What Would I Do If I Owned An MLB Team?

Channeling my inner Steve Cohen and dreaming about where to begin...

Major League Baseball team owners are the wealthiest of the wealthy, with all 30 in the top 0.01%. Yet many of them are quick to cry poor when fans voice their frustration with the team’s failure to sign top free agents or outrage at the idea that the Chicago Cubs want to spend like the Tampa Bay Rays.

The “poorest” of owners is the Cincinnati Reds’ Robert Castellini with a net worth of $400 million, according to Statista. There are six team owners with a net worth under $1 billion. The 24 others live above that, with New York Mets’ owner Steve Cohen leading the way with a net worth of $16 billion.

With this in mind, know that actual owners can afford the ideas I propose below. Don’t be fooled when they tell you otherwise.

 

Make attending games more affordable.

 

A family of four can expect to spend an average of $253 to see a MLB game. Between tickets, parking, food, and drinks, attending a baseball game can be out of reach for many families. If the sport is worried about attracting younger fans (and they are), making a day out to the ballpark more affordable feels like a no-brainer.

The Marlins recently adopted a “3-o-5” menu that offers ballpark favorites at reasonable prices. Fans can purchase a hot dog, small popcorn, water, or soda for $3, or a 12 oz. draft beer for $5. This, of course, hasn’t solved the Marlins’ attendance woes but perhaps that would chance if the owner did the next thing on my list…

 

Spend money!

 

Owners can afford to sign the biggest and best free agents. Like I said in the intro, don’t be fooled when they tell you otherwise.

I saw a tweet from Spotrac the other day listing the projected 2023 Opening Day payrolls for each team, plus the luxury tax penalties for teams over the tiered limits. The first thing I noticed was that the Mets are currently on pace to pay more in luxury tax penalties than three teams (Athletics, Pirates, Orioles) will on their entire Opening Day roster.

 

 

Jon Heyman of the New York Post spoke with Mets’ owner Steve Cohen, who he notes “seems to regret not spending more” than the $476.7 million he’s already committed to free agents thus far. Part of that regret seems to come from an attempt to sign shortstop Carlos Correa. As Heyman reported in the article, Cohen reached out to Correa’s agent “in a spirited attempt to sign the star.” However, Correa and Co. were already finalizing a 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.

NOTE: As of the morning of December 21, it appears that Steve Cohen may have gotten his guy, as reports state that Carlos Correa is signing with the New York Mets for $315 million/12 years after Correa’s deal with the Giants fell through.

Speaking about his desire to spend, Cohen went on to say, “I made a commitment to the fans…If it means I have to spend money to fulfill that commitment, so be it.”

I have to admit, hearing this (and seeing the moves the Mets have made) is so refreshing. I’m happy for Mets fans, who witnessed a transformation of organizational culture and are enjoying an offseason where spending appears to have no limits.

As a Marlins fan, I envy this. Earlier this year, Marlins’ owner Bruce Sherman said “We have money, and we are willing to spend it.” At her end-of-season news conference, Marlins’ general manager Kim Ng said “We are going to do what we can to improve this club…I don’t think that we can just sit here on our hands and think that everything’s going to be better.” But yet, the Marlins have spent a grand total of $0 in free agency and all the impact players are off the board.

To be clear, this isn’t a Marlins-specific problem. Many other fan bases have been told the teams they root for are committed to improving yet behave as if the exact opposite is true.

After making a serious playoff push in 2022, the Orioles have largely been inactive this offseason. They were rumored to be active on the free agent market, specifically looking for starting pitching, but the extent of that activity so far has been signing 35-year-old Kyle Gibson to a one-year, $10 million deal.

The White Sox’ 2022 season, finishing at 81-81, was a disappointing one for a team expected to win the division. They failed to re-sign first baseman José Abreu, and the only major league contract they’ve handed out was a one-year, $12 million deal to starting pitcher Mike Clevinger.

I could go on and on. The San Diego Padres saw their fans buy in after trading for Juan Soto at the deadline. Soto made his Padres debut in front of an electric sold out San Diego crowd, and attendance through the remainder of the season never dropped below 30,000 fans per game.

The three teams (Athletics, Pirates, Orioles) with a projected payroll below the Mets’ luxury tax penalties had a combined, season-long attendance of about 3.4 million in 2022. Four teams, the Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, and Braves, each had a season-long attendance above 3 million.

