By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The convoluted nature of what Adam Wainwright did in Tuesday evening’s All-Star Game can be argued for the next 50 years with no resolution. Trying to be competitive for the National League team that he represented as the starter pitcher and give a baseball icon his final All-Star day in the sun bit Wainwright and Major League Baseball in the backside.
Wainwright admitted to throwing “pipe shots” to lead-off hitter Derek Jeter, who was making his final All-Star appearance before retiring at the end of 2014. The serious matter of playing an exhibition game that counts for meaningful home games in the World Series once again reared its ugly head.
Wainwright threw a 90 mph fastball to Jeter, who drove it down into the right-field corner to start a three-run rally. The inning went a long way in securing the American League’s 5-3 victory and home-field advantage in the World Series for the junior circuit. If the game was as meaningless in nature as the NBA All-Star game or the NFL’s Pro Bowl, no one would have blinked an eye. In this instance, the outcome of a world championship could well have been impacted.
This is unsettling but nevertheless won’t change. While negotiating the last television deal with Fox, MLB was told that it needed to spice up the All-Star Game or face a lessor bid for the entire baseball package. The new All-Star Game format secured the highest revenue stream increase of national TV money in the history of the sport.
Under this plan, national TV money doubled and is now paying MLB $1.5 billion a year. (This deal also includes Turner Broadcasting airing select Sunday games and the postseason partnership on Divisional Series and League Championship games.) The breakdown in cash to the teams is simple and startling. Clubs can count on $51.6 million from the TV money and $26 million from MLB Advanced Media each season before they formulate their budgets.
A good chunk of the increased money is initially being held back to create a larger central fund for baseball. This fund is used as the MLB bank and has multiple purposes, such as providing a war chest in the event of work stoppages. Nonetheless, each club can count on this money for the future.
MLB and the players have seen the TV revenues increase and grow eight-fold since Bud Selig took over as interim commissioner in 1992, when those revenues were $232 million. The median salary in 1992 was $800,000. The median at the end of 2013 was $3.5 million per player.
All of this is a reminder that the Wainwright situation is a result of big-time money colliding with a convoluted format. This seems to only satisfy the budgetary portion of the baseball business. Few appear to enjoy this ratings manipulation push, other than the bankers and TV networks.
That said, the ratings have held at 11 million viewers and a 12 share in the last three years of the new format. In 1970, the All-Star Game had a 54 share of the audience watching television that evening. Those were the days with only four stations to choose from and cable was still four years away.
Regardless of fewer viewers, advertising dollars are there for this event. The teams will continue to flourish under this exhibition game format. The players — such as the well-meaning and magnanimous Wainwright — will be examined to a greater extent under these confusing rules and circumstances.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.