Blought #38: I Get the MLB's Struggle Now
Billy Corben has become one of my favorite filmmakers and documentations. For those of you who don’t know Corben is wrote and directed Cocaine Cowboys which looked at the rise of the cocaine trade in South Beach Miami and the deadly grip it held on the city as well as the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries The U and The U: Part 2 that chronicled the history of Miami Univeristy’s dominant runs as a college football powerhouse in the 80’s and 2000’s. When I saw that he had a new project out on Netflix titled Screwball: Baseball’s Juiciest scandal, I knew that I had to watch it. The documentary focused on Anthony Bosch and how he became one of the biggest players in Baseballs scandal surrounding performance enhancing drugs or PED’s.
I’ve always had reserves about baseball as a sport. My grandfather was a huge fan of the game. He would tell me stories Satchel Page and his complete games in Negro Leagues. One of my favorite stories he would tell me was when he first moved to Cleveland and worked as a cab driver. He remembered listening to the Indians win the 1948 Word Series on the radio in the cab that he drove.
I grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s when football and to a lesser extent basketball were the kings of American sports, as they are today. Although the NFL has taken some losses in ratings, safety, and stands on social justice the brand still remains strong. The NBA is probably the new king of American sports. They have the most room to grow mainly because of it’s worldwide popularity and engagement. What Corben’s latest entry did for me was expose the somewhat self-mutilation that the MLB inflicted on itself.
By the time 90’s rolled around baseball’s once firm grip on American sports fans was beginning to slip away. It’s greatest generation of watchers were all senior citizens or well into their middle-aged years. The NFL had become a juggernaut of American entertainment thanks largely in part to the national holiday that takes place the first week of February, the Superbowl. Teams had moved and new ones would take their place. Jacksonville got the Jaguars while Carolina got the Panthers. The Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. The Oilers moved to Nashville to become the Titans. The Rams moved to St. Louis and the Browns finally returned. Houston even got the Texans in the early 2000’s. The NFL had plenty of personality too like Primetime, TO, and Warren Sapp.
The NBA by the late 80’s early 90’s had saved itself from implosion with the arrival of David Stern and one of the greatest draft classes of all time in 1984 with Jordan, Barkley, Hakeem the Dream, and John Stockton among others. The MLB’s problem wasn’t just an aging audience and lack of excitement that the NFL and NBA consistently produced. It was a growing distrust among it’s audience and the American public. What Corben exposed in Screwball was a league that had poor policing and mismanagement of it’s players and their behavior. First off there were way too many stars suspected of juicing. How can your league truly prosper when the biggest names in the sport have an asterisk next to their home run totals? That’s like Michael Jordan having an asterisk next to his name because he juiced to win his six NBA titles. Can you imagine what would have happened to the NBA or Nike’s bottom line?
Second was the lockout of 1994. Listen, I get it. You need unions to keep your players happy. When those kinds of labor disputes wipe away an entire season, that’s not going to be good for anyone. Especially when America consumers had a growing number of television viewing options thanks to the growing availability of cable. When you mix those factors with the bizarre series of events in Screwball, you begin to understand why the MLB is still struggling to this day.