What I'm Hearing: USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale breaks down the latest MLB proposal during the contentious negotiations for a return to play. USA TODAY
Sure, some sports are back. But "sports" as we know them are largely still on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Today is Day 81 without sports ⚾️.
Sing it with me now:
Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got
I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the Block
Used to have a little, now I have a ...
While that play on words from Jennifer Lopez's 2003 song "Jenny from the Block" still has a long way to go to become reality, it's not entirely far-fetched. The New York Post reported Friday that J-Lo and her beau, retired baseball player and current analyst Alex Rodriguez, have re-entered the picture to purchase the New York Mets.
Steve Cohen had a deal with the Wilpon family, the current owners of the team, but a dispute regarding control over the team after the sale tanked the agreement and the Mets went back on the market. The deal valued the team at a reported $2.6 billion.
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez in 2018. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)
Separately, Rodriguez and Lopez have amassed generational wealth. With Rodriguez retired, the two have embarked on a turn to finance, entrepreneurship and business.
With Lopez's net worth hovering around $400 million and Rodriguez a little below that, they can easily comprise part of the financial component. But any deal involving the couple will likely involve several investors, with their star-power serving as the driving force of the group (similar to what Derek Jeter did with the Miami Marlins).
The New York Post reported Lopez and Rodriguez are both willing to put in "hundreds of millions" of their own dollars. That's a significant level of commitment.
Of course, there is the Yankees issue. As J-Lo points out herself often in her lyrics, she's a proud Bronx native, and therefore a Yankees fan. Rodriguez played 10 years in pinstripes.
But it's not crazy to assume switching allegiances can be as simple as that, and owning part of the team is a good excuse. After all, A-Rod has recently said he loved the Mets growing up during the 1980s because of first baseman Keith Hernandez.
Stars themselves, Lopez and Rodriguez could help make the Mets contenders for baseball's stars in free agency. Playing in the game's biggest market, the Wilpon family time and again shortchanged the payroll expected of a New York club (and their involvement with Bernie Madoff has left them on treacherous financial footing since).
Since his retirement in 2014, Rodriguez has stayed around the game and underwent a public mea culpa tour for performance-enhancing drug use during his career. MLB handed him a one-year suspension less than seven years ago. Is it too quick a turnaround?
His credentials as a baseball executive obviously haven't been tested. He is, however, a savant of the game — no exaggeration. Does that make him a better broadcast analyst or baseball operations director?
The owners have a serious public perception problem right now amid labor strife with the players' union. Women have owned teams before, but not since Marge Schott had a controlling stake of the Cincinnati Reds, and Lopez may as well be the opposite of Schott. Adding a younger, dynamic couple to its ownership ranks would only help MLB's image.
The other aspect of the power couple's involvement is their reported desire to work with the Kraft family, which owns the New England Patriots. The area surrounding Citi Field in Flushing has been ripe for economic development for decades and is something the new ownership group will have to address no matter what.
Any Kraft involvement would induce a moral conundrum for a decent portion of the Mets fanbase whose NFL team is the New York Jets, which have had some trouble with the Kraft-led Patriots for quite some time.
Krafts or not, Mets fans would happily welcome a change of ownership, and J-Rod may just be the most exciting suitor.Sports video of the day
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Louisville pitcher Bobby Miller never was the main attraction during his college baseball career. The hard-throwing righty was both a starter and reliever in his first two years, then during his coronavirus-shortened junior year played second fiddle in the spring of 2020 to Reid Detmers, a left-hander who figures to be a top 10 pick in this year’s draft.
Miller has a shot to go in the first round, too, and was projected to be picked by the Yankees 28th overall in ESPN draftnik Kiley McDaniel’s mock draft 2.0.
“Usually your Batman needs a Robin,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell told Baseball Prospect Journal.
McDonnell says Miller has “superstar” potential, and the McHenry, Ill., native flashed greatness throughout his college career. Armed with a fastball that touched 100 mph and sits in the mid-to-high 90s, he was 15-2 with a 3.28 ERA with 175 strikeouts in 170 innings over three seasons.
Miller was 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 23.1 innings in four starts this season. As a sophomore, he worked seven no-hit innings in a win over Wake Forest, took a no-hitter into the ninth in a Super Regional win over East Carolina and finished the season 7-1 with a 3.83 ERA, 86 strikeouts in 80 innings and two saves.
“I don’t know if the rest of the country knows how good Bobby Miller is," McDonnell said. "If you have seen him pitch, you talk to the pro world, it’s electric. He has worked really hard.”
Miller credited his improvement this year to having a better mindset.
“That’s something that I struggled with the first half of the season last year,” he told SI.com. “I met with someone to focus on the mental part of the game. That’s so much more important than I realized. I started taking off from there.”
Having Detmers for a teammate aided Miller’s progress, too.
“You see the way he looks on the mound, he’s completely fearless,” Miller added. “That’s what I learned from him.”
Here’s a scouting report on Miller from MLB.com, which ranks him the 26th-best prospect in this year’s draft:
“Fastball is notable for both its heat and heavy life. … Can miss bats with a slider/cutter that usually operates at 85-87 mph and reached 90. … Has faith in a splitter/changeup with similar velocity and employs a more traditional change in the low 80s. … Has no difficulty maintaining his stuff into the late innings. … Effort in delivery limits his control and has some scouts wondering if he’s destined to be a reliever. … Did a better job of throwing strikes during the brief 2020 season.
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Walt Weiss remembers the baseball strike of 1994-95 well. He hopes lessons were learned.
“As difficult as it is when you are in the moment, you have to think about the welfare of the game,” said Weiss, the former Rockies manager who played 14 years in the majors. “Anybody who’s in the game right now has to look at it like we are leasing the game and passing it on to the next generation. Whether you are an owner or a player or a GM or an agent or whatever, you have to realize that you are a caretaker.”
