The baseball owners are driving the sport into an abyss

The sports world is slowly moving toward one of the most marketable events in its history — the resumption of play following the spring 2020 coronavirus outbreak — and baseball has found a way to screw it up. The NHL and NBA are chugging toward returns. The NBA in particular seems ready to dominate ratings and captivate the nation maybe even more than the 10-part documentary The Last Dance did in April and May. Baseball, somehow, has angered its fans, angered its players even more, and turned what could have been a joyous return to an 80+ game season into probably a sour, awkward 50-game season.

When I say baseball screwed this up, hear this loud and clear: The baseball owners are entirely to blame. See, in March, when the league first halted operations, the owners and players agreed that should the 2020 season be shortened, the players would receive their full per-game salary. They would lose pay if the season was shortened, but it would remain proportional to what they would normally make. Once the owners realized the season would be drastically shorter and not have fans in stadiums, they decided to go back on their deal. They have insisted on the players taking further pay cuts, below pro-rated levels.

They say this is necessary due to the economic downturn. They’ll invoke the team employees who they’ve continued to pay (they have laid off and furloughed many, though), and say the players need to take cuts for the greater good.

This only makes sense when you ignore the tremendous wealth and power the owners have and the players do not. This is what the owners want — they don’t want anyone to talk about just how fantastically wealthy they are. They are multi-billionaires. They are multiple thousands of times wealthier than some of the more wealthy MLB players. They should be taking the financial hit here, to better the sport, instead of asking those less fortunate to do so.

I realize it’s not popular to refer to MLB players as “less fortunate,” but in this situation, it works. Relative to the owners, the players are ants.

Consider this: Players have a short window during which they can earn baseball money, and it’s entirely dependent on their performance. If they play well and win, they get paid well. If they don’t, they’re fired. The greatest MLB careers last 20 years; the vast majority last a quarter of that time, or less.

The owners, in contrast, have an unlimited window of time in which to earn baseball money. They have their team forever, and they’ll pass it down to their children or sell it for a massive lump sum. And it doesn’t even matter if they win. They don’t get fired for losing or being bad at owning a baseball team. Trust me, Pirates fans have wondered. They’re not even required to spend a certain amount on player salary. If they want, they’re allowed to recoup some of their Covid losses later on down the road by refusing to sign big contracts (this would result in a lot of losing, but some owners don’t mind that).

Owners have exponentially higher earning power than players, and therefore should not be shoving the Covid losses onto the players. It’s shameful.

The owners will pay for this. Baseball will take a hit. The NBA will leap even further into the stratosphere while baseball crawls from a labor dispute to a 50-game season that should be 80 games or more. Baseball is already hurting, and this won’t help ticket sales (once they return) or TV ratings this summer. This will be another blow to a sport that has had more miscues recently than it should have.

The owners will take a hit, but nowhere near as big as the one the players will take. I’m sure that no matter what happens with the 2020 season, the owners will pass as much of the loss onto the players as they can. They will give out smaller free agent contracts, some teams won’t sign free agents (the Pirates started this practice in advance). Maybe there will be a lockout in the near future. The fans will probably get hit with raised ticket prices, new TV packages they have to buy, and said lockout.

The owners are making this as ugly as possible, because they’re the ones driving tanks. They can take the damage and continue being wildly rich. The players will take pay cuts (minor league players already don’t make a living wage, and many were released in May), some fans will stop being able to enjoy the national pastime, and the owners will still make huge profits. Not as big as before, maybe, but still huge. They might actually be bigger than before with the way TV contracts are expanding. Who knows.

Our national pastime deserves better leadership than this.

A guide to watching old Pirates games during a spring without baseball

If you are stuck in your house, practicing self-isolation and/or social distancing, miss the idle entertainment of live professional sports, and have an irrational love of the Pittsburgh Pirates, this is your post right here. Welcome to a very small club. Let’s watch some baseball until we can get back to watching baseball.

I made the discovery recently that MLB has quietly uploaded every single regular season and playoff game since 2009 to Youtube. That is flat-out crazy. For some reason they have never advertised this fact, but they’re all there, and titled in a neat, searchable way. Here’s a reddit post explaining how to find any of them.

Here is a guide to which 16 Pirates games from this time period you should fill your quarantined days with. Just have it on in the background while you do things around the house. That’s what I do half the time during real games anyway. It will make things seem normal. And every so often you’ll get to see Rod Barajas or Clint Barmes, or something.

I’m not doing this in a rankings format. That’s the most tired format in the world of lists. This will be categorical and give equal appreciation to all.

The greatest hits

The Cueto Game, 10/1/2013 — AKA The Blackout Game, AKA The Wild Card Game. This is the greatest of them all, the greatest game of baseball a Pirates fan born in the last 30 years has seen. It needs no fast-forwarding, every moment is glorious.

