Given the rising salaries, the humongous TV deals, and this little fact after last night:
— Jeff Nuich (@JeffNuich) April 22, 2016
I guess we don’t have to worry too much about the appeal of baseball waning anytime soon. In fact, the commissioner is pretty cool about these things, from his quasi-wishy-washy openness to the designated hitter to his overt endorsement of exuberant celebrations in baseball.
“I think to the extent that you believe, and I actually do, that Bryce Harper is a spokesman for this generation, I suspect that you will see more exuberance from our players on the field,” Manfred said Thursday during a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors.
“I think it’s a good thing. I think that to the extent that you’re trying to market to a younger audience, our younger players taking control of the definition of those unwritten rules is a lot better than some guy who’s 67 years saying I did it that way and you ought do it the same way.”
So now that we’ve established that the head honchos are thinking about this, and are receptive to actually making baseball FUN, we explore the next thing Commissioner Rob Manfred is pondering–expansion:
“I have said publicly that I think baseball’s a growth sport, a growth business, that sooner or later growth businesses expand,” Manfred said. “I do see expansion as a longer-term proposition. I think there are certain issues in the game that need to be resolved first — the stadium situations in Tampa and Oakland being at the top of that list. In the longer term, there will be expansion. … If we were to expand, I do think a city that makes sense geographically — meaning in terms of realistic travel distances and is outside of the 48 contiguous states – would be a positive choice for us in terms of growing the game.”
This will be further in the future, but the seeds are planted for the obvious city (Montreal) to get a club, and to get baseball to 32 teams such that scheduling is more convenient. This suggests four-team divisions to allow for even pairings, and may actually reduce the number of interleague matchups as well as all-year interleague. I do happen to like the idea of full-year interleague, but those random two-game series are annoying. It does seem reasonable that a later provision in the next collective bargaining agreement, which has to be in place before the 2017 season begins, would deal with potential expansion. That’s more of an organizational issue from up top than a labor issue, but I imagine that setting up expansion drafts and ensuring revenue apportioning to new employees will be important.
First, as Manfred said in that article, they have to ensure that the current teams are stable. As it is, revenue sharing and the proper use of revenue sharing funds are kind of a big deal for MLB, as well as the tanking issue that has been exacerbated by the hard-slotting of draft picks and the tying of draft compensation to free agency (which allowed the Cubs to re-sign Dexter Fowler, yay for us, boo for him for not getting paid). The money is flowing, and the mechanisms are in place to market baseball better. They are addressing the blackouts and consumer access to baseball content, though I wish they’d do it better and faster. MLB also has the obvious problem of helping grow youth baseball, particularly with disadvantaged youths like African-Americans.
Beyond this, MLB will have to decide how to realign the leagues, how interleague will work (if at all), whether they adopt the universal designated hitter, and how scheduling will be balanced in division versus out of division. Would MLB allow for extra playoff slots with expansion as well? There will be an obvious dilution of talent since 32 rosters have to be filled versus 30, but baseball is also getting smarter.
On a Cubs-centric note, it used to be really tough for teams to make it to the postseason as they had to flat-out win their league to participate in the World Series. With the advent of divisions, it’s actually now easier to reach the postseason, and anything that could help the Cubs keep getting shots at the prize is OK with me. In fact, anything that keeps baseball going financially is probably OK, as long as it isn’t weird or illegal.