BY GENE BUDIG
About this you may be certain: The 2015 Major League Baseball season will be one to remember for young and old alike with a record number of people (some 74 million people plus) passing through the turnstiles. Once again, the American and National Leagues will draw more fans than the combined total of the National Football League, National Basketball League and National Hockey League.
And that does not count the 42 million who will see Minor League Baseball games where big league clubs have a hefty and mounting investment in young players. It is common to have young minor leaguers who have million-dollar bonuses.
Of the 30 MLB teams, more than two-thirds of them will have a realistic chance to reach post-season play, reflecting true balance and an unprecedented reason for the masses to stay involved. Real competitiveness is contagious and fulfilling in the world of sports.
The new commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, a product of Cornell and Harvard Law, receives major kudos for 20 years of labor peace with the players. Heading into a bargaining year in 2016, he will bring more than two decades of baseball experience and a constructive rapport with the Players Association to the negotiations.
Manfred has taken the bull by the horns to address the length of game issue, one that is a growing sore point with many fans, and especially the younger ones. In 2014, the length of the average game extended to a high of 3:02, as compared to professional football and basketball events that are shorter in duration.
MLB has begun to limit batters from stepping out of the batter’s box. Some superstars have complained but to no avail. Manfred promises future actions to speed the game without hurting the on-field product.
This all comes at a time when owners are seeking new and more creative ways to make baseball more attractive to youngsters — boys and girls of all races and backgrounds. It will necessitate a resounding investment from ownership and the players, and keener marketing of the game’s many young stars like Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout.
Baseball should be deeply troubled by the small percentage of black athletes who play its game, remembering its once stellar reputation as leaders with Jackie Robinson in the NL and Larry Doby in the AL. MLB is taking steps to reverse the decrease and rebuild interest in inner cities and other underserved areas. Hispanic numbers are solid and growing.
The timing appears advantageous for organized baseball because of universal parental concern over the threat of concussions and serious injury in college and professional football and other contact sports. Mounting numbers of parents are being turned off by the widely disseminated reports of football injuries and are encouraging their children to look to other sports.
Furthermore, millions of people believe that baseball remains America’s pastime.
And player salaries are growing at a rapid pace, with the average MLB salary reaching some $4 million this season. The highest team payrolls, according to the Associated Press, are the Dodgers, $272.6 million; the Yankees, $219.3 million; the Red Sox, $187.4; the Tigers, $173.8 million; and the Giants, $172.7 million.
In Manfred, MLB has an outspoken leader with a superior intellect. He is open to reviewing controversial issues like Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement, which could impact his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Many contend that the all-time base hits leader from Cincinnati who bet on games as a manager has languished for too long.
The stars appear aligned for an unprecedented explosion of interest in baseball.
Gene Budig, a resident of the Isle of Palms, was the past president of Major League Baseball’s American League and has served as the chancellor/president of three major state universities.