While tearing off the final pages of the 2021 calendar and the early ones of 2022, it’s a good time to anxiously look ahead to the New Year while gladly putting the last one in the rearview mirror.
For openers, even though we’ve known this for a while, the scariest notion of what’s ahead is knowing Super Bowl LVI will be the latest ever, Feb. 13, which is just two days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training. Note … we did say scheduled, which means we don’t have to worry about the possibility of a baseball lockout until the day after they stop kicking pigskins around.
The thought of the Ravens playing a home game Jan. 2 and the last game of the regular season a week later is a scary thought. So much for whatever benefits there are from a 17-game NFL schedule spread throughout 18 weeks. And if a winter trip to Las Vegas is in your plans, the Pro Bowl will take place there Feb. 6.
It should be noted that the term “baseball lockout” is a misnomer until the league actually has to cancel regular-season games. Using the unofficial guidelines established in 1976, when a deal was struck on St. Patrick’s Day, thereby cutting spring training in half, we can take the threat seriously sometime around March 1.
In the meantime, one thing I think you can count on is that the owners and players won’t make the same mistake they made during the 1994-95 dispute. Former commissioner Bud Selig said repeatedly that giving up the World Series in ‘94 was the toughest decision he ever had to make, but one that was necessary. Today he admits “the gain wasn’t worth the pain.”
This is a classic case of, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” A repeat offense would be a pox on both sides.
I hardly qualify as an arbiter, but I do believe the differences between baseball owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association could be instantly settled if arbitration was reduced from three years to two and free agency from six to five.
It’s not likely both will happen, and one thing the players are finding out is what owners learned years ago — once you give something up, you’re not likely to get it back. When owners agreed to arbitration some 50 years ago, they had no idea it would lead to anything beyond salary disputes.
Little did they know. And the same can be said for the MLBPA when it agreed to change the length of time before salary arbitration from two years of service time, the original agreement, to three. The players have been trying to get that year back ever since. They might get it this time, because this seems to be the area that could be a dealmaker for the owners.
As for the manipulation of service time, for both arbitration and free agency, that could be easily negotiated and curtailed somewhat by a more restricted use of the option clause. But that’s for a later debate. For now we can only wait for the Super Bowl, when there hopefully will be “only two days until pitchers and catchers report.”
When someone like Max Scherzer gets a three-year, $130 million contract, it’s easy for Joe Fan to ask what can possibly be wrong with the system when someone can make more than $43 million while playing in 32 or 33 games. But while those kinds of numbers seem acceptable to both players and owners, it doesn’t come close to telling the story.
The average salary for a Major League Baseball player last year was $4.17 million, which is still living in a fancy neighborhood, but the median number, the point where those above and below the scale are equal, was less than $1 million, which presents a stark difference.
The MLBPA has not had a strong record of helping younger players in the past, and the emphasis in that area now is twofold. Significantly improving the $570,000 minimum salary is at the core of this effort — but the real push is to get more of the veteran players into a higher bracket. The industry has been trying to guide the average age of a free agent to the 30-year level, which has resulted in a gradual decline in average salary during the last five years.
There will be no tears shed for baseball players, whose average and median salaries dwarf those of players in the National Football League — but are still less than half the salaries in the National Basketball Association. We should all have such worries.
* * *
I was reminded of the old saying that the most popular football player in town is the backup quarterback when Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions in Week 12. There was some chatter, on social media of course, about maybe it was time to give Tyler Huntley more playing time and I swear I even heard somebody suggest it was a mistake for the Ravens to let Trace McSorley get away. Uncle.
* * *
Have to admit I really enjoyed watching the Washington Wizards get off to such a strong start this year. From all indications, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was cut out for his role with this team. He didn’t have the same playing skills, but you can tell he enjoys this role a lot more than his dad.
Wes Sr. served a stint as both coach and general manager, but only because of his allegiance to former owner Abe Pollin. I covered the team during both his playing and coaching careers, and worked for the team his first five years in the NBA, and the difference between the player, who could control a game, and the coach, who admittedly too often could not, was unmistakable. He had trouble dealing with players who did not bring the same intensity to the game as he did.
Wes Sr. never really had a taste for the job on the bench and was more comfortable helping wife Connie run Unselds’ School in West Baltimore, and sometimes it showed. But you get the impression he helped raise Wes Jr. to be the right man at the right time for his championship-starved team.
* * *
As far as wins and losses go, I have only modest expectations for the Orioles this year, but I do have one big hope for the team. I very strongly believe they need to solidify the somewhat fractured bond they have with former players living in the area.
We all get that the new regime, in the midst of what will at least be a lengthy rebuild, needs its own space, with its own leaders and coaches. But without going into detail and maybe leaving out some names, there are a lot of ex-Orioles in this area who know what it’s like to win — and what it can be like around here when the team is successful.
It’s great that icons like Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray are ambassadors in the community, and their involvement is needed, but there are a lot of other players who have much to contribute. Some worked with previous regimes and were let go as part of the rebuilding process.
There is an old saying about being careful to not throw out the baby with the bath water. The word of caution here is simple — don’t trade old tradition and history for a new chapter.
It really shouldn’t be very complicated.
* * *
Now, let’s put this pandemic thing in the rearview mirror, hope that the Ravens make it to the second month of the New Year, the Orioles get started in the third — and wish for everyone to have a peaceful and healthy 2022.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Originally published Dec. 15, 2021