Can baseball be great again?

Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants

Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings are about to take place in Las Vegas from December 7-11. A big TV event it is not, although ESPN and the MLB Network will follow any progress. But what transpires here, which usually includes trades and rule changes, will have an impact on next season. As General Managers, and even agents, prepare for the meeting, there are all sorts of rumors flying around. Potential trades for players like Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, who have a new GM and may enter rebuilding mode, are among the rumors.

Meanwhile, baseball has some real problems that reared their ugly heads during the 2018 season. Will they be addressed at the winter meetings?

Forbes Magazine recently reported that in 2018 baseball attendance fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003. It is true that poor weather impacted several games around the league early in the season. Baseball can simply fix this by scheduling early season games in warmer climates. But there are bigger issues.

In 2018, eight teams lost 95 games or more for the first time in MLB history. The distance between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. Big-market teams either make the playoffs or come close every year. They also make more trades and spend big on free agents. To the contrary, smaller market teams may be good for a year or two, but it’s never long-lasting. The 2018 Kansas City Royals are a far cry from the team that won the World Series in 2015, and played in it the year prior.

MLB should model the NFL in terms of discovering parity among its teams. The luxury tax system is not working and there should be not only a maximum salary cap, but a minimal salary cap that forces small-market teams to invest in players.

Once “America’s Pastime,” and a viable TV product, with the exception of its most committed fans baseball is now just another sport to watch when nothing else is on. The reason: games start and end too late, especially during the post season. The best part of any game is often the ending and the only people who see it, beyond loyal fans, are those on the west coast. World Series games go well past midnight on the east coast, and ratings show that by the third inning many viewers have tuned out.

Starting games earlier would assure that viewers across America could watch the end of the game. MLB needs to hold its ground with the TV networks, and their money, who want the prime-time eyeballs. But it’s killing the sport as a whole and denying future fans its most exciting moments. If only this is discussed at the winter meetings.

Dan Ladd

Dan Ladd

Dan Ladd is a freelance sports writer who works out of Gracenote’s Queensbury, NY office.

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