I want to savor baseball’s return this week. I want to hear the crack of the bat and watch a ball disappear into a brilliant blue sky. I want to listen to the pop of a baseball settling into a new leather glove and remember what it felt like when I was 10 years old.
I want to rediscover the rhythms of the game, the leisurely pace of a mid-February morning workout and the bursts of laughter in the clubhouse. Oh, and I want to start thinking about my rotisserie draft, too.
Unfortunately, every time I begin to romanticize baseball’s renewal, I’m dragged back down to the gutter by two men: Barry Bonds and Bud Selig. How nice it would be if we didn’t have to hear from either one of them for a while. Let’s start with Bonds. He’s 21 homers shy of Hank Aaron’s record. Assuming he stays healthy, his pursuit of sports’ most treasured number will dominate the headlines and our con- sciousness. We won’t be able to escape talk of steroids and federal indictments, or flaxseed oil and “the cream” and “the clear.”
And if and when Bonds does break the record, the debate over the legitimacy of his accomplishment will be an endless, ugly loop that runs through the summer.
If Bonds had a shred of integrity left, he’d retire and let Aaron’s record rest in peace.
But Bonds couldn’t care less that he’s a boil on baseball’s backside. He’s always put himself above the game, so he’ll march on, his swollen body sucking all the joy from our national pastime.
Then there’s Selig.
Unlike Bonds, he says he gives a hoot what fans think. But you wouldn’t know it from his recent decision to award DirecTV exclusive rights to its Extra Innings package.
The package, for those unfamiliar with it, allows fans to pay to watch out-of-market games. For example, a Chicago Cubs fan who lives in Anaheim, Calif., could purchase Extra Innings to watch his beloved Cubbies every night.
(The package costs about $150).
Previously, Extra Innings was available on cable networks, the Dish Network and DirecTV. But the deal with DirecTV will preclude cable or Dish Network customers from following their team on a nightly basis.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Football long has passed baseball as the No. 1 sport in this country. NASCAR is gaining ground and closing fast.
So what does Selig do?
He makes the sport less accessible to hundreds of thousands of fans. The next thing you know, World Series games will start so late at night on the East Coast kids won’t be able to stay up to watch them.
As you might expect, there’s a simple explanation for the stupidity: Greed.
DirecTV will pay Major League Baseball $100 million a year for the next seven years. InDemand, the vehicle which previously offered the service to cable customers, offered $70 million annually.
Can’t pass up that extra $30 million per year, even though baseball’s revenues in 2006 were a record $5.2 billion. Major League Baseball officials say all they’re doing is copying the NFL, whose Sunday Ticket package is available only on DirecTV. But there’s no comparing the two sports. There are 16 NFL games, and most of the big contests are on “free” TV. Baseball, on the other hand, is a 162-game marathon spread over six months. Die-hard fans want to follow their team every night, and Selig is denying them the opportunity to do that. Unless, of course, they switch to DirecTV.
What was it I said at the start of this column? Oh, yeah: “I want to savor baseball’s return this week.” It’s a simple request. But why does baseball have to make it so hard?