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Personal Note From the Editor
HERE’S THE PITCH mourns the loss of Tommy Lasorda, 93, who had been the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. A Dodger organizational man for more than 70 years, he passed away Thursday after suffering his third heart attack. Lasorda was a left-handed pitcher who started his career at age 18 but never won a game in the majors. He lost his Brooklyn roster spot to Sandy Koufax, who also beat him to Cooperstown. Lasorda was an outspoken but charismatic manager who succeeded Walter Alston, an earlier Hall of Famer, and befriended a myriad of Hollywood types, including Frank Sinatra. He was also the target of pranks pulled by Jay Johnstone, Jerry Reuss, and others.
Did you know ...
When Bert Campaneris became the first man to play nine positions in a game in 1965, he had to leave in the ninth after a home-plate collision with incoming baserunner Ed Kirkpatrick . . .
Current Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper had the fewest home runs per at-bats (1 in 3,379 official trips) of any player in major-league history . . .
Brian McCann’s game-winning home run for the Braves against the Marlins on Aug. 29, 2010, was the first-ever confirmed by videotape replay . . .
Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor got their 3000th hit on the same day, September 16, but three years apart.
MLB’s Revenue Problem
By Brian Koss
While MLB might have been able to salvage a short season in 2020, the loss of 102 games was not without consequence. MLB and their franchises lost plenty of money and this may just be the beginning of the visible impact of those losses. Spring Training is set to begin in the next six weeks and plenty of uncertainty still remains headed into the 2021 season.
First up, what will happen with Spring Training? Last season, Spring Training was shut down by the pandemic in mid-March. In 2021, the Spring Training schedule is set, but what expectations can be had for attendance? The decrease in travel will surely have a negative relationship with crowds at Spring Training.
In a typical year, the Cactus League (Arizona) claims that Spring Training creates thousands of jobs paying more than $200 million and $30 million in tax revenue. The Grapefruit League (Florida) claims an even larger economic impact.
Spring Training may continue as planned in Arizona and Florida, but the usual number of visitors will not be there. Not even close.
Will the season start on time? While the season is scheduled to begin on April 1, so many of the states that are home to MLB clubs remain on strict lockdown orders. The San Francisco 49ers, for example, have played recent home games in Arizona due to restrictions in Santa Clara, California. There’s already been some discussion about delaying the start of the season until mid-May. Such a move would potentially shorten the season by 40 games (or more). In that scenario, Spring Training might be delayed until April.
Will there be fans allowed at MLB games in 2021? It’s an obvious question that most fans are asking. In short, it depends on the restrictions that exist in the state or municipality in which each team plays. If you are looking to attend a game in New York City, Detroit or Los Angeles this season, you may not be allowed. If you are looking to attend a game in Houston, Kansas City or Atlanta, there’s a good chance that crowds (at least limited crowds) will be permitted. The NFL and college football have been a good indicator of which localities have allowed crowds. A similar trend is likely to continue.
Regardless of your opinion about COVID-related restrictions, it is difficult to argue that the effect of small, limited crowds (if any are allowed at all) and shortening the season would have major long-term consequences for the game. By most accounts, nearly 40 percent of team revenue comes from ticket sales, concessions and game-related expenditures. The loss of one season alone is potentially devastating. What about two? A second season without crowds would likely have a major negative impact on revenue.
Most MLB franchises were already dealing with a decline in attendance prior to the pandemic. This will only exacerbate the situation.
What about TV ratings? The ever-expanding library of content available on streaming services competes with baseball on a nightly basis, all season long. Despite some reports that TV ratings were up in August, World Series ratings were reportedly down more than 30 percent from 2019 (Nationals-Astros) to 2020 (Dodgers-Rays). In other words, there is no reassurance that TV revenue will make up the difference.
So what does it all mean? Spring Training may not draw its usual crowds. The season could start late. A number of games could be cut. Many cities may prevent live crowds. The problem is that the longer this persists, the more comfortable fans will become not attending games.
