Here’s something said by pretty much every employee ever. “I work too much.” Now here’s the follow-up you don’t get. “I’d take less money.”
That’s the value proposition offered this week from Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who said he thought the Major League Baseball season is just too long. That’s a thought shared by pretty much anyone who’s ever watched an inning. It’s like saying a flight to China’s too long, or that 90210 went too many seasons. We know this. The current MLB regular season is 162 games. The NFL has 16. And I know it’s hard to compare. But the NBA has 82, and that can feel like Moby Dick by the end. It is virtually impossible to care about 162 anything. You can lose like 10 games in a row and still be in the playoff hunt. You can often find people taking complete and full-on naps in the bleachers. It looks like a college library sometimes. And of course, driving Rizzo‘s comments are more than simply anecdotal apathy, but some hard data to start this baseball season. Like the fact that attendance is down 10% league wide, and several teams have posted single game numbers that would have been a season’s worst last year. Add that to the fact that 24 games have already been canceled because of temperamental spring weather, a byproduct of starting an ideally summer sport in what many of us in the Northeast still psychologically consider winter. All that suggests the marathon that is baseball‘s regular-season creates the urgency of a workday at the DMV.
Then there’s the undo wear and tear on athletes’ bodies, who rarely recover mentally or physically from the constant strain of gameplay and travel. And yes, I know baseball is not ice hockey. But still, there is something to be said for R and R. Just remember the last weeklong business trip you took, and imagine doing that nonstop for like six months. So I think there’s relative consensus that a shorter baseball season would create better play and less interruption.
Which brings us to the more interesting part of Rizzo‘s comments, and apologies for burying the lead. Rizzo said in addition to playing fewer games, the players could inevitably take less money. Now saying less money in professional athlete negotiations is like saying fewer kegs at a frat party. It’s just typically not part of the vernacular. Even if it makes sense. What Rizzo is recognizing is that the 162 game season is now a natural condition and expectation of the salary world of professional baseball, a sport where gate revenue still constitutes the vital share of team coffers. So no matter how you slice it, going from 162 games to, let’s say 140, which still sounds like a whole lot, is going to require someone giving up something. That’s why you rarely hear discussions of shortening seasons or playoffs or anything. Generally speaking, the buzzword in sports scheduling is simply more. It’s why we’ve constantly heard rumors of the 18 game NFL regular-season, which most people now realize is simply two more opportunities for life altering concussions. Otherwise, it would already be a reality.
But just because Rizzo said the magic word, less, don’t assume it to be a serious consideration. You know all of those friends you have who have downsized and are learning to live more modestly with smaller houses and fewer cars and less gadgets. Yeah, me neither. So let’s not assume that of an entire sports populace, many of whom know they are earning their lifetime wages in only a few years. And I know there’s all these great ideas about how you could charge more per game for shorter seasons, or increase TV contracts, or owners giving up more revenue. It would also be great if we all used mass transit and composted.
I think about it like this. We should all eat more salad. Because we know it’s the right thing to do. But we end up eating French fries, because they taste great.
Anthony Rizzo is right. We should play fewer baseball games in less cold weather with more days off. But we won’t. Because contrary to Rizzo’s proposition, players might not enjoy giving back part of their salaries any more than they enjoy a spinach salad over the cowboy steak. Now, might that lead to financial strains a few years down the line and maybe a player lockout? Who knows. But unlike voluntary pay cuts, we have seen that before.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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