Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball by Bob Costas

June 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review, Business of Baseball

Bob Costas is one of America’s best-known baseball, and for that matter, sports broadcasters.  He has called numerous World Series, All Star, and League Championship games  His book, Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball offers up thought-provoking and holistic solutions to help restore and maintain competitive balance in Major League Baseball.  The 2001 book has some parts which are dated, but many of Fair Play’s points remain relevant today. 

MLB players, the Players’ Union, and baseball’s owners are beginning early discussions on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  As such,it is a good time to re-examine some of the more contentious labor-management issues.  Costas’ book gives us a perfect retro platform to do so.

The premise of Fair Ball is that the fans don’t really care about the business side of baseball.  Yet today, baseball discussions can sometimes be more about the revenue haves vs. the have nots than actual on-the-field play. MLB fans, from New York to Kansas City, want their teams to have the opportunity to compete consistently for the playoffs. 

Costas’ book, avoids the Polyanna-ish route, to make the point that some teams will make good use of this opportunity while others will squander it through bone-headed trades, bad management, or sheer bad luck.  However, it is the opportunity for teams to consistently compete which lies at the heart of Fair Play

Some of Costas’ recommendations include:

  • Revenue Sharing — All teams should share 50% of their TV, Radio, Internet, and Ticket Sales revenue.  This still allows successful teams to make more money, but flattens out the huge disparity in local revenues that exists today.
  • Salary Cap and Floor —  Tied to the revenue sharing and based on a formula, all MLB teams cannot spend beyond a certain point and must spend a minimum amount.  The ceiling is two times the amount of the floor. The “luxury tax”, baseball’s current mechanism to enforce a semblance of salary equity is failing miserably in this area.
  • SuperStar Salary Cap —  Put a cap on the maximum amount you can pay any one player. This would allow all teams to theoretically compete for the premiere players.
  • Tighter Salary Slotting for Younger Players — Create specific floor and ceiling pay rates for players first coming into the league.  Allow teams to “bank” some of their salary cap to lock up prospects according to need as long as they spend, on average across 5 years, withing the floor to ceiling range.
  • International Draft — include international players in a draft.  Today, big-market teams are generally the only ones competing for the elite foreign players.

Readers might correctly point out that some small market teams have  been able to compete, some even consistently so, for the playoffs.  While this is true, there are many more small-market teams that don’t compete at all and this has harmed the value of many of these franchises and thus, the game’s overall value. 

Others may believe that baseball is a business, should be subject to free market competition, and that Fair Play’s recommendations smack of socialism.  The belief that baseball exists in a free market is completely non-sensical.  Baseball enjoys many restrictive covenants (e.g. territorial rights, centralized TV contracts) that limit competition.  Each club’s welfare is intrinsically tied to one another–a rising tide that lifts all boats, so to speak.

Because the book is somewhat dated, some of Costas’ suggestions have already been implemented and others might not seem as urgent as they did several years ago.  However, on balance, the book makes a number of important common-sense suggestions to improve the game without dramatically altering all that is good about our national pastime.

I am an unabashed Bob Costas fan.  He has a wonderful ability to combine the history of the game into today’s discussion.  Some have even gone as far to suggest he would make a good Commissioner when Bud Selig’s term comes to an end.  While not likely, I would second that sentiment.

Books on Baseball RatingTriple (Would have been a home run had I read it when it was first written)

Amazon 4.1 stars (95 ratings), GoodReads 3.5 stars (138 ratings), Barnes and Noble 4.5 stars (8 ratings)

Costas has recently joined the MLB Network and can be heard calling games on the network’s Thursday Night Baseball broadcasts.  He also produces Studio 42 for the network.   This program, which garnered an Emmy Nomination for Best Weekly Sports Show, takes a detailed looks at various historical games, teams, and situations.   Studio 42 has featured Cal Ripken, Willie Mays, Richie “Dick” Allen, Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver, Ernie Harwell, Don Larsen and Yogi Berra, and MLB Umpires.

Comments

5 Responses to “Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball by Bob Costas”
  1. Cliff says:

    I read Fair Ball when it first came out. The thing I remember most about it was its cogent arguement against the wild card. However, Costas’ solution won’t work (4 four team divisions per league). This is because there needs to be enough teams per division (6-8), and enough games played between rivals for the same pennant, for pennant races to develop. With Costas’ plan, you could never play enough games against rivals for the same pennant to have this happen.

    I have another solution, create 2 eight team divisions per league. Most games would be played between rivals for the same division’s pennant; but to take the place of wild cards and help with competitive balance, each division would be divided into two “Tiers”. At the end of the season “Tier” finishes in each division determines who you play out of division next season (remember 1st and 2nd division finishes?). In each league, the top 4 in one division play the top 4 in the other. Same for the bottom 4. No interleague play.

    Then we go back to the same post-season schedule we had before the wild card. We miss an extra week of post-season? No, we gain a month of “Pennant Race September”.

    By the way, I like revenue sharing and floors, but would only except salary caps in exchange for player and fan ownership.

  2. Mark says:

    Cliff,

    Those are good points thanks. I would also like to find ways to increase the drama of pennant races beyond where we are here. I like the 8 team division but not so sure I am a fan of moving teams each season (although this is somewhat analagous to what they do in England’s soccer Premiership).

    We do need to do something about salary caps to give small market teams a consistent chance to compete.

    Thanks for contributing. I hope you come back often and, if you haven’t already, see Books on Baseball on Facebook
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Books-on-Baseball/363163693465?ref=ts

    Regards,

    Mark

  3. Cliff says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for your comments. Let me just clarify the “Tier” concept if I may, because I don’t evision teams moving from division to division. The only thing that will change from year to year is a team’s schedule. They will always play each team in their division 18 times for a total of 126 games. The other 36 games will be determined by whether a team finishes a season in the top or bottom of their division. In each league, 1st Tier Teams in one division play 9 games each with the other division’s 4 1st Tier teams. The same for the 2nd Tier. There would be no interleague play. By the way, I got the idea from a friend who liked the English soccer system, but I modified it for baseball.

    I’ve been doing the standings for pennant races for the past few seasons and now I do them daily on my blog. It’s actually all pretty simple, simplier and better than wild cards! Check it out if you like; and I will certainly be coming back, too.

    Cliff

  4. Mark says:

    Cliff,

    Thanks for the clarification..I like the idea. No interleague play, just focused primarily on your 8-team division with some schedule strength thrown in based on previous year’s record (ala NFL).

    That is straightforward and understandable. Good job!

    Stay in touch

    Mark

  5. Cliff says:

    Mark,

    Thanks again.

    Will do.

    Cliff

    P.S. Great “Twilight Zone” piece.

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