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The MLB economic reform committee is a sham

A healthy sport would not tolerate John Fisher or Rob Manfred. So why did the Dodgers enable them?

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MLB: AL Wild Card-Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

In the predawn hours of November 16, an inevitable result finally, horribly, came to fruition: the owners voted unanimously to allow the Oakland Athletics to relocate to Las Vegas.

To add injury to insult, the owners waived the relocation fee for the A’s and did not even turn off the spigot of revenue-sharing money.

I have covered this story since practically my first days formally writing for True Blue LA, and what strikes me are two things. First, the sheer defiance of the Oakland faithful. Ever since the Nevada legislature approved public funding for a baseball stadium on the Las Vegas Strip (on the same day as the reverse boycott, no less), this issue has essentially been a fait accompli.

Like Clayton Kershaw getting shelled while recording one out in Game 1 of the 2023 NLDS, the writing has been on the wall for a while. for the soon-to-be Las Vegas A’s. And yet unlike the 2023 Dodgers in the NLDS, even when all hope was lost, the Oakland faithful just kept fighting and embarrassing the league and Oakland ownership at practically every single opportunity from the 2023 All-Star Game onwards.

Did the public shaming work? Oh of course not, but it was not for lack of trying.

Sadly, we have been forced to live through a live-action adaptation of Major League, except unlike the movie, the bad guys won, the team is getting moved, and baseball is likely permanently leaving Oakland as long as the current leadership exists in MLB.

It will be odd to see the kelly green of Oakland in Las Vegas. It will be even odder to see the Athletics roam Sacramento or San Francisco or Salt Lake City for the next couple of years once their lease expires at the Coliseum. But that sad epilogue is one for another day.

It is important to compare the ongoing farce in Oakland with the recent death of Padres’ owner Peter Seidler and realize one fundamental truth: there is a lie that baseball fans have been asked to accept.

Oakland is not a small market team

As you may or may not know, the regional sports network model is dying. The problem is as old as time: buying at the wrong end of a bubble, and even worse, an increasing market share of a dwindling market.

Believe it or not, this problem has gotten worse as the 2023 season went on, with regional networks dropping teams from coverage. With all that said, much ink was spilled about how much the San Diego Padres and the Mets were spending on free agents in the 2022 offseason.

Frankly, the spending of the Mets and Padres in 2023 did not work — at all, to almost comedic effect, but that failure was far from guaranteed.

One might wonder what Commissioner Rob “Owning an MLB team is a worse investment than the Stock Market,” Manfred thought about all the Mets’ spending. Around the time of the peak agita from the spending, the Commissioner had the following to say:

“I think everyone in this room understands that we have a level of revenue disparity in this sport that makes it impossible for some of our markets to compete at some of the numbers we’ve seen,” commissioner Rob Manfred said generally at the Winter Meetings earlier this month. “And, you know, that’s not a positive. It’s like everything else in life, there’s good and bad in it.

(emphasis added.)

The commissioner said something that ultimately does not mean anything? It must be a day ending in “y.” Snark aside, I figured the rage about the Mets’ spending would subside, as even writers like Evan Drellich did not take the idea of a 2026 Lockout seriously.

What a difference 90 days made.

The Economic Reform Committee of Major League Baseball

Spring Training Grapefruit League Media Day
Commissioner Manfred, February 16, 2023.
Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

On February 19, 2023, the League announced the creation of an Economic Reform Committee. Commissioner Manfred said that the committee, made up entirely of owners, was formed to address several issues:

“It came out of a recognition of a couple of issues — one new, one old — that were particularly acute for us,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “The new one’s the local media situation. I think that people see it as an opportunity to rethink the revenue side of the house a little bit, which has been hard in our sport. People entrenched in their local (media dynamics).”...“We got to find a new model,” Manfred said. “Maybe we ought to be driving the boat, what that model looks like. So, that’s the new challenge.”

(emphasis added.)

This argument might be dismissed as cynicism but the committee is not a serious attempt to address any economic issues in baseball. In 2000, Major League Baseball published a report from its blue ribbon panel, consisting of club representatives plus former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, political columnist George Will, former U.S. Senator and broker of peace in Northern Ireland George Mitchell, and Yale president Richard Levin that said the following: combined the teams lost $1 billion from 1995 to 1999. This report was viewed with skepticism based on the alleged amounts and the fact that the teams’ books remained closed.

