When people discuss the four major sports in the country, the order usually goes football, baseball, basketball and hockey. It seems to be the consensus no matter where you go. If you would have told me in 2004-2005, when the NHL canceled their season due to a lockout, that in 2011, the NHL would be the league that has it right, I would have called you crazy. That is exactly how it stands now, though. The NFL has the current labor talks that are going on where the 2011 season is in question. It’s a battle of greedy billionaires and greedy millionaires who can’t agree on how to split 8 billion dollars. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, wants to extend the season to 18 games, but insists he is concerned for the safety of the players. The players want us to feel bad for them because their insurance runs out when the current agreement expires. Sorry, not gonna happen. Goodell turned 52 yesterday, so how about as a birthday present, you give us football for the 2011 season.
The NBA is also facing a possible lockout situation that isn’t getting as much publicity as the NFL and there has been talks of contraction instead of the usual expansion. We’ve heard comments from David Stern addressing the situation over the weekend at the All-Star game festivities. Do you think maybe he should have rethought all of the teams he brought into the league in markets that frankly don’t care about basketball? Charlotte failed with the Hornets and he felt they would support a team in the Bobcats? Or maybe it is the curse of the Hornets, as New Orleans hasn’t really embraced them either. The Sacramento Kings are trying to move to Anaheim next year in hopes of resurrecting their following. It’s an ugly situation that will only get worse.
Then you have Major League Baseball, a sport that I have always loved more than any other. Sure, there is not a lockout or a strike shortened season like that of 1994 (Montreal fans still haven’t gotten over that one), but the way the business is run is running the sport into the ground. Take for example, this past week and the Albert Pujols contract negotiations. Pujols is the best player in baseball and should be paid as such, but he is demanding a 10 year deal worth $300 million dollars. Now, Pujols has never been known to be the nicest player there is in the game, but I have always had tremendous respect for him as a player and consider him one of the best hitters I have had the pleasure to watch. Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are the top few that I have seen in person. That’s quite some company for Pujols to be in. Granted, three of them have been linked to performance enhancers, but nonetheless, exceptional hitters. But, for Pujols to demand $300 million at the age of 31 is sickening. Remember in 1979, Pittsburgh Pirates great, Dave Parker, became the first baseball player to earn a million dollars a season. Pujols wants $30 million per season. How far is this going to go?
Baseball is the only sport that doesn’t have a salary cap and it never will. Growing up a Pirates fan, you need to have another team that you follow that gives you hope and that team for me is the Boston Red Sox. As a typical Red Sox fan, I’d always complain about the New York Yankees and how they buy their way to championships. While I still like Boston and pull for them to win, I am slowly starting to become disgusted with them as well, as they have become a mirror image of their hated rival. For example, this season, the Yankees have a payroll of $196.5 million dollars and the Red Sox have a payroll of $161 million. Compare that to the Pirates who have a $32.6 million, how are they supposed to compete? The system is flawed but baseball won’t change it anytime soon. What they do instead is give the smaller market clubs that have no chance to compete a revenue share, a.k.a “hush money.” I’m not saying it isn’t possible for small market teams to win, but to be consistently competitive, it isn’t going to happen.
Baseball is slowly turning into a 8-team league with 22 exhibition teams. Teams like the Minnesota Twins went from from being a small market club, to having a payroll of over $101 million because of signing their homegrown catcher, Joe Mauer. For the Twins, like with Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals, it will only hurt their team in the long run. They become stuck in a position where they either let the face of their franchise leave as a free agent or hurt their team in the long run investing so much into one player. Although there is no salary cap, the owners can only afford so much. If the Cardinals stock $300 million into Pujols, how are they supposed to assemble a reputable squad surrounding him to compete?
We’ve seen teams like the Florida Marlins have a good year every four years and then disassemble the team. Once the players contracts are up, they can’t afford them and they bolt for the dollars from the big market teams. Around this area, all you hear about the Pirates is the losing that occurs and how we always get rid of the good players. My argument to that is that we didn’t win when the players were here and when they go somewhere else, how good do they really do? Even if we don’t trade them away, you don’t think the Jason Bay’s or the Aramis Ramirez’s of the Pirates will leave for the money and the chance to win when they hit free agency? The only chance for a team like the Pirates is to buy out the arbitration years and ink the young stars to long term deals. It’s a risky call though, because at that age, there is no telling how they will turn out to be.
As odd as it sounds, the other sports need to take a cue from the NHL in a situation where the lockout in 2004 is the best thing to happen to the sport in awhile. The following around the country has become stronger and becoming more and more mainstream each day. The NHL signed a contract with the television station, Versus, following the lockout and extended it through the 2010-2011 season. Look for ESPN to pick up hockey like it did and look for the Winter Classic to be a bargaining tool, as the exposure due to the New Year’s game has boosted the ratings. I think I speak for the majority of sports fans when I say that I hope the NFL and NBA can avoid an ugly lockout, but if not, hopefully they can take note of what the NHL did to improve their sport and not take the path that they are on which is ruining a good product.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com