Major League Baseball has been teetering on the edge for a while now.
Cheating investigations, juiced balls and then un-juiced balls, the gutting of the minor leagues, it’s all been kindling thrown into the fireplace. Now, it feels like the house is finally about to go up in flames.
Today, MLB announced its new protocols on sticky substances for pitchers. Understandably, everyone had a lot of feelings on the issue. But many – myself included – are also upset that this is somehow the headlining issue in the league this season when there are so many more important things going on.
But then two things happened that fanned the sparks into full-fledged flames:
1. Yet another minor league team’s underpaid players were revealed to be essentially homeless.
This isn’t the first of these stories that has come out this season. An MLB agent contacted me with proof that he’d had to book a hotel room for one of his players, even though the team publicly claimed that all players were going to be housed.
The mistreatment of minor leaguers has been going on for years, but it’s more unacceptable now, because it’s proof of a reneged promise. When MLB ended its affiliation with 42 minor league teams last December, one claim they made was that with the money they’d save by downsizing, they could improve the living and working conditions for the remaining affiliations. As expected, those were empty promises.
Minor leaguers are the future of this game. Imagine how much faster they would develop if they could afford basic necessities like housing and food. Imagine how much healthier they would be and happier in their work. Improving the minor leagues isn’t just the fair and humane thing to do, it’s the business-savvy move.
MLB has more than enough money to make sure this never happens again. This is a multi-billion-dollar business keeping their employees below the poverty line, and rectifying this is long overdue.
2. Tyler Glasnow got hurt and aired MLB out.
Did the people in charge of this new foreign substance crusade not consider the impact it would have on the pitchers? Since the beginning of June, many pitchers have gotten hurt, and it’s fair to wonder how many injuries were caused by this new crackdown. Glasnow’s comments are pretty damning.
I’m not half as concerned about spin rate as I am about how many players might need Tommy John surgery because they’ve first had to deal with the baseballs being changed (again) and now with not being able to grip the ball. As usual, MLB is focused on the wrong aspect of the issue, not to mention the issue is largely their own fault.
At this point, MLB’s waffling is confounding. Manfred has been hammering the pace-of-play issue for years, saying the game needs to speed up, but will now have umpires routinely inspect pitchers during games to check for banned substances. That will surely take up significant time. They un-juiced the baseballs this season, leading to a steep drop in offense, and then abruptly announced the ban on substances. The NESN broadcast Tuesday night noted that the league-wide batting average jumped seven points since this new ban was announced over the last week.
Rob Manfred was elected commissioner of MLB to make the owners money, and he has. Teams that haven’t been competitive in years are still valued in the billions. But it’s come at the cost of so much of what makes baseball good and special. Minor leaguers are living below the poverty line, fans cannot watch games five states away, nor can they afford to attend them, players are getting hurt in droves, and MLB isn’t fixing any of it. Ultimately, MLB is losing, or rather, destroying, precious intangibles that all their money will not be able to buy back.
When Theo Epstein joined the office of the commissioner earlier this year, I felt hopeful that maybe things would begin to change. After all, the former Red Sox and Cubs executive did what so few in this game do: he publicly held himself accountable for the part he played in getting baseball to the point it’s at now. Last year, I wrote that I didn’t think Manfred loved baseball. But like me, Epstein grew up a few minutes away from Fenway Park, a lifelong baseball fan who has always loved this game. Foolishly, I hoped.
And maybe things have to get worse before they get better. Maybe this is the dark before the dawn. But I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for MLB right now. Until they care about something other than money, baseball isn’t going to get better.