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Povich Panel: Another MLB Strike Could Be on Horizon

Trio of Baseball Writers Discusses Covering Game, Its Future

By Alexander A. Pyles

Tim Kurkjian ’78, Jon Meoli and Jane Leavy

Photo courtesy of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Sportswriters Tim Kurkjian ’78, Jon Meoli and Jane Leavy talked about covering baseball and the game's uncertain future in a discussion hosted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism on Monday.

Take me out to the ballgame? Trends in Major League Baseball might prevent that in the near future, according to a trio of sportswriters who spoke at UMD’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism on Monday.

In a wide-ranging discussion hosted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, Tim Kurkjian ’78, Jon Meoli and Jane Leavy talked about covering the game, its personalities and its future. They kept coming back to the data revolution and what they see as its inevitable consequence: a work stoppage.

“What I think is happening is that we have a new breed of general manager who is young, Ivy League-educated, brilliant ... and they don’t care about anything other than the value system that they have in place,” Kurkjian, an ESPN baseball analyst, said at the event hosted by center Director George Solomon. “And if you don’t fit into the number of years and the amount of money that they think you’re worth, you are not going to get signed.

“I had a G.M. tell me last year, ‘The days of a 32-year-old average player getting a four-year deal paying him through age 36, those days are over.’”

Kurkjian and his peers on the panel predict a showdown between these general managers and influential veteran players—the ones who run the Major League Baseball Players Association—who are making less money and have less job security than in recent years.

Like Kurkjian, Leavy, author of the Babe Ruth biography “The Big Fella,” covered the last MLB players’ strike in 1994, which lasted so long that the World Series was canceled. She said the reliance on analytics and an error by the players' union will be most responsible for the next stoppage.

“I think when the major league players’ association decided to have players run it rather than professionals … they made a classic mistake,” she said. “I think they were snookered a little bit in the last (collective bargaining agreement).”

Meoli, Orioles beat reporter for The Baltimore Sun, said the market correction on veteran players can have an on-field effect. Last season, the Orioles signed free-agent pitcher Alex Cobb late in spring training. When the veteran finally joined the major league club a few weeks into the season, he struggled mightily before rounding into form late in the year—too late for the Orioles, who had already fallen out of contention.

This season, longtime Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, 33, remains unsigned despite being recognized as a strong veteran presence and consistent hitter. Four years ago, 31-year-old former Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis signed a four-year contract with the Atlanta Braves that paid him $44 million.

“The value system is flipped on its head,” Meoli said. “There’s really not jobs out there for these people because you can get that production for $600,000.”

Kurkjian said he saw some of this coming, but is surprised that superstar ballplayers Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned. Spring training begins next week.

“Bryce Harper is the right fit every day for any team,” Kurkjian said. “If you don’t want to pay him $400 million, I understand. But to say we don’t have a place for him is ridiculous.”

Despite labor uncertainty and the need for MLB to attract younger fans, the panel agreed interest in the game remains high. Amid the turbulence, they said there are more jobs in baseball and baseball writing than ever before.

“There’s so much space for innovation,” Meoli said. “If you can find a niche for yourself that isn’t already filled, I think that’s going to be the key.”

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