OPPORTUNITY LOST

Here's why MLB may have already blown it

Composite photo by Jack Brame

If the goal for Major League Baseball was to try to destroy its sport - they are knocking this one out of the park.

Remember when baseball was going to usher in the return of team sports? When the game was going to help "heal the country?" The 4th of July was going to have MLB back and demanding the spotlight for the first time in years. Instead, we have billionaire owners and millionaire players arguing how to split billions of dollars in the middle of a global pandemic that has left one in five Americans out of work and over 100,000 Americans dead. What's the saddest part about these "negotiations?" The two sides can't even agree on what they agreed on in March.

I'm not naive enough to think that just because baseball came back on the 4th of July that the sport would be saved and regained the popularity it once had but wouldn't it have been nice to have a positive news story involving the sport for once? Baseball used to be the national pastime - it hasn't been in decades. The average age of an MLB fan is 57. That's up from 52 in 2000. A great way to destroy your sport is to make sure that people either don't care or can't even find it in the first place. The national ratings for baseball continue to go down and do you think that the owners or players even care?

You have plenty of billionaire owners crying poor despite baseball bringing in over 10 billion dollars in revenue. I guess I forgot that apparently if you own an MLB team you are legally required to make money every year. It's fair to even wonder just how many owners even want to play at this point. The players deserve their blame in this too. The MLBPA continues to insist they have already taken pay cuts by agreeing to pro-rated salaries. However, that is simply not true. You aren't going to get paid for games that haven't been played. Why should your employer have to pay you for 162 games of work when we aren't going to have anywhere near that amount of games. Agreeing to a pro-rated salary is not a pay cut. Stop pretending it is one.

Both sides continue to air out their dirty laundry publicly. Why? This isn't an election. The court of public opinion means nothing if we end up with only a gimmicky 50 game season instead of playing at least 82 games. Or even worse - no season at all. How is there no common ground here? How can't both sides realize that playing only a 50 game season when the opportunity was there to play way more games diminishes a true world champion? Do we really need another offseason of asterisk talk?

Regardless of how this story ends, MLB has already blown their golden window of opportunity to grow the sport. Any chance of building up good-will with the fans has evaporated before our eyes. If you thought the damage of the World Series being canceled in 1994 was bad for the popularity of baseball, just wait and see how destructive it will be if there is no season at all. Only this time you won't have a performance-enhanced drug era of the game to save the sport.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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