No News is No News
mlb.com ran an article today saying that the Madison Bumgarner has been tabbed for his third consecutive opening day start in 2016. Tomorrow mlb.com will be running an article that the sun will be rising on Opening Day.
In fairness to mlb.com, this kind of news has been reported just about as long as baseball has been Americas’s most popular team sport. Just because baseball is no longer America’s top team sport doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be treated to the same non-news that early February’s have brought since probably the 1880’s. When the weather is still cold (and it typically isn’t in San Francisco in the first half of February – we get a false Spring almost like clockwork this time every year), even nonsense about the upcoming baseball season surely brings thoughts of summer to cold hearts and spirits everywhere.
On the subject of the upcoming baseball season, I kind of wonder if mlb will ever adopt the major Asian leagues’ approach to Spring training, which begins about a month sooner than our Spring Training begins. In 2016, MLB is a business where the players are paid enormous sums of money to be the very best in the world (as opposed to being played a hell of lot less to be the very best in the world before the late 1960’s and the advent of the players’ union). The players are all training year ’round now — at least the smart ones are — so why not start Spring Training even earlier?
The reasons why not are fairly obvious. Players since 1946 have been paid for Spring Training, and since the advent of the union around 1966, the amounts they get paid for this training has risen steeply. Teams have no interest in extending Spring Training and playing players for time worked that doesn’t earn significant revenues of the teams any longer than absolutely necessary than it takes to get the players ready for the games that really count and for which the teams receive regular season ticket prices and television revenues.
When I was a kid, Spring Training started pretty religiously on March 1st. At least, that is the way I remember it. Now, pitchers and catchers start reporting at last a week earlier than that, mainly because it is believed pitchers’ arms take more time to limber up than than hitters’ backs. You can’t have pitchers without someone to catch them, thus the earlier reporting dates for catchers.
In an ideal world in which money isn’t an issue, it would make sense for teams provide facilities for players to train voluntarily with the assistance of coaches, training and medical staff sometime shortly after the first of the year. With every player getting, at a minimum, all od November and December off to rest aches and pains, spend time with family and visit warm vacation destinations, it seems like that by January 16th at the latest, it would be time for many of them to converge on Florida or Arizona to start training for the upcoming season.
Before the official start of Spring Training in late February, this training would have to be entirely voluntary and effectively controlled by the players who elect to participate. Many players live in Florida and Arizona in the off-season already, and perhaps something like this is already happening, although as far as I am aware, the players are the ones organizing any communal work-outs and paying people (or recruiting local college and junior college players who will work for free or almost free in order train with MLB players), as needed, to assist them in training.
The reason why this isn’t likely to happen are two-fold. The teams would have to pay coaching, training, and medical staffs more money; and the players’ union would be reluctant to have players do anything without being paid something for it. “Voluntary” training would almost immediately become de facto mandatory training, since marginal players would not want to be seen as electing not to be committing all to their effort of getting ready for the next season. Even a collective bargaining agreement provision stating that players would not be discriminated against for electing not to participate, would be difficult to enforce with respect to bubble players who might or might not reasonably make the team out Spring Training.
Since I don’t know exactly what facilities teams pr0vide players, if any, for training during the off-season, I invite anyone’s comment who knows more about the subject than I do.San Francisco Giants