By Sam Pizzigati / Inequality.org
“Take me out to the ball game,” as the lead character in baseball’s fabled 1908 classic puts it, and don’t worry about me getting home. Adds his ancient refrain: “I don’t care if I never get back.”
America’s billionaire baseball owners apparently feel the same way about you. They don’t care if you ever get back home either.
How can we be so sure? Just look at how baseball’s owners are starting to react to the success of Major League Baseball’s new rules to speed up the game.
“Time of play” has emerged over recent years as a major concern of just about everybody in baseball, especially fans. Decades ago, the vast majority of Major League games started and ended in much less than three hours. In 1981, for instance, the average game ran just a tad over two-and-a-half hours. By 2021, average games were running over 40 minutes longer.
Those long times were bumming out fans — and baseball owners as well. These owners were worrying that fans would simply stop showing up if the games kept lasting so long. The owner answer: a set of mostly welcome rule changes that speed up the games.
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These rule changes went into effect, at the Major League level, on Opening Day two weeks ago. With no runners on base, pitchers must now deliver their pitches within 15 seconds. A new “pitch clock” is even keeping track.
The reaction to this pitch clock and other new time-saving rules? Fans seem to love them. Games are so far actually running significantly shorter, by just over a half-hour. Players like the new pace of play, too. But baseball’s owners, on the other hand, now realize they have a problem on their hands. With shorter game times, fans have less time to buy beer. Owners don’t like that. They make a lot of money off beer sales.
How much money? A beer at a Major League ballpark last year cost on average just under $7, with fans in Chicago paying well over $10 for a single cold brew.
How are owners reacting to this spring’s drooping beer sales? Not well. To maintain the beer revenue they net, some owners have actually started putting baseball fans at serious risk.
Up until this year, most all ballparks stopped selling beer in the seventh inning of their nine-inning ballgames. That policy made eminent sense. No one should be drinking beer one moment, then heading out to the parking lot and the drive home the next.
“We just don’t want people to drink alcohol,” says Erin Payton of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “and then drive home from the game.”
Baseball owners, facing shorter games, are now starting to change that longstanding policy. Several Major League ball clubs have begun extending beer sales through the eighth inning.
To be responsible, counters Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Matt Stram, baseball’s beer policies ought to be going in the exact opposite direction. With games over sooner, ballparks ought to be cutting beer sales off before the seventh inning.
The seventh-inning cut-off, Stram points out, gives “our fans time to sober up and drive home safe.” With innings and games now taking less time, the Phillies hurler asks, shouldn’t baseball be moving “beer sales back to the sixth inning” to give fans that same time to sober up?
Baseball’s owners can certainly afford to put safety first. Of baseball’s thirty principal owners, all but six currently rate as billionaires. The “poorest” among the thirty, Cincinnati’s Robert Castellini, has a fortune worth $400 million.
No baseball umpires, unfortunately, have the authority to call the sport’s owners out. But city councils and other government bodies that have extended to baseball owners all sorts of subsidies over the years do have some power here. They’ve often used “eminent domain” to seize — in the “public interest” — the property that sports owners have wanted for new ballparks and stadiums. Maybe we ought to be using eminent domain to seize sports teams and run them in the public interest.
Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book: The Case for a Maximum Wage (Polity). Among his other books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press).