Even the most dedicated fans might find watching the ballgame in the comfort of their own home or on their patio preferable to taking the drive to the ballpark. Businesses are also finding many ways to cut costs and may be hesitant to renew their season tickets or luxury boxes. So the question is, when crowds are allowed to return in full, will they actually come back?
As revenue declines, the inevitable result is that player salaries will as well. Owners will look for ways to protect their investment and hold their money. In a sense, we may have already witnessed the peak of player salaries, lucrative long-term guaranteed contracts and expanding payrolls. The pandemic, the lockdowns and the absence of crowds will have a profound negative impact on the game, in ways we cannot currently understand. It's also possible that the number of affiliated minor-league teams will be reduced again, due to losses in revenue.
Is There Hope for Baseball?
There may actually be some good news for fans in the future. The decline in revenue should lead to a decline in ticket prices, $10 beers and $6 hot dogs. In an attempt to get fans back into the ballpark, imagine reasonably-priced tickets, package deals, gimmick nights and family plans.
Future MLB ballparks could be designed to seat a lower number of attendees, but offer more spaced-out, comfortable seating arrangements. The future of the MLB ballpark experience may actually look a little more like MiLB.
The game has endured for over 150 years, through depressions, wars and civil unrest. It will survive the current climate as well. But expecting many of the current trends in the game to remain constant while the economic circumstances have drastically changed is nonsensical.
These are the realities baseball faces. Brace yourself for what's to come.
Brain Koss is a Senior Editor at LegendsOnDeck.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @kosscountry.
Baseball Theme Cruise Concept Exploded After 1980 Debut Aboard Queen Elizabeth 2
By Dan Schlossberg
Some forty years ago, when Cunard Lines was looking to boost U.S. passenger traffic on the QE2, I got an intriguing phone call from Alice Cunard, the cruise line’s chief publicist.
“You’re the only person I know who is both a travel journalist and a baseball writer,” she said. “Do you think you could combine the two and put together a cruise with a baseball theme?”
I jumped at the chance, creating the first baseball theme cruise and inviting Bob Feller, the acerbic but accomplished Hall of Fame pitcher, to be the star attraction. I also created a schedule of events that included a Q & A session with passengers, a trivia contest with prizes I provided, the showing of baseball movies, and an autograph-signing party featuring a limited-edition poster with renditions of Feller and the ship.
In baseball parlance, the idea was a hit – so much so that I have created, coordinated, and hosted more than two-dozen baseball theme cruises since. The idea was also copied, with both teams and individual promoters planning and running their own voyages. Most of those proved the sequel is never as good as the original – or at least the original formula.
The list of celebrities who joined my baseball cruises is long, with several, including Feller and Stan Musial, making multiple appearances.
In alphabetical order, it includes Sy Berger, Ron Blomberg, Ralph Branca, Al Clark, Roger Craig, Pepper Paire-Davis, Cal Erskine, Darrell Evans, Ernie Harwell, Tom Henke, Monte Irvin, Larry Jansen, Jay Johnstone, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Clyde King, Clem Labine, Eddie Mathews, Lindy McDaniel, Gene Oliver, Phil Regan, Fritz Peterson, Brooks Robinson, Red Schoendienst, Art Shamsky, Enos Slaughter, Jeff Torborg, Johnny VanderMeer, Bill White, and Billy Williams, plus Feller and a few others.
There’s a pretty good All-Star team right there, though Evans would have to shift to shortstop so someone named Robinson could play third base. There’s even a manager (Torborg), a front-office executive (King), an umpire (Clark), an announcer (Harwell), a former league president (White), and the father of all baseball cards (Berger). Not to mention two closers (Regan and McDaniel) to work behind a rotation of Erskine, Kaat, Peterson, VanderMeer, and Branca, backed by Jansen, Labine, and Craig.
