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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 6, 2022 4:45 am PDT
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Here is my question to baseball fans this morning. It’s a simple one.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, how you feeling about your game?

Not so Super?

The NFL fan is in all his glory today. This is Super Bowl Sunday, a day NFL fans cherish. It’s party time. Load up the food, mix the drinks, call and text your friends and enjoy the biggest game of the year, no matter who is playing.

Just imagine, someday there might be a Jets vs. Giants Super Bowl.

This Sunday it happens to be the Bengals vs the Rams. This game has the kind of subplots that make it fun for even the casual fan, starting with Bengals QB Joe Burrow, who looks like the kid next door and could become the first quarterback to win the Heisman, college championship and the Super Bowl, a different Triple Crown.

Burrow shows flashes of Joe Montana and Tom Brady. He shows composure, the must have ingredient for every star quarterback. The NFL gives their fans what they want, too. Every team, no matter the size of the city, has a genuine chance to go to the Super Bowl.

Baseball offers its fans tanking teams from small markets and even sometimes from big markets.

The Bengals are a great story and just imagine if baseball offered the same angle with their team from Cincinnati.

“It’s a Super Sunday for football fans. It’s another lockout day for baseball as the owners continue to find every way possible to alienate their players, that’s a given, but also what should be their most prized commodity, their fans.”

The Rams are fun too with all their stars like wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive tackle supreme Aaron Donald. Can Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford finally win The Game after all those dreadful years in Detroit? “It’s a long time coming,’’ Stafford said this week.

The point is, football fans have their questions answered on the field of play. That’s all sports fans ask. To have the opportunity to see it play out on the field, nothing else matters and the NFL delivers that, for the most part, every Sunday.

What has baseball delivered?

A lockout. Thanks, owners.

On this day, the two sports stand for exactly who they are and how they treat their fans.

It’s a Super Sunday for football fans. It’s another lockout day for baseball as the owners continue to find every way possible to alienate their players, that’s a given, but also what should be their most prized commodity, their fans.

The Story cares about fans as you can tell from our previous work. I called one of my friends on the West Coast on Saturday, a Jersey transplant, who is huge sports fan, a huge baseball fan, who has had a family member working in baseball and asked him about what’s going on with baseball and what they are doing once again to the fans.

“They are treating the fans like crap again, no surprise,’’ he told BallNine. “That’s what they do.’’

He absolutely nailed it. That’s what they do.

To steal a sage comment from Bill Parcells, another Jersey guy, “You are what your record says you are.’’

It takes a couple of Jersey guys to cut through all the crap. Parcells is a big baseball fan too and I would run into him in spring training in Jupiter. I also learned something about him this week that I did not know. He used to go to a good number of games in Trenton to watch the minor league team, that’s how big a fan he is of the game. There was one game in fact, back in the day, that Parcells and Dick Vermeil both attended, the Eagles and Giants both in the minor league house.

Like Parcells noted, You are what your record says you are.

NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells attends batting practice before the spring training game between the Miami Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on March 04, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Baseball’s record with its fans grows worse by the day under current commissioner Rob Manfred, but again, Manfred is only carrying water for the owners. He’s just doing his job and as we have seen recently around the world that is a most convenient excuse.

His job is to make the owners as much money as possible, it is not to make the fans happy in any way with the state of the game. And that is a shame.

This is similar to another MLB lawyer who was arguing in court this week on behalf of baseball in an eight-year-old case involving a minor league compensation suit, offering the argument that just by training, baseball is taking care of minor leaguers.

The lawyer said, according to Evan Drellich of the Athletic: “It is the players that obtain the greater benefit from the training opportunities that they are afforded than the clubs, who actually just incur the cost of having to provide that training. During the training season, the players are not employees, and would not be subject to either the Fair Labor Standards Act or any state minimum wage act.’’

Cry me a river, baseball, and stop treating your minor league players like unpaid interns.

Baseball hired an expert who said players in spring training actually receive a value of $2,200 weekly from their teams, based on what youth and amateur players pay for baseball training, according to the report.

Each team’s training is of equal value. I don’t think so.

Isn’t baseball wonderful? MLB and the Players Association, which represents major league players, could both do more to help minor leaguers.

Jake Cave played enough time in the minors that his opinion is one that was welcome to be heard. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As expected, players did not take kindly to that report and ex-Yankee minor leaguer and current Twins outfielder Jake Cave exclaimed in a tweet: “Minor Leaguers grind for scraps all year just to live out a dream. They sleep bad, they travel bad, and they eat bad. Most of them do not receive substantial signing bonuses. This is one of the worst bullshit arguments I’ve ever seen.’’

As Mel Allen used to say: How about that!