This time, the gathered representatives are foregoing the paneer of independence by having all the members of the committee be franchise owners, chaired by Dodgers chairman Mark Walter.

Once the headlines from the committee’s formation faded away, as if on cue, the committee disappeared into the ether, never to be heard from again.

As has been discussed elsewhere, including by Eric — quite adroitly, Sinclair’s regional sports networks, more commonly known as Bally Sports, went bankrupt on March 15, 2023. Considering that 14 teams (!) (the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Marlins, Guardians, Royals, Cardinals, Twins, Reds, Padres, Angels, Braves, Rangers, Rays, and Brewers) rely on Ballys as a revenue generator, the bankruptcy could prompt significant change in the sport.

As an aside, YouTuber Steve Linkowski published an excellent summary of how the regional sports network model was on borrowed time until the pandemic accelerated that decline. This essay does not focus on the death of the regional sports network because as Dodger fans, it is not as pressing an issue (although the diminishment of television-rights-money will likely be an ongoing issue for many teams.)

And if you want an example, you need to look at the owner of Little Brother, the San Diego Padres, Peter Seidler.

Little brother no more

Peter Seidler did what an allegedly small market owner is not supposed to do: he spent trying to win. Did it work? No — it did not, but before the 2023 season started just about everyone (including me) was proclaiming them as NL West Champions to be.

This essay does not focus on the failure (as I already covered that part) but rather the demolishing of a lie, or more accurately the underlining of a truth that all baseball fans need to understand:

MLB: Winter Meetings
The late Peter Seidler
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

All American baseball owners are rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

Even with outdated figures from a couple of seasons ago, the gaps between the teams that are trying and the teams that would relegation-bait in any non-American sport continue to coast along, bleeding their respective cities of money and hope leaving mediocre baseball and apathy in their wake.

(Unless your last name is Castellini, then you’re just obscenely wealthy).

While the Padres failed, we should not mock the effort of actually trying. Yes, Siedler died, but before his death, he did what most fans of baseball clubs other than the Dodgers, Mets, and Atlanta Braves try to do: he tried to actually win.

It was noble. Snark aside, I can applaud the attempt. Moreover, I do not fault the failure of the Padres on the attempt, I fault the architect who someone manages to keep screwing up and keep his job without as much as a public reprimand.

Yes, the Padres overreached, even needing loans to help cover payroll at the end of the 2023 season and the Padres are in the process of losing Blake Snell and traded away Juan Soto for pennies on the dollar to the New York Yankees.

The Dodgers help enable the lunacy of moving the A’s out of Oakland

On the one hand, we have teams that were trying but did not quite nail the execution, mistaking brand names for an actual team, and on the other hand, we have the patron saint of bleeding a city dry of both money and interest before seeking another, smaller host.

Clearly, John Fisher must have a bounty of charisma and joie de vivre. You can judge for yourself in the literal first press conference he had as an owner the day MLB’s owners approved the relocation.

Imagine if the only time that the Dodgers saw Frank McCourt was the day he took the team into literal bankruptcy. Honestly, with the drama that unfolded, that scenario might have been an improvement.

Maybe the owners were swayed by the renderings of the stadium to be built in Las Vegas...except the renderings were delayed...and delayed...and delayed. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the Las Vegas stadium is going to look like or any basic features (like a the desert...).

And the Dodgers ownership, having access to the same lack of information that you or I do, approved the move. I get the Giants pushing the Athletics out of the Bay Area to have the region to itself. This fact is quite galling when one considers the team still talks about the time that Oakland pushed for the Giants to remain in San Francisco when the team threatened to move to Tampa Bay in 1992 on the Oracle Park tour.

What was the Dodgers' excuse?

What sane person looks at this entire process, this terrible off-Broadway homage to one of the best Simpsons episodes of all time, to have the prospect of another homeless, hapless team for at least two seasons after 2024, and approves such a farce?

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and it is worth noting that said audience in the video paid actual money to be there. A healthy sport would run a fraud like John Fisher out of it on a rail. Shame on the Dodgers for enabling this farce.