The batting order for this fantasy team could be: Schoendienst, 2b; Evans, ss; Mathews, 3b; Irvin, 1b; Williams, lf; Slaughter, cf; Shamsky, rf; Blomberg, dh; and Oliver, c. Johnstone, whose career lasted 21 years because of his ability to pinch-hit, would be the first man off the bench.
There’s nothing quite like a baseball theme cruise, especially for those of us lucky enough to create it, coordinate it, and host it. Thousands of hours are involved, from working with the cruise line’s front office and publicity staff in advance to making sure everything runs smoothly aboard the ship. Any problems, such as room assignments or personality clashes, are the responsibility of the promoter. That meant me.
For the most part, things went well – even better than expected. The baseball celebrities loved sharing their memories with the ship’s clientele, usually an older crowd, and I loved seeing these living legends on a daily basis for a week or more, depending upon the length of the cruise.
We ate together, laughed together, and hung out together, watching the scenery go by in a slow-moving Mississippi paddle-wheeler or enjoying the setting sun in the middle of the ocean.
For me, the highlights are too many to list here. But I’ll try to mention a few:
Hearing Musial perform napkin tricks in the dining room and perform “The Wabash Cannonball” on his harmonica afterward. Listening to Erskine play classical harmonica with the ship’s band without even rehearsing. Enjoying the dulcet tones of Branca’s baritone singing voice.
Then there was the time I beat Brooks Robinson, 23-22, in a ping-pong game made nearly impossible because the ship was rolling in a gale off Cape Hatteras. He said his wife Connie was sick in the cabin and wanted to be left alone.
Pepper Paire Davis, who wore her Rockford Peaches jersey with numerous commemorative pins attached, started to cry when the credits rolled in A League Of Their Own. When I asked her why, she said, “All my friends are dead.”
Sitting on the fantail of the enormous QE2, Feller unfurled his stories of life as a gunner on the U.S.S. Alabama during World War 2 (he won eight battle stars).
Standing on the top deck of the American Queen just before dinner, Musial and I tried to figure out how to fly a kite (some irate passenger probably told me to do just that).
Clark revealed why he ejected Frank Robinson during the national anthem but admitted he never ejected Bobby Cox even though Cox was thrown out of games a record 158 times (plus three more in the post-season).
Jansen revealed what was like being the winning pitcher in the game ended by Bobby Thomson’s “Shot heard round the world” in 1951. The win was No. 23 for Jansen, more than anyone else in the National League that season, but he got it in a rare relief role for Leo Durocher. Harwell announced the same game, but few people heard his TV account because few families had televisions in 1951.
Johnstone was hilarious, regaling the crowd with pranks he pulled on Tommy Lasorda, while
Davis revealed the real truths about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League – and called the movie “80% truth and 20% Hollywood.”
Blomberg, who wrote Designated Hebrew with me, talked about the night before Yankee teammates Peterson and Mike Kekich traded families. And he had plenty of stories about George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.
Sadly, many of the baseball celebrities who climbed aboard my baseball theme cruises are gone now. But the memories they created on and off the field will never die.
Cruising may be suspended because of pandemic concerns but once it starts again, I’d love to put together another motley crew from the world of baseball. In fact, it would be my honor.
HERE’S THE PITCH Weekend Editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also writes baseball for forbes.com, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. A former AP sportswriter, Dan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 1960 Atlanta Braves had coaches named Myatt (George) and Wyatt (Whitlow) . . .
Micah Owings had quite a day on August 18, 2007, pitching three-hit ball for seven innings while pounding a pair of three-run homers ad scoring four runs in a 12-6 victory for Arizona over Atlanta . . .
New York Giants players Bob Elliott and Bobby Hoffman were ejected in the same at-bat when they argued the calls of home-plate umpire Augie Donatelli on Aug. 23, 1952 . . .
Future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched complete game wins for the Phillies in a doubleheader against Brooklyn, winning 5-0 and 9-3, on Sept. 3, 1912.
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.