Oakland and Pittsburgh lost 102 and 100 games, respectively. The teams with 2022 attendance figures north of 3 million won 111, 101, 99, and 93 games, respectively.

Fans are clamoring for a reason to get excited, and they’ll buy in once their owners do.

 

Create merch for women by women!

 

I was looking through the throwback jersey section on MLB Shop a week ago and was reminded that there are a grand total of zero jerseys available in womens’ cut or sizes. There are, however, 132 different Cooperstown and throwback jerseys available for men.

Women have the option of purchasing large and boxy jerseys fit for men, or a few different shirts, sweaters, skorts designed for women. I screenshotted one of the pathetic options in the Marlins section and posted it on Twitter. It got a lot more traction than I ever thought it would.

 

 

A lot of people commented about how hideous the $125 skort was, and some also pointed out other terrible options in the women’s section. One person mentioned a grad school project she did on women fans’ insecurity in MLB environments and the availability of women’s apparel on MLB Shop. She mentioned the disparity of selection in the men’s vs women’s sections, noting the Mets’ site has 51 jerseys for men and just 12 for women. “If a woman customized a jersey to have the name and number of a player whose jersey was sold in men’s sizes,” she said, “it would cost her ~$20 extra.”

Besides this being a really cool project, it made me think about the type of apparel available for fans who don’t identify as men. Most of it is pink or sparkly or hyper-feminine. While some sports fans may appreciate this, others may not. But if this is our only option, it feels like a lazy attempt at what people think we want without stopping to genuinely ask for our input.

While this is a rather innocuous issue compared to other things in the league, it points to a larger issue about the types of fans MLB caters to and the ones they don’t…

 

More heritage and celebration nights at the ballpark while also focusing on season-long inclusion.

 

This is already something that most teams have embraced, so my goal here would be to continue to celebrate the cultures and people that make up our fan bases. As a Miami Marlins fan, I’ve seen the organization embrace and celebrate the different heritages within the South Florida community. The team hosted heritage nights all throughout the season to represent the countries its players came from. In addition to heritage nights, the team hosted LGBTQ+ community leaders for Pride at the Park.

Other teams around the league do the same, and some have expanded to include other heritage and celebration nights. Some have hosted Mental Health Awareness, ALS Awareness, Education Appreciation nights, and more.

While heritage and celebration nights are great, MLB needs to do a better job of ensuring that the ballpark and our communities are safe and inclusive spaces for all fans. Teams need to be deliberate about creating a space where often marginalized communities feel welcomed and included not just one night per season, but each and every game.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote about the five Rays pitchers who refused to wear a rainbow-colored patch on the team’s Pride Night. Karleigh Webb wrote about her experience as a trans woman, journalist, and sports fan for Out Sports, and how the actions of those five Rays players impacted her.

This one game was just one example that highlighted just how far our sport has to go to be a truly inclusive space for fans of all races, religions, and identities.

 

And…pay Minor League Baseball players a living wage.

 

If I had to persuade my fellow owners, I’d say it’s about investing in future players. If they don’t have to worry about how they’re going to afford their next meal or pay this month’s rent, they’ll be able to focus on becoming better baseball players.

This idea isn’t rocket science. I was taught Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in my early childhood education class during my freshman year of high school. If a person’s basic human needs, like physiological (food, water, shelter, sleep) and safety (personal security, employment, resources, health, property) are not met, they can’t begin to consider psychological and self-fulfillment needs.

In the push to unionize the minor leagues (s/o to the many groups who pushed for this like Advocates for Minor Leaguers), fans heard from players directly about how the poverty-level wages have affected their personal and professional lives.

But really, providing housing for minor leaguers and paying them a living wage shouldn’t be an argument. We shouldn’t have to convince the owners that there will be a return on their investment. It’s about human decency, and they can afford it.

Photography: Fenway Park – Flickr / CC Wally Gobetz, Pexels Free Image Stock, composite image. (Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller @kurt_player02 on Instagram)

Nicole Cahill

Nicole Cahill is a freelance writer who focuses on mental health and sports. She recently founded a nonprofit that helps youth athletes living with mental health challenges. When she's not fighting stigma or exploring Baseball Savant visuals, you can find Nicole enjoying a cup of coffee and a good book. Portfolio: NicoleCahill.com.

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