Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cry me a river

I've been meaning to comment on this for several days now - the MLB Umpire's Union crying foul over the fact that baseball's executive offices, in the wake of the NBA ref scandal, wants the umpires to undergo background checks.

"We understand the need in light of what's taken place. But we feel we just don't need to have a knee-jerk reaction and a witch hunt,'' Lamell McMorris, spokesman for the World Umpires Association, told Sports Illustrated.

I understand that as the spokesman for the WUA, McMorris has a responsibility to his constituents to put the worst possible face on MLB's request. Unfortunately, he is giving in to severe hyperbole in describing what most of the rest of the baseball viewing public is viewing as a reasonable request.

I know I'm not alone in watching umpires with erratic strike zones and wondering how a pitch in the top half of an inning is a strike and in the bottom half a ball.

While I don't think background and credit checks are needed for all jobs, it seems to make perfect sense to me that it would and should be needed for game officials on the professional and collegiate levels.

In 2003, on-line gamblers in the US bet an estimated $6 billion and the estimated gross amount for sports wagering on-line (worldwide) was in excess of $63 billion. According to the Online Gambling Research and Markets Group, on-line gambling will reach $125 billion by 2015.

Is it really too much for a professional sports league to ask that they have every reassurance that their game officials aren't beholden to sports bookies?

What really bothers me about the WUA's stance is the last item they sent to MLB offices demanding that this be negotiated, and that the following statement was in the letter - "The safeguards that will be adopted to ensure that umpires will not be subject to disciplinary or other adverse job actions stemming from or based upon any of the information."

In essence, they are saying that if we agree to let you do these background checks, we don't want you to be able to do anything about it if you find that one of the umpires is doing something he/she shouldn't be doing.

This is all indicative of a greater problem in professional sports.

The inability of the groups to realize that, ultimately, the most important aspect of what they are doing is creating a product.

For example, in television, there is a misconception that the program is the product and that viewers are the target. The product in television is the audience, the program is the vehicle by which a television station builds product to sell to advertisers. The program is designed to capture certain types of audiences to sell to certain types of advertisers (ie: we are going to produce a news show called The View, the demographic will be stay-at-home moms, and women pushing into middle age, we are going to try to sell this advertising block to Folger's Coffee, tampon producers, and family restaurants). It is why quality programming is often ditched for poorly written pablum that appeals to the masses. Small loyal audiences don't demand the advertising dollars.

In the case of professional sports, the product is the game. Sure, there are spin-offs - jersey's, caps, bobble-heads, etc., but none of those exist without the game and the fan base for each team.

It seems like most of the pro-leagues and their unions are forgetting about the importance of the product. What the umpires are saying to me is that they don't give a rats ass about the product as long as they can get something in exchange for what they should already be doing.

The MLB players' union long ago told me it didn't care about the product - and often still reminds me by telling their players things like, "don't cooperate with the Mitchell investigation."

The NBA has a variety of similar issues from players like "Starbury" to refs that seem to think they are the reason people come to the games.

Roger Goodell is giving a good-faith effort along with the player's union in football, but this attitude of insult over the franchise tag does the players no favors - nor do hold-outs by rookies who have yet to prove anything

I'm not even going to get into ticket prices.

My message to the umpires - shut-up and submit to the checks, or find a job like the ones the rest of us have.

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