During the long winter months, baseball fans in many parts of the country sit huddled around their fireplaces hoping and praying for any baseball news. Winter is a time of slumber, a time to dream of what might be when spring flowers begin to bloom in Arizona and Florida. For fans, it is a time to ponder the moves their favorite club may make to be a contender or win a championship. But it is also a time when teams can do the most damage. Not necessarily to their line-up, but also to their credibility and fan loyalty. Each year, baseball holds its winter meetings. During these meetings, proposed deals are flung about like small ships in a typhoon. Everyone is trying to better their situation in order to sell more tickets and fill the stands next season. It is here where the danger lies.
It is obvious to any baseball fan that the game has changed dramatically off the field. For so many years, baseball’s owners ruled with an iron fist. Players had no rights becoming little more than indentured servants to ruthless owners. Over the past 30 years, the pendulum of power has changed within the game. The players now have the upper hand in labor negotiations resulting in bidding wars to obtain the services of marquee players. There is an inherit problem with this situation. Today’s players are viewed much with the same disdain that owners faced early in the twentieth century. Fans look at these players as greedy mercenaries that are rented for a season only to leave to the next highest bidder. Owners, riding a player’s wave of popularity sign them, usually at the trading deadline for that big pennant run. Once the season has ended, the ball club and player part ways each starting fresh in a different direction. This leaves the fans questioning the loyalty of all parties involved. It was once noteworthy for a newspaper to announce a player had been traded to another team sending shock waves throughout the community as if one of their children had grown up and left home. Today, it seems more noteworthy to announce a team has not made a deal.
To rebuild the tradition and introduce new fans to baseball, it has become evident that some form of continuity must be instituted. Most fans of a team are interested in identifying with a specific core set of players whom they may cheer for each year instead of having to buy a program at each game to try and determine who all of these players are in those old familiar uniforms. Fans long for the days where a rookie breaks in with the club, hones his skills in front of the home town fans, and is sent off amid cheers as he plays his last game before a sold-out crowd touted as a local hero. Baseball has become caught up in the “what have you done for me lately” mentality prevalent in today’s society. Much of this is due to the economics of the game as salaries spiral into the stratosphere. Owners and fans demand perfection from these players, as they are being paid millions of dollars. Expectations are set so high that a player cannot possibly produce to this level. This results in animosity and backlash from fans and contention between ownership and players. In the end, the player is traded and fans lose another familiar on-field favorite. The baseballs and trading cards, the T-shirts and fan clubs all vanish and everyone is left wondering why the fans cannot bond with the game like they did when they were kids. So during this time of year when general managers are meeting to make those blockbuster trades or free-agent players are flying across the country meeting with owners to make their best deal, they should think about all of the fans who are being affected. They should think back to when they were children and how they felt when their baseball heroes were gone. Maybe those few extra dollars really don’t matter or maybe the team really doesn’t need another middle-aged long relief pitcher if it means the fans will lose a local icon.