Chicago Cubs: Is MLB about to engineer a train wreck?

Rob Manfred / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Rob Manfred / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Major League Baseball, team owners, players, and fans, have enjoyed a lengthy run of peace and success. The sport even overcame a controversial PED scandal.  But are the latest CBA and other issues about to put MLB on track to a train wreck?

Chaucer is credited with the phrase, “All good things must come to an end.”  And so it seems might be the case with the peace and harmony that MLB has experienced these last two-plus decades.  The 1980s and 1990s saw tensions peak between owners and players whose disputes culminated five times in strikes or lockouts.

Beginning in the late 1990s and now nearly two decades into the new millennia, MLB has been determined to keep the peace. Successive CBAs have been negotiated with no sign of the strife that plagued earlier efforts.  All seemed very good indeed as new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took the helm.  But since then we’ve seen some cracks in the peace so carefully constructed under the prior MLB regime.

The New 2017-2021 CBA

More from Cubbies Crib

Roiling the formerly calm waters was the tension over the 2018 free agency.  Maury Brown, National Baseball Writer, BBWAA Member, and 20+ year Sports Biz Reporter, details the new CBA provisions that collectively conspire to cap big paydays for top free agents.

This tension will only increase with each successive year.  Adding insult to injury, the new CBA includes provisions dictating what players can wear on the field, resulting in the Zobrist black spikes/Contreras arm sleeve incidents.  These and other issues are bound to aggravate the players in the coming years.

Pace-of-play and other obsessions

Manfred seems to have an almost fetishistic obsession with pace-of-play that has MLB experimenting with some dumb ideas.  Exhibit A was John Smoltz in a recent broadcast asserting that MLB will institute starting a runner on second in extra innings and people are just going to have to like it.  He said it so many times it became absolutely annoying.  Are games longer?  Yes.  Is it a problem?  Maybe, and the game should be examined to increase time efficiency.  But is it hurting viewership?  Here is a good piece by Sara Sanchez at SBNation that says no.

Her article brings me to another point–blackout restrictions (and no, this not about Zobrist’s shoes again).  The arcane and prehistoric rules that determine where in-market games are broadcast need to go.  No major sport uses blackout restrictions the way MLB does.  The NFL, which has a fan base that dwarfs MLB’s, stopped blacking out in-market games a long time ago.

Uh, the game?

And the MLB broadcast map that determines in-market team territories makes political gerrymandering look like good government.  Perhaps the most bizarre example of blackout stupidity occurred last Saturday during Baseball Night in America on Fox.  Fox pre-empted nearly half of BNA for the 3rd round of an LPGA tournament.  But MLB.TV didn’t broadcast any of the three games that night.  Are Manfred and his minions at MLB willing to even look into this issue?  No way.

Lastly, MLB in the effort to protect players has instituted an array of rules around plays at the plate that in any other venue would keep lawyers employed for years.  The Rizzo-Diaz incident is the best example of how badly MLB has screwed this up.  The in-game umpires ruled non-interference, the review umpires agreed, then 24 hours later MLB said, uh, no, it was an illegal slide.  Is it so difficult to come up with a rule that is both objective and easily determinable AND protects players?

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There are issues lurking beneath the tranquil surface that threaten the delicate harmony so carefully negotiated by the previous MLB regime.  If Manfred and his crew aren’t more careful, they will turn this smoothing running a train into a train wreck.