NLDS Game 3, 10/6/2013 — The underrated followup to The Cueto Game. In a thrilling game at PNC Park, the Pirates scored last and took a 2-1 lead in the Division Series over the Cardinals, who had won the division and were the betting favorite. The Wild Card was a blowout; Game 3 was a brilliantly close game.

NLDS Game 2, 10/4/2013 — The Bucs’ only playoff win in St. Louis. Rookie Gerrit Cole impressed and ultimately earned the Game 5 start here. Pedro Alvarez homered and the Pirates blew out the Cards to steal home field advantage.

McCutchen walks off STL, 7/11/2015 — Likely the best regular season game ever played at PNC Park. The two best teams in baseball met for the third night in a row, and the Pirates were drawing near the Cardinals in the standings. They pulled even closer when Andrew McCutchen hit his greatest home run in the 14th inning, scoring two runs for a 6-5 win.

“The place is a mob scene”, 7/12/2015 — The classic game mentioned above got an encore, combining to make the most unforgettable weekend in PNC Park’s 19-year history. The Cardinals had a two-run lead with two outs in the 10th, and were poised to put a stop the Pirates’ divisional comeback. But the Bucs strung a few hits together, and Gregory Polanco’s bases-loaded single prompted one of Greg Brown’s most memorable calls. And it all went down on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

MLB debuts

Gerrit Cole, 6/11/2013 — He threw three pitches at 99 miles per hour to strike out the first batter he faced. He hit a two-RBI single in his first at-bat. A team with a bright future got considerably stronger.

Starling Marte, 7/26/2012 — Marte hit a home run on the first pitch he ever faced in the big leagues, the first pitch in this game featuring National League Astros with their old uniforms.

Josh Bell, 7/9/2016 — It’s the day after his actual debut but we’re counting it. The mighty Chicago Cubs in a full PNC Park, the weekend before the All-Star break, a fairly-hyped hitting prospect. His grand slam almost cleared the entire stadium.

I would’ve included Andrew McCutchen’s debut on 6/4/2009 (2-for-4 with a walk, one RBI and three runs) but I couldn’t find the film.

Folk heroes

The Clint Barmes Grand Slam Game, 8/12/2012 — This was in the waning days of the 2012 season’s enjoyability. The Pirates were flirting with playoff contention for the first time since 1992. A couple weeks after this game “The Collapse” would be in full swing, but on this Sunday afternoon, everyone’s favorite bad-hitting shortstop hit a grand slam off the foul pole to turn a 3-run deficit into a lead.

The Drew Sutton Game, 7/3/2012 — Who is Drew Sutton, you ask? He is Some Random Guy. He played parts of four seasons in the majors and this Tuesday evening was just his seventh game with the Pirates. He’d appear in just 17 more, OPSing .697 along the way. The perfect Random Guy. The Pirates were down by four at two different times in this game, and Joel Hanrahan blew a save, but it ended with Some Guy (who?) hitting a walkoff homer. He was never heard from again.

The Pedro Florimon Game, 8/18/2015 — Another Random Guy coming up big. This one was kind of lost amid a sea of wins in 2015, the high-water mark of the 2010s Pirates. But it was a weird one. The Pirates blew a big lead to a pretty bad Arizona team, and then both bullpens went into lockdown for an hour or two. At one point Florimon was jeered by the crowd for failing to bunt properly. In the 15th inning he hit a walkoff triple. The absolute best part of this: He was designated for assignment mere hours after the game.

Martin buries the Brewers, 9/19/2014 — Russell Martin is not a Random Guy (he’s the best catcher the Pirates have had in a while), but he is a folk hero. This isn’t his greatest moment (that would be the Wild Card Game, see above), but this is still a top-ten PNC Park moment in my opinion. The Pirates and Brewers were pretty close in the Wild Card race, and this game kind of broke the tension and made it clear which team would finish ahead.

Oddities

Matt Hague walkoff hit by pitch, 5/26/2012 — I recall very little about Matt Hague, mainly two things. One: Coaches for some reason called him “the hit collector.” This doesn’t really check out because his major league career consists of 84 at bats and only 19 hits. Two: He once walked off a game by being hit by a pitch.

Astros drop the popup, 5/17/2013 — “Looks like we’re going to extra innings. OH NO THE PIRATES WIN IT!”

Drought-ending wins

Clinching a playoff berth at Wrigley in 2013, 9/23/2013 — One of the great games of the magical 2013 season. It ended with one of the most unforgettable defensive plays I’ve ever seen. The result was a lockerroom celebration 20 years in the making. This win sent the Pirates to the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Number 82, 9/9/2013 — This win mathematically guaranteed that the Pirates would have a winning season in 2013. They had not done that since 1992. This was a big deal.