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 104,000 Americans, MLB and its players are struggling to find a road to salvage the 2020 season. Blocking that path are gigantic issues about money and power — the same ones that brought baseball to its knees 25 years ago.
Bob Gebhard was the Rockies’ general manager in 1994-95 when the players went on strike and the 1994 World Series was canceled. He sees ominous labor clouds on the horizon, especially with a new collective bargaining agreement due following the 2021 season.
“The timing of all of is terrible because of this virus and on the eve of the CBA,” said Gebhard, who now works as a special assistant for St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak. “There are going to be millions and millions of dollars, maybe billions lost, by the two parties.
“The worst part about it is, even if we play, there are going to be hard feelings. So now they have to sit down and try to put together a four- or five- or 10-year collective bargaining agreement? I just don’t like where this is all headed.”
Meanwhile, the NHL is making plans for a 24-team playoff format this summer. And the NBA is finalizing plans to play out the 2019-20 season at the Disney World Resort in Florida starting in late July.
Baseball? With the deadline of a proposed July 4 re-start looming and a mid-June “spring training” still unscheduled, the owners and players continue to bicker. Just as they did 25 years ago.
Leading up to that strike, they battled over financial concerns, including the idea of a salary cap. Many players said they were being exploited; many owners cried poverty. Unable to reach a compromise, the players went on strike in August and didn’t return to work for 232 days. In one of the bleakest chapters in MLB history, replacement players were brought in during spring training.
AFP/AFP via Getty ImagesCincinnati Reds scout Clay Daniel (62) instructs possible replacement players on how to fill out paperwork Jan. 26, 1995, before tryouts at the Reds spring training complex in Plant City, Florida. About 150 possible replacements attended the tryouts.
Baseball lost so much in 1994 — not just Tony Gwynn’s quest for a .400 batting average, Ken Griffey Jr.’s charge toward 61 home runs, or the Montreal Expos’ best chance for a title — but any semblance of trust between the players and owners evaporated. To some extent, that distrust still lingers.
The strike alienated fans, with the game permanently losing its place as America’s national pastime in many people’s minds.
When baseball finally returned in the spring of 1995 with a shortened 144-game season, fans let the players have it. At New York’s Shea Stadium, three men wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Greed” snuck on the field and tossed $160 worth of $1 bills at the players’ feet.
In 1994, MLB’s average attendance was a then-record 31,256. It was not until 2004 — the first year in which players could be suspended for testing positive for steroids, after almost a decade of drug-fueled home runs — that the average attendance again topped 30,000.
But attendance has steadily declined in recent years. Last year, it was about 68.5 million, approximately 1 million fewer than in 2018 and 14% lower than a high of 79.5 million tickets sold in 2007.
The good news? Thanks mostly to lucrative television contracts, the average value of a franchise has quadrupled since 2010 from $491 million to $1.85 billion, according to Forbes. Even the worst-run organization in the majors, the Miami Marlins, sold for $1.2 billion in 2017.
Because of the pandemic, there likely won’t be fans allowed in the stands if a 2020 season is played, making television MLB’s chief source of income. But if no season is played at all, the owners will take a major hit, at least according to Commissioner Rob Manfred.
“The economic effects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs,” Manfred said on CNN. “We’re a big business but we’re a seasonal business and unfortunately this (coronavirus) crisis began at kind of the low point in terms of revenue. We hadn’t quite started our season yet. And if we don’t play a season the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”
But, as was the case 25 years ago, the players aren’t buying into the owners’ plight, believing that over the long haul the owners will be just fine, while the players will lose.
“After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions,” Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a key member of the players union’s eight-player subcommittee, tweeted Wednesday. “We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received.”
Scott Boras, the most powerful agent in baseball, also fired a salvo at the owners. In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote to his clients: “Remember, games cannot be played without you. Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”
Boris noted that major league salaries have been flat for several years, with the opening day average at about $4.4 million since 2016.
The situation has become increasingly hostile, and the war of words and the jockeying for public support is front and center.
“What makes this so different from 1994-95 is that you do have so much more information out there in the public, but it doesn’t mean it’s good information,” said Jeff Huson, now a Rockies color analyst for AT&T SportsNet who played for Baltimore when baseball resumed in 1995. “I do wish that there was not as much talk and I wish a lot of this was being handled behind closed doors.”
Jonathan Daniel, Getty ImagesFans hold up signs in protest of the baseball strike on Aug. 10, 1994 during a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinios.
In 1995, baseball’s strike effectively ended when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then a federal district court judge in Manhattan, issued an injunction against the owners and the use of replacement players on March 31, 1995, two days before the Mets and Marlins were to play the Sunday night regular-season opener. The timing, she wrote, was “important to ensure that the symbolic value of that day is not tainted by an unfair labor practice.”
Things are more complicated this time around. There are gobs more money on the table and a worldwide pandemic eating away at many fans’ own paychecks. Still, one prominent agent believes baseball will find a solution.
“I think they have to, there’s too much at stake,” he said. “There is also give and take — even tough words — during negotiations. It’s almost like the day a player faces salary arbitration. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that gets said. But when push comes to shove, things get settled.”
Weiss, now the bench coach for the Atlanta Braves, remains hopeful that a solution can be found. But as someone who lived through the strike 25 years ago, he has an ominous warning.
“I just know that if we don’t play this year, I feel like it’s going to be crippling for our game,” he said. “There is another CBA around the corner and if we don’t play this year, the little trust that there is between the two sides is going to diminish even more before a CBA comes up. There is no good outcome, in my eyes, if we don’t play this year.”