Baseball spring training is underway, which has always raised my spirits as a hallmark of spring. But my wintry mood won’t lift until Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred stops calling the game “The Industry.”

Growing up in Queens in the 1950s, baseball meant a lot to me. I was a big Yankees fan. Years later, I felt ashamed that my primary team hadn’t been the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought up Jackie Robinson as the major leagues’ first Black player in 1947, eight years before Elston Howard joined the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees were a “corporate” organization producing a string of World Series champions thanks to high revenues. Their post-War home attendance from 1946-50 went over two million annually, nearly twice the American League average. In 1951, the Yanks fell just 50,000 short. From 1951-60, baseball attendance dropped, but the Yankees drew roughly 1.5 million fans a season.

The Dodgers “struggled.” From 1950-57, they averaged 1.1 million tushes in seats. Unable to secure a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, they fled to Los Angeles in 1958. The Giants joined the exodus, leaving the Polo Grounds for San Francisco.

In 1961, the expansion New York Mets entered the National League. I was a fan from the beginning.

Okay, professional franchises (college football and basketball, too) have always focused on money. But when is enough enough?

MLB churns out a product to make big bucks in North America and globally. It sells a “brand” and rakes in hefty revenue for wealthy owners. Players get a reasonable share, if unequally divided. Average salary? $4.5 million. Recently, the L.A. Dodgers, who drew 3.8 million fans last year, signed pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani to a 10-year, $700 million contract.

Ohtani will defer almost all his salary until the contract expires. Can he live on, say, $5 million a year? His annual endorsement take may run $50 million or more. 

Who pays? The fans. Tickets, online access, parking, concessions and merchandise all cost a pretty pennydollar. Many Americans bitch about the economy, but MLB’s 2023 regular-season attendance topped 70 million.

The Chicago White Sox reflect The Industry. The Sox seek a new stadium. In 1991, I took my eldest son Seth on a baseball trip to the Windy City. It was the first season of the White Sox’ new ballpark replacing, and next to, Comiskey Park on the South Side. The Sox have never drawn as well as the North Side Cubs, so they want a new park closer to the Loop, Chicago’s downtown. They’re prepared to ask for $1 billion in public funding. The Industry loves capitalism, as long as it can feed at the public trough.

Enter the Oakland A’s. Miserable last year playing in a dilapidated venue (50 wins, 112 losses) and with MLB’s lowest paid attendance (832,000), they’re moving to Las Vegas. So they say. The A’s have yet to make public a definitive financing strategy and architectural plans for their proposed stadium. What we do know: The Nevada legislature approved up to $380 million towards the A’s proposed $1.5 billion ballpark. Nevadans who don’t care for baseball will still have to shell out.

I’m not giving up on baseball. I hope the Giants have a winning season. But The Industry leaves me lukewarm about a burning childhood passion.

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  1. George A on March 1, 2024 at 10:58 am

    I have this idea/joke with some friends: instead of trying to speed up the game and make it more corporate, the MLB should make its slogan “slow down, watch baseball.” Not going to happen anytime soon! But there’s nothing better than a leisurely afternoon at a ballpark.

    • David Perlstein on March 1, 2024 at 11:49 am

      Leisure is a plus, George. Unlike basketball, football and hockey, baseball lets you just hang out, enjoy the game and chat with friends. Except when the loud music plays and it’s hard to be heard. But you can enjoy suspense and thrills on one hand, unwind on the other. By the way, I went to spring training for five or six years and really enjoyed that, too.

  2. David Sperber on March 1, 2024 at 11:35 am

    Baseball doesn’t need the pitch clock. Another 20 minutes at the yard would be fine with me. (unless it’s Candlestick)

    • David Perlstein on March 1, 2024 at 11:46 am

      I hear you about staying in the yard, David. I confess, I like the pitch clock. Not the managing with computer analysis, though.

  3. David Newman on March 1, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    I am not one of those purists who think that baseball is the only game worth watching. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer (aka football) — I can enjoy them all — just not hockey. But baseball is unique in its lack of a clock and in the arcana of its rules. We were at a Giants game with Josiane, our friend from Paris, and Ellen asked me to explain the game to her. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. All I could say was to buy her a hotdog.

    It’s the lack of a pace that makes baseball different, both as a spectator and as a player. You never what’s going to happen or when, which means you have to pay attention at all times. That’s baseball’s charm.

    As for “the industry”? Feh!

    • David Perlstein on March 1, 2024 at 2:43 pm

      I like all sports, David, even hockey. Toughest sport to play. But baseball’s innings structure, not time, make it unique. As to your response to he Industry—meets mine.

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