DETROIT – “Welcome to the start of spring training! Baseball season is finally here!”
That’s what we should be celebrating right now. Players from the Detroit Tigers and every other team in Major League Baseball should have reported to spring camp this week, but instead, the only baseball news we’re getting is lame non-updates about billionaires pinching pennies.
Fans across the world are fed up with this saga, but it feels especially frustrating for those in Detroit.
Detroit sports struggles
If you’re reading this from Boston or Los Angeles or Atlanta, here’s what you need to understand: We watch pretty terrible sports teams year-round.
The Lions are the laughingstock of the NFL and just finished with their highest loss total since 2009. Coincidentally, that was Matthew Stafford’s first year as starting quarterback, and he just went and won a Super Bowl his first year with another team. Fun stuff!
Meanwhile, the Pistons -- the second-worst team in the NBA last season -- have parlayed the No. 1 overall draft pick into being (you guessed it!) still the second-worst team in the NBA. They just snapped a streak of 12 losses in 13 games.
Steve Yzerman has the Red Wings trending in the right direction, but still, they’re well behind the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot. For a town used to watching great hockey, the last decade has been rough.
While the Wings seemingly give up half a dozen goals a night, the Pistons throw up brick after brick and the Lions trip all over themselves, the surprising 2021 Tigers acted as a beacon of hope.
The team had a surprisingly strong first season under A.J. Hinch, going 68-61 after a rough first six weeks. Then, Al Avila finally went out and signed a pair of impact free agents -- starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and shortstop Javier Baez. For the first time since 2016, this team is legitimately interesting.
So of course, it figures this is the offseason without baseball. I’m not exaggerating: MLB refuses to even put headshots of players on its website. It’s like the league doesn’t exist right now.
Years of frustration have been building up for Tigers fans. In 2020, they were finally primed to see debuts of highly touted pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. What happened? MLB and the players couldn’t agree to terms during the COVID pandemic, and the entire season was derailed.
Now, just months from getting a first look at Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, Tigers fans are once again left wondering what the season will look like, and how this altered preseason will affect the debuts and development of those young stars.
The lockout isn’t just frustrating for fans -- it’s objectively harmful for the development of prospects and the health of all players.
Right now, players on 40-man rosters can’t even consult with team medical staffs about rehab. Mize and Skubal are coming off by far their largest career workloads and should be closely monitored leading up to the start of the new season.
Think of someone like Alex Faedo, a recent first-round pick coming off Tommy John surgery. Or Joey Wentz, recently returning from a full year-long absence of his own. What about Jake Rogers, a legitimate member of the team’s near future who needs to recover from injury?
The Tigers have built a solid roster, and exciting reinforcements are seemingly just one step away from the big leagues. That makes the timing of this lockout particularly painful.
Detroit is a place where people have a high regard for hard work, honesty and transparency. Watching how the billionaire MLB owners operate doesn’t sit right.
Months and months passed without negotiations while the two sides, who claim to have so much to lose, sat on their hands. Even now, as spring training threatens to cut into the regular season, meetings come several days apart, which means weeks pass without even a chance for progress.
On top of all that, Commissioner Rob Manfred, who cares more about making games shorter than he does about their quality, is constantly insulting the intelligence of his fans. A de facto swindler who will lie straight to our faces on behalf of the owners, Manfred represents everything that’s wrong with the sport right now.
Almost everyone -- players, fans, reporters -- disproves of the job Manfred has done as commissioner. His actions only benefit the 30 owners he’s paid to represent.
That right there is the issue. Money, and the profits of team owners, is being prioritized over the health of the game. You might not get to watch Baez take the field at Comerica Park on April 8 because owners won’t budge on topics important to the players.
Take revenue sharing, for example. In short, revenue sharing means teams evenly split nearly half the money they make from gate receipts, local TV revenue, concessions, parking, sponsorships, etc. It’s designed to somewhat narrow the gap between what teams like the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays can spend on players.
If the Yankees can make $100 million (just a round example number) more than the Rays simply from local revenue, they obviously have a massive competitive advantage in terms of signing free agents. Baseball is far from a level playing field, but revenue sharing is supposed to make the game more competitive.
Here’s the problem: Small market teams aren’t using that money from revenue sharing to, you know, actually pay for players and make their teams better. Instead, they’re pocketing it for profit.
These are the types of issues delaying the baseball season. Players are trying to get what they believe is a fair share of the pot, and owners are holding firmly to every cent they can.
Thursday was just the latest example. The two sides met for a mere 15 minutes and came away telling the same old story: no progress, no timeline, no updates.
We should be debating Robbie Grossman vs. Akil Baddoo for the leadoff spot. Or talking about how Miguel Cabrera is in the best shape of his life.
Instead, as we trudge outside to shovel another half-foot of snow off our driveways, the only baseball news to distract us centers around terms like “service time” and “luxury tax.”
And that’s a damn shame.