The Potential Horrors of Rob Manfred's "One Baseball"
As the Major League Baseball lockout drags on and the league has announced the postponement of spring training, the game’s immediate future is in great peril, but rumors of commissioner Rob Manfred’s vision for the future of the game should send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about the game’s long-term health.
Mike Roberts played college and minor league baseball before launching a coaching career spanning six decades. In a recent appearance on the Patrick Jones Baseball podcast, he expressed concern about Manfred’s intentions to bring all of organized baseball under the purview of MLB: “They have a saying in the commissioner’s office: ‘One Baseball.’”
In short, Manfred envisions a top-down takeover of the sport that would extend from his office in New York City, right down to the Little League games taking place in your local park. Take it from someone who’s had a daughter play youth baseball in Brooklyn and currently has one playing football (soccer) in London: this is a terrible idea.
The Football Association, aka the FA, has been in charge of all things football in England for more than a century and the results have been not great. In a nation that presumes to call itself the birthplace of football, they’ve managed to win the World Cup just once, and that more than a half-century ago; they've never once won the UEFA Championship, nor finished higher than fourth in FIFA’s World Rankings. That’s all frustrating enough for your average punter, but what’s truly maddening is being the parent of a child playing youth football, which the FA also oversees.
When we lived in Brooklyn, my eldest started playing organized baseball shortly before her sixth birthday. In the weeks leading up to the start of each season, we received a copy of the team’s schedule for the entire season, telling us when and where every game would take place for the coming four or five months. While each game had designated home and away teams, it was simply for purposes of deciding who batted first, as all the games were played in Prospect Park.
Fast-forward to last year and my youngest daughter’s rookie season of youth football, where the season lasts almost twice as long and every weekend is an adventure. My kid has practice on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, with matches being played on Sunday. But here’s the kicker: we typically don’t find out when Sunday's kickoff is until the week of the match, often as late as Wednesday, and kickoff can take place any time between 9 am and 2 pm. Have fun scheduling your weekends around that moving target. And it gets worse: home games are played a seven-minute walk from our house; the other half take place at pitches thirty to sixty minutes away by public transport. Woe betide the kid from a low-income family who loves football, but whose parents have to work on weekends and can’t afford the three to four hours it takes for their kid’s away game.
While it’s true that New York’s population density is twice that of London’s, you can be sure that there is no shortage of children eager to play football in the area. Behold this map where we live, the pins with the mortarboard hats represent local schools.
No two schools on that map are as much as two-and-a-half miles from each other; Peckham Rye Park, just right of the center of the map, is sixty-plus acres of mostly open field; and directly across the street from the Rye is my kid’s home grounds, where there’s space for three to five matches to be played concurrently. So why on Earth is anyone needing to get into a car to take their kid to a football match? Because the FA has made it so. There are only six teams in my kid's league, each comprised of about ten girls--it can't possibly be true that there aren't sixty football-playing girls going to school, most likely living, within the confines of that map.
Of course, you only have to deal with this nonsense if you manage to endure the hassle of registering your kid with a team, which hand-to-god is more difficult than voting in most of the United States. To get your kid signed up requires both you and your child sign multiple forms and submit two copies of a passport photo. Can you imagine such a requirement for voting? The left would absolutely lose its shit.
The final indignity comes in the days leading up to a home match, when you have to carefully monitor your WhatsApp notifications, lest you accidentally open one and send a "read" receipt. Why? Because the home team is responsible for supplying a ref, and buddy, it might be you. Yes, instead of some congenitally indifferent teen making an easy £20, they get a parent to officiate the matches. As if officiating a sporting event before a crowd of overly-invested middle-class douchebag isn’t hard enough, imagine having to suppress your own biases. Worse, sometimes it’s the home team’s coach who refs the match--I would love to see the won-loss records of teams whose coach is the ref. Just bonkers.
None of this is to pick on the Brits, lord knows there’s no shortage of institutional stupidities in America that go unchallenged. It’s just to say that, as history has shown us time and again, having a single top-down governing structure, where the head is at a remove from the action of hundreds of miles both physically and culturally, can lead to all manner of suboptimal outcomes. MLB has done enough harm to the game of baseball, let's not let them get their hands on the kids.