While baseball fights, football's popularity soars - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

While baseball fights, football’s popularity soars

Orioles’ spring training is scheduled to begin in Sarasota, Florida on February 15th. Unless there’s a miraculous settlement of the dispute between Major League Baseball and the Players Association this weekend, that start will be delayed.

The Orioles’ first Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium on February 26th is soon likely to be a victim of a stalemate that shouldn’t exist.

And if there’s no settlement by about March 1st, the March 31st openers will be in jeopardy, too.

Baseball is self-destructing while the NFL is gaining in popularity. It has had two consecutive weekends of dramatic and thrilling football. The NFL couldn’t have scripted more exciting endings.

Baseball’s script was predictable, and it is sad. After two spring trainings disrupted or altered by the pandemic, a six-week spring training would have been what baseball needed.

The last thing baseball needed was a lockout — a labor dispute that neither side will win in the court of public opinion.

While owners supposedly don’t make much money in spring training and players aren’t paid their salaries until the regular season begins, the sides have upset fans who can’t make plans for spring training. Hotels, restaurants and other attractions in Sarasota will be hurt, and the owners will start feeling the effects in ticket sales.

Fans are focusing on the Super Bowl and the start of the Winter Olympics. Because the NFL season was a week longer this year, the Super Bowl is just two days before the scheduled start of spring training.

After watching the last two weekends of compelling NFL playoff games, it struck me and many other fans how foolish baseball looks, fighting while these great games are being played.

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One of the critical areas that isn’t being negotiated is the pace of play. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he doesn’t want to unilaterally institute a pitch clock, which many players object to, without a buy-in from the players.

The Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs game, considered by many to be the best football game they’ve watched, took only about three hours, 15 minutes, and that’s including overtime. If all World Series games were over by 11:30, there would be fewer complaints.

The NFL has huge problems that baseball doesn’t. This week, Brian Flores, the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, sued the league and three teams because he felt discriminated against. He also is charging Dolphins owner Steve Ross with offering him a $100,000 bonus to lose games and secure a more favorable drafting positions.

On Thursday, congressional hearings were held about alleged sexual improprieties in the Washington Commanders organization.

Despite these shocking stories, the NFL is more popular than ever, and baseball’s popularity continues to erode.

NFL owners and players don’t have a warm relationship. Their most recently negotiated contract was approved by a bare minimum, enabling the league to add a 17th game to its regular-season schedule.

The NFL players’ union isn’t nearly as strong as baseball’s. The owners know if they impose a lockout, NFL players will eventually fold because the majority of them have short careers and losing even a few games could be disastrous for them personally.

There aren’t guaranteed contracts in the NFL. Recently, Kansas City and Buffalo quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen signed long-term contracts. Mahomes’ 10-year, $450 million deal contains $141.485 million of guaranteed money. Allen’s eight-year $258 million contract has $150 million in guaranteed money.

Contrast that with the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, whose 12-year, $426.5 million contract is fully guaranteed. So are the contracts of other big stars.

Free agency gets a lot of publicity in the NFL, but star quarterbacks in the prime of their career never get to test the market. In baseball, the best players regularly get to free agency, and it enables owners to sell tickets after the hyped signings.

There are other facets in baseball that are far better. Spring training is more enjoyable than NFL training camps, and areas that host exhibition games make money from it.

While the recent Hall of Fame vote was controversial, there’s much less debate about the merits of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates.

Baseball has so many other problems. Many fans complain they can’t see their favorite team on television or online because of arcane blackout rules and, regrettably, the number of Black Americans in the major leagues has fallen dramatically, hurting the game on the field and economically.

Baseball is much more diverse than football. In 2021, 70 players who weren’t from the United States played in the NFL, an average of just over two per team. In baseball, more than a quarter of players are foreign born.

For the moment, there’s only one Black NFL coach, and baseball has just two Black managers, Houston’s Dusty Baker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, but baseball has recently had managers from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

It’s sad that with all these positives, baseball’s popularity has dropped, and the labor dispute has exacerbated it. The players and owners are never going to have an amicable relationship, but it needs to be far better than it is now, and both sides need to realize that while they bicker, fans turn to other sports for entertainment.

Longer Triple-A season: The Triple-A season has been lengthened by a week to 150 games. The Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk Tides will begin their season on April 5th and conclude it on September 28th.

The major league season is scheduled to begin on March 31st and end on October 2nd.

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