Blood Brothers

It may seem like every sector of the economy is in free fall, but oh so quietly, Major League Baseball is thriving.  The Rangers and Astros have recently been sold.  The former went for almost 600 million, and the latter for just over 600 million.  Nolan Ryan and Jim Crane weren’t born yesterday.  They had to be almost certain that the revenue would cover the debt service.  In other words, there’s a lot of money flowing through the system and a lot of it is yours,whether you know it or not.

For as long as I can remember, baseball has been fervently trying to reach the 18-25 year old demographic.  Almost accidentally, they finally succeeded by going on line.  MLB.com has been a cash cow and, unlike local TV and radio, it benefits all clubs equally.  This is why you haven’t heard any agonizing compaints from small market teams lately.  And it is why a new Basic Agreement was signed yesterday with barely a hint of acrimony.  No, the Rays can’t spend money like the Yankees and Red Sox.  But they can stay in business.

Several things got my attention when the new deal was announced last week.  First, there were more shackles put on amateur free agents.  With strict limits on amateur bonuses, agent Scott Boros has threatened to steer his young clients toward football and basketball.  I’m sure most GMs would say good riddance.

Personally, I think it’s a good idea to limit the amount the teams can play for untested ballplayers.  Many of them, including a lot of first round picks, will never make it to the big leagues.  And, the ones that do will not win any popularity contests.  The journeyman ballplayers, who signed for a pittance and worked for low pay for many years riding buses in the minor leagues, are generally, and justifiably irritated when the #1 pick in the June draft drives into town in a Mercedes to be showcased in front of the big league staff.

Now, you have to make it to the big leagues to dine in the club car of the Money Train.  The minimum salary for major league players is now nearly half a million dollars, and established stars will benefit too.  Because the number of Type A free agents has been reduced, there won’t be as many players who qualify for compensatory draft picks.   So, the rich players will get richer and the rest will benefit from trickle down largesse.  This is how it should be.  Prove it first; then get paid!

I know many, if not most fans think the multi million dollar players are overpaid.  But that’s built into the system and Ryan and Crane knew it when they bought their teams.  How much does Justin Bieber make anyway?

These issues are important, but they are page two stories.  The headlines proclaim “HGH Testing Part of Labor Deal.”  If you read into the story, you find that this testing is limited to this spring and the next off season.  In-season testing will be studied but not implemented this year.  Although the player’s union has steadfastly opposed drug testing, it is hard to take that stance from a PR standpoint.  My guess is that with a foot in the door on blood tests, the tests will eventually be used during the season too in coming years.

This should be a relief to any player who is not hoping to set a new home run record, which means all of them.  I can imagine the anguish many players experienced when they took their first dose of steroids.  It would have bothered me, but I probably would have taken the medicine.  Sure, many players took the plunge gladly.  But there had to be a lot of guys who felt compelled to take the juice out of self defense.  Now, it’s likely, the playing field will be level — at least until they come up with a drug that can’t be detected or a better masking agent.

The amazing thing to me is that it’s been 21 years since the players and owners have gone to war.  Before that, every renewal of the Basic Agreement was attended by a work stoppage, and bad blood among all parties, including fans.  So, now we are free to play ball for at least five years.  By that time, Ryan and Crane will know for sure whether a big league team in Texas is worth 600 million dollars.

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