It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

7th Inning Stretch

While feeling like a bit of a broken record the last few weeks, we interrupt this regularly scheduled squabbling between the players union, commissioner, and owners in MLB to discuss some of the more fun, entertaining- and of course, eminently marketable- storylines in the game.

After all, that is the first half of the column’s name…not ‘Economics and Labor Relations 10;’ but ‘Fun and Games.’

Always Remember! (Image via Pinterest.com)

Now, in the interest of making sure this column maintains having the most well-informed readers, we do have to quickly mention the news that the Players Association filed an official grievance against four of the teams last week- claiming that the Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Rays are misusing the funds they receive from revenue-sharing according to the rules outlined in the CBA.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says that each team is required to spend it’s revenue-sharing money “in an effort to improve its performance on the field,” the MLBPA is saying those four teams haven’t been, and of course, Rob Manfred and the league have batted away the allegations as “baseless.” That’s enough of the legalese; now it’s time to “Get up and Stretch.” (Notice the theme…?) On to action on the field!

All Rise: The New York Yankees were one of the most fun and entertaining stories on their own last year, with the team taking advantage of the marketability of their young players by promoting Aaron Judge with his “All Rise” court section; and Gary Sanchez with the “Kraken” power bat. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve added National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the mix this year, creating a lineup filled with Light-Tower Power.

Fans are so excited by the combination of the two biggest power threats in the game (Stanton led the league in home runs, while Judge set a record for rookies and won the Home Run Derby), that the Yankees have been opening the gates early this Spring so ticket holders can see more batting practice than usual. Demand has been so high that Yankees batting practice has become nationally televised appointment-TV, and we haven’t even gotten to the buzz being generated in the actual games!

In addition to Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez attracting eyeballs, rookie infielder Miguel Andujar seems to have forgotten that it’s only Spring Training- not the Home Run Derby- and has peaked everybody’s interest by blasting a homer almost every game (and sometimes even two!). Yes, the Yankees are my favorite team, and I will probably have my moments of bias, but objectively even casual sports fans have been clamoring to see this team, with the franchise making wise use of the marketing opportunity. 

Show, Show, Show Me: Over in the Cactus League, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have attracted a similarly outsized level of attention at their Spring Training camp with the addition of Japanese ballplayer Shohei Ohtani to the team. Ohtani was one of the biggest stories of the offseason, with everybody wondering where the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” was going to sign, and interest has certainly continued.

During his time playing for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Japanese baseball league, the iconoclastic superstar excelled at both pitching and hitting, and one of the main reasons he signed with the Angels is they’ve allowed the experiment to continue. Baseball hasn’t had a true two-way player, let alone a two-way superstar, since the days of the Great Bambino, with such an attempt at versatility rarely ever seen. That’s drawn international intrigue, which the Angels are capitalizing on this Spring.  

Ohtani & Trout (Photo via usatoday.com)

Fans and casual followers have flocked to the stadium just for a chance to watch the rookie practice! The amount of media coverage and size of the press pool could rival that of the White House (on a non-tweeting Tuesday…). This outsized level of attention has given Los Angeles a chance to promote Ohtani and market the team and it’s players at an entirely different level- which means annual MVP contender Mike Trout is finally on the stage he deserves as one of the most talented superstars in the game.

The potential is enormous- not only for the Angels and Yankees- but more importantly the entire league! Major League Baseball has the stars and storylines necessary to actively grow the game. That’s what the league and players union should focus on-after all, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”