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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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MLB Looks to Return Focus to Field After Turbulent Offseason

  • The league aims to turn the page after grappling with several difficult problems this winter.
  • There are several bright spots across the game, including several planned new ballparks.
The Record

One of the many adages of former MLB commissioner Bud Selig was that “as long as we keep the focus out on the field, we’ll do very well.” A tumultuous offseason for the league did much to reinforce both Selig’s words and the pitfalls of the inverse situation. 

As MLB reaches its full Opening Day on Thursday, the league is eager to turn the page on a five-month stretch that in many ways was the opposite of a highly successful 2023 season that included a historic resurgence in attendance, the much-lauded introduction of the pitch clock, and sizable gains in many other measures of fan engagement.

Among the key events since the Rangers won the first World Series in franchise history Nov. 1:

  • MLB began spring training with a high-profile uniform debacle that became a national story, even among non-sports news outlets. 
  • The A’s attempted to advance its planned relocation to Las Vegas with the release of a new set of stadium renderings. But those drawings only raised more questions, even commissioner Rob Manfred began to show his frustration about the entire situation.
  • Diamond Sports Group, the embattled Bally Sports parent, has made progress in its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy. But the bigger uncertainty surrounding regional sports networks resulted in a roughly $1 billion retrenchment in overall player spending, and plenty of concerns remain among teams about the critical local media revenue source.
  • A record-level, $700 million contract from the Dodgers for Shohei Ohtani and another $325 million one for Yoshinobu Yamamoto—collectively representing more than one-third of the value of all player deals signed this offseason—renewed a long-running debate about economic balance within the league.
  • Ohtani, by far the game’s biggest star, is now caught up in a gambling scandal that he emphatically denies any participation in or knowledge of, and if he’s not telling the truth, it will potentially rock the sport in unprecedented fashion.
  • While separate from league operations, the MLB Players Association has been caught up in its own internal power struggle

Now, many around baseball are eager to get the sport’s attention back on the field, in line with Selig’s prior adage.

“I’m looking forward to focusing on the season,” Ohtani said at his press conference in perhaps the understatement of the year. 

Key Storylines

To be fair, it certainly wasn’t all bad news across baseball over the winter. The Royals at last selected a site for a new ballpark.  The White Sox are pursuing their own new facility, as are the Rays. The Orioles have both a new owner and new lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Braves remain a juggernaut on and off the field. Manfred decided he will not stay past 2029, and he can now focus more on key goals without worrying about his next contract. Competitive balance in MLB, at least as measured by World Series titles, remains an industry leader with no repeat champion since ’00. 

But without another big innovation like the pitch clock to introduce a renewed wave of good feelings among the fans, MLB likely faces a higher bar to repeat the strong momentum of last season.

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