Originally Published: May 23, 2018 6:04 a.m.
Major League Baseball has an identity problem. It’s a $10 billion a year business with 30 divisions, all of which are profitable, but management and labor can’t agree on what they want the sport to be.
On one hand, MLB is attempting to address complaints that the game is slow and boring, which is why its core demographic is 15 years older than that of the NBA. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s efforts to speed up pace of play haven’t been uniformly embraced. Pitch clocks. No-pitch intentional walks. A fixed number of mound visits. Assessing strikes on hitters who delay stepping into the batter’s box.
Those changes may cut game times by 15-20 minutes, which isn’t likely to draw new fans but at least they shouldn’t offend diehards. Best of all, they won’t change the essence of the game like more radical suggestions such as putting a runner at second base to begin extra innings, an experiment introduced in the minor leagues this year.
Unfortunately for MLB, it needs the consent of the Players Association to implement most changes and the union has been an unwilling partner. They’re licking their wounds from the effects of the last CBA that may have short-changed the players by giving teams the ability to reduce the financial windfall of free agency.
In what may be a tit-for-tat, in April MLB sent a warning memo to all 30 teams advising them that players must adhere to the footwear requirements in the CBA, which says “at least 51 percent of the exterior of each player’s shoes must be the club’s designated primary shoe color” or be subject to fines. For most clubs the designated shoe color is black, adopted decades ago when other options were unavailable but which is passé by today’s standards. Spikes, like players’ uniforms, are available in multiple colors and various shades.
Several players who take pains to color coordinate their entire outfit have complained about enforcement of a rule that had heretofore been ignored. In a statement to ESPN, MLB said, “We have shoe regulations that were negotiated with the union in the last round of bargaining. If players have complaints about the regulations, they should contact their union which negotiated them.” According to MLB, the “issue is currently being discussed as part of a larger discussion about apparel and equipment.”
The Players’ Association countered that it was “not currently negotiating a deal with MLB on apparel or equipment, but we have left the door open for further discussions on what a fair and equitable deal might look like.” Talk about an embarrassing dialogue. On an issue that would attract the attention of the sought-after NBA demographic, the parties can’t get their act together.
For a variety of reasons baseball isn’t like other sports. Trying to make it something it isn’t could prove counterproductive. But allowing players to express themselves with their footwear is a no- brainer: an effective way to connect with today’s youth. Owners and players should set aside their differences for the good of the sport.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.