Every year a handful of teams start the season in “rebuilding” mode. These teams take their limited payrolls and devote their cash toward the future. They settle for mediocrity in the hopes of a better future. The question is why?
In what other business, and make no mistake about it baseball is a business, can an owner sit back and simply say “not this year?” To quit before you begin leads to complete and utter failure. But not in baseball. In baseball it is completely understandable to begin the season with a goal that would seem counter-intuitive to the sport. These teams have a “rebuilding” goal that essentially forfeits the season.This happens because baseball is socialism-lite. Revenue sharing helps off-set any losses the small market teams may have. Rather than push for higher attendance, rather than make their own money, many team settle for the extra cash paid by those teams hit by the luxury tax.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Losing is not the crime here. Not trying is. If a team is striving toward success every year, the fans will come. Baseball should be a constant experiment in winning. Don’t have a lot of money to work with? That’s fine. Figure out new ways to win. The Seattle Mariners have done it, the Oakland A’s have done it, and the Tampa Bay Rays have done it. Sustained long-term success is the difficulty here, but the key is innovation. Much like a pitcher who has found a hitter’s weak spot at the plate, adjustments should always be made. If that hitter wants to remain in the big leagues, he will find a way to adjust to that pitch to keep from getting out.
During every off-season, rather than resign to another losing year, teams should be brainstorming. What has worked for other teams? What hasn’t worked? Why have the successes of other teams stopped working? Research and development. Experimenting. Trying.
Just take a look at the last-place team in each division. They can easily shrug their failure off as rebuilding years, but they shouldn’t. They should be giving the fans reason to hope. Come out and tell them the goal is to win. Show the fans you are trying. Prove to them that, even if the team loses, you are not simply allowing the team to wallow in failure in hopes of a great year decades from now. Success should be a constant goal. The fans deserve that. To fail while trying to be successful means you tried. To fail while building for the future means you gave up.
The best way to make a profit in baseball is to attract fans. It seems like simple enough logic doesn’t it? The more people who attend a baseball game, the more ticket sales the team will have, the more concession stand purchases, the more team shop purchases. Even the smallest market ball club has plenty of fans just hoping and wishing for the opportunity to go to a game and cheer on a winning team. They flip on the television and see game’s like Sunday night’s Ranger/Angels game. They see the intensity, the crowd, the energy. And they wish they could be part of it. But they stay home. Their team is in a “rebuilding” year, and disposed of any real hope on Opening Day.
Again, losing isn’t the issue here. The concept of rebuilding is. For teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Kansas City Royals, and any other perrennial losers, what are you rebuilding? Are you rebuilding the success of the ’70’s, the ’80’s, or even the ’90’s? Those teams and players are long gone. What you’re left with is the here and the now. The development of young players is perfectly fine. But the goal is to run a Major League franchise. Not a Triple-A club.
With this in mind, stop promoting the idea of rebuilding. Stop dreaming of the future. Forget about getting lucky and finding a cheap ball club with All-Star talent. Get on the phones and the internet and search. Lock your executives in a board room and brain storm. Start your experiment now. Test your hypotheses. Squeeze success out of every limited dollar you have because the future is not 10 years from now. The future is today.