Jake Cave knows what he is talking about. The outfielder was a sixth-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2011 and has played 714 minor league games through the years in seven different cities. He is not just talking out of his cap.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, it is Super Sad how baseball goes about its business on so many fronts.

You put up with this as a minor league player to chase the dream, to get to the end of the rainbow and if you make it you are set for life and so are your kids and in many cases your kid’s kids.

But what of the fan?

What does the fan get for his trouble?

A change in spring training plans if you had your heart set on going to Tampa or Port St. Lucie or Fort Myers in the Grapefruit League or out to Scottsdale and other Arizona cities in the Cactus League this week.

NFL fans get their Super Bowl Sunday and their memories like New York Giants fans who can look back to two relatively recent special Super Sundays as they remain caught in the quicksand that is football in the Meadowlands.

You are what your record says you are.

MLB made a proposal Saturday in New York to the union. They call it negotiations.

The meeting lasted less than an hour. According to reports the league presented a 130-page proposal, among other things raising the minimum salary to $630,000.

Combined file photo shows Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred (L) in Phoenix, Arizona, on Feb. 21, 2017, and Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, in Bradenton, Florida, on Feb. 27, 2018. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

So, yes, spring training will be delayed, something I predicted would happen months ago and now it can get worse because now the players, a most competitive lot, will dig their heels in even further. The MLBPA remains, and here is the key word, underwhelmed with MLB’s offers.

I think that is a perfect word to describe everything baseball in this era: underwhelmed.

I personally am underwhelmed by the way the game is played today, home run, strikeout or walk. I am underwhelmed by the way the wisdom of past generations of baseball people has been tossed aside by the game in favor of the elites now running front offices. I am underwhelmed by the constant changing of the particulars of the game. I like 90 feet between bases and 60 feet six inches from the pitcher to home plate. I like normal sized bases. I like human umpires. I like hustle. I like speed. I like defense. I like a runner going first to third. I like all those aspects of the game that made it such a great game.

I am underwhelmed by Rob Manfred. I am underwhelmed by how out of touch both sides of the labor argument are with what is going on in this country.

I am a bit overwhelmed by inflation that is running amok in the United States. Forget about the price of a game ticket and the cost of two hot dogs and two beers, just imagine how much it is going to cost families to fill up the gas tank when they make the trip to the ballpark, especially if that trip is from a great distance.

So much in the game is underwhelming now, it’s really kind of overwhelming for fans of the game to shell out the cash it takes to see a game.

Like Ray Kinsella wanted to know at the end of Field of Dreams, “What’s in it for me?’’

What is in it for MLB fans?

Ray fumed to Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Why him? I built this field, you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me … I want to see what’s out there.’’

Shoeless Joe calmly said: “But you are not invited.’’

Ray Liotta, left, and Kevin Costner in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe.”Credit...Universal Pictures

“Not invited,’’ Ray said incredulously. “That’s my corn out there. You guys are guests in my corn.’’All the corn in MLB is there because of the fans. The players and owners are guests in the fans’ cornfield. Never forget that.

In the end, Ray Kinsella does get what his heart so desired: “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?’’

But that’s a movie. In real life, baseball fans once again are pushed aside. Spring training will have to wait. The regular season will have to wait.

It’s as if MLB is saying to the fans, “You’re lucky to get what you get. Here is your DH, but now the postseason will be essentially an open tryout. As for the game itself, we know better than you what to give you what you want and if you don’t like it, too bad, learn to live with the new rules and new style of play. Take it or leave it.’’

We all know the danger with that approach.

Meanwhile, football fans, NFL fans, get to have it all this Super Sunday.

They get to see if a bright young rising star of a quarterback can survive against the Rams defense and if he can keep up with the multi-layered, high-powered Rams offense. And they get it at a decent hour, unlike postseason and certainly World Series games that end after midnight, this will not be too late of a game. They also get Super Bowl commercials, a halftime show extravaganza that is built for the social media world, tons of food and drink, and maybe even a Super game in an NFL playoff season that has been tremendous after that first wave of playoffs.

What do baseball fans get?

The highly anticipated event of the union’s counter proposal to the owners. And when this does end, a rushed spring training, which certainly will lead to even more injuries than usual, a more watered-down season and if the numbers are anything like 2021, a lot of standing around.

In 2021, there were 42,145 strikeouts. There were 15,794 walks.

So, if you are keeping track at home, and AMBS keeps track, that is 57,939 at bats where basically nothing happened. I would equate that to 57,939 quarterback sneaks.

Football keeps the action flowing. They get it.

That’s why, by the time Super Bowl Sunday rolls around and is done, NFL fans have a feeling of satisfaction.

This day used to mean to baseball fans, it’s now time to roll into baseball season with the start of spring training.

Not this year.

There is nothing Super about being an MLB fan these days.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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