-reference.com and Youngkin scored 82 points in four years at Rice. More important he won the Virginia governor’s race by 63,480 votes.

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Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com criticized ESPN for not mentioning Tom Brady’s slide “Ty Cobb spikes up” after a 10-yard run on Monday night. “That’s not cool. He put his spike in Ed Reed’s crotch one time and got fined $10,000 for it. I’m not here to bash ESPN but when you are in bed with this guy for the 10-part vanity project that I’ve got no interest in watching and you see something that merits at least a mention, you’re doing the audience a disservice. It’s OK to say the greatest player of all time did something a little dirty.”

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SQUIBBERS: Faces in the crowd spotted by Greenfield native Dave Lorenz at the UMass-Army game at West Point: Democratic strategist James Carville and actor Bill Murray. The latter’s appearance was fitting considering UMass is involved in its own version of Groundhog Day. … In Sunday’s NY Post, columnist Steve Serby asked Giants radio voice Bob Papa to reminisce on former coach Tom Coughlin: “Sitting in his office and seeing the kindness, the nature of his heart. [He was] one of the most misunderstood coaches to roll through New York. I think people are finally starting to understand the quality of the man.” … Apologies for omitting Ed Wozniakewicz of South Deerfield from the list of locals at Castleton U’s gridiron finale on Nov. 13. Ed Woz is coming up on 10 years as the football and women’s basketball teams’ athletic trainer … Sean Payton told Dan Patrick that taunting is over-called but that it is necessary. “When you start having players crawl over players with their crotch, the line’s gotta be drawn.” … Five time world chess champion Garry Kasparov was born in Azerbaijan and grew up under Soviet oppression. He now lives in New York City and is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Kasparov defined American “woke culture” as a “punitive neo-Puritan orthodoxy.” Umm, sounds about right. … “All hockey players are bilingual,” said Gordie Howe. “They know English and profanity.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com


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